Learning the Orange Blossom Special

Learn Orange Blossom Special

With this tune, which is unequaled in popularity, you must master three distinct parts. Each of these parts has its own character and style.

They are: 1. Bells, whistles, chugga-chugga’s, 2. the Shuffle, 3. the Hoedown.

Bells, Whistles, Chugga-chugga’s

This is the introductory part of the tune. It starts up right after the rhythm is put down, by guitar, and other instruments usually.

The first whistle to master is made by the G# on the D string and the B on the A string. This double stop takes two of the chord notes from the E major chord and moves them down and up with a fall off at the end.

That’s followed by the left hand plucking the E string for the bell. This can be recycled several times.

In between the bell and the whistle, play some chugga-chugga’s. For that you must move the bow up and down the string instead of across the string. Do this very rapidly in time. I change my grip on the bow a little to make this easier. Make the movement very short, just a couple or more inches at the most.

The sound should be 90% percussive, not tonal. In other words a definite pitch is not what we’re after. Placement of the left hand fingers can be the same as the whistle.

It is in this part of the tune that many fiddlers do musical quotes and “stretch out.”

I used to do that, too. Then, I heard the classic Irwin Rouse version. The directness of his performance is powerful by comparison of the “loaded up” versions you hear today. My recommendation: except for a few bluesy, syncopated moves, lose the junk.

Here is the version I played on YouTube: Orange Blossom Special on YouTube

The Shuffle

The most famous shuffle for this tune is the double shuffle or hokum bow. We’ll get to that.

In the original version by Irwin Rouse, he played two other shuffles before doing that one. And remember, we’re talking about the version that made the tune famous.

One of the shuffles is a rocking bow. You play two strokes on the lower strings and two on the next pair up, back and forth. This was in last month’s tabs.

Master this technique for other tunes as well. Often I use this move for Arkansas Traveler. (I stole this from Dale Potter.)

In this rocking bow shuffle you will need to think in terms of three strings at once. Not that you play three at once, but your fingering is organized as though you were.

Mastering the fingering for this shuffle puts you in very good position to master the double shuffle.

There are two difficult areas for the hokum bow or double shuffle. One is the left hand–having to be concerned with three strings at a time. Another is the coordination of the string crossings with the bow.

There is an easy way to get into this rhythm, using only two strings. It is included with the tab charts for February’s mailing.

The most common error: adding an extra note or leaving one out. If you don’t have the tab, this won’t make much sense, but…. This exercise is included in the tabs.

The ultimate performance of this shuffle shuffle gets the left hand fingers changing along with the bow. It’s quite an advanced technique. An example of this is also in the tabs.

Irwin Rouse also does a shuffle of chugga-chugga’s. As said before, the sound is mainly percussive. Yet, you will use the left hand positions for the fingering just as in the rocking bow.

Rouse went through the tune 3 times, ending with the hokum bow. When I play it, usually I just go through the tune twice. First with rocking bow, then with hokum. And I end after the hoedown.

The Hoedown

Finally, we get to a straight ahead part that sounds like a hoedown. It’s exactly the same length as Cripple Creek. Or as long as the A part of Old Joe Clark.

Creating your own version of this tune is like making up a variation of any well known hoedown. You want to keep it recognizable.

The tab version is similar, but not identical, to the classic Irwin Rouse version. After the hoedown, there is a transitional figure that takes you back to the key of E. If you want to end the song, you need to add a simple standard tag to wind things up.

The tabs last month had a transition This month has a finishing tag.

The Song

Look a-yonder comin’
Comin’ down that railroad track.
Hey, look a-yonder comin’
Comin’ down that railroad track.
It’s the Orange Blossom Special
Bringin’ my baby back.”

That’s how the tune begins. As it continues, it fills out the form for 12 bar blues!

Here are two more verses:

Well, I’m going down to Florida
And get some sand in my shoes.
Or maybe Californy
And get some sand in my shoes.
I’ll ride that Orange Blossom Special
And lose these New York blues.
Hey talk about a-ramblin’
She’s the fastest train on the line.
Talk about a-travellin’
She’s the fastest train on the line.
It’s that Orange Blossom Special
Rollin’ down the seaboard line.”
Yes, the song is a 12 bar blues tune. And yet, you never hear players improvising over the 12 bar changes.

Do you know the story of the Orange Blossom Boys: The Untold Story of Ervin T Rouse, Chubby Wise and the World’s Most Famous Fiddle Tune?

“One of the most bizarre stories in all of popular music is the history of “Orange Blossom Special,” arguably the century’s best-known fiddle tune.” (From the publisher’s description.)

Best of all is the CD in the back of the book. It’s pure gold. It has Erwin Rouse’s original version, Chubby Wise playing at a festival, and many more. The CD alone is worth the $20 for the book.