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Tune History

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The Stories Behind Your Favorite Tunes


Calico Billy In The Low Ground

Modern Version(s) Of A Classic
From The West Coast

We left the history of the "traditional" Billy In The Lowground noting that the tune continues to evolve. A related crooked version in the key of G, called “Old Time Billy In The Lowground” was reportedly being played in Franklin, KY in the 19th century. HERE is a more detailed discussion of that variant. Enjoy a video of the Canote Brothers playing the tune. Interestingly, the Canotes also figure into the next conversatation.

Modern versions appearing to originate on the west coast are now circulating; one of the first was recorded by Josh Rabie in 2010. It is played in Calico* tuning (AEac#). Here is the Josh Rabie version on Bandcamp.

The tune also appears on The Onlies  self-titled release in 2020.  From their Bandcamp page:

“A classic last-tune-of-the-square dance in the Pacific Northwest. Greg Canote seems to be responsible for bringing this version to the area, though we learned it from Josh Rabie’s recording with Pharis and Jason Romero. Josh said he learned it from Sally Jablonsky.”

There are other references to people learning this tune from Sally Jablonsky, but there was no luck finding a recording of her playing it. Sally reportedly said she learned it from Greg Canote, and Greg said he learned it from her version. A prime example of the murkiness of tune origins! Sally does have an album called Dear Sister, recorded with her sister Ruthie, under the band name Dry and Dusty.

Below are videos from Tricia Spencer with a Calico (GDgb) version, and a fun discussion on the evolution of Billy. The mp3 sound file is slower and more swingy, in Calico (AEac#) by the Newomatics from Oakland, California.

*Here are some links to explore alternate/cross tunings:,Rag%2C%20or%20Drunken%20Hiccups%20tuning

The Onlies

Calico Billy In The Low Ground (AEAc#)

Calico Billy In The Low Ground (in G)

Tricia Spencer

Calico Billy In The Low Ground

Tune Talk Episode 18/Spencer and Rains

Billy In The Low GroundThe Newomatics
00:00 / 02:50
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