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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 1/13/2016 - Blue Mule

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:

jack_beuthin - Posted - 01/13/2017:  07:12:01

No, not the song Blue Mule made famous by Old & In The Way.  Different Blue Mule, that.

The Old Timey Blue Mule (aka, Old Blue Mule) is an Ozark tune and may have a heritage that extends as far back as the Civil War.   I first heard Blue Mule on the Shades of Death Creek album (20213) by the New Bad Habits (Lynn “Chirps” Smith, Tim Foss, Dave Landreth & Andy Gribble).  Until I did some research for TOTW, I thought the tune came from Bob Holt, the Missouri fiddler known for his lightning fast speed.  As it turns out, Blue Mule was in the repertoire of several source players from Missouri and Arkansas including Cyril Stinnet, Troy Lee, and Glen Rickman. The Traditional Tune Archive mentions that Blue Mule was “a regionally popular tune formerly seldom heard in other parts of the country.”  In the field recording made by Gordon McCann (1977), Mr. Rickman states that Blue Mule goes back to the Civil War and that there was both a “Union” version (2 parts) and a “Rebel” version (with a third part).  

Recordings above mentioned source plays:

Troy Lee -

Glen Rickman - (starts around 0:55)

Cyril Stinnet - (starts around 1:45)

Bob Holt - I couldn't find a publicly available recording but you can preview Bob Holt''s version on iTunes.  It's on the "Traditional Fiddle Music of the Ozarks, Vol. 1: Along the Eastern Crescent" album.


Some recordings by contemporary players:

Wilmer Kerns -

Jeremy Myers -

Fiddlin' Banjo Billy Mathews -

Carl Barron -


Lastly, I’ve included my clawhammer attempt at Blue Mule, and a tab to go with it.

Please share anything you might know about this tune, and certainly add to the collection of recordings. I’d be curious to know how widely this lively tune is played.

Edited by - jack_beuthin on 01/13/2017 08:58:50

vrteach - Posted - 01/13/2017:  09:55:15

One of my favorites, which I have to say I find to be a challenge. Your version is spot-on great!

The New Bad Habits have a fine version on their CD "Shades of Death Creek"


Edited by - vrteach on 01/13/2017 09:59:09

jack_beuthin - Posted - 01/13/2017:  10:31:16

Thanks Erich.  I have to agree--this tune is a real challenge on the banjo.  It took more than a few attempts to get it even close to right.

I also like all the subtle variations that exist amongst the different players.

JanetB - Posted - 01/13/2017:  13:07:11

Hi Jack!  Nice choice.  I've learned some others of Cyril Stinnett's pieces, so thought I'd try his.  It's the only Blue Mule I've heard so far where the B part goes a bit higher and sounds like Flop-Eared Mule.

In the book Ozarks Fiddle Music by Drew Beisswenger and Gordan McCann there's notation for Old Blue Mule from the playing of Glen Rickman (1901 - 1982).  He played all his life and especially enjoyed playing at square dances. They say he went blind at the end of his life from decades of looking at fire boxes in steam engines where he was an engineer for 40 years. Regarding this tune, the authors state that "Rickman announced he would next play an additional part that one of his 'Rebel' cousins played, and in doing so he was perhaps indicating that his own way was the 'Union' version.  His Civil War reference also suggests the tune is quite old. The A part resembles the popular song 'Skip to my Lou.'"  The CD that comes with the book has the two tracks with Old Blue Mule.



mojo_monk - Posted - 01/14/2017:  06:10:40

Great choice! I play this with my band and have to say it's a favorite of mine. I'll try get a recording up and join in the fun.



mojo_monk - Posted - 01/14/2017:  06:58:25


Originally posted by mojo_monk


Great choice! I play this with my band and have to say it's a favorite of mine. I'll try get a recording up and join in the fun.




Here goes. Played on an old Harmony banjo w/Bakelite pot and resonator.




mb03557 - Posted - 01/14/2017:  09:55:46

Thanks Sean. Good stuff!


mojo_monk - Posted - 01/14/2017:  10:45:07


Originally posted by mb03557


Thanks Sean. Good stuff!


My pleasure. Glad you enjoyed it blush


bhniko - Posted - 01/17/2017:  14:01:24

Amazing picking Jack, fingers were flying.

Feo - Posted - 01/19/2017:  11:24:14

Ok , I just had a go at it .... the tune came out at kind of relaxed pace ... I can speed it up once I get the tune in my head better .... I added some fiddle too

jack_beuthin - Posted - 01/21/2017:  13:53:26

Thanks all for tuning in, and contributing! Keep the TOTW fun going!

Don Huber - Posted - 01/21/2017:  19:08:40

I'm amazed at the warm tone that Sean drew out of that Harmony banjo. Listen to it again.

Reminds me of how the Elders, like Clyde Troxel, used to make those bottlecap banjos sound so good.

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