Einstein and Folkways Records
Cold Cold Ground

Yes, I Guess They Oughta Name a Drink After You

Ebony hillbillies
The Ebony Hillbillies in front of Astor Wine & Liquors, Manhattan


(This is part of an occasional series on John Prine's second album,
Diamonds in the Rough:   Everybody  The Torch Singer  Souvenirs
The Late John Garfield Blues  Sour Grapes  Billy The Bum  The Frying Pan
Yes I Guess They Oughta Name a Drink After You  Take the Star Out of the Window  The Great Compromise  Clocks and Spoons  Rocky Mountain Time


What's the difference between a fiddle and a violin?

Everyone who takes up either instrument quickly gets tired of being asked the question. The best answer I've heard so far was from Rique, the fiddler for the New York oldtime stringband The Ebony Hillbillies. He was asked the question at the 2005 Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, NC.

"How it's played," Rique answered. "A fiddler keeps the bow on with the strings at all times, but a violinist lifts the bow off the strings — or bounces it off." And with this, he bounced his bow against the strings of his fiddle, drumming out the first few notes of the William Tell Overture / Lone Ranger theme: badda-bum, badda-bum, badda-bum-bum-bum!

"Yes I Guess They Oughta Name a Drink After You" spotlights Dave Prine's fiddling just as the previous song, The Frying Pan, did his banjo-playing — and his fiddling is a fine example of Rique's lesson. After starting the recording with a quick little solo shuffle before the whole band jumps in, the rest of the song is Dave's demonstration of lazy-sounding, long-bow, honky-tonk fiddling that never rests.

I wish I knew enough about country music to say whether this fiddling is more Hank Thompson than Bob Wills, or whomever. It won't be long, though — I'm about to read a book by Bill C. Malone and get some reissues of some people like Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzel and so forth.

But the thing is ... I'm writing NOW.


According to David Fricke, John Prine says of "Yes, I Guess ..."

I was going for a Hank Williams kind of song. Steve Goodman always told me that if I'd taken another couple of minutes and put a chorus to the song — there isn't any, just a tag line to every verse — that it would have been a hit country song. And I was set in my ways. Once a song was done, it was done. But Steve was probably right; he usually was.

The song is another of Prine's border-line parodies, this time of a honky-tonk jukebox record. From the point of view of the guitars, it's a duet between John Prine and Steve Goodman — but with nothing of the delicate complexity we expect from them. Steve Burgh's upright bass falls right on the beat, as do Prine and Goodman, strumming away, never striking any less than all twelve strings they have between them.

Being a honkytonk record, after all, the beat has to come down heavy, so you can feel it in a noisy juke joint even if you can't actually hear any music. This is the kind of country-western beat that might make you want to keep time by alternately jutting out and drawing in your chin. (Which reminds me ... they say the origins of the term "honky" are unclear, but it must be a close relative of "honky tonk.")

The lyrics, too, are so conventional for this kind of music that they're funny. His woman drives him to drink. And that's about it. But it's always seemed odd to me — if nevertheless appropriate — that the relationship between the singer and his woman develops during the course of the song. It takes twists and turns:

Looks like I had my fill
Guess I better pay my bill
When I started out I only meant to have a few
Someone just said that you left town
I better get a double round
And yes, I guess they oughta name a drink after you
But how is this possible if she's not at least there with him, sitting on the next bar stool? No doubt, his sitting alone in the bar getting ever more drunk is itself the development, the twist in the relationship that happens during the course of the song.



Jeff Overturf

The difference between a fiddle and a violin is...a fiddle's got "strangs" on it.

Great posts, I look forward to reading more.

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