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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (2/12/10): Cluck Old Hen

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:

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Adam Kiesling - Posted - 02/12/2010:  07:05:29

I recently picked up a great CD by the South Memphis String Band ( Some great stuff, and they have a tune on there entitled "Old Hen" which has a lot in common with "Cluck Old Hen."

Anyways, that got me thinking about "Cluck Old Hen." I don't really know all that much about the tune. It was one of the first tunes I attempted when I was first starting to clawhammer, and the first recorded version that I probably heard was on Tim O'Brien's "Songs of the Mountain" (fiddle by Dirk Powell and banjo by John Hermann).

Fiddlin' John Carson is credited with being the first to record it back in 1923. I'm guessing that the tune probably derives from the African-American banjo tradition, but have no idea if it is pre-minstrel or not. There's a little bit of info at this link:

I know that Dan Gellert has a great version of the tune on his "Waiting on the Break of Day" album.

I'm at work right now, so I'll upload my own version and post some various you-tubes tomorrow. I just wanted to get the ball rolling.



ndlxs - Posted - 02/12/2010:  08:15:13

My version with 3/4 of the Piney Creek Weasels (myself, Eric Anderson, Dan Baker):

My favorite words, which I got from an LP called The Spark Gap Wonder Boys:
Cluck Old Hen, Cluck Six Ten
Dow Jones Average is Down Again
Cluck Old Hen, Cluck Six Nine
Up Again by Closing Time

vrteach - Posted - 02/12/2010:  08:22:24

Good old tune. I learned it first on dulcimer, but it was an early tune for me on banjo. Actually, I believe that it was the tune on which I learned drop-thumb.

mojo_monk - Posted - 02/12/2010:  08:43:48

Great tune with equally great lyrics. Too many versions (countless) out there for me to pick a favorite, but these days I'd have to say I'm a fan of the late, great Ed Haley's.

As for its origins, the earliest occurrence of anything remotely related to what we know as Cluck Old Hen in print can be found in Negro Folk Rhymes: Wise and Otherwise, compiled by Thomas W. Talley and published in 1922. You can find it on pp. 50-1 (check the last verse):

The 1923 John Carson version you're talking about is actually not Cluck Old Hen, but is The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow. Same family different tune:

The original recording was actually done by Fiddlin' Powers and Family in 1925: Great recording.

As for the melody...I can't even wager to guess how it came into being or where its grandmammy was born. But I think it's pretty safe to say that Cluck Old Hen is one of those "American" tunes that grew out of the mixing of musical cultures in the southern mountains. Maybe others can shed light on this apect...

For the heckuvitt, here'r the search results from the Digital Library of Appalachia: Some great renderings, all a bit different (with Estill Bingham's version VERY different).

Good choice for TOTW, Adam!


harvey - Posted - 02/12/2010:  12:06:05

Good choice. A classic that I haven't yet learned -- now might be the time!

WildJimbo - Posted - 02/12/2010:  12:08:12

Cluck is one of those tunes I go back to very often. It's one that allows for all sorts of interpretation and experimentation.

Attachments are from "the archives".

Cluck Old Hen

Cluck Old Hen - Double C

VIDEO: Cluck Old Hen - Double C
(click to view)

banjo bill-e - Posted - 02/12/2010:  12:12:49

My favorite version is at the beginning of this wonderful little film featuring Jeff Kramer.
Thanks to Spaz for turning me on to this one.

Edited by - banjo bill-e on 02/12/2010 12:19:46

steelhead - Posted - 02/12/2010:  13:22:15

Adam this is one of the first tunes I learned as well. It can be played simply or as Jimbo pointed out "taken to another level. Tim, Dirk, and John's version is still my favorite as is the CD "Songs From The Mountain". I still play this song a lot because it is so easy to sing while playing.

J-Walk - Posted - 02/12/2010:  13:38:57

A classic tune that can be very fun to play with others. Have you ever tried it with another banjo player, playing Part A when he plays Part B (and vice versa)?

Here's a very strange video of COH by Michael Levy, just posted at YouTube:

I'm not sure what to make of it. At first I thought he was a brand new player. Then I discovered that he's a professional music with several CDs available. See:

Maybe he just took it to another level that's completely beyond me.

trick420 - Posted - 02/12/2010:  14:04:08

Originally posted by J-Walk

A classic tune that can be very fun to play with others. Have you ever tried it with another banjo player, playing Part A when he plays Part B (and vice versa)?

Here's a very strange video of COH by Michael Levy, just posted at YouTube:

I'm not sure what to make of it. At first I thought he was a brand new player. Then I discovered that he's a professional music with several CDs available. See:

Maybe he just took it to another level that's completely beyond me.

Wow, I can honestly say that I would like to never hear that or speak of it again. I'm sure he's a fine musician, but that made my ears bleed.

I LOVE Cluck Old Hen. My current favorite version is Wade Ward's version on "Clawhammer Banjo Vol. 3" Sorry, I don't have a link to the mp3 or anything.


Edited by - trick420 on 02/12/2010 14:04:32

trapdoor2 - Posted - 02/12/2010:  14:14:51

Whatever you do, don't listen to Jim Pankey's version in Double C. I heard him do it in the banjolounge one night and if it weren't for my wife's concern that the smoke from all the burning banjos might piss off the local EPA office, I'd be over on Tiddly-wink-hangout right now.

banjo bill-e - Posted - 02/12/2010:  14:57:49

J-Walk, that is not the first tune that I have found on youtube which Mr. Levy has, um, "enhanced". Must be an aquired taste, one that I am unlikely to aquire! The contrast between his version and the one I posted by Jeff Kramer can be summed up by one word----RHYTHM.

ramjo - Posted - 02/12/2010:  15:45:01

Good choice, Adam. First tune I was taught in my only lesson (by Richie Stearns) almost 10 years ago. Still trying to learn it right. As Joel Mabus says..."takes 10 minutes to learn and a lifetime to play." Here's a 30-second clip from Banjo Monologues that Joel has posted on his website:

I love the various versions you all have posted (although it might take a little mind expansion, chemical or psychological, to appreciate Mr. Levy.)

My absolute favorite version of COH is by the Wayfaring Strangers, Matt Glaser's band of Berklee musicians plus Tony Trischka, Andy Statman and others. I wish I could post it, but I can't find any copyright free versions anywhere. It begins with about a minute of Statman plating a klezmer meditation on clarinet which dissolves into the COH theme, slowly at first and then ramping up to speed. It goes on through several verses in a sweet modal OT style and pace (Ruth Unger singing), Trischka plays a pretty straight-forward (and excellent) break--comped by trombone!--and the Berklee guys play jazzy modal fiddle, piano and octave mandolin breaks. They then come back with about 12 fiddles overdubbed. The whole thing is over 7 minutes long. I find it truly an experience!

Edit: this is the Wayfaring Strangers album; unfortunately (at least for our discussion), the 10-second clip of COH is only the clarinet intro.

Edited by - ramjo on 02/12/2010 15:49:45

Jane C - Posted - 02/12/2010:  16:41:38

This is the version I sort of learned before I knew what the tune was supposed to sound like traditionally.

Sierra Hull when she was a little thing, wow.

Dock Jekel - Posted - 02/12/2010:  16:52:18

"Ten minutes to learn, and a life time to play" is about right. I played a simple version in sawmill tuning for years, but later favored Wade Ward's recorded version, which I now use in plain ol' gDGBD, as in this recording...

Edited by - Dock Jekel on 02/12/2010 16:57:40

alfiedog - Posted - 02/12/2010:  16:56:00

Hey Jane, That Version i did is pretty much Trad. It sticks to the Chords, and its a nice singin pace. Next time we can play it a while. (hey i am talkin all trad like. Must have been the Cumberland Highlanders show rubbed off on me dawn ! )

ramjo - Posted - 02/12/2010:  17:02:14

Nice Dock J. The band is cluckin' tight!

John D - Posted - 02/12/2010:  17:02:41

Like all the different versions. Here's mine:

John D

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 02/12/2010:  17:13:29

As is true of several other posters in this thread, "Cluck Old Hen" was one of the first tunes I learned - indeed, it was probably the first tune I could play without "thinking". It was also the first tune I learned multiple versions of, as part of an effort to learn to hear the "corners" of tune, allowing me to then come up with my own interpretation. COH was ideal for that, since as has been noted, it is on the surface a simple tune, but one with enough depth to allow for lots of experimentation.

ZEPP - Posted - 02/12/2010:  17:20:27

Neat stuff! I really dig the jig, John!

Here's a version I did as a demo of a Fielding Rooster a few years back...


Edited by - ZEPP on 02/12/2010 17:22:57

WildJimbo - Posted - 02/12/2010:  19:14:58

There's a clip of Richie Stearns' version here:

One of the weirder versions I've heard is here: It's on Bill Frisell's CD - Danny Barnes plays banjo on it.

ramjo - Posted - 02/12/2010:  19:44:23

Wow, Jimbo. I hadn't heard of that Bill Frizell album, but he's got an intriguing take on some good ol' tunes. Track 11 ("Cluck Old Hen (reprise)") is acoustic solo guitar and Tony Rice-y.

ramjo - Posted - 02/12/2010:  20:03:18

And the Horse Flies. Music through a strobe light. Another acquired that I'm glad to have (and have given my daughters too). Richie didn't teach it that way. It was straight old G tuning. After a year or two of practicing, I started doing it in sawmill and haven't gone back.

oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 02/12/2010:  20:53:33

The Spark Gap Wonder Boys... I thought I was the only one who remembered that LP

As a matter of fact I've been loading albums into the computer of late and that one didn't come up from Gracenote. I'd have to type in the titles myself, so I simply put it back on the shelf. I've gotten really lazy about entering stuff since I started using realplayer - With so many albums coming right up without entering anything, it seems unfair to have to type in any of them.

ndlxs - Posted - 02/12/2010:  21:05:45

The only time I ever came in contact with an LP by the Spark Gaps was at the Arcadia, California public library in 1980, who just happened to have a copy. I think they were from MIT, or some Ivy league college.

Chris Dean - Posted - 02/12/2010:  21:16:23

Here is my version:

I learned this version from the Augusta recording of Harvey Sampson and the Big Possum String Band and it is in cross tuning on the fiddle. I'm tuned to gDGBD and am playing it on my torque converter banjo. This is probably my favorite version to play. Unfortunately I find very few people play Harvey Sampson's version.


omiimii - Posted - 02/13/2010:  05:07:21

here's a cool video of randy wilson playing a version of "cluck old hen" on an akonting.
he's on faculty at cowan creek mountain music school and last year he brought all sorts
of cool banjos and banjo related instruments. anyway, i think this is a cool version that's
a bit different due to the choice of instrument.

Edited by - omiimii on 02/13/2010 05:10:13

g-hog - Posted - 02/13/2010:  05:13:15

I guess I might as well put up my sample of Cluck Ol' Hen... back when i got my new Wildwood Banjo... as you can see, Doggie Snoop's very favorite tune:

ramjo - Posted - 02/13/2010:  05:44:48

nice, g-hog! Cool bluesy, swampy sound. I guess the dog was keeping the hens out of the frame?

Tamarack - Posted - 02/13/2010:  07:23:46

Great tune. Like many great tunes, one that can be explored for a lifetime. The version stuck in my head is from Dan Gellert, c. 1980. "Sometimes one, sometimes two, sometime enough for the whole damn crew..."

ELWOOD - Posted - 02/13/2010:  07:53:28

Wow, so much for whats traditional, Thats what I love about Banjo hangout wide open thinking going on. one of the best Tune of the Weeks' Yet

Adam Kiesling - Posted - 02/13/2010:  08:54:19

Thanks everyone for all the contributions. Lotta great versions out there for sure.

Here's my own take on the tune:

I rarely play Cluck Old Hen out in public, but it's one of those tunes that I'll play ad nauseum at home when I should be doing other things. It's a lot of fun to mess around with by trying out different rhythms and whatnot.


WildJimbo - Posted - 02/13/2010:  09:51:31

Here are two more from Mark "Bluehammer" Johnson.

These two have a pretty high play count here at the Pankey Estate.

Rizo - Posted - 02/13/2010:  14:27:58

Here's my take on it:

ramjo - Posted - 02/13/2010:  15:00:41

It's astonishing how this tune goes into banjo aficianatos and comes out in so many wonderful variations. It's been a great joy to hear all those you posters have pointed us to. As Elwood and others have noted, a simple, traditional melody doesn't have to be bound in any tradition; great players from all corners can make great music if they can find the soul of the material. (Although I'm having a hard time imagining a hip hop COH, I assume it can be--or has been--done.) A shout out here Mark Johnson, whose skill and innovation I find to be on the top shelf of everything having to do with banjo playing. (Thanks, Jimbo, for directing us to Mark's music page.)

Wes Ellis - Posted - 02/13/2010:  18:05:49

Oops, wrong not click on this link. It's GUITAR! :)


g-hog - Posted - 02/14/2010:  09:43:21

Guitar, but very nice! Refreshing change of pace... I like it!!!!

banjoghost - Posted - 02/14/2010:  10:54:14

thanks for this thread, it's been a good way to spend a snowy sunday. here's my odd version:

RWJones1970 - Posted - 02/14/2010:  12:48:29

*** I suppose everyone who picks clawhammer should know this one. Lots of good stuff posted already. Well, here's my take on this tune that I learned from a Dwight Diller Dvd...

Bisbonian - Posted - 02/14/2010:  17:05:56

It's a shame that the Mike Levey recording drew all the attention in J-Walk's post; the first part of the post is the most interesting. He and I were sitting around one morning, and I think we played Cluck Old Hen for about an hour. If I remember right, I had a banjo tuned to Double D, and J-Walk had his Bowlin, tuned to a low D modal. We tried all sorts of variations, trading banjos, trading tunings, all of which were interesting, and eventually hit on his suggestion of one playing the high part while the other played the low part...what a Blast! I highly recommend it. I wish we had recorded it, but we were just noodling around with the banjos, and didn't think of it.

Another one that didn't get recorded happened around a year ago. I was goofing around with a friends Strat-clone, tuned it DADGAD, cranked up the volume and the distortion, and scared the neighbors. No old hens were harmed in the playing of the tune.

I am pretty sure this is the first recording I heard of the song, and is the starting point for how I try to play it: /

(you have to take out the space between the 3 an the / and put the link above together...if I type it together, it all gets changed somehow.)

Edited by - Bisbonian on 02/14/2010 18:48:46

Big Doug Nez - Posted - 02/14/2010:  21:08:31

Originally posted by banjo bill-e

My favorite version is at the beginning of this wonderful little film featuring Jeff Kramer.
Thanks to Spaz for turning me on to this one.

Banjo bill-e, Thanks for the link to Jeff Kramers video. That just became my favorite version as well.

Supertone - Posted - 02/14/2010:  22:19:27

Here is a perhaps too far out version I did awhile back....Good tune for it though!

banjo bill-e - Posted - 02/15/2010:  11:23:54

OK, J-Walk and Bisboinian, please clarify what you mean. Does one of you play the A part and then sit out while the other plays the B part, or do you mean that WHILE one is playing the A part, the other is playing the B part? If so, I would really like to hear that!

Bisbonian - Posted - 02/15/2010:  20:57:24

yes, WHILE. Kind of like a round. They harmonize well with each other. Find a banjo player, give it a shot. I suspect other AABB tunes would work.

Uncle Sinner - Posted - 02/16/2010:  08:59:41

maybe it qualifies as a completely different song, but I've always been partial to Taj Mahal's banjo version of "Cluck Old Hen" from "De Old Folks at Home". does anyone know where Taj got this version? did he make it up himself? anyone know what tuning it's in?

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 02/19/2010:  17:38:38

At last night's Bela Fleck "Africa Project" tour show in Athen, Ohio, Bela and fiddler Casey Driessen
played a distinctly non-old-time but quite enjoyable (to me at least) version of "Cluck Old Hen",
backed by two traditional percussionists from the Malian band Ngoni Ba. It was a bit startling to
hear the first few notes and suddenly recognize the tune, after an hour or so of mostly African music.

Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 02/19/2010 17:39:42

RickS - Posted - 02/19/2010:  18:16:55

How does Jeff Kramer ( on banjobillies's link) make that percussive sound? Is he just hitting the head or am I missing something?

banjoghost - Posted - 02/21/2010:  12:39:14

here's another take on c.o.h.

i like to pretend that it sounds a little like junior kimbrough....with just a touch of reverb...

banjoghost - Posted - 02/21/2010:  12:44:00

here's the unreverbed version of the above...sorry for the double post. i did this bassakwards.

ramjo - Posted - 02/21/2010:  14:25:04

Great feeling and great playing, Banjoghost! I gotta go luck up Junior Kimbrough after that. Uncle Sinner, looks like Junior and Taj had the same source (or Taj was Junior's source).

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