Old Leather Bonnet with a Hole in the Crown

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OLD LEATHER BONNET WITH A HOLE IN THE CROWN. Old-Time, Breakdown. USA, Arkansas. G Major/Mixolydian. Standard tuning (fiddle). AA'BB'CC'. Drew Beisswenger (2008) finds Clayton McMichen and Riley Puckett's version of "The Arkansas Sheik" (1931) to be nearly identical to the tune from the repertoire of Arkansas fiddler Jesse Wallace. However, Wallace learned his melody at the age of 16 (predating McMichen's recording by eight years) from the singing of his grandmother, while bedridden from a leg injury. Both titles ("Arkansas Shiek" and "Old Leather Bonnet with a Hole in the Crown" are lines from songs with different melodies. The hole in the crown of the bonnet was useful to farm women, who would pull their long hair through it to keep the wind from blowing it off.

The line "Old leather bonnet with a hole in the crown" appears in a family of songs that goes by the name "Want to Go a-Courting" and "Started Out Courting," collected from Alabama, North Carolina and Ozarks sources. The Alabama "Want to Go a-Courting" (printed in Ray Browne's The Alabama Folk Lyric, 1979) has the stanzas:

When they go to meeting I'll tell you how they dress,
Old black calico that's the very best,
Old black calico that's the very best.

Old black sac hemmed all around,
Old leather bonnet with a hole in the crown,
Old leather bonnet with a hole in the crown.

While the Alabama "Started Out Courting" has similar lines:

When they go to meeting, I'll tell you how they dress,
A dirty black dress and that is the best.
An old soiled apron greased all around.
Old leather bonnet with a hole in the crown,
Old leather bonnet with a hole in the crown.

The protagonist of Sam Hinton's comic song "When You Go a-Courting" (Folkways FC 7548, "I'll Sing You a Story", 1972) pays a courting visit to a neighbor and is appalled at what he sees:

Old dirty clothes was a-lying 'round the room;
The room not swept, 'cause they couldn't find the broom.
They had a long-tailed coat, Lord, greasy all around,
And a old leather bonnet with a hole in the crown--
A old leather bonnet with a hole in the crown.

Source for notated version: Jesse Wallace (1907-2006, born Stone County, Arkansas) [Beisswenger & McCann].

Printed sources: Beisswenger & McCann (Ozarks Fiddle Music), 2008; p. 156.

Recorded sources: Rounder CD 0435, Jesse Wallace - "Traditional Fiddle Music of the Ozarks, vol. 1" (1999. Various artists).

See also listing at:
Hear Jesse Wallace's recording at Slippery Hill [1]




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