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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 10/17/14 Cornstalk Fiddle and Shoestring Bow

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:

Mtngoat - Posted - 10/17/2014:  02:54:16

I’ve chosen Kentuckian Clyde Davenport’s Cornstalk Fiddle and Shoestring Bow for this installment of TOTW.  It’s a simple tune with a short write up but great fun to play.

Here’s the excerpt from the Traditional Tune Archive:

                “CORNSTALK FIDDLE (AND SHOESTRING BOW). Old-Time, Breakdown. USA; Kentucky, Mississippi,     Arkansas. G Major: A Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. The title appears in a    list of traditional Ozark Mountain fiddle tunes compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954. It was recorded by Mississippi fiddler Frank Kittrell for the Library of Congress in 1939 (AFS LC 3035 B2). Although Davenport's tune is different from the tune called "Cotten Eyed Joe," the title "Cornstalk Fiddle" may be in some locales a floating or alternate name for "Cotten-Eyed Joe.

                The ditty that Davenport occasionally sang with the tune went:

                “My bow's sugar, my bow's sweet;

                My bow's sugar and she can't be beat.

                Cornstalk fiddle and a shoestring bow (x4)”

                Jeff Titon (2001) says the 'B' part of Davenport's tune is similar to that of two other of his tunes: it is nearly identical to the 'B' part of "Sugar in My Coffee-O," and close to "Open the Gate and Walk on Through." Titon finds it a variant of "Grape Vine Twist (1)," printed in the publications of Howe and Kerr in the 19th century. The melody also turns up in Lomax and Lomax's Our Singing Country (1941, pp. 68-69) in a song called "Bank of the Arkansas (The)," collected from a woman in Texas.

                Source for notated versions: Clyde Davenport (b. 1921, Monticello, Wayne County, Ky., 1990),   learned from his father [Phillips, Titon].   Printed sources: Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 56. Titon (Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes), 2001; No. 28, p. 62. Recorded source: Berea College Appalachian Center AC002, Clyde Davenport - "Puncheon Camps" (1992). Mississippi Department of Archives and History AH-002, Frank Kittrell (Lauderdale County, Miss.) - "Great Big Yam Potatoes: Anglo-American Fiddle Music from  Mississippi" (1985. Originally recorded in 1939).”


A 1981 recording of Davenport is in the Berea College DLA here:  Clyde

I found two web postings of the tune.   A video of Jesse Wells is here:  Jesse   and HBO member Dean Barber has it in his music archive here:  Dean

I was unable to find a tab for Cornstalk Fiddle and Shoestring Bow but Titon gives standard notation.  It’s mostly second fret work with one reach up to the fifth fret.  The Wells video should put everyone on the right track.

The piece is simple enough that I give it to my students as their first tune after they learn the clawhammer stroke.   It makes a good exercise as all five strings are struck at one time or another and it introduces pulloffs, hammers, and slides and even requires use of the pinkie on the fifth fret note.   It’s much more fun to play a tune than just practice techniques and I usually see significant improvement during the week after assigning it.

Instruction for the manufacture of a cornstalk fiddle can be found here and the finished product is depicted in this photo

Viewers are encouraged to post observations, opinions, performances and tabs contributing to this thread.

bd - Posted - 10/17/2014:  06:58:25

Cool simple tune. 

It does sound a little similar to Grapevine Twist or at least the version I know from the Phil Rice banjo tutor. I haven't seen the Kerr notation for it though. I know there's a traditional dance called the Grapevine Twist, so maybe any similarities between the tune Grapevine Twist & Cornstalk Fiddle...are because they're for the same dance.

Anyways I'll attach a video of me playing Grapevine Twist & folks can judge for themselves if there is any connection.

VIDEO: Grape Vine Twist
(click to view)


Don Borchelt - Posted - 10/17/2014:  08:14:47

A great choice for tune of the week.  I think it is also very closely related to a three part tune played by Charlie Acuff called Josie Girl (the A and B parts).  Listen to how Charlie plays the B part the second tie around, it gets even closer.  Ignore the C part.

Charlie Acuff plays Josie Girl

janolov - Posted - 10/17/2014:  08:38:54

I can't hear any similarities between bd's Grape Vine Twist and Davenport's Cornstalk Fiddle And Shoestring Bow.

Mtngoat refers to Titon's statement(in the book Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Runes) that the tune is a variant of Grape Vine Twist "which appeared in various nineteenth-century printed collections published by Elias Howe". The version published by Phil Rice (Phil. Rice's Correct Method for the Banjo with or without a Master, 1858) seems to be quit another tune. Searching on Internet also give several other versions of Grape Vine Twist, which also seems to have no connection to Davevenport's Cornstalk.

bd - Posted - 10/17/2014:  09:11:56

Well I did write a "little similar" smiley I am quite willing to believe I'm convincing myself to hear things that just ain't so, but at least in the B parts of both tunes I hear a resemblance. 

Edited by - bd on 10/17/2014 09:13:19

bd - Posted - 10/17/2014:  10:55:20


Originally posted by Don Borchelt

A great choice for tune of the week.  I think it is also very closely related to a three part tune played by Charlie Acuff called Josie Girl (the A and B parts).  Listen to how Charlie plays the B part the second tie around, it gets even closer.  Ignore the C part.

Charlie Acuff plays Josie Girl

Now there's a real resemblance to the Davenport song & not just notional! It also reminds me of Barlow Knife.

JanetB - Posted - 10/18/2014:  18:22:32

Hearing Clyde Davenporte play and sing was fun--a good choice this week, Mountain Goat.  The cornstalk fiddle must have been a good, inexpensive toy way back when.  It got me examining an old Christmas present, a book called Homemade Instruments by Dallas Cline.  And that got me thinking that if one had more time, one could make lots of these instruments to share with kids. And that got me liking the idea of retirement even more!  The book also comes with notated traditional music to accompany each musical instrument. The words accompanying directions for this instrument are:

     I made me a fiddle and I made me a bow

     And I learned to play the fiddle like Cotton Eye Joe



     Cornstalk fiddle and a showstring bow

     And if that ain't a-fiddlin' then I don't know!


     I tuned up my fiddle and I went to a dance

     I tried to make some music but I didn't get a chance.


     Cotton Eye Joe lived 'cross the creek

     He learned to play the fiddle 'bout seven days a week.


     I've made lots of fiddles and I made a lot of bows

     But I never learned to fiddle like Cotton Eye Joe!


I also liked Clyde's recording made later by Jeff Titon (1990) than the one on your link (1981): Hope you enjoy my version, too. 

Cornstalk Fiddle and a Shoestring Bow

Cornstalk Fiddle and a Shoestring Bow tab

Mtngoat - Posted - 10/19/2014:  09:23:53

BD, I do hear a smither of similarity in the B part, sort of like third or fourth cousins.

Don, Josie Girl certainly sounds like a variant of the tune.

Jan, we're always glad to have your insight.

Janet, another great performance.  Thanks for the tab.  That arrangement is a bit more complex than what I start my students with but now they will have something to strive for.

I reread the Titon description after listening to the links submitted by BD and Don.  The reference to Sugar in My Coffee O piqued my curiosity and a Google search turned up this performance by Vesta Johnson.  Seems I was a bit remiss in my research. 

Thanks for the contributions.

Don Borchelt - Posted - 10/22/2014:  08:28:31

A great and well researched presentation from the mountain goat.  I stole a little of the research for my own video.  A great version by Dean Barber and his Dogtrotters, but someone needs to tell Dean that there is the longest spam post I ever saw left as a comment on his MP3 posting.  Very fine picking by Janet, as smooth and elegant as it comes.  I remember the Cline book, Janet, originally published by Oak years ago.  A great book; I made a limberjack for my kids from the drawings in that book, borrowed from the library. 

I worked up a three-finger style version, the video is attached below.  I put up the tab on my website, if anyone is interested.  I tried to incorporate Davenport's melodic anticipation into the arrangement.

- Don Borchelt

Edited by - Don Borchelt on 10/22/2014 08:31:34

VIDEO: Cornstalk Fiddle and a Shoestring Bow
(click to view)


Mtngoat - Posted - 10/22/2014:  17:13:08

Some good three finger work there Don.  I see that you are a master woodworker and you have a killer library.

Don Borchelt - Posted - 10/22/2014:  19:47:28


Originally posted by Mtngoat

Some good three finger work there Don.  I see that you are a master woodworker and you have a killer library.

Chip Arnold made that mountain banjo hanging behind the bookcase.  It's cherry, and it plays and sounds great!

Edited by - Don Borchelt on 10/22/2014 19:48:40

Don Borchelt - Posted - 10/24/2014:  07:04:51

Before I forget (which I'm doing a lot lately): very nice playing, bd, on Grapevine Twist, even if it isn't the same tune as Cornstalk Fiddle.  They are both just variations of the primordial tune that first emerged from the old-timey ooze, the tune that only a cornstalk fiddle plays.  A fine job of picking!

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