Sally Johnson

As played by Clark Kessinger from the West Virginia region

Reel or Breakdown in G and C

From the Clark Kessinger Collection

3 files for this tune:

Melody-Only Transcription (PDF)
Full Transcription (PDF)


78rpm Record


Clark Kessinger recorded this tune at least twice: once in the late 1920s under the name Sally Johnson and again in 1964 under the name Sally Ann Johnson. The two recordings are very different. This present transcription is of the earlier recording.

I had never recognized it before, but the A part of Sally Johnson shares some melodic similarity with the B part of Billy in the Low Ground. Kessinger took advantage of this, and added interest to this recording by switching to the key of C and playing ten lines of Billy in the Low Ground during the third repetition of Sally Johnson. He then switched back to G and played Sally Johnson two more times. I believe that this was intentional, as his guitarist was obviously prepared for it. Note that the octave jump in the Billy in the Low Ground section is not a typo; that’s how he played it in the recording.

There isn’t much else of difficulty here. Look out for some pizzicato notes in the B part the fourth time through. Kessinger also used some vibrato, which is denoted in the transcription by a squiggly line to the left of notes to be played vibrato.

Here is a marvelous YouTube video of Clark Kessinger playing Sally Ann Johnson at the Newport Folk Festival. He was 70 at the time, and danced during the banjo break! Note that this is more similar to his 1964 recording of this tune, featuring much flashier fiddling than his 1920s recording.


This tune is a member of the following groups:

Billy in the Low Ground

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