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As impressive as a fiddler's skills can be, the names they pick for their tunes can leave heads scratching. Photo by Phil Houseal

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Name that (fiddle) tune

by Phil Houseal
April 2, 2008

It seems that as fiddlers composed endless new hornpipes, reels, and jigs, they flat outpaced their capacity to come up with suitable song titles. It is hard to imagine from whence the inspiration came for the song Preacher Got Drunk and Throwed His Bible Down.

(Disclaimer: All of the following are actual names of tunes)

Many song titles started in the barnyard, literally. Hence we have Chicken Reel, Cluckin' Hen and the classic Turkey in the Straw. Also:

Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow
Cross-Eyed Butcher and the Cacklin' Hen
Chicken in the Bread Tray
Chicken Don't Roost Too High

(My old friend Lindsey used to chuckle about how the rooster perched on the side of the flour barrel. Before he went to bed he'd always call out to his wife to make sure to "turn the rooster around.")

Other animals found their places in song titles:

Old Grey Goose
Carve That Possum
Old Molly Hare
Little Rabbit
Kitty Puss
Pig Ankle Rag
Ground Hog
Shoot the Turkey Buzzard
(Disclaimer: No animals were harmed in the writing of this column)
Injun Et A Woodchuck
Flop Eared Mule

Mules have a sub-genre all to themselves:

Old Grey Mule
Yodeling Mule
Can't Put The Bridle On That Mule
Whoa Mule
(there are 25 versions of this one)

Suppertime apparently inspired old-time songwriters:

Boil Them Cabbage
Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy
Johnny Fill Up the Bowl
Great Big Taters in Sandy Land
How Many Biscuits Can You Eat?

Scourge and pestilence were never far from the reality of daily life:

Weevily Wheat
Ain't No Bugs On Me
Blue-Tailed Fly
Hawk's Got A Chicken And Gone
Granny Will Your Dog Bite?

Hey, I know... let's sing about disease!

Jaybird Died of the Whooping Cough
Jake's Got the Bellyache
And the endearing My Wife Died On A Saturday Night

Taking a pull on the jug inspired creative song-naming. In the same spirit of Preacher Got Drunk, we have:

Paddy Won't You Drink Some Cider
If the River Was Whiskey
Give the Fiddler a Dram
Drunken Hiccups
Whiskey Before Breakfast

(which must have led to the sobering Farewell to Whiskey)

Some tunes highlight the questionable relationships you stumble upon in the hills and hollers:

I Got A Gal
I Got A Bulldog
Sal, Let Me Chaw Your Rosin Some
The Highland Man That Kissed His Grannie

And the even more enigmatic: You Married My Daughter, and Yet You Didn't

Other fiddle tunes chronicled family exploits, usually violent:

Johnny's Gone to France
Jack Broke da Prison Door
The Girl that Broke my Heart
Smash the Windows

Some names I just don't understand:

Boatin' Up Sandy
There Ain't No Use In Me Workin' So Hard
I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground

Ah, yes... that universal yearning to live in a hole.

Those of us trying to learn to play the dang thing even have to endure the taunting: Say Old Man Can You Play The Fiddle?

Maybe not, but I'm learning to name that tune.