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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Tune of the Week 11/13/09: Lo Baked a Hoe Cake

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handsup8 - Posted - 11/13/2009:  14:31:30

“Low Baked a Hoe Cake”

I have been tending to my daughter who’s been home quite sick with the flu this week, so sweet and slow tunes have been on my mind and under my fingers. She loves “Low Baked a Hoe Cake” particularly, and since not many of the “Tuna’s” have been banjo songs to sing, I thought I’d throw this one out there for that reason as well. (I also already have a tab and recording for it, so that my tired old self can cut down on the legwork!)

I caught this song from Elizabeth Cotton’s fabulous version on the great double CD, the "North Carolina Banjo Collection." [Don't have? Get! The book is worth the price.) I agree wholeheartedly with Molly Tenenbaum’s comments in a review of the collection for the Old Time Herald: “I find Libba Cotton's ‘Low Baked a Hoecake’ extremely beautiful---slow, rhythmic frailing between the single-note melody lines under Libba's sweet light voice---it's a dreamy sort of song.”

One thing that's always bugged me is that I don't think she's singing that a hoecake was baking in a low position, hence the title "Low Baked a Hoe Cake." Nor do I think that low refers to it being unleavened and pretty flat. I think that Low is a name, like Lois. Sometimes I think it sounds more like the name Lu. Anyway, a person named Lo bakes the cake, and sets Jem to mind it. I usually title the tune "Lo Baked a Hoe Cake" for this reason. Pedant? you bet!

Here’s a link to a preview of Cotton’s version, and Amazon purchase options if you’re so inclined:

Here’s my version on the old homepage:

There’s a bare-bones tab with the verse Cotton sings on my homepage “photo” page:

Here’s a You-Tube instrumental version by Mahoney2100

Wikipedia (gasp!!) gives some info on the hoecake. “Hoecake is a type of thin cornbread made of cornmeal, salt, and water, which is baked on a griddle. It became known as "hoecake" because field hands often cooked it on a shovel or hoe held to an open flame. Hoes designed for cotton fields were large and flat with a hole for the long handle to slide through. The blade would be removed and placed over a fire much like a griddle. In the southern states of the USA, hoecake may also refer to bread made from flour, oil (or shortening), and buttermilk and then cooked in a round skillet. The mix is the same used for biscuits but because they are baked on top of the stove the taste is significantly different. Though some people may bake the bread instead.

Hoecake is notably the namesake of the cakewalk dance form. During the 19th century, slaveholders would hold dance competitions for their slaves, offering hoecake as a reward to the winner. Then known as the chalk line dance, the form became known as the cakewalk when it rose to prominence with the advent of ragtime music. The hoecake is also known as the johnny-cake, the Shawnee cake, the ash cake, and the no cake.”

“Lo” is related to the folk song “Snake Baked a Hoe Cake,” but they’re not the same tune, and “Snake” seems more obvious and less dreamy to me. All that said, Jody Stecher does a very cool banjo version of “Snake Baked a Hoe Cake,” which was reissued in 2000 on the CD “Going Up on the Mountain.” Zepp’s tuning page describes the tuning Stecher uses.

[I have no commercial connection to Amazon, I just buy mp3’s from them (a dangerous thing!).]

Finally, this came across the old interweb while I was searching for versions. For me, this is kind of ouch!

“The traditional folk song, Snake Baked a Hoe Cake, performed by the St. Petersburg College Madrigalians. This performance was part of the St. Petersburg College Concert Chorus' Spring Concert "The World of Randall Thompson." Directed by Dr. Vernon Taranto, Jr.

Enjoy, and stay healthy! Ted


Edited by - handsup8 on 11/13/2009 14:46:26

dfwest - Posted - 11/13/2009:  14:44:39

Very sweet tune - and I quite enjoyed your version on the fretless. I hope your daughter gets better soon.

David West

Fort Collins, Colorado & Racine, WI

pegleg - Posted - 11/13/2009:  15:23:36

Thanks Ted, I really enjoyed all of this post and goanna give this song a try.

Look Upward "Till He Comes"

ramjo - Posted - 11/13/2009:  15:43:58

Nice! I know this made your daughter feel better this week. Do you know Greg Brown's song "Say a little prayer"? Also about a sick daughter. He says "Put Aretha Franklin on/Turn it up, turn it up, turn it up/turn it up in the middle of the night/'Cause that'll do as much good as any medicine/to make her feel all right." Greg also knew Elizabeth Cotten's music well, and I suspect at some point in the getting better, he sang his daughter a song like "Low Baked a Hoe Cake" too. I hope your girl's better now.

Edited by - ramjo on 11/13/2009 15:44:48

ScottK - Posted - 11/13/2009:  15:51:22

Thanks from me too, Ted! I really enjoyed both your write-up and your playing and singing!


handsup8 - Posted - 11/13/2009:  17:38:17

Thanks guys, I appreciate the kind words and feedback. Cough into your elbow!


Dock Jekel - Posted - 11/14/2009:  09:06:44

Ted, nice job playing and singing on your recording. I like the way your diggin' up a tender, real-old-time, on the porch, lonely breeze through the trees, bluesy sound. Nice antidote to the modern pace of things! Hope your daughters feeling better soon!

handsup8 - Posted - 11/14/2009:  19:44:37

Thanks Dock! My daughter is almost recovered as well, thanks. Ted


BAZ - Posted - 11/17/2009:  09:04:45

Wow! What a beautiful tune. I really liked your rendition! Hope she gets well soon.

nanobanjo - Posted - 11/17/2009:  10:11:38

I agree, your version is very nice, relaxing and peaceful. I'm glad your daughter is feeling better.

harvey - Posted - 11/17/2009:  10:37:03

this is a refreshingly simple, elegant choice for TOTW. I have the NC Banjo collection CD and have always loved this song.

I'm not quite sure that you get the lyrics of the B part quite right on your tab. It's difficult to make out what Libba is singing, but I think it's something along the lines "All around the house, Low'll teach him. All round the house, Low'll keep him". Not that it really matters!

I think you're right that Low is meant to be a name. Libba certainly pronounces it as in "Loo" or "Lou" and not "Low", despite the spelling.

handsup8 - Posted - 11/17/2009:  11:03:55

Thanks for the nice feedback, fellas. My daughter is all well and back in school this week! She is now calling for tunes like "Wolves a-howlin" and "Ida Red," both up tunes we play together (her on fiddle).

I like your take on the lyrics, Harvey, and I appreciate your seconding my reading of the "Low" issue. Thanks.


banjoannie - Posted - 11/18/2009:  13:05:04

thank TED love that tune i'm playing it right now!!!!!!! do you know peg and all???? I play that one after work!!!

banjoannie - Posted - 11/18/2009:  13:06:30


handsup8 - Posted - 11/18/2009:  13:07:01

Hey Annie, thanks. I know the tune Peg and Awl, but I've never tried to learn it on the banjo

banjoannie - Posted - 11/18/2009:  15:05:16

i play it in [g DGCD] moor blus then this youtub!!

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