Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Banjo Lovers Online

Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series, Episode 2: Old Joe Clark

Posted by Josh Turknett on Tuesday, October 22, 2013

like this

Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series, Episode 2

Old Joe Clark


If you'd like a free, downloadable ebook of lessons 1 thru 7 (over 50 pages of content), just click here.

In the inaugural episode (S1:E1 for those counting) of the Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series (CCRS for the acronymically obsessed) we tackled the quintessential D tune, Soldier’s Joy. This week, we’ll be venturing to the key of A for another old-time chesnut, Old Joe Clark. And we’ll be following the same procedure as we did last month - first we break it down, then we build it back.

This stirring tribute to everyone’s favorite rabble-rousing, moonshining mountain man first entered the canon of folk fiddle tunes somewhere in the mid to late 19th Century, and to this day remains a stalwart in pretty much any folk music setting from old-time to bluegrass to folk music sing-a-longs. Though originally a fiddle tune, over the years folks have added verses celebrating the exploits of Mr. Clark. So, it’s not uncommon to hear people singing on this one. Since singing always enhances the tune-learning process, I encourage you to learn some words yourself. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Step 1: Know Thy Melody

First, let’s get a firm handle on the melody by listening to a few version courtesy of our friends at the fiddle hangout. Remember, the goal here is to find Old Joe Clark's basic essence:

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

Listen to these enough times that you can easily hum the skeleton of the melody to yourself. Now, lucky for you, Old Joe Clark has words you can sing. So, not only can you hum the basic melody, you can sing it, too. And I encourage you to do so. It should sound something like this (note that I’m singing it here in the key of G. A has been out of the question since puberty):

Singing Old Joe Clark.mp3

Now, before I go any further, I’m gonna clear up a piece of confusion and controversy that sometimes arises when musicians of various stripes congregate to pick this tune together. It all comes down to the 4th measure of the B part of the tune. In bluegrass circles, the first note of this measure is almost always a G, and it’s harmonized with a G chord. This sounds a bit dissonant and newfangled. Since we’re more interested in sounding oldfangled, we’re gonna play it the other way, which is for the first note of the measure to be an E, harmonized with an E chord. This is how I sang it above, and seems to be the general consensus of how to play it in old-time jam circles.

You can actually hear for yourself the two different ways of playing it in the fiddle versions we listened to earlier. For extra credit, see if you can pick out which does which.

Step 2: Find the Melody Notes

Now let’s find those basic melody notes on the banjo. Since Old Joe Clark is an A tune, let’s put our banjos in aEAC#E tuning (or gDGBD with a capo on the 2nd fret and the 5th string tuned up to an A). The result should sound something like this:

Old Joe's Essence.mp3

And here’s what that looks like in tablature:


Step 3: Add some clawhammery stuff

Now let’s make it old-timey. Once again, we’ll start with a very simple way of turning this into a clawhammer arrangement. All you have to do next is play the melody notes that occur on the downbeat (printed in bold in the previous tab) and follow each with a “ditty” strum. In tablature, it looks like this:

And should sound something like this:

Old Joe Basic Clawhammer.mp3

Already, we've got a perfectly good arrangement for accompanying Old Joe Clark on the fiddle. Here's what is sounds like paired with a straightforward fiddle arrangement:

Basic Clawhammer and Fiddle Arrangement.mp3

Step 4: Embellish to fit the situation

At this point, you’re free to take this tune where you please. In my slightly spruced up version, I’ve thrown in some drop thumbs to break up the bum ditties, added a few slides (sliding from the 2nd to the 3rd fret on the 2nd string in place of the open 1st is one technique that works well in this tune) and so forth to make things sound a bit more interesting paired up with the fiddle. Here’s what this version sounds like by itself:

Snazzier Joe.mp3

And here it is in tab:

And now here’s how it sounds played alongside the fiddle:

Fiddle and Banjo.mp3

Step 5: Practice smart

Once again, I encourage you to head over to as you work with this tune and play alongside the practice backup tracks.

Long live Old Joe!


6 comments on “Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series, Episode 2: Old Joe Clark”

johnv Says:
Monday, October 28, 2013 @7:39:45 PM

Absolutly Great, Learning a lot and it is wonderful that you print clawhammer tips / lessons Thank You , johnv

jamesd Says:
Tuesday, October 29, 2013 @11:42:49 AM

Josh, thank you for this tune and the lyrics. You make learning a tune a pleasure.

Josh Turknett Says:
Tuesday, October 29, 2013 @12:45:33 PM

Thanks, folks. Learning tunes should be a pleasure!

banjo4118 Says:
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 @2:04:58 PM

Very helpful. Just moving into my second year of banjo playing.

gump33lt Says:
Friday, November 15, 2013 @3:24:07 AM

I really appreciate this series. It has been extremely helpful to me. This version of OJC is the first tune that I have successfully played with drop thumb. One of life's triumphs. Josh, thanks for doing this.

Josh Turknett Says:
Friday, November 15, 2013 @4:39:27 AM

That's really great, Larry! Thanks for the feedback.

You must sign into your myHangout account before you can post comments.

More posts from Josh Turknett

Newest Posts

Click for Details 'Bill Cheatham' 51 min

More >  

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories