Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

John Hartford and The Girl I Left Behind Me

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum.

Recently, I stumbled on a video of Alison Brown and Molly Tuttle and Sierra Hull playing The Girl I left Behind Me.

I thought - I know that song. Digging deep into the recesses of my mind (I don’t know, I could have seen something I saw here on the Forum), I remembered that song from my late high school and early college years and how I loved that song and my obsession with John Hartford. I love those low notes and that slow easy beat and that tune. It was stuck in my head for a year or so. I never did learn it back then, didn’t have the resources we have today and for no good reason I stopped playing banjo.

Did anyone talk about this song on the forum recently? My memory is failing me. Anyway, I got excited about it and I searched and found a tab for it. This requires low open D tuning, lower than Reuben D tuning. I thought the strings were going to fall off the bridge or out of the nut. After messing around for a while, I realized it was really hard to keep it in tune, but I kept at it.

I got the first break down, and it sounded great. Working on the second break which takes me up to the 24th fret - Wait what? 24? I only have 22 frets.

Come to find out his banjo had 24 and Alison’s banjo is a new specially made Deering banjo, with 24 frets, the Julia Belle, a lovely John Hartford tune. It’s really a pretty banjo and is made for that low tuning, but at $5700. Oh man…

I put my fingers up on the head and kinda sorta got the notes, but it’s not the same. Because it’s so hard to keep it tuned and being two frets short, I guess I’ll move on for now. So disappointing.

Does anyone know of a significantly lesser priced 24 fret banjo that supports the low tuning?

I would guess you could find some decent open back long neck banjos for decent price. But they’ll be open back

Hi @Maggie I am pretty sure this song dates back to the days of sailing ships and sea shanties. Definitely West Country England in origin. I recall singing a version of this when I was at primary school many eons ago.

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You don’t need a 24 fret banjo to play in E just tune down two frets from G and there you have it as Murphy would say.

Open back is OK. I used to take the resonator off anyway because it was too loud. I’ve been wanting to learn clawhammer, somaybe this is a good opportunity.

It has to support the low D tuning though.

Not looking for E, it’s low D. The only reason for 24 frets is that the tune plays up to the 24th fret. John played a 24 fret banjo tuned to low D and so I bet he took advantage those features. He has several songs I’d like learn, so… Getting a new new is always fun anyway. I just don’t want to spend several thousand on it.

Right Ok, The tunes I worked on some years ago were in E & Eb I think.

A normal Pete seeger/long neck is tuned to open E and if you tune down one step you get D. Also they should have 25 frets unless the fretboard is scooped. I would guess you could get a nice one for 1-2000$

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Ummm, two frets down is F. Three gets you E.

Thank you @Dragonslayer I stand corrected. That should read three frets down. e B E G#/Ab B . I seem to recall playing Gum Tree Canoe in that tuning a long time ago. Must go back and revisit it.

Yet another good song

(With Aussie accent) No worries mate!

Thanks, I’ll check that out

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Ha ha . Thanks for posting this.

My parents were both into bluegrass in the early 70s. Dad played guitar and banjo and I can remember him and mom dragging my sister and I around to bluegrass fests. John owned a paddle wheel boat around Huntington or Ceredo-Kenova WV… it could have been another place around that area on the river in KY, OH, or WVA (hard to remember 40 yrs ago when I was 5 or 6). Anyway, I remember us going to his paddle wheel boat to see him. He stood on the front deck and would dance and sing.

I can’t remember a lot about why we were there (there might have had a restaurant on the boat?) but I remember getting a kick out of John and him being funny. I was certainly amused by his antics.

My dad use to play this. If I had to place a wager I’d say it’s been 35 yrs since I heard this song. Dad’s been gone now for just over 10 years. You posting this sure helped me dig up some old memories.

Thank you for posting this. I’ve been here playing the melody and improvising around the melody some on my guitar. It’s gonna be a keeper, will retain a spot on my regular playlist.


I agree @gaki , Definitely old English or Irish in origin As well as sailors and sailing ships it would have been popular with soldiers and probably dates back to before the Boer War. A popular tune in old cowboy movies. I recall John Wayne in a Calvary uniform and this tune playing in the background. Me thinks possibly Yellow Rose of Texas.