Hi Jim, 
I listened to the clips you posted links to, and I think the rhythm in the accompaniment has a lot to do with what makes the tune "danceable." With the exception of the solo guitar version, both other versions had that boom-chuck old-time groove going, with a reliable and easy-to-hear "chuck," on the offbeat. 
The fiddlers also leaned a little harder on the offbeat, which I think often makes tunes swing in a way that's better for dancing, regardless of whether they're old-time tunes or not. 
Anyway ... a great tune regardless of how it's played.
Meg in Chicago

On Tue, Sep 24, 2019 at 5:00 PM jim saxe via Musicians <musicians@lists.sharedweight.net> wrote:

A few years ago (Dec 28 2015), I posted a message here with Subject line "Danceability of versions of the same tune" in which I called attention to these two recordings of "Sleepy Eyed Joe"

     Foghorn Stringband
     ~134 BPM

     Lyman Enloe (and ???)
     (Is this really a version of the "same" tune?)
     ~131 BPM

and contrasted them with this one

     Norman Blake
     ~114 or 115 BPM

I think that both the Foghorn version and the Lyman Enloe version are fine examples of music for old-time squares and that they could also be good for contras is played in similar style but at a lower tempo.  But I said this about the Blake version:

> Again, the player is undeniably skilled.  But somehow this
> rendition just doesn't do it for me as dance music.  And I
> don't think the difference is just the slower tempo (about
> 115 B.P.M.) compared to the other two versions.

At least one other list member explicitly agreed that the Blake version was meant for listening, not dancing, and I don't think anyone offered a contrary opinion.

Recently, while going through some of my CDs, I realized that I had another recording of "Sleepy Eyed Joe" played by Norman Blake, which I then found is also on YouTube, here:

     Norman Blake, Nancy Blake, James Bryan, Charlie Collins
     ~114 BPM

The tune is played five times through, with Norman Blake playing melody on mandolin on rounds 1, 3, and 5 and fiddler James Bryan taking the melodic lead on rounds 2 and 4 and

While this one is at a similarly moderate tempo to the other Blake version cited above, it immediately struck me as being in a more danceable style.  And that applies to the parts with mandolin lead as well as those with fiddle lead, even though I generally prefer fiddle over plucked or strummed instruments as the melodic lead for old-time square dance music.

I invite other list members to play the recordings for yourselves and tell me what you think.  You might also want to try playing each with the YouTube playback speed set to 1.25 (click the gear-shaped icon in the strip along the bottom of the YouTube window),bringing the tempo into the low 140s (which, to my taste, is about the top of the suitable tempo range for traditional southern/western square dances, notwithstanding Cecil Sharp's recommendation of tempos around 160 for the "running set").

Since I happen to have a variable-speed cd player as well as CD including the last-cited recording, I've also been able to listen to it at an intermediate tempo of about 130 BPM.   At that tempo, it seemed quite danceable, both in the parts with mandolin lead and those with fiddle lead.

So what's behind the difference in danceability I'm hearing between Blake's two renditions of the tune?  I don't think it's the tempos, which are nearly the same, with the second being, perhaps a shade slower the first.  And I don't think it has to do with Blake playing mandolin on the second vs. (I think) guitar on the first.  Do the backing musicians on the second recording could have something to with it?  Is it mostly, as I'm inclined to think, that on the second recording Blake plays in a less-ornamented, more "straight-ahead" style?  (And if so, can someone with more musical knowledge than I have describe what's going on in other terms that might be informative to an aspiring dance musician?)  Or do you think the difference in danceability is entirely in my head, perhaps based on what kind of mood I was in when I first heard each of the two recordings?

Comments, anyone?



The notes accompanying the CD with the second Blake recording cited above attribute the tune "Sleepy Eyed Joe" to Ellis Hall.  A search in the Traditional Tune Archive


gives surprisingly little information about the tune--just a mention of it as being on the flip side of a 1952 recording of "My Little Home in West Virginia" by  Ellis Hall and Bill Addis.

I've also discovered that there are several renditions of "Sleepy Eyed Joe" in the Gordon McCann Ozarks Folk Music Collection hosted by Missouri State University


but I haven't listened to them yet.  The McCann collection looks like a terrific resource, with 938 YouTube videos (or perhaps "YouTube audios' would be a more accurate description) digitized from tapes of jam sessions, fiddle contests, dances, interviews, etc.  Lengths of the videos vary from under 10 minutes (for ones made from on partially-used side of a tape) to over three hours (for ones digitized from multiple tapes), but I'd guess they averaging an hour of longer.  While someone has put a lot of work into writing descriptions that list the contents of these recordings (or at least of many of them), and while there's a search facility to find recordings based on those descriptions, the content listings don't include start times for the various segments.  So even when you've found a recording, it can still take a while to work your way through it to the particular selection you want to hear.


On Dec 28, 2015, at 12:28 PM, James Saxe <jim.saxe@gmail.com> wrote:
> Folks,
> A while ago, I was listening to a bunch of old-time music and
> trying to wrap my head around what makes some tunes--or some
> renditions of some tunes--seem (to me) more suitable for square
> and/or contra dancing than others.  Of course I know about
> crooked tunes not working for phrased dances.  I'm trying to
> get at more subtle issues.  I've just been listening to three
> renditions of the "same" tune, and I wonder whether any of
> you will share my reactions and, perhaps, be better able to
> articulate the reasons for then than I am.
> One of the tunes I came across in my old-time listening  binge
> was "Sleepy Eyed Joe" as played by the Foghorn Stringband on
> their album _Weiser Sunrise_.  It immediately impressed me as
> a great square-dance tune.  I also think it would be fime for
> contras if played in similar style but at a somewhat slower
> tempo.  (Tempo on the recording is about 134 B.P.M.)
> As of the time I write this, the _Weiser Sunrise_ album, which
> had gone out of print for a while, seems to be available again.
> You can hear a sample of "Sleepy Eyed Joe"--once through the
> tune--here
>     https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00JAPC1H6?ie=UTF8&ref_=dm_ws_tlw_trk6
> and the whole track here
>     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2RI8FlwvQg
> So you can listen for yourself and see if you agree with me.
> I also found a rendition of "Sleepy Eyed Joe" as played by
> its composer, late Missouri fiddler Lyman Enloe (1906-1997);
[Note:  I was apparently in error when I referred to Enloe as
the composer.  See the other quoted message below.]
>     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ajfs8tcyrI
> [tempo about 131 B.P.M.]  Lyman plays his composition with
> undeniable skill and, I think, in a quite danceable style.
> His name wasn't familiar to me before, but now that I've
> heard him, I'll be looking to buy some of his music.  That
> said, there's still something about the Foghorn's version
> of "Sleepy Eyed Joe" that makes it seem (to me) even more
> danceable.
> And here's a third rendition of the tune, played by Norman
> Blake on solo guitar:
>     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AntWbzdq60
> Again, the player is undeniably skilled.  But somehow this
> rendition just doesn't do it for me as dance music.  And I
> don't think the difference is just the slower tempo (about
> 115 B.P.M.) compared to the other two versions.  (When I
> play the Blake version with the YouTube speed control set
> to 1.25--thus raising the tempo into the low 140's--it
> sounds more driving, but it still seems to me that there's
> something lacking.  Alas, I don't have means to play it at
> an intermediate tempo.)
> Thoughts, anyone?
> --Jim

On Dec 28, 2015, at 2:39 PM, James Saxe <jim.saxe@gmail.com> wrote:
> Folks,
> In my previous message, I wrote:
>> I also found a rendition of "Sleepy Eyed Joe" as played by
>> its composer, late Missouri fiddler Lyman Enloe ...
> After looking around some more, I find that "Sleepy Eyed Joe"
> appears to be traditional.  It appears that I misread some
> reference to the tune *as played by* Lyman Enloe as attributing
> authorship.  However this Google Books snippet of _Ozarks Fiddle
> Music_
> https://books.google.com/books?id=2vm8OaHq_WcC&pg=PA30&lpg=PA30&dq=%22sleepy+eyed+joe%22+enloe&source=bl&ots=vCRm4poWy-&sig=VfhzvlIp2s9LDMQWdz23EKU1G5A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj6pYT3y__JAhUM9WMKHfoQCHIQ6AEIQDAH#v=onepage&q=%22sleepy%20eyed%20joe%22%20enloe&f=false
> gives notation for Enloe's version (which I still like almost as
> much as I like Foghorn's version) with the comment:
>    Enloe does not remember where he learned this tune.  He says
>    he is aware that several different tunes have this title. ...

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