Chicken-Foot and Sparrow-Grass

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CHICKEN-FOOT AND SPARROW-GRASS. AKA and see "Dandy Jim from Caroline (1)," "Dandy Jim (1)," "Old Aunt Jenny," "American Air" (Kerr). American, Reel. USA, southwestern Pa. E Flat Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. The tune is better known by the first two alternate titles, the first of which is the title minstrel composer Dan Emmett gave the tune. The 'B' part has also been collected in play party traditions. A couplet was collected in Missouri by folklorist Vance Randolph from the singing of a Missouri woman in 1938, who had learned it in the 1890's in that state as "part of a long, rollicking song." Unfortunately, the lines below were all she could remember:

Chicken-foot and sparrow-grass,
Old woman died with a rag in her ass;
Rag blew out, an' the wind blew in,
Damned old bitch is livin' ag'in.
(Randolf, Roll Me in Your Arms, p. 378)

'Sparrow-grass' is a name for asparagus; "the wild springtime variety is thought of as an aphrodisiac by sympathetic magic, owing to its phallic shape and vertical rapid growth." 'Chicken-Foot' may be chickweed, the poisonous root of which was used for intestinal worms. The similarly titled "Chickens and Sparrowgrass" is a song in Thomas D'Urfey's Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy, vol. 6 (London, 1719).

Source for notated version: Hiram White (elderly fiddler from Greene County, Pa., 1930's) [Bayard].

Printed source: Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; No. 326 B, p. 291.


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