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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW: 2/4/2010: "Cripple Creek"

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:

LyleK - Posted - 02/04/2011:  15:59:19

This Tune-o-the-week selection had its origin in the thread "songs you hate" ( My original plan was to do "Old Buzzard" instead, as it works well in gEADE tuning, which is my current "rut." But Cripple Creek works well in that tuning as well (see below... way below).

On the assumption that many will want to skip the dull text below, just head for the row of "equals" signs which walls off media files from the verbiage. Otherwise...

Why the loathing?
Generally speaking, the hatred of this tune (if you read through the "songs you hate" thread) seems to stem from over familiarity. Though not mentioned in the thread, the fact that this tune was weekly fodder for Hee-Haw ("I'm a pickin', and I'm a grinnin'") couldn't help the situation. Then there is the additional "problem" that because Cripple Creek is often one of the first tunes learned, there are lots of recordings that are, well, not all that marvelous. But back to the familiarity matter, I have to take (some) issue with a statement in the "songs you hate thread" that Cripple Creek gets played all the time at jams. I've been going to jams off and on (mostly off) since the mid-70's, in places somewhat diverse (Charlottesville, VA; Knoxville, TN; Kampsville, Springfield, and Urbana, IL). Until a few weeks ago, and only at my insistence, I've never heard Cripple Creek played at a jam. This is unfortunate, because it's a great tune!

What's the history of the tune?
This would be the usual place for the obligatory reference to Andrew Kuntz's "Fiddler's Companion," but there's a specific page elsewhere ( (with thanks to Sean Barth for finding this)). Also, some of the *.mp3s below contain some oral history about the tune.

Is the tune in the key of G or in the key of A?
Yes, it is. The problem here is that some fiddlers play it in A and some play it in G (one even played it in C, see Thede's fiddle book). My preference on fiddle is to play it in A, but if someone wanted to sing along and wanted it a note lower I could comply. I see a lot of questions in O-T BHO about why tunes are in particular keys. The answer, almost always, has to do with the ease of the tune on the fiddle. So "Quince Dillion's High D Tune" would be much harder on fiddle as "Quince Dillion's High C Tune," just as "Monkey on a Dog Cart" is much harder on fiddle in D than in C. But when it comes to Cripple Creek, G is only slightly harder than A (assuming you stick with GDAE tuning).

Where are the tabs?
Thanks to Scott LaBounty, that is now easily answered. Just cruise to:

Now, let the wild rumpus tuneage begin!


Possibly why this is a tune people love to hate:
Pickin’ & Grinnin’ -
I Hate Fiddle Tunes (starts about 2:20) -

Tyler Greene (CH, a BHO member) -
Skillet Lickers (is Fate Norris even there?) -
Scruggs & Flatt -
Benton Flippen (2 finger, starts about :57) -
Alan Munde (Scruggs & melodic, a BHO member) -
Carroll Best (5:50-6:52, melodic 3-finger)
Mirak Patek (3-finger on tenor, a BHO member) -
Billy Connolly (frailing, O.K., maybe not the best, but how many famous actors play Cripple Creek?)

Tommy Jarrell (Round Peak style CH)

Digital Library of Appalachia
Ernie Carpenter (history, fiddle [DGDG, so key of G] & Gerry Milnes, banjo)
Doc Roberts (fiddle)
John Salyer (fiddle)
Elijah Hill (banjo)
Roy Stallcup (history, banjo)
Lee Boone (banjo)
Wayne Erbsen, Phil Jamison, Jerry Adams, and Mack Snodderly (banjos one and all)
Enoch Rutherford (banjo)
Tommy Jarrell (fiddle) & Andy Cahan (banjo)
Franklin George (banjo)
Mattie Oakes Jacobs (banjo, possibly source for third part in Duggan’s)

O.K., there's a lot, so only a Whitman Sampler here.
Don Borchelt (3 finger) & Ed Britt (CH)
Greg Wright (CH)
Jim Pankey (CH)
Tom Joad (CH)
Jan Olav Sunqvist (thumb lead, 2-finger)
Calvin Chastain (2-finger, Ron Williams’ recording)
Tom Berghan (CH, in double C!)
Julie Duggan (CH, with 3rd part!)

And finally, my meager contributions, with the G version out of gEADE tuning and the A version out of aEAC#E tuning.

Cripple Creek in G

Cripple Creek in A

f#dead - Posted - 02/04/2011:  16:52:52

I like it because when I meet someone that plays banjo... pretty good chance they know CC and we can play together right from the get go. I'm not talking jams, just meeting individuals. And the structure of the song is basic, but we all play it a tad different so that even two neophytes can make a good noise with it.

Chadbanjo - Posted - 02/04/2011:  18:38:47

First tune I learned, getting close to a year now, still play it every time I pick up my banjo. Love the tune, some cool lyrics out there. Whats been great about it for me is that it's evolved over the months while i've progressed with the banjer, fun tune.

ramjo - Posted - 02/04/2011:  18:39:08

Lyle, I enjoyed your writing here and the mini discussion you sparked in the "tunes I hate" thread. Since then I was looking forward to this posing and hoping you'd include a version of your own. What a treat to get two! Your variations are engaging, and you're equally inventive, although in different ways, in both tunings That's a great lesson, right there, in what goes into assessing the quality of a thing. To paraphrase an old saw from the theatre: "there aren't bad tunes, only unimaginative players." Nice work!

Fiddle sources notwithstanding, Joel Mabus has strong opinions that Cripple Creek is originally a banjo tune. I hope readers will listen to the clip he provides on his website from "Banjo Monologues" were he give that opinion (among others).

Also, I'll put in a word for Michelle Shocked's reworking of the tune into "Contest Coming" ("There's a contest comin' with a ticket to Nashville, and the Jones boy aims to play") on her Arkansas Traveller CD. She has a full-length link on her website, but I couldn't get it to play.* A sampling at CDBaby is here. The Red Clay Ramblers back up the rendition, and they interweave the tune among the verses and end the cut with an up-tempo, old timey hoo-haa version of the tune in a couple different keys. I think I remember that it's one of Tommy Thompson's late recordings.

So thanks for inviting us to consider a "song I do not hate" in its many wonderful versions.

*edit: actually, it started playing after several minutes. ???

Edited by - ramjo on 02/04/2011 18:53:41

Tamarack - Posted - 02/04/2011:  19:28:32

Thanks for a great discussion of a great tune Lyle! I have always considered Cripple Creek to be the Stairway to Heaven of banjo players -- great tune, but overplayed. As the posters above have suggested, it's really not overplayed, despite being the first tune many banjo players learned.

We can all take pride in that it is a banjo tune, not a fiddle tune. It also lends itself to cool duets of clawhammer and Scruggs-style players (peace at last!)

BANJOJUDY - Posted - 02/04/2011:  22:06:00

WOW Kyle! You sure did a great job on Cripple Creek.

What I find odd is that prior to reading your post this evening, I was playing tuned ONLY to your current favorite tuning (gEADE) - started with Sandy River Belle, Wild Horses at Stony Point and Teetotaler's Fancy - and now I have Cripple Creek to add to the list.

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 02/05/2011:  03:35:12

Diller taking a crack at Cripple Creek.
Starts at about the 47th second into the tape.

mojo_monk - Posted - 02/05/2011:  08:38:38

Great pick, Lyle. I'm one of those banjo players that can claim Cripple Creek as the first tune I ever learned. That said, it's probably the most unstable tune that I play - meaning I can't say that I have a distinct version that I play every time I sit down with it. It seems to be the one tune I know that naturally lends itself to improvisation. Not sure why, but it seems to have a groove that many other tunes just don't even touch.

In addition to the versions in Lyle's original post, here are a few more. Hopefully all of these different takes on the tune will rejuvenate it for those who aren't too fond of it:

Marcus Martin:
French Carpenter:
Harold Hausenfluck:
Thomas Dillon:
Chester Nolan: (Dig that B part in E minor!)

Paul Brown: (from:
Frank Proffitt:
Obray Ramsey:
George Pegram [& Red Parham]:

I also posted a 2 finger thumb-lead version on my website some months back with tabs in .pdf and TablEdit format: Check the .mp3 for a brief audio sample, as well.



Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 02/05/2011:  08:46:26

Some while ago I saw a video clip, possibly from one of the Tennessee Banjo Institutes, of Lynn Morris playing Cripple Creek at absolutely warp speed. I can't find it on YouTube. Maybe someone out there in BHO land can.

derwood400 - Posted - 02/05/2011:  08:52:11

Yep, its the first tune I learned as well. I learned it when I was starting to play Scruggs style. Then, when I transitioned to clawhammer, I think it may have been the first tune I learned then as well. I know a lot of people do seem to have a dislike for the tune, but I like it, and I almost always play it at least once, when I'm in A or G tuning. Thanks for all the work you put into the posting.

kelardi - Posted - 02/05/2011:  09:05:30

The great thing about Cripple Creek is that, as a beginner, it's the first tune that allowed me to add and shift embellishments as I saw fit.
It is such a great stepping stone, it would be a shame if it weren't out there

LyleK - Posted - 02/05/2011:  09:43:17

Thanks all for all the great comments and additional info.

From the true confessions dept., I have a "biggy." Not only was CC probably the first tune I learned (long time ago, so I'm not certain), but it came on page 50 ("When you are confident that you can do the above proficiently, you are ready for your first song") of... wait for it... Scruggs (1968). As my BHO bio indicates, I cast around with a number of different styles, and settled on CH in the mid-'70s. I abandoned three (and two finger) picking not for lack of valuing those styles, but because I was patently terrible at them. Certainly one of my favorite styles to listen to is three finger melodic (hence the links to Alan Munde and Carroll Best in the original post), and the CCs I recorded were loosely based on a melodic 3 finger version I used to struggle through playing. There are a number of fantastic finger picking (two and three finger) CC versions out there to listen to, and when you have B & B (Borchelt and Britt, not the brandy) to listen to, well, it doesn't get any better than that.

There is one point that has come up in this thread that has certainly piqued my curiosity, and that is the statement that CC is "not a fiddle tune." While Joe Mabus does certainly say that, I'm curious what his evidence is, and in particularly what evidence there is that CC is a banjo tune. Certain tunes (such as Sandy Boy) were published in minstrel banjo method books, but CC was not (as far as I can tell). Other tunes came from a single banjo source (e.g., Last Chance) and were later adopted/adapted on fiddle. Again, CC can't be tied to a an Ur banjo source. So what is the evidence that CC is instead a fiddle tune? First, the tune figured prominently among traditional Kentucky fiddlers (see Table 2 in Titon (2002)). Second, in the "Berea Tune List" ( CC shows up on 9 of the 19 unique lists put together by students in a 1915 Berea College course. Those 9 lists were labeled as "A list of violin tunes, Fiddle tunes, Fiddle tunes which I have heard played, Fiddler tunes, List of old tunes, Old time fiddle tunes, Quaint old fiddle and banjo tunes, Some old fiddle and banjo tunes, and Some old time fiddle tunes." That seems underwhelming evidence to claim that CC is not a fiddle tune.

So maybe CC is a banjo/fiddle tune?

P.S. - I put tabs for the two versions I recorded.

Tab in aEAC#E

Tab in gEADE

ramjo - Posted - 02/05/2011:  11:41:15

Originally posted by LyleK

. . . . So maybe CC is a banjo/fiddle tune?

I like this. Sort of like a unified field theory for old-time music.

ZEPP - Posted - 02/05/2011:  12:03:34

Back in 2008, someone here (sorry, I can't remember what I had for breakfast, much less who posted what more than 2 years ago!) asked about playing CC in double D. Seeing the initial posting including Tom Berghan's double C version (CCinCC?) reminded me that I had made the attached video to address the question.

I couldn't tell from the initial question if the poster wanted to play in in D or wanted to use DD to play it in G, so I demoed both.

aCGCD capoed to aDADE on my Ramsey Tu-Ba-Phone (his prototype, BTW).


VIDEO: Cripple Creek played in both D and G from Double D tuning.
(click to view)


BANJOJUDY - Posted - 02/05/2011:  12:45:16

Ok, I know your name is LYLE and not KYLE, and now I cannot edit a post after 15 minutes from the posting time!

That's ridiculous. I want to fix my error, and now I cannot.

So, LYLE - forgive me! I know you! I've met you! I've baked bread for you! You've been to my house! You've met my friends! YOu've played my banjos, my fiddle, and I hate that I cannot fix the error posted before bedtime last night!

I will do a Bart Simpson and write your name on the chalk board like this:

Lyle is not Kyle
Lyle is not Kyle

And mods - why in the world can we no longer edit after the 15 minute mark?

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 02/05/2011:  12:53:21

This ought to revive everyone's sense of the possibilities for this tune:

INFP47 - Posted - 02/05/2011:  16:29:47

A short snippet of Pete Seeger playing Cripple Creek on a fretless. The only time I have ever seen him play a fretless banjo.


LyleK - Posted - 02/05/2011:  18:26:23

Originally posted by BANJOJUDY
Ok, I know your name is LYLE and not KYLE, and now I cannot edit a post after 15 minutes from the posting time!

And mods - why in the world can we no longer edit after the 15 minute mark?

Hi Judy,
No problem there. My _creed_ is that I can go by Kyle. Speaking of which, hmmm, I wonder if there's a Kyle Creed CC recording out there. On the 15 minute rule, see .

P.S. - Back fast enough to thank Zepp for that neat post!

Edited by - LyleK on 02/05/2011 18:36:39

BobTheGambler - Posted - 02/05/2011:  19:43:01

I'm particularly fond of the Jimmie Strothers version:

Hunter Robertson - Posted - 02/06/2011:  15:08:47

A great tune. Here's one of my favorite recordings, from Hobart Smith:


Don Borchelt - Posted - 02/07/2011:  06:35:18

"I'm gonna play the best howdown tune ever written, it's called Cripple Creek." - Billy Connolly

What a great thread. A heartfelt thanks to LyleK (aka Kyle), mojo Sean, and everyone else for putting together sush a great compilation of Cripple Creek renditions. Such a wide variety of styles, techniques, and instruments, all true to the tune yet imprinted with the originality of each artist. This is what picking is all about.

At the risk of appearing more than a little narcissistic, I'd like to tell you something about my own personal journey with Cripple Creek, because I think it probably reflects the experience of a lot of pickers. I grew up in Cincinnati, where there was a lot of bluegrass and old time country music all around us, mostly because of all the folks from Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee, who had come over the Ohio River to find work. A lot of them brought their instruments with them, and showed us Yankees how it was done. I started playing banjo in 1967, when I was 17 years old. My first banjo was a new Gibson RB-150 open back, which cost me $150. I put together the cash by shoveling ice cream cones at Graeters (it's a Cincinnati thing).

Right away, I purchased a copy of Pete Seeger's How to Play the 5-String Banjo, and went to the Cincinnati Public Library and took out a slew of Pete's Folkway's LPs, to hear what it was supposed to sound like. The first tune in Chapter 8, Frailing, is Cripple Creek; it was really easy, and before long I could make a reasonable approximation of it. It was the first real tune I learned on the banjo. While I was looking for some of the other recordings for this post, I ran across a neat recording of Pete playing the tune with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, from a 1956 extended play record called Washboard Band, Country Dance Music. Believe it or not, it is available for download from Amazon. If you click on the link below, you will hear a short sample of their Cripple Creek performance. If you click on the record jacket icon, it will take you to the Amazon page where it is possible to download all or any one cut from the entire extended play record. I've followed the same format for the rest of the performances in this post.

Cripple Creek Sample- Seeger, Terry & McGee

About a year after I brought home that Gibson, a local folk music club called the Queen City Balladeers put on a music showcase at my high school. One of the acts was a bluegrass group called the Rabbit Hatch Ramblers. It was the first time I had heard bluegrass banjo up close, and I went up to the banjo player to ask him what he was doing. Earl Scruggs, he said. Now, there was a bluegrass section in Pete's book, but I didn't know enough about what it was supposed to sound like, and hadn't been able to figure out how to make those forward rolls do anything much that resembled music. So I went back to the public library down on Vine Street, and sure enough, as fate would have it, they had a copy of Foggy Mountain Banjo, Earl's landmark instrumental album, recorded in 1961. I got it home, and since I already knew Cripple Creek, that was the first tune I queued up on my turntable. I know Lyle has already linked to an upload of Earl's landmark performance, but to save you the trouble of scrolling, this is what hit my ears:

Cripple Creek Sample- Earl Scruggs

Those opening notes of Cripple Creek were a true epiphany for me. To use a phrase coined by a picker (whose name I forget) many years ago, it sounded like "a million dollars in dimes." It grabbed me way down, I knew I had to try to make my banjo sound like that. I still kept up my frailing for another five years or so, but I had instantly got hooked on three finger style.

Cripple Creek is the bridge between bluegrass and old-time music, just as Earl is the bridge between bluegrass and old-time three finger style banjo. Cripple Creek is- if not the first- one of the first tunes every clawhammer picker learns, and the first tune of almost every bluegrass picker. And while Earl is the father of bluegrass banjo, his smooth, disciplined approach also represented a great leap forward for old time three finger, but one that is still not yet recognized or fully appreciated by most old time musicians. I firmly believe that Earl pulls on those strings with an old-timey heart, you can hear it in the pulse, the groove of his rolls, it's still there today. It's why none of the thousands of bluegrass pickers who try hard to copy him can play a forward roll the way he does. They aren't rooted in the old time music, and they don't feel it. When you hear him pick, you know it's Earl.

Cripple Creek, though mostly just a simple box roll, is a good example of what makes Earl so different. Listen to that opening 3rd string slide, again for the first time. He hesitates just a little bit before he starts the slide, unlike just about everyone else. That little hesitation puts a lope into the lick, even though the roll is as even and regular as a ticking clock. His 1st string slide in the high part is just the opposite. Earl actually rushes the slide from the 2nd fret to the 5th fret ever so slightly, so that he arrives at the fifth fret just before the beginning of the next measure, just before the beat, not on the beat. Almost nobody else does it that way, they all finish that slide right on the beat. But it's the thing that makes your heart pump a little faster when you hear to him do it. Earl represents what I believe is a basic tenent of good old-time music- it's not how many notes you play, it's how you play them.

The three finger pickers before Earl played many of the same notes Earl played, but they just didn't have the smooth, well-disciplined, dead even roll that he got. Listen to Earl's brother Junie pick on Cripple Creek. This snippet is from Mike Seeger's landmark American Banjo, Three-Finger & Scruggs Style LP that he first produced for Folkways in the late fifties:

Cripple Creek Sample- Junie Scruggs

Clawhammer style has also over the years seen a corresponding improvement in overall technical ability. I think even the average clawhammer picker today plays with a smoother, more even, rhythmic stroke than most of the early pioneers who made it onto wax. That's not taking anything away from the early pioneers, it's just the natural working of what we call progress. Drop thumb and melodic technique has advanced considerably, and has generally been accepted in the old time community, though not without some agony. However, old-time three finger, until recently, has been frozen in time, with anything that goes beyond the simple picking styles of the 20s and 30s rejected as "bluegrass." Some of this is understandable; nothing can empty a room of old time pickers like a bluegrass banjo player. There is a substantial difference in musical attitude between bluegrass and old-time, and truth be told, there are scant few bluegrass pickers who can lay back and blend in when they join an old-time jam.

Back in the late 80s, I was working for the City of Somerville, and on a lunch break one afternoon I bought a cassette at Sandy's Music in Cambridge- John McEuen's String Wizards. I slapped it into my tape deck, back side first, to listen to on the drive back to City Hall. About half way through the tape, John starts up Cripple Creek clawhammer style, in a duet with a three finger picker. The three finger guy is playing the tune way different from the way Earl played it on Foggy Mountain Banjo. He's obviously listening to John's clawhammer picking very carefully, and playing off John's lead both melodically and rhythmically. They are having a really interesting musical conversation. And this guy has a clean, even roll that is every bit as good as Earl's, and I am astonished. A picker has finally come along who can match Earl's mythic right hand. I actually stopped the car to see who it was. And of course, it WAS Earl, and nobody else has ever matched that mythic right hand. You can hear those opening notes below. I admit John's little bluesey notes in the intro are a little self-conscious and overly precious, but it is still a truly great duet.

Cripple Creek Sample- Junie Scruggs

John's duets with Earl, both on the Will the Circle Be Unbroken albums and the String Wizard collection got me to thinking about the possibilities of three finger/clawhammer duets, and convinced me you could three finger pick sort of fancy, and still sound old-timey. I do think Ed Britt and I managed to get a pretty good conversation going in our recording, which Lyle has linked to in his intro post, above.

There is one last performance of Cripple Creek that I would like to highlight. Probably my favorite finger-style guitar player is Harvey Reid, who is one of the first pickers I ever heard playing "clawhammer" style guitar. I bought a cassette tape copy of his Solo Guitar Sketchbook back in 1989, which had a great Cindy/Cripple Creek medley on it. There is a concert performance of Reid playing the medley posted on YouTube; Cripple Creek starts at 00:52. It was this recording, more than any other, that really got me thinking that it would be okay to play Cripple Creek on the banjo different from Earl, in my own way. And that's what I finally did.

Harvey Reid playing Cindy/Cripple Creek on YouTube

Reid pioneered the use of a partial capo on the guitar. For this number, he has a full capo on the 5th fret, and a second, partial capo, which frets the 3rd, 4th and 5th strings at the 7th fret.

In researching for this post, I discovered that Reid rerecorded the medley in 1995 on six string banjo, on a CD called Artistry of the 6-String Banjo. I have linked to a sample of his banjo Cripple Creek below. This is the first time I've really heard the 6 string banjo played with true grace.

Cripple Creek Sample- Harvey Reid

All of Harvey Reid's recordings are also available from his website:

I apologize for the long post, but I do love Cripple Creek. It is our common ancestry, the primordial earth mother from which all of us are descended. No matter who the banjo picker is, and how different our repertoires may be, we can always pick that one together.

- Don Borchelt

vrteach - Posted - 02/07/2011:  07:03:27

Wow, guys. I'm afraid that I was in the "sick of the tune" camp. Thanks for invigorating this tune for me. Beautiful and exciting versions throughout the thread (I particularly like yours, Lyle). My playing of CC is pretty bland but maybe I'll learn something new.

ramjo - Posted - 02/07/2011:  08:01:57

Don. Very illuminating. Thanks for all your work on that great post. (PS I'm a big fan of Harvey Reid's Solo Guitar Sketchbook, but I never saw that youtube performance. So thanks for that too.)

Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 02/07/2011:  08:12:41

What a fantastic tune of the week thread! Wow! I haven't even had a chance to read it all, let alone listen to all the suggested sound clips and videos...there's just sooooooooo much here!
One more: Michael J. Miles does some really nice fretless Cripple Creek variations on his album The Magic Banjo.

Don Borchelt - Posted - 02/07/2011:  11:33:55

Marc wrote: "One more: Michael J. Miles does some really nice fretless Cripple Creek variations on his album The Magic Banjo."

You can hear a sample on Amazon:

Michael J. Miles' Cripple Creek Variations

Gadaya - Posted - 02/07/2011:  12:23:14

For me, the best CC i heard on banjo was by Tommy Jarrell. I remember starting clawhammer banjo with a simple version of CC and get bored with it pretty quickly but when i heard Tommy' s version, it changed my view of this tune completly...You can see Tommy play CC on a dvd called "Shady Grove" from Vestapol videos...

billings - Posted - 02/07/2011:  19:29:26

I'm sort of a wallflower when it comes to these BHO discussions, read many and comment on few. But this has been one of the most enjoyable and informative threads I have followed. Special thanks to Don for the great post and everyone else as well. Have spent many enjoyable hours viewing and listening to the clips. I for one will never tire of hearing or playing Cripple Creek.

tomberghan - Posted - 02/08/2011:  04:08:58

I've always loved this tune. It is a primal thing I guess . . . Cripple Creek is one of those tunes you just know when you grow up in America . . . at least for my generation. Like many, many banjoists, Cripple Creek was the first tune I learned to play on the banjo, so there will always be a soft spot in my heart for the tune.

I especially like the way YOU play it Lyle! Yours is the best!
Thanks for all of the information,
Best Wishes,

gailg64 - Posted - 02/08/2011:  07:46:03

Thanks Sean for the audio reminder of the wonderful-ness of Cripple Creek.

Ernie Carpenter had a kicking version of it as well, somewhat different French Carpenter's equally nice bluesy one. You can hear it on the Augusta Ernie Carpenter set that Gerry Milnes put together. I enjoyed hearing the Tom Dillon version. Of course Tommy Jarrell had magnificent Cripple Creeks whether on clawhammer banjo or fiddle.

And what can you say about Harold's fiddling on Cripple Creek but: wow it just charges right out there & takes no prisoners. Harold has been unable to fiddle for a number of years, but his influence can still be heard in the playing of fiddlers like Shay Garriock & Mac Traynham. And, good lord, what a banjo section he had there! That one will STAY PLAYED,as the old-timers used to say.

For clawhammer banjo, it's hard to top Paul Brown's fine send-up of Tommy Jarrell's version. Paul gets in every nook & cranny. He's also got an especially fine fingerpicked Polly Put the Kettle On on the banjo collection that Cathy Fink produced. George Pegram's home-made 3-finger take on it is equally fantastic. With Walter Parham on harmonica lead he's able to get in some nicely syncopated counter melodies. Obray Ramsey always put his own stamp on everything he played with what sounds like continuous 3 finger rolls, but yet his playing still had an old-time sound.

Originally posted by mojo_monk

Great pick, Lyle. I'm one of those banjo players that can claim Cripple Creek as the first tune I ever learned. That said, it's probably the most unstable tune that I play - meaning I can't say that I have a distinct version that I play every time I sit down with it. It seems to be the one tune I know that naturally lends itself to improvisation. Not sure why, but it seems to have a groove that many other tunes just don't even touch.

In addition to the versions in Lyle's original post, here are a few more. Hopefully all of these different takes on the tune will rejuvenate it for those who aren't too fond of it:

Marcus Martin:
French Carpenter:
Harold Hausenfluck:
Thomas Dillon:
Chester Nolan: (Dig that B part in E minor!)

Paul Brown: (from:
Frank Proffitt:
Obray Ramsey:
George Pegram [& Red Parham]:

I also posted a 2 finger thumb-lead version on my website some months back with tabs in .pdf and TablEdit format: Check the .mp3 for a brief audio sample, as well.



mojo_monk - Posted - 02/08/2011:  11:09:47

@Gail: Glad you like those recordings! Thanks for the commentary.

I have to say that the Tom Dillon version is my favorite, pound for pound. That said, Harold's fiddling next to those banjos is as driving as it's bound to's a shame about his taking a stroke. At least he's able to blow some harp.

Here's Ernie Carpenter (w/Gerry Milnes, 10/31/1987) c/o the digital archives @ Berea: His story at the beginning takes the cake, as far as I'm concerned.


majikgator - Posted - 02/08/2011:  17:59:22

i agree that Tommy Jarrell's version of Cripple Creek totally changed my view of a tune that i was pretty sick of and had pretty much quit playing. i now play it leaning heavily on Tommy Jarrell's version as taught to me by Brad Leftwich (it turns out it is also in Brad Leftwich's Round Peak Style Clawhammer Banjo). i happen to like the Billy Connolly version of Cripple Creek i saw on a youtube video and think it's one of the better versions i have heard.
Over familiarity yes but then a new take on it breathes new life into it. Sure it's another generic fiddle tune (regardless if you think it's a banjo tune) an A part a B part, one "coarse" one "fine" and a few other tunes sound fairly similar, but i still think it's a great tune. It's like saying it's another love song, who cares if you like it you do. There can't be enough of tunes like this, just don't ask me to remember them all but this one i think everybody remembers. Good choice.

Edited by - majikgator on 02/08/2011 18:00:01

plunknplinkntwang - Posted - 02/09/2011:  08:10:10

Poor old Cripple Creek, it's not enough it gets abused by newbie players like myself, then it gets maligned for it's popularity.

My favourite version is on the Digital Library of Appalachia, by Uncle Homer Walker, whom I know nothing about. I'm not able to directly link to it but...,114

click the 'Access this Item' banner about 2/3rd of the way up the screen.

I'm intrigued of hearing it in its many guises, and I never tire of playing it etc; It's a fascinating tune that can be sliced, diced & adulterated in so many ways that span across all playing techniques and styles yet the still retains it's own identity. A real toe tapper

Excellent TOTW choice

Raspberrys to those who still hate it - CC's a pearl and shouldn't be cast before them

all the best

Edited by - plunknplinkntwang on 02/09/2011 08:14:31

LyleK - Posted - 02/09/2011:  08:38:03

Originally posted by tomberghan
I especially like the way YOU play it Lyle! Yours is the best!
Thanks for all of the information,
Best Wishes,

Thanks much Tom. I certainly appreciate that, coming as it does from one of my favorite banjoists, as well as from someone who has been racking-up style points like they're going out of style ( see , though I would have deducted a few style points for that Aqua Net hairspray). I really enjoyed your double C version (hmmm? CC version of CC?) that is linked in the original post.

And thanks to all who have been posting comments and pointers to other versions (lots of 'em!).

Edited by - LyleK on 02/09/2011 08:39:19

Mark Johnson - Posted - 02/12/2011:  09:00:34

I know I'm a week late in chiming in here, but I couldn't resist. I was messing around this morning culling a few things from my music archive, preparing to add some new stuff, and decided to add an old recording of Cripple Creek in. Nothing shocking or revolutionary here, just me moseying my way through it on a gourd, throwing in some pubescent sounding vocals on occasion.

Count me among the "my first tune" camp. There were a few months there where I think it was my only tune. I still cherish it, though. The version here is relatively straight forward. Sometimes I really put it through its paces, like I think I'm John Coltraine or something.

Edited by - Mark Johnson on 02/12/2011 09:03:38

Cripple Creek


LyleK - Posted - 02/12/2011:  10:49:30

Enjoyed that Mark. Excellent use of a vegetable!

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