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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Tune of the week - Betsy Likens 04/03/09

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

nohio - Posted - 04/03/2009:  09:41:30

AKA: Betty Likens, Granny Put the Kettle On, and Henry Reed's Favorite

I first learned this tune from a Miles Krassen tab, but once I heard the original Henry Reed recording, I was head over heels. There is so much to love about this tune: the subtle shift between the minor third hinted at in the low section to the major third in the high part, the bad a** descending pentatonic run, the triplet ornaments scattered around, the asymmetrical form, etc. It's a fun tune to play solo or with a full ensemble. Included in the links below are a couple of tabs I wrote up plus a recording I made based on the tabs. Enjoy!

Henry Reed's recordings available on the L o' C website:
Betty Likens

Granny Put the Kettle On

Fiddlers' Companion info:

My two tab versions (note, I like to play the low part first):

My recording based on the tabs:

[Note: There are several other great recordings in the Banjohangout jukebox of this tune (under Betsy and Betty). But as far as I can hear, none of them use the major third in the high part (neither does the Krassen tab I originally learned.) Let's just say, I really like that major third in Reed's version.]

Handy modern recordings:
Hollow Rock String Band (which includes Jabbour)
Traditional Dance Tunes, Kanawha 311, LP (1968), trk# 9

[Note: Probably the first modern string band interpretation of it, since it was Jabbour who collected it from Reed. I don't care much for the interpretation: to clean and polite. Great guitar work, but too harmonically busy.]

Airtight Oldtime String Band
Bridging the Ages (2006):

[While less true to Reed, I like this version more. It's loose and fun and has more of the drive of Reed's recording.]

There is also:
Betty Likens/Kitchen Girl, Highwoods String Band. No. 3 Special, Rounder 0074, LP (1978), trk# 10a
but I don't believe it has been reissued.

Comment: If anyone is interested in releasing their tabs and recordings into the public domain (or with a Creative Commons license), I highly recommend checking out It is a great non-profit online library that is quickly becoming an important resource for preserving and sharing the world's digital culture.

rinemb - Posted - 04/03/2009:  11:21:53

Nice playing! thanks for the contribuition to TOTW


You may be man enough to take my woman, but you''ll never get my banjo.

May not the incidence of success, nor the pretense of retirement-
Lessen the want of enlightenment.

J-Walk - Posted - 04/03/2009:  17:59:25

I think I've heard of this tune, but I certainly wouldn't have recognized it. After playing it about 20 times today, It's starting to sink in.

Cathy Moore put it on video, while playing her cello banjo:

It's about as simple as Cluck Old Hen, and equally fun to play. I wonder why it's not more popular?

RWJones1970 - Posted - 04/03/2009:  18:14:02

*** I like the way you play this one Nick. I learned it from Miles Krassen's book as well and I have always loved this great old time tune.

Here is my version of BETSY LIKENS:

Edited by - RWJones1970 on 04/03/2009 21:38:56

BANJOJUDY - Posted - 04/03/2009:  20:25:59

I never can remember it, and it is a wonderful tune. I also was introduced to it by Miles Krassen's book, and if Ihad a better memory, I would play it more often.

Thanks for stimulating the old gray cells a bit.


PS:Guess what - I need more volunteers for TUNATHEWEEK! DUH!

The YOUTUBE videos of the Really Big Banjo Show
are now available (23 of them) for your viewing and
listening pleasure. Check them out. Go to YOUTUBE and
look for "banjojudy" and you''ll see the files. I made a
playlist for the show, but I am not sure if you can access
it. ENJOY and be sure to rate the videos and leave comments.

WGE - Posted - 04/04/2009:  03:25:30

This is an interesting take on Betsy Likens. As with everybody else, I was introduced to this in Miles Krassen's book. Nohio, your tab has some interesting features. I like your B part and the insertion of triplet in the A part adds interest. However, one of the things I really like from Krassen and which I will keep regardless of how much of your tab I end up incorporating are those alternate string pulloffs on the first string. I really like those for this tune. I always play this when I find myself in a modal tuning.

bvh - Posted - 04/04/2009:  03:47:31

Hey Nick.........How ya doing? Thanks for the tabs. I don't understand a damn thing that you said, but I do like this tune. Did you ever get a banjo. I sold two at Clifftop last year, and one last month. Golf season is coming on fast ,so my building will slow down. Our jams have changed location and frequency. We are now playing, at the Library in Johnsville, on the second tues. of each month. Easy to find and no further than the one, that you came to. Come on up and play some time.


MIke Bodner - Posted - 04/04/2009:  12:38:26

I play the tune too, having learned it from Krassen's book. I sing it with words that I took from "Callahan" because the name was so similar I figured the tunes are probably related:

Whatcha gonna do my pretty Betty Larkin?
Jury says I'm gonna be hung.
Whatcha gonna do my pretty Betty Larkin?
Fare thee well, my pretty little miss.

Who'll take care of pretty Betty Larkin
After John Callahan's gone?
Who'll take care of pretty Betty Larkin?
Fare thee well, my pretty little miss.


Yigal Zan - Posted - 04/04/2009:  17:05:01

You might want to check my (2004) informal transcription of Henry Reed's fiddling of Betsy Likens, and the basic 5-string banjo tab I created, at:

The tab is based on my playing of the tune since the early seventies. Yigal

Edited by - Yigal Zan on 04/05/2009 08:58:29

dbrooks - Posted - 04/05/2009:  10:48:33

Thanks for this great tune, Nohio. I think I will introduce it to our monthly jam here in Louisville in April.


Viper - Posted - 04/06/2009:  08:27:33

Nice playing Nick and great info on the tune.

I dont play favorites. I play the banjo.

Don Borchelt - Posted - 04/12/2009:  09:09:54

"I don't know the name of it. It's old, though." - Henry Reed

I think on a lot of Reed's tunes, he plays with ambiguity between the major and minor third. A nice thing about that "bad a**" pentatonic run is that it skips the third altogether. Very cool. Everything Reed plays has something fresh and unusual in it. I wonder what his banjo playing sounded like.

I worked up a three finger version of this in a variant of G tuning (aDGAD), if anyone is interested. Link is below, scroll down to see the tab list. I was hoping that Ed and I could record it; we got together this week and we both know it, but we hadn't played together in awhile, and nothing new was going to happen.


"I don''t like to play it like he did. I try to play it the way I play it" - fiddler Lester McCumbers, interviewed by Erynn Marshall
Check out my webpage.

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