I love a great fiddle tune as much as the next person, but sometimes their names simply do too much. It’s not hard to imagine how these titles might have been changed and twisted over the years, in the game of telephone that inevitably exists in oral traditions. Some tunes, like “Shove That Pig’s Foot a Little Closer to the Fire,” have multiple rumored explanations for their names. Clawhammerbanjo.net discusses some of these possibilities in this lengthy explanation. We may never know for sure where these names come from, but here are 10 tunes that exhibit old-time at its most absurd:
“Jaybird Died of the Whooping Cough”
This may be a slightly traumatizing title for a post-pandemic society, but it’s still scientifically interesting. Can a jaybird, indeed, contract whooping cough? Here, the fabulous Foghorn Stringband research the situation.
What exactly was “Dick’s Handspike”? Do we even want to know? Hilary Burhans demonstrates, with a beautiful tune undeserving of such a blunt (or sharp?) name.
“Bullfrog on a Puncheon Floor”
Reportedly from the fiddling of Estill Bingham, Mark Gilston plays this lovely tune on mountain dulcimer. According to the University of South Carolina, a puncheon is an Appalachian term meaning “A split log or rough timber having one face smoothed by an adze, used for flooring, benching, siding of log buildings, etc.”
“Sal’s Got a Meat Skin”
In addition to meaning a literal meat skin, the term can also be used as an insult, according to Urban Dictionary. If you want to know more, you’ll have to Google it. Here, the Snake Hollow Stringband from old-time hot spot Floyd, Virginia, performs “Sal’s Got a Meat Skin.”
“Soapsuds Over the Fence”
Taking its place in a longstanding tradition of “naming the tune whatever is actively happening within eyesight at the time of writing” we have “Soapsuds Over the Fence.” Played in this video by the equally wonderfully-named renowned fiddler, Harry Bolick.
“I’m a Nice Old Man”
Nothing says “I’m not a nice old man” more than proclaiming, “I’m a nice old man.” This tune is credited to the playing of Melvin Wine. No shade on Melvin! He just played the tune, and allegedly was a nice old man. Here we have it reimagined on Leicestershire smallpipes by Moira Bracknall.
“Don’t Drink Nothin but Corn”
I feel that this tune’s title is missing its last word – “liquor” – but as a Midwesterner, I can’t put it past folks to drink straight corn. Nevertheless, this tune somehow made its way all the way to Sweden, here we have the Hot Corn Band performing it.
“Shove the Pig’s Foot a Little Closer to the Fire”
Perhaps the best-known of these outrageous tunes, “Shove the Pig’s Foot” has become a classic. Here is old-time royalty Bruce Molsky’s recording of the tune.
“Big Footed Man In the Sandy Lot”
This tune sounds like a clue in a murder mystery. Why exactly was that big-footed man in the sandy lot? Here’s a beautiful rendition from Lukas Pool.
“Hell and Scissors”
What is it about Hell and scissors, they just go together like bread and butter! Here we have The Moose Whisperers featuring BGS favorite Jake Blount playing a great version at Clifftop.
Background image by Wes Hecks via unsplash.com