Photo by Ron Priest
Back sometime last spring the girls learned an old fiddle tune from David Kaynor when he was visiting Brasstown. The name of the tune is: “Old Yellow Dog Come Trotting Through the Meeting House”.
It’s a peppy tune and we’ve been playing it at most of our recent concerts. The girls enjoy telling the audience the name of the song because its funny. We all picture a dog accidentally getting into church and trotting down the aisle as the congregation looks on. Turns out there’s more to the song name than that imagery.
Here’s what the Traditional Tune Archive has to say about the song:
OLD YELLER DOG (COME TROTTIN’ THROUGH THE MEETING HOUSE). AKA and see “Old Grey Mare,” “Old Blind Dog.” AKA – “Old Yeller Dog Went A-trotting Through the Meeting Room.” Old-Time, Breakdown. G Major (usually): F Major. Standard or FCfc (Rayna Gellert) tuning (fiddle). AABB. Rayna Gellert plays this tune in F, cross-tuned, although she notes that it is normally played in standard tuning in the key of G. Source Charlie Acuff had the tune from his grandfather, also named Charlie Acuff, from whom the young Charlie learned to fiddle. The tune/song is a variant of an old blackface minstrel song called “Down in Alabam” or “Aint I Glad I Got Out De Wilderness,” more familiar nowadays as “The Old Grey Mare (She Ain’t what She Used to Be). One version of the song was used as a campaign song for Abraham Lincoln (“Old Abe Lincoln came tearing out the wildnerness”), and fiddler Earl Johnson recorded a version in the 78 RPM ear as “Old Grey Mare Kicking Out of the Wilderness.”
The presence of dogs in a house of worship may seem incongruous to many, but the practice was not rare at one time, particularly in the South. South Carolina minister Charles Woodmason found it necessary to bar his congregation from bringing their animals with them to church in the late 18th century. Not only were they troublesome, he explained, they were also “an affront to the Divine Presence…to mix unclean things with our service.” Yet, the population was only imitating longstanding practice in Britain. This passage is from James Hall’s Travels in Scotland, by an Unusual Route: With a Trip to the Orkneys and Hebrides (London, 1807, p. 428):
I was amazed to see how much the minister in the interior of the Highlands are plagued with dogs in their churches. As almost every family has a dog, and some two, and as these dogs generally go with the people to church; so many dogs being collected often fight, and make such a noise during public worship, as not only disturbs the congregation, but endangers the limbs of many. I have seen more than twenty men plying with good cudgels, yet unable to separate a number of dogs fighting in a church. Nay, so much trouble do dogs give in some churches, that there is one appointed to go through the church-yard with a kind of longhandled forceps, which he holds out before him, and with which he wounds the tails, legs, and ears, &c. of the dogs, and thereby keeps the church and church-yard clear of these useful, but totally unnecessary animals in a place of public worship. Indeed, as these long-handled forceps have been found so useful in the Highlands, perhaps they might be of use in some other places; for ladies in too many places bring their lap-dogs to church, both on the north and south side of the Tweed. It often happens that a lady’s lap-dog, running out and into her muff at church, and playing other antic tricks, draws more attention than the parson…”
Dogs attending church! How do you like that 🙂
Here’s a video of us playing the great old fiddle tune a few weeks back.
Hope you enjoyed the history and the song!