Dixie Breakdown

This arrangement comes into the category of "What to do when the banjo player plays ....." Since Foggy Mountain Breakdown banjo instrumentals have been an important component of the bluegrass sound. The mandolin player has to fake up some interesting breaks to these tunes, and none better than Dean Webb's breaks when Doug Dillard launched into his fast banjo instrumentals with the Dillards during the 1960s. As Dean demonstrated, the mandolin player has carte blanche to create an interesting sound in his own right in this situation.

In the two breaks to Dixie Breakdown below I've borrowed quite a lot from Dean Webb's playing on The Dillards Live - Almost! LP album. The licks in Part 1 of both breaks are mostly variations of Dean's playing in his first break on the album. In Part 2 I've used some movable double stops which reflect the banjo part more closely.

Before playing these breaks you are recommended to work through the double stop exercises below. The left hand fingering will help you through the various versions of these double stop licks that you will find in the breaks.

Also note the difference between Version a and Version b of each lick. Version a moves the double stop smack on the downstroke. However in Version b the move occurs a one-eighth note earlier, to create a driving syncopated effect which is used in the main breaks. When playing back the tab through MIDI your ear will soon be confused, and you will need to keep tapping your foot to recognise how the changes fit in with the downbeats. Dean Webb uses this kind of syncopation a lot to add excitement to his playing.

I believe that Don Reno originally recorded Dixie Breakdown at a more moderate speed, but the Dillards take it at the speed of light, somewhere between 166 and 168 half-note beats per minute. I've set the MIDI playback in the MusEdit file a lot slower so you can hear what is going on, but you can alter it as you wish.

The chords in square brackets in Part 2 are played in stop time: one brush and the solo instrument plays on unaccompanied for two bars until the next chord change. The band picks up regular rhythm again in bar 13, on the E chord.

The re-release of Live - Almost! together with Back Porch Bluegrass on a single Dillards CD (budget priced in Europe) has been one of the highlights of 2002. No bluegrass buff should be without these classic recordings from the 1960s - get them while you can!


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