Clinch Mountain Backstep

Here are two approaches to the bluegrass classic, Clinch Mountain Backstep. Most bands play this tune in the style of the original recording by the Stanley Brothers. The first version below is a straightforward bluegrass arrangement. If you are not already familiar with Clinch Mountain Backstep watch out for the extra half bar in the second part of the tune.

Most bands play Clinch Mountain Backstep in the key of A, which works out fine for the mandolin and fiddle. However, interestingly, the original recording, on the classic LP The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys, King 615, is in G sharp. I guess they were playing in G fingering with the instruments tuned up half a tone. Can anyone shed further light on this, please? As Clinch Mountain Backstep started life as a banjo instrumental played in standard open G tuning, a banjo player will often launch into the tune without putting on his capo at the second fret. This presents us mandolin (and fiddle) players with the problem of transposing, as we bravely do everything without a capo.

When I was working up a version of Clinch Mountain Backstep in G, it seemed to come out as a minor key tune. (The usual description of the bluegrass version is "modal".) Hence the second arrangement below is notated with chords in the key of G minor, in the style of recordings of Clinch Mountain Backstep by the British banjo player Pete Stanley. (The surname is co-incidental - Pete is not Ralph's long-lost cousin.) You can hear Pete playing Clinch Mountain Backstep on the CD re-release of his 1966 LP with Wizz Jones, More Than Sixteen Tons of Bluegrass. Pete uses a modal banjo tuning gDGCD for his version of CMB.

Another interesting variant of Clinch Mountain Backstep is the Dillards' song, Go The Whole World Round, which they sing in F sharp minor. You can hear this song on the excellent CD re-release of the classic LP The Dillards Live - Almost!, coupled with Back Porch Bluegrass.

You will find lots more ideas for Clinch Mountain Backstep in the tabs at CoMando and Nigel Gatherer's site. I urge you to download these as well and to work through them, then come up with your own arrangement. That's what playing bluegrass is all about.

The original Stanley Brothers recording of Clinch Mountain Backstep is moderately fast, at about 138 half note beats per minute. However, it can also sound good played faster or slower. Just enjoy playing this classic bluegrass instrumental your own way!


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