Notes on the Songs & Instruments,
1. Border Shirts… The Fair Missouri Command…
Rarely, if ever, is the Civil War described as having brought people together, but let us explain…
In the context of the Civil War, Missouri is usually thought of as a Southern, or Confederate state, and indeed, much of the population was sympathetic to the Southern cause. Rebel guerrillas or “bushwhackers” – mounted irregular troops fighting against what they considered to be the Union army’s occupation of their home state – patrolled the Kansas-Missouri border wreaking havoc on Federal soldiers and civilians alike. They wore “border shirts” which were colorful, homespun, highly embroidered overshirts made by their mothers, sisters, or girlfriends, and they were sewn with multiple, oversized pockets for extra ammunition and cylinders for their cap and ball revolvers.
Contrary to popular belief and to fallacies perpetuated by many historians, Missouri was actually the most fought-over state during the Civil War, with many more engagements fought there than in any other state, and a civilian toll, which for its time, rivals that of modern fratricidal conflicts in Vietnam and Bosnia. See Inside War by Michael Fellman (Oxford University Press, 1989) for more. Missouri sent the highest percentage of it’s men to the conflict than any other state – a full third of it’s population – beginning with it’s involvement in “Bleeding Kansas” 1854-61 -- the real beginning of the war -- through the lawless, bloody aftermath of the Union victory. Look for Roger in the opening scene of director Ang Lee’s overlooked and underrated 1999 film about the Missouri guerrillas, Ride With The Devil… he’s playing mandolin in the wedding band!
So, bearing all this in mind, one could say that the genesis of this recording was 136 years ago, when Roger’s Great-grandfather, Sgt. George Cortez Harbord, rode with his unit, the 2nd Missouri Volunteer Cavalry (called “Merrill’s Horse”, a Union regiment from Missouri!) through Athens, Alabama – Chipper’s hometown – in March 1865. The Missouri men were surprised to find the supposedly rebellious citizenry happy to see them, friendly, eager for the war to end, and virtually starving – and thus ready to buy the troopers’ patent leather shoes and coffee at vastly inflated prices.
Roger composed Border Shirts as an attempt to replicate the texture of frailing banjo on the bouzouki, and its ominous tone suggests a vision of menacing guerrillas on the riverbanks. It is paired with The Fair Missouri Command, written by Chipper while musing on the image of a snappily dressed Union cavalry unit, their banners flying and swords shining, riding through the streets of his hometown.
2. The Banks of the Nile
The Battle of the Nile took place at the end of the First Coalition war against Napoleon Bonaparte, on August 1st, 1798, in the bay of Aboukir off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. It was Admiral Horatio Nelson’s first fleet command and his aggressive action provided a decisive victory, devastating the French fleet under Admiral Francois Brueys, whose flagship, L’Orient, blew up, killing its commander. Perhaps the young man in this song has been called up for that impending action. Portsmouth, mentioned in the song, was the chief dockyard for the Royal Navy, in Hampshire, on the English Channel.
Somehow, one never seems to tire of songs whose plot concerns the girlfriend who can’t bear to be parted from her military beau, so she resorts to cross-dressed subterfuge in order to accompany him to the fields of glory. Considering the lethality of the battlefields and field hospitals at that time, one can begin to understand the desperation in such offers these young women made. Many historical examples exist of women who did just that, and sometimes fought, too.
We couldn’t resist recasting this Irish gem in a Middle Eastern-influenced arrangement. Roger’s introduction in 9/8 flows beautifully into the 3 / 4 of the song.
3. Los Penitentes… Emergence
This track started simply as a progression of chord changes played by Chipper, and he and Roger gradually added more and more layers to the ever-expanding theme. The resulting mood evokes the mystery surrounding the Penitent Brotherhood, or “Los Penitentes”.
Murky visions of medieval Spain (and medieval New Mexico!) mingle as the rites of this secret, persecuted, even excommunicated, flagellant sect are evoked. Los Hermanos Penitentes del Tercer Orden deFranciscanos (The Penitent Brothers of the Third Order of Saint Francis), or La Fraternidad Piadosa de los Hermanos de Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno (The Pious Fraternity of the Brothers of Our Father Jesus the Nazarene), also known as the “Brothers of Light,” became active during the settlement era in Spanish New Mexico, feeling themselves abandoned by the church and the clergy. Penitential activities were introduced to New Mexico with the arrival of Don Juan de Oñate in 1598, at which time Oñate himself was observed to have participated in self-flagellation during the observance of Holy Week.
It is reasonably well-accepted that these extremely pious laymen, who trace the origins of their belief in salvation through penitence back to the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi (himself rumored to be a flagellant), have for centuries whipped themselves with cactus and mutilated themselves with flint and broken glass in secret rites held far back in the northern New Mexico wilderness, and it is even rumored that during holy week celebrations men have died nailed to crosses, reenacting Christ’s passion. Supposedly, family members were informed of their father or brother’s death in penitence by discovering their empty shoes on the stoop the next morning. While this may sound macabre and barbaric, is it really any different than Native American sun dancers, Hindu firewalkers, or Appalachian snake-handling Pentecostals?
In 1850, Penitentes were excommunicated by Archbishop Lamy of Santa Fe (made famous in Willa Cather’s novel Death Comes For The Archbishop) for the next 100 years – the order was apparently rescinded in 1950. Archbishop Salpointe of Santa Fe, in a letter to Penitentes of New Mexico and Colorado in 1886, ordered them to abolish flagellation and the carrying of heavy crosses. He sent copies of the rules of the Third Order of St. Francis to the different hermanos mayors, advising them to reorganize in accordance with those precepts. Both letter and orders went unheeded. He then ordered all the parish priests to see the Penitentes personally and induce them to follow his instructions, but they accomplished nothing.
While officially condemned by the Catholic Church, debate continues to this day over the “excesses” of the Brothers, and some outside the church doubt whether or not their rites continue, or even existed at all. Even so, Chipper has found many a Penitente stone cross on the ground in his hikes into the Northern New Mexico hills, and one morning as Chipper and Roger were playing the unlikely combination of uilleann pipes (Roger) and Appalachian dulcimer (Chipper) on Chipper’s front courtyard, they found their music weirdly mingling with atonal chants and fiddles… they’d forgotten it was Good Friday, and a Penitente procession was going by Chipper’s house! (For more on the Penitentes, and New Mexico in general, see A Taos Mosaic, Portrait of a New Mexico Village, by Claire Morrill, University of NM Press, 1973.)
Like stepping out of a dark, hot, windowless, candle-lit Penitente morada, or chapel, into the bright New Mexico sunlight, this tune erupts into “Emergence,” one half of a set of tunes Roger composed as a Christmas gift in 1999 for friend Janeen Marie, partner to master bouzouki builder Stephen Owsley Smith (“Threshold”, which you’ll encounter later, is the other half ….)
4. Lamento di Tristano… De Trilport… Taqsim di Tristano… The Arrival of the Khevsoor in Tiblisi…
Lamento di Tristano comes from a late 14th Century Italian manuscript now in the British Museum. Roger learned it from a recording by the great French musician Henri Agnel. De Trilport is a Breton tune from Alan Stivell by way of French-Algerian guitarist Pierre Bensusan’s recording Pres de Paris. A quasi-Arabic taqsim, or improvisation, follows, leading into a composition of Chipper’s, inspired by this quote from The SecretHistory of the Sword, by J. Christoph Amberger (Burbank, CA: Multi-Media Books, 1998):
“In 1915, a year after the outbreak of World War I, the citizens of Tblisi woke up to watch a troop of mounted warriors ride down the cobble-stoned streets. They were armed with rusty chain armor, sword and buckler (small shield), and carried rifles of amazing antiquity. They called themselves the Khevsoor. Their mission: upon learning that their czar was at war, they wanted to put their swords at his disposal.
These men hailed from a remote region of the Caucasus – an area cut off from the outside world by ice and snow for a full nine months out of each year. The Khevsoor considered themselves the direct descendants of a party of crusaders who got separated from a larger army and got stranded in this remote area.”
American adventurer Richard Halliburton (1900-39) reported meeting the Khevsoor in 1935 in what is now the Republic of Georgia. He claimed to have detected fragments of French and German in their dialect, which was otherwise unintelligible to him, and to have witnessed a crouching sword and buckler duel between two mail-clad semi-belligerents “…well oiled on home made barley brandy…”, which ended with no injury more serious than a bruise! Seven League Boots, by Richard Halliburton (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merill Co. 1935)
Chipper’s tune is the result of his imagining the Khevsoor’s crossing on horseback into the 20th century that morning in Tblisi….
5. The Burned Letters
Chipper’s maternal great-great grandfather was known to his family as James Corey, but now we know his real name was George Warden, and that he had emigrated from Ireland, but his background remained a mystery to his family. His first wife, Lou Sindia Betts, knew that he received letters from someone, but he never showed them to her or talked about them… he just silently locked them in a big trunk.
One day Lou Sindia took gravely ill, and as she lay wasted in bed her sister broke open the trunk with an axe and read the letters. They proved to be from James’ family in Ireland, who were expecting to be sent for any day, never suspecting that he had started another family in America. Confronted with this, Lou Sindia reportedly said: “…there is no need for me to worry about it, I will not be here much longer anyway….” and as expected, she died shortly thereafter. In a rage, her sister threw the polygamist’s letters into the fire. George Warden and his Irish roots were lost and James Corey was forever in his place.
Composed as a bittersweet ode to loss, this tune took on new meaning when, as the first sessions for this recording were being completed in June 2000, Chipper’s beloved wife, well-known artist Lanford Monroe, passed away unexpectedly.
6. The Guanajuato Mummies’ Farewell to BudaPest… Quando Los Santos Entren Marchando
A bit of programmatic music here – this one showed up during an afternoon rehearsal for this recording. Roger played a dissonant chord that reminded Chipper of the sound of the bajo sexto, a 12 or 10-string bass guitar used in the Norteno music of the US/Mexican border. Chipper began playing the chord in a Norteno-style polka rhythm and the spirit of the Mummies was released into Roger’s fingers, channeling this tune.
In a beautiful example of the utter stupidity of governments everywhere, the mummies in question were dug up between 1896 and 1958 by authorities in Guanajuato, Mexico, because their descendants were unable to pay grave taxes levied posthumously and retroactively! Finding that the bodies had somehow naturally mummified in the soil of Guanajuato, these same authorities built the Museo de las Momias, where they exhibited the freshly exhumed defunctos. (This is factual – the following is only a rumor…)
After years in the Museo, and being understandably quite restless, the Mummies travel to Europe, where they are feted, feasted, and fussed over by the Gypsies from Andalucia to Romania. They end up in Hungary, dancing on the bridge over the Danube River separating the cities of Buda and Pest. They composed this tune in honor of all the great gypsy musicians they met on their travels and to thank those in Hungary for their hospitality (it’s not easy hosting a mummy, you know). On their return to the port of Veracruz, Mexico, they are greeted with a fiesta, at which Quando los Santos Entren Marchando is played by a Son Jarocho group recently returned from Mardi Gras in New Orleans. As with some parties, by the time this one ends, it’s really out of hand…
7. The March of the King of Laois….
A well-known favorite Irish march, popular with fingerstyle guitarists. Roger decided to put it on the fingerstyle bouzouki, with ornamentation that emulates that of the Irish uilleann pipes.
8. Los Dervisomangas… Jovano Jovanke…
After Greece’s failed invasion of the Ottoman Empire, known as the Greco-Turkish war (1920-22), nearly 2 million ethnic Greeks fled their homes in Asia Minor or were exchanged by the two governments after the war. Sometimes called Ottoman-Greeks, these refugees were more at home in Turkey but fled to Greece to avoid reprisal from the new Turkish Republic, cramming themselves into prison-like slums in cities such as Piraeus. Nor were they welcomed in Greece, persecuted and despised as “Oriental” by the Greek authorities of the time, and so fading into an underground culture. It was in these communities, in Turkish-style underground cafes called tekedes, and in hashish dens, that Rebetiko, the Greek “blues” music so closely associated with the bouzouki, was developed. Dervisomangas (roughly “a dude, in spades”) was the term used for denizens of these tekedes. Chipper composed this tune after listening to a CD collection of some early rebetiko, and was unaware until he and Roger began to arrange it that the rhythmic spin is very close to that of a Norteno waltz – hence, “Los” Dervisomangas!
Roger learned half of Jovano Jovanke, a Macedonian tune in 7/8 meter, from viola de gambist Gerald Trimble, who didn’t have a name for it. Gerald learned it from Kansas City musician Josef Scales. Roger thought it was unusual that a tune would have only one part, so he wrote a couple of harmonies to the original melody, which could be played as 2nd and 3rd parts. He then taught the harmonies to Chipper. A few months after recording it with Paddy League for this collection they were playing it in a session in Taos, NM, and were asked by local fiddler Jameson Wells, “Don’t you know the 2nd part?” Astonished, they admitted they didn’t even know it had a 2nd part! Feeling smaller and dumber by the second, they soon learned the title, and that it had lyrics! One supposes that this could be some part of the folk process, or perhaps that this tune is so great one need only play half of it? Perhaps they’ll record the 2nd half on their next CD! The lyrics, however, are probably best left here in print:
9. Out in the Sticks…
To the periodic amusement and frequent frustration of his friends, Chipper has always carried the Deep South with him wherever he goes. Its culture, music, and food have been formative (a little too formative, in the case of the food!) in the development of his personality. Bearing that in mind, this wild demonstration of bottleneck slide bouzouki, an evocation of Limestone County, Alabama, is played as if some anonymous and unsuspecting Greek rebete, casually noodling on his ‘zouk, was suddenly, simultaneously possessed by the spirits of the great, death-defying, Virginia banjo player Dock Boggs and the slashing, spooky, Mississippi delta blues great Son House.
10. Danzas Asturianas y Gallegas…
Roger and Chipper are fascinated by the dizzyingly circuitous journey the bouzouki has taken from Greece (the story really starts in ancient Iraq and Persia going back to 2370 BCE, but we won’t concern ourselves with that here) through Irish and Scottish music (can we please stop saying “Celtic” now?) into Breton, and Swedish music – even into Bluegrass (what would Big Mon think?) and Blues. Another country to embrace the instrument is Spain, in the hands of musicians in the Asturian and Galician musical cultures.
New Mexico, where Chipper and Roger both live, was colonized by Spain in the years following Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s initial entrada in 1540 – about a half-century after the Reconquista of Spain from the Moors in 1492. It is easy to forget that Spain was ruled by the Moors from 710-1492AD – almost three centuries longer than the time that has passed since the Moors were forced out. The Hispanic culture in New Mexico is imbedded with their legacy – that of one of the first great European civilizations – and an Islamic one at that!
From the perspective of the 21st century, we tend to think of Hispanic culture as a homogeneous one. Yet many of the “Spaniards” accompanying Coronado and the other conquistadores were actually Gallego-speaking Celts from Galicia, as well as Marranos – Jews who converted to Christianity and immigrated to New Spain to avoid the inquisition, and Moros – Africans brought as soldiers and slaves from the Gulf of Guinea to the Moorish Caliphate of Magreb (Morocco), many of whom were captured during the Spanish Reconquista and on subsequent Spanish and Portuguese raids on the northwest corner of Africa. Greek, Russian, and Irish surnames were also prevalent in this mix of cultures that founded the earliest European settlement in what is now the Southwestern United States – almost a full century before the arrival of the Puritans at Plymouth Rock – a fact that is lost in the current historical myopia in the U.S.
Here are three tunes from the Iberian Peninsula: the first two tunes, Danza and Polcada Silvina, Roger learned from a recording by the group Citania. Chipper found the third, Muiñeira de Chantada, on a tape by the great Galician group Milladoiro.
It is tempting to speculate that tunes like these might have been heard around the pueblos of northern New Mexico, cranked out by gaita (bagpipe), sinfonia (hurdy-gurdy), or viola de gamba- wielding footmen on their march of colonization.
11. Whippersnapper Snake / Snake Road
Chipper came up with the words to this song, describing it to Roger as “Appalachian mouth music,” borrowing the Scots practice of puirt a beul or of Irish lilting—the singing of nonsensical lyrics to a dance tune when no fiddler or piper was available, or as a means to learn a tune. “Nonsense songs” have a long history in Appalachia, too, with silly/funny lyrics that would offend no Pentecostal sensibilities, but are pretty amusing in their own right. This song mixes nonsense phrases with weird tidbits of mountain serpent lore.
The tune that follows was initiated when Roger then suggested combining a bluesy, snaky swamp vibe with a Celtoid melody—Chipper grabbed his slide—Roger wrote the 1st half of the tune and Chipper the 2nd…it now follows Whippersnapper Snake and is titled Snake Road, after a favorite north Alabama country thoroughfare of Chipper’s. And there you have it – Celto-Appalachian Fuzz Tone Electric bouzouki Snake-handlin’ Pub-jiggin’ Swamp Blues!
12. Mountains of the Moon… Zarafa… Mzungu
Ptolemy, the 2nd C. Graeco-Egyptian astronomer, was the first to record the correct assertion that the Nile flowed from two lakes located in a mountain range in Africa’s interior. Subsequent writers referred to these, the Ruwenzori Mountains, as “The Mountains of the Moon”. A 1989 film by the same name dramatized the efforts of Capt. Sir Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke to find the Nile’s source. After seeing the film, and after listening for weeks to the unique African guitar music of Ali Farka Toure and Baaba Maal, and after meditating on the tedium of walking across an African (or New Mexican!) desert for weeks, Chipper was inspired to use the name for this dreamy, semi-improvised melody.
Prior to the Victorian expeditions of Burton and Speke, the Albanian-born Ottoman ruler of Egypt, Mohammed Ali, in a bid to extend his territory and power, sponsored an expedition from Cairo in 1820-22, which reached the confluence of the Blue and White Niles (called “The Long Kiss” by the Arabs) and founded Khartoum. This same ruler, attempting to influence Europe in the Ottoman’s favor in their ongoing wars with Greece, made a gift of a giraffe to the king of France about the same time.
The zarafa, which in Arabic means charming or lovely one, traveled by boat down the Nile, then by ship to the port of Marseille, and continued on foot to Paris. Along the way she was greeted by legions of the curious, and she arrived in the City of Light amid great fame and lived out her long life at the Paris Zoo in the Jardin des Plantes (the oldest municipal zoo, started with animals rescued from the mob during the French Revolution).
This story is charmingly chronicled in Michael Allin’s book Zarafa, (Delta Books, by Random House, 1998), which Chipper was reading in Kansas City when much of this recording was composed. Inspired, he took a quick trip to the KC Zoo, and watching the giraffes, realized he’d always been fascinated by their elegant awkwardness. He honors Zarafa and her story by titling after her this composition, originally meant to resemble a baroque round written on mbira (African thumb piano).
Mzungu is a name given by Africans to the Victorian explorers searching for the Nile’s source. It means he who walks around in circles, and no doubt accurately describes the perambulations of several generations of Europeans who were trying to “discover” what the Dark Continent’s residents already knew! No doubt their explorations seemed to verge on silliness to the Masai, Wagungu, Wajiji, and Wanyamwezi peoples they encountered on their travels. Roger composed this circular theme to end the set, realizing afterwards the influence of South African Zulu Township Jive music.
13. Taqsim “Tigrissippi”… Threshold… The Janissary Stomp…
Inspired by a favorite river – the Mississippi – and what will presumably be a favorite when he finally see it – the Tigris – Chipper leads off this collection’s final set with a Delta Blues-flavored Arabic taqsim, or improvisation. It has been said that in order to be cool, a bluesman must be named after a malady, a fruit, and a dead president (i.e., Blind Lemon Jefferson). We joked that Chipper must have been channeling Leprous Fig Sadat!
Threshold, like its companion piece Emergence (track 3), came to Roger one evening at the home of luthier Stephen Owsley Smith and his partner Janeen Marie. He later conceived of joining these two parts into one tune as a Christmas gift for Janeen. For the purposes of arrangement on this recording, he and Chipper opted to separate them.
The history of the Ottoman Janissary Regiments is long and complicated, but in a nutshell, they were the Sultan’s elite shock troops, the “baddest of the bad” in the empire. They were founded in 1365 by Murad I, and called jeni ceri, or “new troop,” and their ranks were primarily comprised of captured Christian slaves from the Ottoman frontiers in the Balkans. Since the Koran forbade Muslims making war on other Muslims, this was a convenient way for the empire to extend its territory while sticking to the letter of religious law. Slaves or no, the Janissaries were much-praised servants, and usually relished their role. After all, they had escaped a life of poverty, hunger, and vampire-laced superstition in exchange for immense prestige and glory.
Eventually, they became so powerful that they virtually ruled the empire, strutting in the streets of Constantinople and lording it over everyone except the Sultan himself. Evidence of their ruthless hand was that there was even a tree in the middle of Constantinople called “The Janissary Tree,” of which a visitor of 1810 commented “…the enormous branches of which are often so thickly hung with strangled men that it is a sickening sight to look on.” There were periods of give-and-take, when either the Sultan or the Janissary Generals would have the upper hand, but finally, in June 1826, during what was by then a routine Janissary mutiny, Sultan Mahmut routed them, killing 10,000 men in one day, destroying a barricaded barracks with artillery, and abolishing their order forever. Lords of theHorizons, by Jason Goodwin, Owl Books by Henry Holt and Co., 1998, is a fine place to read more.
The Janissary Stomp also came to Roger – he says he channeled it – while playing Chipper’s then-new Red Bouzouki in August 1999. The tune came out wholly formed and within minutes Chipper was adding his slide ‘zouk. The experience of such unselfconscious moments of joint creativity was the genesis of this duo collaboration.
A WORD ABOUT THE INSTRUMENTS
Roger and Chipper have long championed the talents of Stephen Owsley Smith, the Taos, New Mexico luthier who made every bouzouki on this recording. All but one of these instruments (one of Chipper’s 4-coursers) have carved, arched tops and backs, usually of cedar and Hawaiian Koa. One of Chipper’s ‘zouks has a maple-and-spruce body.
The instruments Roger plays on this recording are: “Lil’ Red”, a small bodied, short scale, 5 course bouzouki built for Roger in 2000. Usually tuned G,G, DD AA dd aa but sometimes G,G, DD GG dd gg; “Ol’ Rattler”, a 24” scale, 5 course – Stephen’s first bouzouki built in 1990 and recently lent to Roger. Tuned D,D, A,A, EE AA ee or D,D, A,A, DD AA dd or C,C, G,G, DD GG dd; as well as two of Chipper’s instruments: the “Red” bouzouki and “Rosie”, which he tuned G,G, DD GG dd.
Chipper’s instruments all have four courses, or pairs of strings. His primary instrument is “Blondie”, the maple-backed, spruce-topped instrument that was his first. It has an interestingly “American” vibe compared to most of Steve’s creations, which could be (very) loosely described as being more “Celtic.” It has a 22 ¼ inch scale length, the shortest of Chipper’s instruments, and is usually tuned G,G, DD GG dd. It is the instrument Chipper uses for bottleneck slide ‘zouk playing.
Chipper’s next instrument is “The Red Bouzouki”, half-jokingly named after the near-magical fiddle in the film The Red Violin, because it seemed to have the same near-magical ability to make anyone who played it sound fantastic. At the time, anyway, Steve thought it was the best thing he’d ever built (and he is constantly improving, to our astonishment….) It has a 22 ¾ inch scale length, and is tuned G,G, DD AA dd or G,G, DD AA ee. Roger (who not-so-secretly covets it) tunes it like Blondie for The Janissary Stomp.
Chipper’s last instrument is “Rosie,” a flat-top, flat-back bouzouki that’s the prototype for a possible mass-produced instrument line of Steve’s and his fellow Taos luthier Tony Sutherland. An amazing-toned instrument, it has a 24 inch scale length and is usually tuned G,G, DD AA dd, but for Los Dervisomangas it's tuned like Blondie, as it is on mZungu, for which Roger removed one string of each course, using it as a 4-string for clarity's sake.
For more information on Steve’s fantastic and inspiring instruments, see his web page at www.celticmusic.com/steve.
Roger and Chipper would like to thank Stephen O. Smith for the ‘zouks of a lifetime… five of them! Andy Salamone for his fine talents as a recording engineer and for having a fabulous studio to exercise them in… (www.cactusville.com) Lisa Wright for all sorts of unqualifiable stuff… Lelia Salamone, Janeen Marie, Kathy Brown, Michaux Lowry, Charly Burnette Monroe Reed, Kim Treiber, and especially Lanford Monroe for their bottomless patience; Larry Torres, Tony Isaacs, Connie Dover, Chris Smith and Angela Mariani; all the students, staff, and enthusiastic supporters of Zoukfest… Tony Sutherland… Tony Huston… Allegra Huston…
- for Lanford