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X:1 T:Rye Straw [1] M:2/4 L:1/8 R:Reel B:Ford - Traditional Music in America (1940, p. 47) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:D [A,E]A/A/ FA/A/|[A,E]A/A/ F/E/D/z/|[A,E]A/A/ FA/A/|c/d/e/d/ c/B/A/z/:| |:c/ee/ ee/e/|d/d/e/g/ f/e/d/z/|c/ee/ eB/c/|d/B/A/G/ FD/D/:| |:f/af/ a>a|f/g/a/g/ f/e/d|f/af/ a>f|g/f/e/d/ c/A/A| c/ee/ eA/A/|d/d/e/g/ f/e/d|c/ee/ eB/c/|d/B/A/G/ F/D/D:|]

RYE STRAW [1]. AKA and see "Alabama Waltz" (Mississippi title), “Big Fish,” “Black My Boots and Go See the Widow,” "Dog Shit a Rye Straw," "Dog in the Rye Straw," "Dog in Difficulty (The)," "Illinois Whiskey," "Joke on the Puppy (The)," "Lady's Fancy," "Ladies Fancy (4)," "Preacher's Favorite," "Unfortunate Pup (The)," "Unfortunate Dog (The)," "Whoop from Arkansas (A)," American, Reel (cut time). USA; North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Indiana, Arkansas. D Major (most versions): A Major (Frank Kittrell, Silberberg): G Major (Doc Roberts). Standard or ADae (Frank Kittrell) tunings (fiddle). AA’B (Titon): AABB (Brody, Kittrell, Spadaro): ABC (Silberberg): AA'BBCC (Phillips): AABBCC (Ford): ABCCB' (Krassen): AABCCCCDD (Reiner & Anick). "Rye Straw" is a reel characterized by a shifting tonal center from D major to A mixolydian, with some versions emphasizing one or another of the centers. The melody was known throughout the South and Midwest under a variety of (mostly related) titles, but appears to have first been published in the 1876 collection by blackface minstrel performer and composer George H. Coes of Boston, Mass., as "Whoop from Arkansas (A)" and later by Missouri physician W.H. Morris (Old Time Violin Melodies, 1927, No. 28) as "Acrobat." Marion Thede published Ozarks region versions as "Preacher's Favorite" and "Ladies Fancy (4)" in her The Fiddle Book (1960). The title "Rye Straw" appears in two of the lists of fiddle tunes in the Berea Tune Lists, collected from informants from east Tennessee and east Kentucky as a student project in 1915 under the auspices of Prof. John F. Smith.

Charles Wolfe (1983) states 20th century fiddler Doc Roberts [1] (1897-1978, Ky) used to sing "a scatological ditty involving a dog, a grubbing hoe, and a straw" to the tune, from which several of the alternate titles stem from. Alan Jabbour notes "it refers to a cycle of vulgar jingles that conjure up a dog excreting fantastical things." Joel Shimberg learned the following words to “Rye Straw” from Missouri fiddle tune collector Bob Christeson (1911-1922):

Dog shit a rye straw, dog shit a needle,
Dog shit a little boy playing on a fiddle.

Dog shit a rye straw, dog shit a minnow,
Dog shit a catfish big enough for dinner.

Dog shit a rye straw, dog shit a fiddle bow,
Dog shit a little boy working with a grubbing hoe.

These lyrics were sung to a different melody called “Pigtown Fling” by a Michigan fiddler (via Paul Gifford), but are clearly a variation of the above.

Dog shit a rye straw, dog shit a riddle-o,
Dog shirt a rye straw longer than a fiddle bow.

Dog shit a catfish longer than a minner-o,
Dog shit a catfish big enough for dinner-o.

West Virginia fiddler Ernie Carpenter remarked that the version fiddled by the regionally influential musician Lewis Johnson “Uncle” Jack McElwain (1856-1938) of White Oak (a tributary of Laurel Creek, near the village of Erbacon, Webster County, West Virginia) was so good that: “When Jack ‘Wain played it, you had to open the door and let the stink out” (Milnes, Play of a Fiddle, 1999). Early Grand Ole’ Opry star Uncle Dave Macon, a singer and banjo player, recorded the tune in 1938 (accompanied by a fiddler, identified by the late musicologist Charles Wolfe as Tennessee fiddler Charlie Arrington, who had also been a member of Paul Warmack & His Gully Jumpers) at the end of the song “Johnny Grey” (a version of the ballad “Peter Gray”).

Ernie Carpenter. Photo by Michael Keller. Courtesy Goldenseal Magazine

It has been variously mentioned as having been played by Rock Ridge, Alabama, fiddlers around 1920 (Bailey), and was mentioned in the autobiography and newspaper accounts of Tom Freeman of Cullman County, Alabama, and also in reports (1926/31) of the De Kalb County Annual (Fiddlers') Convention (Cauthen, 1990). It was one of the tune recorded by the Atlanta Constitution in an article on the April, 1913, Atlanta fiddler’s convention, as played by C.C. Moon of Logansville, Ga. (Wayne W. Daniel, 1990) . Influential Mt Airy, North Carolina, fiddler Tommy Jarrell knew the tune as "The Joke on the Puppy," though its most common name seems to have been "Rye Straw." A version of this tune is called "Lost Indian," a floating title. The tune was recorded for the Library of Congress by folklorist/musicologist Vance Randolph from Ozarks Mountains fiddlers in the early 1940's. Randolph listed the tune among those Ozarks fiddle tunes that he knew the name of, published in Midwest Folklore (1954), but this title for the tune, "Dog Shit a Rye Straw," was too much for the editors who deleted it, much to Randolph's lasting disgust. Randolph noted, "Years ago Marion Hughes wrote: "There is one tune I think every fiddler in Arkansas can play. It has a great many names but is commonly called 'A Dog in Difficulty,' or 'The Unfortunate Pup.'" Randolph, like Thede, also heard Ozarks fiddlers refer to it as "Lady's Fancy/Ladies Fancy (4)", noting that his friend George Baize always played it under that title:

I heard him play i near Reeds Spring, Mo., in 1939, and the caller shouted "Rye Straw!" at intervals during the dance. The male dancers barked out loud, and the ladies waggled their tails in a singularly canine fashion. [1]

It's hard to imagine today's female square dancers acquiescing to a dance called "Lady's Fancy" in which they are required to shake their anatomy on demand from the caller.

John Hartford printed the following lines in his transcription, sung to the song:

Dog shit a rye straw, dog shit a minner,
Dog shit a rye straw big enough for dinner.

"Rye Straw" is mentioned in a poem by Richard L. Dawson entitled "The Hoosier Fiddle," printed in the Indiana State-Sentinel [Indianapolis] of July 29, 1885, p. 6:

Bring up the Hoosier fiddle,
And play me the rollicking reels,
That gave such joy to the country boy,
And shake the old farmer’s heels;
Put by the waltz and the schottische,
And the operatic airs.
And give me a whirl with the Hoosier girl,
To the tunes that lighten my cares!

Set the wild “Gray Eagle” screaming,
Let the “Rye Straw” tickle my ear,
And fully as rich as old “Leather Breeches”
Are “Burnt Woods” and “The Forked Deer.”
Chase the “Possum Up the Gum Stump,”
From “Natchez Under the Hill.”
Wave the “Mullen Stalk” from “Hanging Rock,”
O’er the “Sunk Lands” dark and still!
Then fiddle me down to “Clear Creek,”
To that “Nine-Mile Island” of yours,
While the current rolls o’er “Mussel Shoals,”
And into “Broad Ripple” pours.
Then stir up “Hell on the Wabash,”
Let us hear “Five Miles Out of Town,”
“The Jaybird,” when “The Cackling Hen”
“The Black Cat’s” wail shall drown!

In “The Awkward Reel” comes dancing
“Sally Goodin” and rough “Buck Horn,”
And “The Wagoner” passes by waving grasses
And the rustle of “Yaller Corn.”
With “Billy in the Low Grounds,”
The “Injun Creek” we ford.
Then “Jump Up, Joe,” for still, you know,
There’s “Sugar in the Gourd.”

Then tune for the rich fantasias,
“Big Piney” so plaintive and slow,
Let “The Wild Goose” call, and the echoes fall,
From the “Walls of Jericho;”
So come to the rare “Lost Injun,”
And play it again and again,
Let its golden streams flow on in my dreams
And play no other then.

I listen and dream of my boyhood
In the heart of the Hoosier hills,
And the old days rise before my eyes
When the fiddle my memory thrills;
I think of the farmer singing
While the dinner is on the fire,
And the strange wild calls the fiddler bawls,
While the dancers never tire.

Yes, bring up your resonant fiddle,
And play for me far in the night,
Till the cares of the day are swept away
And sorrow has taken flight;
For all the heaven of music
No sweeter melody swells
Than the fiddle sings from bow and strings,
Where the happy Hoosier dwells.[2]

Additional notes

Printed sources : - Brody (Fiddler’s Fakebook), 1983; p. 241. Stephen F. Davis (Devil's Box, vol. 28, No. 3, Fall 1994; p. 42. Ford (Traditional Music in America), 1940; p. 47. Krassen, 1983; pp. 94-95. Clare Milliner & Walt Koken (Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes), 2011; pp. 563-564 (three versions). Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes vol. 1) 1994; pp. 205-206 (three versions). Reiner & Anick (Old Time Fiddling Across America), 1989; p. 123. Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; p. 135. Spadaro (10 Cents a Dance), 1980; p. 2. Titon (Old Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes), 2001; No. 140, p. 166.

Recorded sources : - Biograph 6007, Ebenezer - "Tell it to Me." Briar 0798 (or BR 4204), Earl Collins - "That's Earl" (1975). Carryon Records 002, "Ace Weems and the Fat Meat Boys." Cassette C-7625, Wilson Douglas - "Back Porch Symphony." Champion 16026 (78 RPM), Doc Roberts (1930). Columbia 15521-D (78 RPM), Clayton McMichen & Riley Puckett (1930). Copper Creek CCCD 0193, Bill and Libby Hicks – “South of Nowhere” (Appears as “Dog Passed a Ryestraw”). County 412, Doc Roberts - "Fiddling Doc Roberts" (1983). County 527, Doc Roberts - "Old Time Fiddle Classics, vol. 2" (originally recorded 1930). County 788, Clyde Davenport (Monticello, Ky.) - "Clydeoscope: Rare & Beautiful Tunes from the Cumberland Plateau" (1986). Folkways FS 3809, John Summers - "Fine Times at our House". Gennett 7221 (78 RPM), Doc Roberts (1930). Marimac AHS 2, Melvin Wine - "Cold Frosty Morning" (1976). Mississippi Department of Archives and History AH-002, Frank Kittrell (Lauderdale County, Miss.) - "Great Big Yam Potatoes: Anglo-American Fiddle Music from Mississippi" (1985. Originally recorded in 1939). Rounder 0040, "Pickin' Around the Cookstove." Rounder 0128, The Backwoods Band - "Jes' Fine" (1980). Rounder 0132, Bob Carlin - "Fiddle Tunes for the Clawhammer Banjo" (1980). Rounder 1005, Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers - "Hear These New Fiddle and Guitar Records." Tennvale 001S, Bob Douglas - "Old Time Dance Tunes from Sequatchie Valley." Vocalion 14843 (78 RPM), Uncle Am Stuart (1925. Stuart, of Morristown, Tenn., was born in 1856). 5 String Productions 5SP05002, The Hoover Uprights – “Known for their Reputation” (2006).

See also listing at :
Jane Keefer’s Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2]
See Alan Jabbour's handwritted standard notation transcription of "Rye Straw" from the playing of Henry Reed (Glen Lynn, Va.) [3]
Hear Henry Reed's 1967 field recording at the Library of Congress [4]
See the Ballad Index entry on the song/tune [5]
Hear Doc Roberts' 1930 recording on [6] and at Slippery Hill [7]
Hear Earl Collin's 1970 field recording version at Slippery Hill [8]
Hear Estill Bingham's c. 1986 field recording at Berea Sound Archives [9]
Hear Melvin Wine's 1976 recording at Slippery Hill [10]

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  1. Vance Randolph, Blow the Candle Out: "Unprintable" Ozark Folksongs and Folklore, vol. 2, 1992; p. 758.
  2. Posted to the Mudcat Café forum, 26 Sept. 2019 [11]