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Tune History

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The Stories Behind Your Favorite Tunes


Hangman's Reel

A Popular Canadian Export

Also known as Hanged Man’s, The Hanged Man’s, Hangman’s, The Hangman’s, Hangmans, Le Reel Du Pendu, Reel Du Bourreau, Reel Of The Hanged Man, The Reel Of The Hanged. This is a very popular and fun tune, appropriate for any jam setting. Usually played in the key of A with four parts, open fiddle tuning AEAe or AEAc#. The origins of the tune are somewhat obscure (of course), but most believe that the version we know is a Canadian export, much like ice hockey and Celine Dion.

New York fiddler Judy Hyman of the Horseflies believes it originally derived from the Québecois tune "Reel du pendu" (Hanged Man's Reel) and that it was rendered in a Southern old-time style by younger upstate New York fiddlers. The Horse Flies released a version in 2002 on their album "Two Traditions".

Reel Du Pendu was popular with French-Canadian fiddlers as a show tune. The earliest sound recording appears to be by Quebec fiddler Joseph Allard in 1928. The tune was recorded in more of a bluegrass style in 1968 by fiddler Albert Hash of Grayson County VA; he reportedly learned it from Texas fiddler Bill Northcutt, who also recorded it in 1968.

The folklore associated with this tune is usually a version of a story about a condemned man about to be hanged, and an offer of reprieve for playing a fiddle tune. He played this melody, which was then forever known as Reel du Pendu, or Reel of the Hanged (Man).*

And you thought you were under pressure when it was your turn to start a tune at the jam! 

*ed. note: if the man was spared, shouldn't the title be "Reel of The Almost Hanged Man?"

Reel Du Pendu

Joseph Allard 1928

Bill Northcutt, Texas Fiddler

Hangman's Reel 1968

Albert Hash, Grayson County Virginia Fiddler

Hangman's Reel circa 1968

Hangman's ReelThe Horse Flies
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