Jawbone

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JAWBONE. AKA and see "Old Jawbone (1)," "Walk Jawbone." Old-Time, Breakdown/Song. G Major (Krassen, Phillips): A Major (Beisswenger & McCann). Standard or AEae tuning (fiddle). AB (Beisswenger & McCann): AABB (Krassen, Phillips). The tune has minstrel origins, with 'jawbone' probably referring to a stock character in such shows, says Charles Wolfe (1991). The jawbone was also a recognized percussive instrument in 19th century Aftrican-American traditional music and was employed by minstrel troupes (who sometimes even had a stock character called 'Jawbone'). It's use also survived in white tradition-Arkansas fiddler Violet Hensley's family band still uses the jaw bone of a cow as a rhythm instrument. Hans Nathan (in his book Dan Emmett) records it was sung at a Tennessee frolic in the early 1830's, and it has some similarities to minstrel Dan Emmett's tune (recorded by Uncle Dave Macon and the Fruit Jar Drinkers) "Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel, I Believe." Wolfe found jawbone tunes in old minstrel collections, some of which indicate the song was associated with the "Colored Saboyard" Cool White, whose song "Walk Jawbone" was published in 1844 (although there appears to be no musical relationship with the old-time breakdown tunes). Library of Congress recordings of the tune/song prior to WWII were collected from Florida to Ohio. "Jawbone" fragments also survived in play-party song from Pre-World War II in Oklahoma (see Botkin, American Play-Party Song, 1963, p. 72). Various ditties have been sung to the melody:

I left my jawbone sittin' on a fence
I ain't' seen nothin' of my jawbone since
Walked on home and didn't get along
In come Sally with her big boots on.

Jawbone walk and Jawbone talk and
Jawbone eat with a knife and fork.

Jawbone walked and the mire flew
'Hind my head, and-a higher, too.

Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers sang on their 1928 recording:

Little old man come riding by,
Say, 'Old man, your horse will die.'
'If he dies, I'll tan his skin,
If he lives I'll ride him again.

Cho:

Walk jaw bone and walk away,
Walk jaw bone both night and day;

Jaw bone walk and jaw bone talk,
Jaw bone eat with the knife and fork;

Walk jaw bone and walk away,
Walk jaw bone both night and day.

Jaw bone broke and wire flew
Hide my head in the (high land) too

My wife died in Tennessee
Sent that jaw bone back to me,
Hung my jaw bone on the fence
I haven't seen my jaw bone since

African-American collector Thomas Talley printed a version in his book Negro Folk Rhymes (reprinted in 1991, edited by Charles Wolfe):

Samson, shout! Samson, moan!
Samson, bring on yo Jawbone.

Jawbone, walk!, Jawbone, talk!
Jawbone, eat wid a knife an fo'k.

Walk, Jawbone! Jinny, come alon'
Yon'er goes Sally wid de bootees on.

Jawbone, ring! Jawbone, sing!
Jawbone, kill dat wicked thing. .... (Talley)

See also the variants "Johnson City Rag" and "Hung My Jawbone on the Fence." Other related (some very closely) song/tunes include "Dance All Night with a Bottle in My Hand," "Give the Fiddler a Dram," "Give Me a Bottle of I Don't Care What," "Jordon is a Hard Road to Travel," and "Johnson City Rag." See also notes and tune for the blackface minstrel song "Old Jaw Bone (2)."

Source for notated version: Henry Reed (Glen Lyn, Va.) via Dave Milefsky [Krassen]; Alan Jabbour with the Hollow Rock String Band [Phillips]; Gene Goforth [Milliner & Koken];Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers [Milliner & Koken].

Printed sources: Krassen (Appalachian Fiddle), 1973; p. 57. Milliner & Koken (Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes), 2011; p. 328. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), 1994; p. 121.

Recorded sources: Rounder Records, Gene Goforth - "Eminence Breakdown." Rounder 0442, John Hartford - "Hamilton Ironworks" (2001). County CD-3506, Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers - "Echoes of the Ozarks, vol. 1" (reissue). Victor 21577 (78 RPM), Pope's Arkansas Mountianeers (1928). CD, Alan Jabbour, James Reed, Bertram Levy - "A Henry Reed Reunion" (2002).

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]
Transcription of an interview with Tip McKinney of Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers [2]
Hear Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers Victor recording [3]




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