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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW--3/5/10: Old Joe Clark

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:

Bill Rogers - Posted - 03/05/2010:  18:18:22

Continuing the recent spate of old familiar Tunes of the Week, this week we visit Old Joe Clark--at least figuratively. This was the first fiddle tune I learned--before I even understood it was a fiddle tune. Like many, it has verses, some random and common to fiddle tunes in general, some subject specific.

Apparently Joe was a real person, but exactly when and where he lived is in dispute--along with the nature of his life. [See the Fiddler’s Companion discussion linked below.] There used to be a website, purportedly by Clark family members, claiming him for Kentucky. I was fairly detailed, but has disappeared. I like the Kentucky Joe Clark; he seems to be the rowdy described in the song lyrics.

There’s a British website with some interesting material, and many links:
Scroll down this page for a discussion by Andrew Kuntz on The Fiddler’s Companion:

Recordings and videos abound. Here are links to a few:

Hangout member Hunter Robertson and fiddler Casey Joe Abair have a wonderfully intense version on YouTube:
Tom Mackenzie’s is played entirely over the neck (with no scoop):
The redoubtable Donald Zepp:

You could spend the day with different versions and musicians on YouTube.

Mike Iverson has tabs for both basic and intermediate versions as well as sound files. Links are on his tab page here:

Dick Arnold and I recorded a rough version recently, on my music page:

As usual, comments and expansions welcome.

J-Walk - Posted - 03/05/2010:  18:45:07

Good choice, Bill. This'll be a good one.

Whenever you hear this at a jam, there's always a slight bit of apprehension the first time around to see if it's being played with a G chord (modal) or an E chord (major).

ramjo - Posted - 03/05/2010:  19:49:13

Originally posted by Bill Rogers

Apparently Joe was a real person, but exactly when and where he lived is in dispute--along with the nature of his life.

Great choice, Bill. Definitely a chestnut.

Joe Clark seems to be a lot of things, including, according to John Hartford, a preacher man and (tongue in cheek, of course) John's manager. Joe seemed to be steeped in the 1970s milieu making sure his clients had "a little bit of snow to blow." But he annoyed at least one by calling every hour to keep him "posted that there's nothing going on." Well, if the pressure that came from having to say "right on! far out!" like everyone else in order to avoid Joe Clark's wrath was too much, it had the positive effect of making JH asking outright if we had any Orpheum or Farland open-backs to sell him. (I think this is the only wanted-to-buy ad I've ever hear in a recorded tune.)

But a little more seriously. "Old Joe Clark" strikes me as yet another wonderful guidepost on the road to knowing and embracing old time music. It's part of the nucleus of this music along with several of the other TOTWs in the past few weeks. A great tune and a "must learn."

Ever notice how nicely it medleys with "June Apple"?

Bisbonian - Posted - 03/05/2010:  21:31:02

Yes, June Apple, and Sandy Boys. They're all in that same "is it modal/is it not?" A and G vein. Lots of fun. I was at jam last night with (mostly) Bluegrass players, and I dutifully played along with them in C for "I'll Fly Away", and B flat for something else, but we finally hit common ground with Old Joe Clark. Two of the guitar players put theirs down and picked up a banjo (for four total). We were playing in a small bar, and when the song was over, one of the patrons asked, "What do you call that...Brawling banjos?"

Coincidentally, I just put up a version of Old Joe Clark (and Sandy Boys) last week, on the YouTube. It's clawhammer, but I'm not sure if it's a banjo:

Edited by - Bisbonian on 03/05/2010 21:35:00

Bill Rogers - Posted - 03/05/2010:  22:27:45

Pretty cool--sounds to my ear somewhere between a resophonic guitar and a banjo, so I think you nailed it.

haiku - Posted - 03/06/2010:  03:11:50

Oh I wish I had a fretless.
On OJC, jusu like on Sandy Boys orJune Apple, the note I hear is right between a minor and a major 3rd....qquestion of temperament I guess.

I like Pete Seeger's (I think with the Almanch Singers, and I think Woody sang it too) "ROUND AND ROUND HITLER'S GRAVE', which is set to the tune of OJC:

I wish I had a bushel,
I wish I had a peck,
I wish I had a rope to tie
Around old Hitler's neck.

Hey! Round and round Hitler's grave
Round and round we'll go.
Gonna lay that poor boy down.
He won't get up no more.

derwood400 - Posted - 03/06/2010:  03:50:08

Bill, thank you for this TOTW. I've been playing this tune a bit lately. Learning it from Dan Levenson's Festival tune book. Of course Dan provides a major and modal version.

Bisbonian, that reso-jo of yours sounds great.

George Moughton - Posted - 03/06/2010:  04:07:42

Thanks Bill, love Tom Mackenzies over the neck..

ZEPP - Posted - 03/06/2010:  05:10:43

I've always like Arnie's version! Quite different from most.

And I love Tom's compilation of versions!


Edited by - ZEPP on 03/06/2010 05:18:38

ScottK - Posted - 03/06/2010:  08:49:30

Another video performance of Old Joe Clark I always liked featuring Pete Seeger:

Square dancing is a big part of the old time scene here in Portland, so that's part
of why I like this video so much.


dewbanjo - Posted - 03/06/2010:  08:57:19

Hey derwood400...I'll be watching for your music file for "Old Joe Clark"... played on the Tradesman!!

Hmmmm....maybe I should "practice a bit" and do a version too on my Tradesman.

Have fun!!

Don Borchelt - Posted - 03/06/2010:  09:06:19

Let me say, first of all, that I have got to have a resophonic, Pontiac hubcap, steam-punk, atomic highway banjo. Does the Bisbonian Banjo Works offer a semi-fretless version? Just plain great.

Lot's of good versions here. Two great banjo/fiddle duets- Bill and Dick, and Hunter and Casey. Hunter's version is on his If You Want To Go To Sleep, Go To Bed CD, which I have left in the CD player in my car for about three months now, and have been listening to it every day to and from work, to the grocery store, just everywhere. I'm starting to dream at night with Sugar Baby and Hog Eyed Man as the soundtrack. Hunter, I just wished I had looked you up while you were still in Vermont. You can check out his CD here:

Arnie and Tom MacKenzie have snuck some subtle stuff in there that isn't like what you hear all the time, either. With all those closed chords up the neck, Arnie is going to be accused of playing Clawgrass! Really fine picking from both.

Bill, the Rosinators recording is really great, although it is unnerving to hear an old time music performance featuring someone who can actually sing. I'm going to have to ponder the implications of that. Maybe that makes it bluegrass. Paul Castle gets up, goes right to work, and does the job that needs to be done. I believe he is a member here on the BHO, but hasn't participated.

And you just can't beat Pete. This reminds us that he was a kid once, and that there was a time when his banjo didn't yet surround Fascists, and force them to surrender.

Ed Britt and I made a recording of this in my living room some years ago, which I posted this morning. Ed is playing his Ome, in open G capoed on the 2nd fret, clawhammer style. I'm am playing three-finger style on my Paramount with the short scale, semi-fretless neck, open A tuning. Here's the link:

Ed and me picking Old Joe Clark

I have posted the three finger tap at my website, in both Tabledit and PDF format, if anybody is interested.

- Don Borchelt

I wish I had a sweetheart, put her on the shelf
And every time she smiled at me, I'd get up there myself.

Fare the well old Joe Clark, fare the well I'm bound,
Fare the well old Joe Clark, goodbye Betsy Brown.

Hmmmm, yup, Don, you should.

Edited by - Don Borchelt on 03/06/2010 09:20:48

dewbanjo - Posted - 03/06/2010:  09:48:56

Derwood400...well, I tried. My nail is messed up..had to clip it down below the edge of my finger. So, the tone is not that great when I hit those medium strings on the Tradesman.....but, there is a music file for you to chuckle over.

dewbanjo (don)

PS: not the Deering file, I took the brass ring off...I'll need to re-record when I have a "nail" on my finger.

jsmapr1 - Posted - 03/06/2010:  09:52:12

Another classic. I find this is a great Old Time/Bluegrass cross over. While many of my bluegrass playing buddies may not know some old time songs (Roustabout, Cold Frosty Morning) this one everyone knows and loves to play.

John D - Posted - 03/06/2010:  11:03:04

Great pick and playing, Bill. All good versions. Here's mine in double C tuning.

John D

Don Borchelt - Posted - 03/06/2010:  11:05:02

Hey Don, sounds fine to me. A good tune is like a good loaf of bread right out of the oven; no need to get it fancy as long as you got it right. You got the dough rising on this loaf, for sure!

Here's the direct link to Don's MP3, so you won't have to hunt for it:

Don (dewbanjo) picking Old Joe Clark

Edited by - Don Borchelt on 03/06/2010 13:03:02

dewbanjo - Posted - 03/06/2010:  12:33:44

Thanks Don... sure does "knead" a little more, sure would to "spice it up" kind of like putting seeds on a rye bread. I get a better tone when I have a bit more nail on the finger. Also, to me. it always sounds better when I am not trying to record LOL....

Thank you Bill for this TOTW!!!

Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 03/06/2010:  12:52:35

When I first tried to figure out Old Joe Clark (some 40 years ago or so) I somehow managed to wed the rhythm of the A part to the melody of the B part, and vice versa...then I heard someone mention that Old Joe Clark was a "modal" tune...I didn't really know what that meant, but I figured it meant I should be playing it in G modal I transferred my already garbled version into that.

For a few years I played this as Old Joe Clark, singing the chorus and some of the verses. Eventually I came to conclude that it was really a different tune that I had derived from Old Joe Clark, so I made up new words, somewhat in the spirit of the original French and English.

I guess a derivative of the Tune of the Week is mildly off-topic...but I'm mentioning it here, anyway. It's on my page, played on an old Dobson fretless, strung with ordinary kitchen chord for strings, giving it a particularly plunky, ancient sound. It's called "Le Reel Carignan" and it's about the late, great fiddle player, Ti-Jean Carignan. (I haven't managed to figure out how to embed a link.)

Edited by - Marc Nerenberg on 03/06/2010 13:03:35

ramjo - Posted - 03/06/2010:  13:15:54

Joseph Clark vieux. Very cool, Marc. Great playing, singing, and sound!

Don Borchelt - Posted - 03/06/2010:  13:20:45

One of my horses he is blind, you know, he cannot see; the other two are just so dumb, the blind one leads all three. Well said, Marc, we've all had days like that. Well, a fretless banjo strung with kitchen cord, now that has to pass the BHO test for old-timeyness, for sure. Fine picking and singing. To hear Marc's Le Reel Carignan (Old Joe Clark trussed up nicely and ready for roasting in the oven), click on the link below. I'm on a roll here with these cooking analogies:

Marc Nerenberg performing Le Reel Carignan

Get it? A "roll."

Come on and dance, come on and dance, Jean Carignan's in town; long may his fiddle play, the whole wide world around. - Marc Nerenberg

Edited by - Don Borchelt on 03/06/2010 13:33:09

Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 03/06/2010:  13:45:49

Gee thank you, guys. That's a really nice picture of Jean Carignan, too. I was lucky enough to see him perform at a wonderful intimate concert on a college campus in the mid 1970's. He was really a great, great fiddle player...but, y'know, except when he was very young, he never really made a living at it...for much of his life, he drove a taxi here in Montreal to support his family.

Edited by - Marc Nerenberg on 03/06/2010 14:03:38

Dock Jekel - Posted - 03/06/2010:  14:22:05

"Old Joe Clark"! Perfect... Hey, an interesting note to me, about this tune, lyrics depict Old Joe as either a pretty good dude, or, a jerk. When we sing this tune we stick to the jerk description. Lots of tunes seem to have this duality (you choose). Example; Johnson boys were appealing and good with the girls, or, descriptions otherwise.

peter somerville - Posted - 03/06/2010:  15:13:30

the local view in australia seems to be the old timey version(of old joe clark) is strictly with the E chord only and bluegrassers put the G in the b part. i'm wondering what the general view is in america? i think i recall hearing wade ward put a G in.

Bill Rogers - Posted - 03/06/2010:  16:07:27

Pretty mixed as far as I can tell. I prefer it with the G; I think it sounds more lonesome and mountainy that way.

Mirek Patek - Posted - 03/06/2010:  22:44:40

[beware - tenor banjo frailing content]

Here is my attempt on ADad tenor banjo (derived from Irish GDae tuning), preceded by the tutorial of special frailing pattern:


Bill Rogers - Posted - 03/06/2010:  23:19:51

Fascinating, Mirek. A truly unique style--and it really works.

haiku - Posted - 03/07/2010:  05:00:58

Originally posted by Don Borchelt

And you just can't beat Pete. This reminds us that he was a kid once, and that there was a time when his banjo didn't yet surround Fascists, and force them to surrender.

Just to be overly picky: his banjo never surrounded Fascists, but Hate. It was Woody's guitar that killed Fascists

Don Borchelt - Posted - 03/07/2010:  05:33:52

Haiku wrote: "Just to be overly picky: his banjo never surrounded Fascists, but Hate. It was Woody's guitar that killed Fascists"

Oh, yeah, I forgot. Remember the Rueben James, and all. Still, Pete was undeniably anti-Fascist. Viva La Quinte Brigada!

Hunter Robertson - Posted - 03/07/2010:  06:12:22

Thanks for putting the link to that video up Bill. Old Joe Clark is one of my favorite tunes, I play it most days and hope to get it down to where I'm happy with it before I die. Or maybe that will be my death, instant heavenly transmutation through Old Joe Clark... Some great versions here too. Ed and Don are inspiring as always. (Don, sorry about getting stuck in your head, did I mention in the liner notes that an exorcism can be arranged for a small fee?).

I have lots of favorite versions of Old Joe Clark: Da Costa Woltz's Southern Broadcaster's, Marcus Martin's, John Salyer's, Luther Strong's, Edden Hammon's, Hobart Smith's, Wayne Perry's... All different and all great. Wade Ward of course is rightly famous for his banjo version too. So many versions, so little time! Old Joe Clark was the first tune where I realized that there were notes in fiddle tunes that you can't get on a fretted banjo, quite a revelation! I can finally get them now that I play a fretless most of the time, but on the video with Casey you'll hear a lot of sliding between the 3rd and 4th fret on the 4th string to try and give the illusion of that "neutral" third.

Here's a version I recorded just now of how I tend to play it these days: Old Joe Clark.

An exercise that would give some pretty interesting results I think would be to pick up what all these musicians do with the tune, how they approach it, ornament it, vary it and so on--by the time you finished you'd have a pretty good insight into not only the mechanics of a tune, but the artistry that can go into one. And with a little vision you could apply that to anything you cared to play.


pickinchik - Posted - 03/07/2010:  08:56:00

For anyone who might be interested in going to the John Campbell folk school for clawhammer classes, here is just one great teacher they utilize there. Aubrey is amazing and fun to learn from. Here she is on the front porch of the music builiding doing Old Joe Clark in several speeds.


Bisbonian - Posted - 03/07/2010:  17:35:54

Here is BHO member "rpeek" and his unique approach to a three-fingered Old Joe Clark:

pickinchik - Posted - 03/08/2010:  06:25:15

Originally posted by Bisbonian

Here is BHO member "rpeek" and his unique approach to a three-fingered Old Joe Clark:

I watch all of his videos. He is a joy to watch. He loves playing the banjo and he loves tinkering with it too. My husband has really enjoyed his "building a oil can banjo series". My hubby likes to build things too and it has inspired him to build me a can banjo. He already has the can and just needs to find a decent neck. More banjos for me!!


jamesd - Posted - 03/08/2010:  08:11:11

Bisbonian, thanks much for that link to "rpeek".

His commentary is as good as his playing. Enjoyed that.


Bisbonian - Posted - 03/10/2010:  21:41:59

How about another fresh look...something Old is new again:

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