Jaybird

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JAYBIRD. AKA and see "Jaybird Settin' on a Limb," "Pennsylvania Fifers (The)" (Pa.), "Daddy Shot a Bear" (Pa.), "Lady's/Ladies Breast Knot (The)," "Bonny Breast Knot (1) (The)." Old-Time, Breakdown; American, March and Reel; English, Scottish; Country, Morris, Sword Dance Tune. USA; New England, Pennsylvania, Missouri(?). D Major. Standard or ADae tunings (fiddle). AABB (most versions): AABBAAC'C' (Phillips/1994). At one time an "Old-Time Revival" favorite re-popularized in the late 1960's/early 70's by Art Rosenbaum, John Burke, Joel Shimberg and other young banjo players and fiddlers of the day. Samual Bayard collected numerous versions (most called "Jaybird") from southwestern Pennsylvania fifers and fiddlers in the mid-20th century, where it was played as a march and a reel. He identified "Jaybird" as a derivative of the British air "Ladies Breast Knot (The)." The second strain of the tune is used for the music to the songs "Skip to My Lou" and "Bobby Shaftoe (1)." The similarly titled "Walking Jaybird" is not cognate.

Jay bird, jay bird, sittin' on a limb,
He winked at me and I winked at him.
I picked up a rock and I hit his shin,
Sez he: "You'd better not do that agin."
(Ira Ford)

Daddy went a-huntin;, Daddy shot a bear;
Shot him in the ass, and he never touched a hair.
(Bayard)

Joel Shimberg finds the first part of the tune in Leah Jackson Wolford's book The Play Party in Indiana (pre-1920) as a melody for a play-party called "Down in Jaybird Town," wherein Wolford says that it was played as a fiddle tune as well. In another Indiana context, Joel learned the following words to "Jaybird" from fiddler John Summers:

Jaybird, Jaybird, sitting in the grass,
Jaybird, Jaybird, sitting in the grass,
Jaybird, Jaybird, sitting in the grass,
Wiggle-wiggle went his tail, poop went his ass.

Art Rosenbaum learned his version from Summer's playing also, but remembers the lines Summers (who sang very little) voiced were the same as Ira Ford's, save he substituted the word 'stick' for 'rock' in the third line.

African-American collector Thomas Talley printed a version in his book Negro Folk Rhymes (reprinted in 1991, edited by Charles Wolfe), accompanied by a completely different tune. His lyrics went:

De Jaybird jump from lim' to lim',
An' he tell Br'er Rabbit to do lak him.
Br'er Rabbit say to de cunnin' elf,
"You jes want me to fall an' kill myself."

Cho:
I loves dem shorten gals!
I loves dem shorten gals!
Oh, have mercy on my soul!

Dat Jaybird a-settin' on a swingin' lim',
He wink at me an' I wink at him.
He laught at me when my gun "crack",
It kick me down on de flat o' my back.

Nex' day de Jaybird dance dat lim.'
I grabs my gun fer to shoot at him.
When I "crack" down, it split my chin,
"Ole Aggie Cunjer" fly lak sin.

Way down yon'er at de risin' sun,
Jaybird a-talkin' wid a forked tongue.
He's been down dar whar de bad mens dwell,
"Ole Friday Devil," fare-you-well!
(Talley)


Sources for notated versions: Fennigs All Stars (N.Y.) [Brody]; nine southwestern Pa. fiddlers and fifers [Bayard]; Liz Slade (Yorktown, New York) [Kuntz]; Kenny Kosek and Pete Sutherland [Phillips/1994]; John Summers [Milliner & Koken].

Printed sources: Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; No. 176A-I, pp. 127-131. Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 144. Ford (Traditional Music in America), 1940; p. 96. Milliner & Koken (Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes), 2011; p. 329. Phillips (Fiddle Case Tunebook: Old Time Southern), 1989; p. 23. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 122. Sweet (Fifer's Delight), 1964/1981; p. 52.

Recorded sources: Carryon Records 002, "Ace Weems & the Fat Meat Boys." Carryon 005, "The Renegades" (1993). Front Hall 05, Fennigs All Stars – "Saturday Night in the Provinces." Rounder 0006, Country Cooking – "Fourteen Bluegrass Instrumentals."

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]




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