An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section W)

wab (Scot.) see web.

wad (Scot.) 1. Wager, forfeiture, payment. 2. Would.

wain (Scot.) child.

waits in past centuries, the waits were the town musicians and town criers, and were usually paid a wage. The most illustrious of the waits would have been the Bach family in Germany. Each town had a signature tune, resulting in some traditional tunes with names like "Chester Waits". People unfamiliar with the term must have an interesting mental image when they hear a title like that.

wake 1. A funeral. 2. (UK) an annual holiday or festival.

Walker, Jerry Jeff (1942- ) (Paul Crosby) began as a street singer in the 60s, travelling the US and playing where he could. He toured briefly with a group called Circus Maximus, and then left for a solo career, recording for Atco and Vanguard. When "Mr Bojangles" (very loosely based on Bill Bojangles Robinson) was released as a single in 1968, he was assured of fame as a songwriter; it was a hit in 1971 for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and has been recorded since by dozens of others. Many of his songs that are not well known to the public are a staple in the repertoire of folkies. He toured during the late 60s and early 70s with Bromberg, David and continued to record. He moved to Austin, Texas and formed the Lost Gonzo Band in the early 70s, becoming much more musically adventuresome. In 1977, he left the LGB to record for MCA and Elektra, and formed the Bandito Band. He continued to record for his own label, Tried and True.

Walker, T-Bone (1909-1975) (Aaron Walker) a bluesman who began recording for Columbia in 1929 and was said to be the first to go electric; this was in 1934 and greatly influenced the sound of the blues - especially R&B and other blues performers, King, B.B. and Chuck Berry in particular. He also worked with other musicians, including Rainey, Ma.

walking bass a simple figure played on bass instruments, or in the bass range of other instruments. It usually consists of arpeggios, but might contain flatted sevenths or other accidentals, and it makes any spritely tune really move along. It was used quite a bit in 50s rock music and is a staple element in country blues.

waltz a dance in ¾ time, and also, the music for this. The three beats per measure make it instantly recognizable. Compare with jig. "The Rochester Recruiting Sergeant". 2. The waltz (= French: valse; German: Walzer), a dance in triple time, became the most popular of all ball-room dances in the 19th century, typified in Vienna by the compositions and performances of the Strauss family. As a purely instrumental form, the waltz provided an apt vehicle for composers from Chopin to Ravel.

Waltzing Matilda the unofficial anthem of Australia and one of the best-known songs in the English language. The words were written in 1895 by Andrew "Banjo" Paterson of Australia and, at the time, set to a Scottish fiddle tune ("Craigiolea"?). The tune known today is called the "Queensland version" by collectors, and is related to the English song "The Bold Fusilier", aka

waly (UK, also "wally", "waillie") expression of lament. Made famous by the title of the song "Waly, Waly" (aka "The Water is Wide").

wankers British folk club term for navelgazers.

wantonly (UK, also "wantonlie") gaily, merrily, spirited.

Ward, Wade (1892-1971) a Virginia banjo player in the frailing style as well as a fiddler and guitarist, Wade was in an old-timey group called the Bogtrotters. He recorded for the Library of Congress in 1938, and again for Folkways in the late 50s and early 60s. One of the Folkways records shares a side with Holcomb, Roscoe. He played a number of festivals in the 60s, and his workshops influenced many younger fans of the old-timey tradition.

Warner, Frank (1903-1978) American folk song collector. With his wife Anne, he collected hundreds of songs and performed at the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959. He collected the famous song "Tom Dooley" twenty years before the Kingston Trio recorded it (and the Trio shared that Newport stage with him). The source of "Tom Dooley" was Proffitt, Frank, who went on to some fame as a traditional performer. Frank also collected "Days of ‘49" from John Galusha in New York state. Songs collected by them have been published as "Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne and Frank Warner Collection", Syracuse University Press.

Warner, Jeff (1943- ) son of Warner, Frank, Jeff is a singer/guitarist who has inherited his father’s love of the folk tradition. He is popular at festivals with his partner Jeff Davis. He has participated in several albums, and works towards bringing music education to the schools.

washboard band a band using homemade rhythm instruments such as washboards and jugs. Similar to a jug band or spasm band.

washboard exactly that, a corrugated glass or metal panel used for scrubbing clothes in pre-washing-machine days. They’re popular rhythm instruments in jug bands and Cajun music, and are played with whatever’s handy, although Cajun players favor metal thimbles and flexible metal washboards that can be worn on the chest. Connoisseurs report that the glass models have a better sound.

Washington, Jackie 2 (1919- ) a singer-pianist-guitarist from Hamilton, Ontario who claims to be the author of over 1,000 songs. His music is a mix of folk, blues, ragtime, pop, etc. He records for the Toronto label Pyramid Records (now Borealis).

Washington, Jackie a Boston-based folk-blues singer and actor. He played the Newport Folk Festival in the mid-60s and recorded two albums for Vanguard.

washtub bass aka "gutbucket", the bass consists of a washtub and a pole such as a broomhandle held vertically with one end on the rim of the tub. A cord from the center of the tub to the end of the pole is the string that the player plucks. Different tensions on the pole, plus holding different lengths of the string against the pole, change the pitch. See also jug band.

wassail (Old English, to be hale, in good health) a festive occasion, usually around Christmas time, in which toasts are drunk (as is everybody else). There are many wassail songs, usually named after the supposed area of origin ("Somerset Wassail", etc.) and nearly all have the same theme: the song is performed by carolers who wish the best to the occupants of a house and happen to mention that they wouldn’t mind a drop or two if any is to be had. A variety of tunes are used, but the lyrics all contain much the same idea. An excerpt from the above wassail is typical: "Oh, where is the maid with the silver-headed pinTo open the door and let us come in?O master and missus, it is our desire,A good loaf and cheese and a toast by the fire."Chorus"For it’s your wassailAnd it’s our wassailAnd it’s joy be to you and a jolly wassail!" The "silver-headed pin", which turns up in a lot of folk songs, refers to a simple pin method of bolting a door.

watermelon back a mandolin with an elliptical back, such as found on the lute. Also called "bowl mandolin".

Waters, Muddy (1915-1983) (McKinley Morganfield) perhaps the most famous of the Chicago blues performers who took country blues and updated it with electric R&B arrangements. He and his band were always a hit at festivals, and they have recorded for various labels. Anyone into the electric blues owes a debt to Muddy Waters - performers such as Eric Clapton and Keith Richards have said how important he was as an influence.

Watersons a family of traditional singers from Yorkshire, England. Originally Mike, Lal and Norma, they were later joined by Carthy, Martin (who married Norma). Their songbag is an enormous repertoire of English traditional songs and ballads, and they have influenced just about everybody who’s aware of English folksong. Their sound is harsh and nasal and not to everyone’s taste, but along with the Copper Family they hold a virtual monopoly on English tradition.

Watson, Doc (1923- ) (Arthel Watson) a folk musician from North Carolina who has a huge repertoire of traditional music from the area and the US south. His guitar playing is the stuff of legends - his guitar flatpicking arrangements of fiddle tunes are without equal, and he’s been labeled "The King of the Bluegrass Guitar", although bluegrass picking is only a small part of his repertoire, which includes ballads, blues, ragtime and more. He has many recordings on Vanguard and continues to perform.

Watson, Merle (1949-1985) son of Doc Watson, Merle played expert second guitar and banjo on his father’s recordings until his untimely death in a farming accident. He is the author of the song "Southbound", which he and Doc recorded on Vanguard. Flying Fish Records brought out his solo album, "Pickin’ the Blues".

waught (Scot.) a drink.

wauk, wauken (Scot.) wake, waken.

waulking songs (UK, also "wauking") worksongs from the textile industry of the past. Waulking refers to abrading the fabric to soften it ("fulling"); this was often done by groups of people in a communal style, and the songs helped the time pass.

We Shall Overcome a hymn that had some popularity in church music throughout the 20th century as "I’ll Be All Right", and may have been influenced by the song "I’ll Overcome Some Day", written in 1903 by Rev. Charles Tindley of Philadelphia. The song circulated in the US south, and was brought to the attention of northerners when it was sung at a strike in South Carolina in the late 40s. It was modified and introduced to the US civil rights movement by Carawan, Guy, Hamilton, Frank, Seeger, Pete and Zilphia Horton. It was later picked up by the labor movement (see union songs). Overuse has affected its image somewhat: once a powerful anthem of the wronged, it often appears now on TV news as a half-mumbled song by some picketers who are demanding another dollar an hour. A comprehensive history of the song is in Pete Seeger’s "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" (see books). He noted that some activists find the song too pessimistic because of the phrase, "We shall overcome,some day". Reagon, Bernice countered that you can’t very well have the song saying, "We shall overcome next week".

wean (Scot.) child.

Weavers a folk group formed in the late 40s and immensely popular in the early 50s. The four members (who later went on to fame as solo performers) were Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman. Together with a few others such as the Kingston Trio, they’re primarily responsible for the folk revival since then. Their hits included "On Top of Old Smokey", "So Long", "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" and the 1950 hit that sold two million copies, "Goodnight, Irene" (see Leadbelly). The African song Wimoweh was a number-one hit by the Tokens in 1961/2 as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Many of their songs are credited to "Paul Campbell", a pseudonym they used in the early 50s, perhaps because of the blacklist (just as Leadbelly was listed as "Joel Newman"). As bookings fell off due to the blacklist, they disbanded in 1952. In 1955 they regrouped and began performing again. Pete Seeger left in 1958 and was replaced by various performers, such as Darling, Erik and Hamilton, Frank. They had (and recorded) several reunions at Carnegie Hall. See also movies.

web in the textile industry, the cloth in a loom.

weel-fared (Scot.) well-favored.

Weissberg, Eric a multi-instrumentalist, Eric played for the Greenbriar Boys bluegrass group in the 60s, as well as backing many other musicians on bass (Doc Watson, for instance) and banjo. He is best known to the public for "Dueling Banjos" from the film "Deliverance" (1972) (see also Dillards). He has made many recordings and had his own group, called, not unnaturally, "Deliverance".

Weissman, Dick (1935- ) played banjo and guitar in the NYC folk revival, as well as recording for Riverside, Stinson, and others, and was a member of the Journeymen. He teaches music, and co-authored "The Folk Music Source Book" with Larry Sandberg.

Wells, Junior (1932- ) (Amos Wells) a Memphis harp player and singer who moved to Chicago and played with Waters, Muddy. He partnered with Guy, Buddy in 1966, and recorded for Vanguard and Delmark.

well-tempered scale not only the equal-tempered scale, as is commonly believed, but also variants on the Pythagorean scale popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. Bach would have used one of these for the clavier works. For other tuning systems, see temperament.

West, Hedy (1938- ) a traditional folksinger and banjo player from Georgia, Hedy has been active on the folk scene since 1959, when she went to NYC during the folk revival. She made several albums for Vanguard, then moved to London and Germany, where she continued to record. She has been an influence on everyone interested in old-timey and other traditional American music.

Western Swing a mix of old-timey, country, and big-band sound; it was popular from the 20s to the 40s, and many of the recordings were reissued in the 70s. The western swing orchestras such as Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, and The Light Crust Doughboys added horns and pedal steels to the usual country sound. Their influence has been more on C&W than on folk music, although there are some crossover tunes.

wet in general, a sound to which a lot of reverb has been added. It might also be used to mean a full, rich sound, as opposed to a dry one.

whaling songs worksongs of the whaling industry and related to shanties. However, since they often tell a story of a particular voyage or adventure, they’re often a special form of the ballad. There are many songs of the men who often spent several years cooped up in sailing ships, chasing the whales in rowboats. Examples are "Greenland Whale Fisheries", "Rolling Down to Old Maui", "Blow Ye Winds of Morning", and "Farewell to Tarwathie". These songs have nothing to do with the modern mechanized whaling industry - there isn’t a folkie in the world who wouldn’t want to see that stopped.

whas (Scot.) whose

Wheatstone, Sir Charles (1802-1875) famous English scientist, the inventor of the concertina in 1829. His family owned a musical instrument firm, so many concertinas today bear his name. Although the concertina is generally associated with sailors (though there’s some doubt about this, since concertinas would have been rather expensive for sailors and their steel reeds rust prone), it was highly regarded in British high society at one time and much serious music was played on it.

Whiskeyhill Singers formed in 1961 by Dave Guard after he left the Kingston Trio. They made one album for Capitol and did a film score for "How the West Was Won", but otherwise success eluded them. See also Henske, Judy.

whistle the more popular name for a pennywhistle, tin whistle or flageolet. It’s a short length of metal or wood with a metal, wood or plastic fipple. Finger holes are drilled along it to give the major scale. It’s available in a wide selection of single keys (but see below). The range is somewhat more than two octaves, with the second octave obtained by blowing forcefully ("overblowing") and by changing the tongue position. Since playing softly in the upper register is not possible, the sound is necessarily shrill, unlike the recorder, which has a thumbhole for jumping octaves. The instrument is not quite the flea-market poor cousin you might be led to believe. There are virtuosos who have pushed it to delightful limits. It’s especially favored in Celtic music. While the whistle is diatonic, rolling the finger on the finger hole can produce sharps and flats (perhaps not the most precise ones), and there’s the technique of cross-fingering. Other keys can be obtained within limits by varying the keynote - see mode. There is also a three-hole whistle that can be played with one hand. This leaves the other hand free for playing a tabor. Known as "pipe-and-tabor" playing, this is a common accompaniment for morris dances.

white noise. a combination of all frequencies of sound of equal intensity, similar to the sound of wind or a waterfall.

white voice the Oxford Companion to Music defines this as "A voice lacking in the characteristics which give an emotional richness of tone." Lots of folkies have white voices.

White, Bukka (1909-1977) (Booker T. White) a Mississippi bluesman who made some recordings for Biograph in the 30s, but was out of the public eye from 1940 until the folk revival, when he began to record again in 1960. He’s known for "Jitterbug Swing", " Parchman Farm Blues" and "Fixin’ to Die", and was the source of the train song "Panama Limited", whhich was arranged and recorded by Rush, Tom.

White, Josh (1908-1969) through Hammond, John Josh began to play the NYC club scene in the 40s, performing his wide-ranging repertoire of folk songs and blues, accompanied by a clean guitar style. He was successful enough that he ended up playing for the Roosevelts at the White House. He began in the blues idiom; as a young man he accompanied Blind Lemon Jefferson and learned blues guitar from him. Later he included a wider range of songs and was popular with a general public that might not have accepted a blues-oriented approach. His career had a setback in the 50s due to the blacklist, since he had been associated with People’s Songs. He began performing again during the 60s, and recorded many albums for a large number of labels. He was a force behind the emerging folk revival in the 50s and 60s, recording songs like "House of the Rising Sun", and also singing cutting anti-racism songs like "Strange Fruit" by Holiday, Billie, songs that must have been somewhat jarring to 50s nightclub audiences used to a diet of commercial blandness.

whitebread a pejorative term for popular arrangements of black music, usually by white studio types, which manage to remove all the interesting rhythmic and stylistic elements, leaving a somewhat bland version. This happened to spirituals done by many white groups, and it happened in pop music of the 50s and 60s when black R&B artists were rarely heard on the mass media and their songs were covered by white bands. The term can also refer to any bland arrangement of music that could have been better done.

whites a white shirt and trousers - the minimum morris kit. Generally embellished with a baldrick and a funny hat.

Whitsun also "Whitsunday". The seventh Sunday after Easter. This date turns up in many British traditional songs, perhaps because it has a pleasant sound, or perhaps as a convenient way of setting the date in the song. In the North American Christian faith, it’s called Pentecost Sunday.

Whitsuntide the week following Whitsun.

whole-step. a distance or interval equal to two semitones.

whole-tone scale a scale consisting only of six whole tones. An example is C D E F# G# A#. The lack of colouration from semitones results in a sound that has been described as "floating or drifting". It turns up in Oriental music. Not used in folk; if odd scales are are in use, folk prefers modes or pentatonic scales.

whole-tone scale. a scale consisting of all whole-steps.

Why are we waiting folkies who’ve spent a long time in a lineup that doesn’t seem to be moving often burst into "Why are we waiting?", sung over and over to the tune of "Adeste Fideles". If they’re really inspired, they add harmony and other embellishments.

Why was he born so a mock salute, said to be from UK rugby crowds and sung at crowded get-togethers when someone does something particularly boneheaded. Since it’s sung to "British Grenadiers", the best effect occurs when it’s done majestically with multi-part harmony: "Why was he born so beautiful?Why was he born at all?He’s no fucking use to anyone,He’s no fucking use at all." The recipient of all this negativity is inevitably chuffed. Another one with the same purpose: singing "Sit down, you fool" over and over to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne".

Wildwood Flower an American song written in 1888 by Maud Irving and J.P. Weber, and popularized by the Carter Family (the original title was "I’ll Twine ‘Mid the Ringlets"). Perhaps the favorite tune of beginning guitar pickers who want to go beyond strumming and into playing melody lines. The tune was used by Guthrie, Woody for the song "Reuben James". It’s interesting to note that the lyrics have become nicely muddled over the years. Faith Petric, writing in her "Folk Process" column in a 1992 Sing Out! gives the original first verse: "I’ll twine ‘mid the ringlets of my raven black hair,The lilies so pale and the roses so fair,The myrtle so bright with an emerald hue,And the pale aronatus with eyes of bright blue." Those who know the song are invited to compare their version with the above - chances are, you’ll have "twine and will mingle" for the first line, and "pale emanita with eyes look like blue" for the fourth, plus a few other minor changes.

Williams, Big Joe (1903-?) during the 60s folk revival, the primitive Mississippi blues style of Joe Williams created loyal audiences for him - especially among blues players in Chicago and New York. Bob Dylan credited him on one of his early albums (back when he was crediting at all) and played with him during his NYC gig in early 1962. He has made a number of recordings, and his early work (as King Solomon Hill) was reissued. Two of his songs are well-known: "Sitting on Top of the World" and "Baby, Please Don’t Go".

Williams, Hank (1923-1953) one of the most successful C&W singer- songwriters ever, Williams’ simple but effective vocal and guitar style influenced many folkies who were into old-timey and even contemporary music. His enormous list of hits means that many of his songs are still performed today, even in folk clubs: "Jambalaya", "Your Cheatin’ Heart", "So Lonesome I Could Cry", "Lovesick Blues", "Hey, Good Lookin’", and many others.

Williams, Ralph Vaughan (1872-1958) He pronounced his first name "Rafe" and is better known as Vaughan Williams. The famous composer and arranger also collected folksongs, and these collections have been published (eg, "Folksongs Collected By Ralph Vaughan Williams", Roy Palmer, ed.). He incorporated many of the tunes into his orchestral works, and always did them justice (which not all composers do).

Williamson I, Sonny Boy (1921-48) (John Lee Williamson) blues singer and harp player. He moved to Chicago in the early 30s as a sideman and began making his own recordings in the late 30s. According to Glover, Tony, these recordings "laid the groundwork for the Chicago style of R&B that dominated the blues scene in the late 40s and early 50s."

Williamson II, Sonny Boy (1897-1965) (Walter Miller). Considered by Glover, Tony to be "by far the best of the contemporary singer blues-harpists", He started playing blues in the south, moving to Chicago in 1960. He and his recordings had an enormous influence on harp players and the contemporary R&B bands.

Wills, Bob see Western Swing.

Willy there seems to be a scarcity of names in the old ballads. Willy and Polly turn up everywhere, or just as often, William and Nancy. "Jimmy" is another favorite. The consistent use of these names is a marker.

Wimoweh an African folk song learned by Seeger, Pete and recorded in the 50s by the Weavers. It was re-released by the Tokens in 1961 and was a number-one hit as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". See also Guabi, Guabi, Click Song.

Winchester, Jesse (1944- ) originally from Memphis, the singer-songwriter moved to Montreal and became a Canadian citizen. His best-known songs from the 70s in the folk clubs are "Yankee Lady" and "Brand New Tennessee Waltz". He toured with The Band and his first record was produced by Robbie Robertson.

winding sheet burial shroud.

windjammer (rare) an accordion or melodeon.

windsock a sleeve of flexible foam or other material that’s placed over the business end of an outdoor microphone to reduce the effect of wind noise. It is also useful in reducing popping p’s.

Wobblies members of the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World. See union songs.

wolf tone 1. An interval in a scale that’s noticeably out of tune because of the limitations of the scale in use - see the entries for equal-tempered scale, which is pretty good about this, the scale of just intonation, which is awful across different keys, the meantone scale, which is somewhere in between, and the Pythagorean scale, which can be adjusted through much effort to make all keys at least close to well-tempered (see temperament). 2. In instruments, particularly stringed instruments, a note with loudness or timbre that’s noticeably different from the rest, sometimes unpleasantly so. It’s due to the extra loudness of a group of harmonics, and seems to be almost unavoidable - even the very best of them often have at least one note that jumps out (see also formant).

woodwind a reeded instrument group that includes the clarinet, oboe, and bassoon. They are used occasionally in folk arrangements and add a wonderful sound - see quire for a comment on their use in traditional playing. 2.The woodwind section of the modern orchestra includes flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons and related instruments, although flutes are generally no longer made of wood. These instruments are all aerophones, blowing instruments, the sound produced by blowing across an aperture in the case of the flute, by the vibration of a single reed in the case of the clarinet and by the vibration of double reeds in the case of the oboe and the bassoon.

Work, Henry Clay (1832-84) a Victorian American songwriter and musical typesetter. He was said to compose with such ease that he set songs in type directly without a runthrough. His songs include "Father Come Home" (1864), "My Grandfather’s Clock" (1875), "Marching Through Georgia", and "The Ship That Never Returned". The last is the forerunner of songs like "Wreck of the Old 97" (see train songs) and "MTA Song" (see folk process).

Work, John abolitionist composer in the 19th century US who arranged Bluetail Fly from the minstrel shows.

worker songs there are a number of subgroups of worker songs. One is made up of union songs, which generally have the message to workers that they don’t have to put up with exploitation. Another would be the songs describing work itself, naturally from the worker’s point of view. Occasionally there are songs about worker heroes, of which the best-known would be John Henry.

workshops workshops are held during the day at folk festivals. They consist of putting whatever musicians are available together on a small stage and giving them a topic, which they may or may not be good at. If they are, the results are often edifying. If they’re not, they’ll just sing or play whatever comes to mind, which is also often edifying, though off-topic. The difference between a workshop and a concert is that the workshop is expected to draw an audience conversant with the topic, so the performers can expound at length - you might well get a workshop consisting only of the discussion of the technical aspects of an instrument. Workshops early in the morning are often a washout - see go the distance.

worksongs singing while working is ancient, probably dating from the beginning of the human race. The songs are divided into three main types. The first is any song that suits the singer, and is used to pass the time, etc. The second is a song that actually participates in the work, generally used for coordinating the effort of a group or pacing the work. See shanties, hollers, lining track. The third category would be songs about work and workers. There is an endless list of these in folk, describing manual labour, John Henry’s famous race against technology, the tedium of the textile worker, mining, fishing, farming, and any other subject wherever people have a job to do. The first category is still around and no doubt always will be. The second seems to have faded from public use, no doubt since the work methods that inspired the songs are in short supply (but there’s a wonderful parody of a track-lining song called "White Collar Holler" - written for computer operators by Nigel Russell - the melody is a variant of "Sixteen Tons" and the chorus is from "Linin’ Track"). The third is popular outside folk only occasionally, often in the form of the C&W truck-driving songs or similar.

world music a new term for old stuff: singing international songs in their own language, or at least English translations of them.

wow (UK) expression of surprise. The word is actually centuries old.

wrest a wrench or key used for tuning an autoharp, piano, etc.

wrest pin the rotatable steel pin for securing and tuning the strings of a piano, autoharp, hammered dulcimer, etc. A wrench or key ( wrest) is required for turning them.

WWW World Wide Web - see Internet folk.

Wyatt, Lorre in the early 60s, after the widespread success of Dylan’s " Blowin’ in the Wind", Lorre Wyatt, a picker and singer from the northeast US, claimed for a joke that he had written it and Dylan had stolen it. The news of this got out of hand, making the mass media. The shamefaced Lorre later published a complete retraction in Sing Out! and went on to perform, including a stint on the Clearwater Project.