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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 5/21/2010: Mole in the Ground

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:

trick420 - Posted - 05/21/2010:  08:21:31

So it's my turn to do a tune of the week. This is my first go at it, so be nice please...

I have chosen I Wish I was a Mole in the Ground, because I've been playing the tar out of it lately.

Also know as Ommie, Let Your Bangs Hang Down, Tempie Roll Down Your Bangs, and many others, the version that I really like best is found on Clawhammer Banjo Vol 2 as performed by Gaither Carlton:

I'm no clawhammer scholar, but I think I hear that he's playing round peak style on that particular recording as there's embellishment in the tune that I just haven't learned yet. Either way, I adapted my style of playing it from this recording, and here's my tab:

In Double C, it's simple with only one drop thumb in the whole tune. I play it this way because I attempt to sing along, and I'm just plain lousy at that.

Here's the Wikipedia referece:

Here's a great version by Bascom Lamar Lunsford: I believe he's generally credited with making the song famous. I really love the phrasing of this version.

So there you have it - The Tune of the Week. Enjoy.


LyleK - Posted - 05/21/2010:  09:07:01

Always a favorite, with the one exception that for those of us who can't sing (or shouldn't), the tune is less fun to do. But it's great to listen to someone else play and sing it.

For the "archives," this might be a repeat (sort of) of an earlier TOTW. The TOTW for 08/10/2008 ("Goodbye My Honey, I'm Gone") turns out to be "Mole in the Ground-esque," something I totally missed when I did the TOTW ( Since that time there's been a nice youtube posting by Glenn Godsey and Mike Long of "Goodbye My Honey, I'm Gone" (

Viper - Posted - 05/21/2010:  09:33:18

This one was stuck in my head sometime last week. I kept annoying my girlfriend by singing it with lots of "something-something-something" thrown in because I didn't know all the words. Now I'll have to add the tune on banjo as well. Good choice.

stevel - Posted - 05/21/2010:  09:36:42

Nice! I play a similar version that I learned from listening to George Gibson. He calls his version Last Gold Dollar.

I agree, songs with simpler melodies sound better with singing, but not necessarily my singing.

ramjo - Posted - 05/21/2010:  14:22:17

I also like Bascom Lamar Lunsford's version of "Mole" and, like trick420, was always taken by the strange phrasing. The recording is on the Anthology of Am. Folk Music, which, of course, Dylan listened to intently. I surmised that Dylan imitated Bascom's phrasing in some of those songs on his first couple of albums.

stringbeaner - Posted - 05/22/2010:  17:18:26

I used to see Lunsford around the Galax area when I was a little kid. I remember that I thought he played a lot faster than he sang an he smelled funny.??!?! Oh, well, what does a 10-year-old kid know. Anyhow, I did get to hear him. My Grandad, who was a lawyer too, thought he was pretty good.

stringbeaner - Posted - 05/22/2010:  17:20:57

I once tried to learn 'Blackjack Davy' from one of his recordings and I never did get his phrasing down.

Bisbonian - Posted - 05/22/2010:  19:47:25

One of my favorites! Here is my version (no singing):

vrteach - Posted - 05/23/2010:  13:08:47

One of my favorites, for a long time. But, I long ago gave up trying to mimic Bascom Lamar Lunsford, vocally or banjoistically. I'll just admire the singular talent that he was.

Lyle is right that this is a little less interesting to play if one chooses not to sing. So, I decided to sing, although I don't think I'd be likely to sing it before real live people:


Edit: I remember that some time ago olpete posted a great version played on his bloodwood-tackhead, but it doesn't seem to be available nowadays. Oh, and I also searched for the lyrics so I could have them up on the monitor while I played and didn't have to think while playing, and came across this nice site:

Oh again: I didn't do the "Lizard in the spring" verse because I remember 30-some years ago my wife-to-be joking about my "wishing to be a lizard in the spring". And you know, I'd rather be a salamander in the spring, anyway.

Edited by - vrteach on 05/23/2010 13:18:17

banjo_brad - Posted - 05/23/2010:  16:13:34

Here's my version, done on my fretless:

Mole In The Ground


Bisbonian - Posted - 05/23/2010:  18:30:58

vrteach, the family that puts out the toneway materials are friends of mine (in fact, I saw one of them this afternoon). They are among the nicest people I have ever met, truly love the music and teaching other people to play it, and seem to have hit on a system that works pretty well. I'm glad you found them...they ought to have more exposure.

brokenstrings - Posted - 05/23/2010:  22:53:30

Steve: you mean George Gibson of St. Cloud, FL?

stevel - Posted - 05/24/2010:  05:39:50

Originally posted by brokenstrings

Steve: you mean George Gibson of St. Cloud, FL?


handsup8 - Posted - 05/24/2010:  07:02:27

Here's a version I recorded last summer with my band the House Carpenters: Katie Trautz (fiddle, vocal); Dan Haley (mandolin, vocal); me (banjo).

Can't beat Bascom's version, so we put our own spin on the tune:

BANJOJUDY - Posted - 05/24/2010:  07:03:44

I once saw John McCutcheon perform in a live concert and he played Mole In The Ground as background music while he spoke about some of his musical adventures.

As he spoke, he told of how one an early vinyl album that he loved to check out of the library that had Bascom Lamar Lunsford playing on it.

Many years later, after he became well-known, he was invited to play in Asheville at the Mountain Dance and Folk Song Festival. he introduced a tune "dedicated to the memory of the dear, departed Bascom...." only to find that he was the white haired gentle man sitting there on the stage.

I don't recall all the details, but if you ever get a chance to hear John McCutcheon, he might very well tell the tale and perform the song.

BANJOJUDY - Posted - 05/24/2010:  07:06:26

Here are the lyrics in case anyone wants to learn them:


I wish l was a mole in the ground.
Yes, I wish I was a mole in the ground:
'F I'se a mole in the ground, l'd root that mountain down,
And I wish I was a mole in the ground.

Oh, Kimpy wants a nine-dollar shawl.
Yes, Kimpy wants a nine-dollar shawl;
When I come o'er the hill with a forty-dollar bill,
'Tis "Baby, where you been so Iong?"

I been in the pen so long.
Yes, I been in the pen so long;
l been in the pen with the rough and rowdy men.
'Tis "Baby, where you been so long?"

I don't like a railroad man.
No, l don't like a railroad man;
'Cause a railroad man they'll kill you when he can,
And drink up your blood like wine.

I wish I was a lizard in the spring.
Ycs, l wish I was a l;zard in the spring;
'F I'se a lizard in the spring, I'd hear my darlin' sing,
An' I wish l was a lizard in the spring.

Come, Kimpy, let your hair roll down.
Kimpy let your hair roll down;
Let your hair roll down and your bangs curl around,
Oh, Kimpy, let your hair roll down.

l wish I was a mole in the ground.
Yes, I wish I was a mole in the ground:
'F I'se a mole in the ground, I'd root that mountain down,
An'I wish I was a mole in the ground.

ndlxs - Posted - 05/24/2010:  09:52:52

John McCutcheon made up a new verse:
Wish I was a hole in the ground
Wish I was a hole in the ground
If I was a hole in the ground, I'd be a mountain upside down
Wish I was a hole in the ground

banjo_brad - Posted - 05/24/2010:  12:49:58

Thanks, Judy - a couple I didn't know or had forgotten.


Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 05/24/2010:  21:54:17

I've heard the Montreal band "Swift Years" do this verse:

Wish I was a rat in the sewer.
Wish I was a rat in the sewer.
If I's a rat in the sewer, my troubles would be fewer.
Wish I was a rat in the sewer.

I don't know whether they made it up or learned it somewhere, but I suspect it's original to them.

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