Sheep Shell Corn by the Rattling of His Horn

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X:1 T: Sheep Shell Corn by the Rattling of His Horn S: Emmett Lundy (1864-1953, Galax, Va.) M:C| L:1/8 R:Reel N:1941 field recording by Alan Lomax, Joe Liss & Jerome Wiesner from the N:playing of Emmett Lundy (fid.), Kelly Lundy (gtr.) & Joe Liss (bj.) D:Library of Congress AFS 04947 B01, Emmett Lundy (1941) D:String Records STR802, Emmett W. Lundy - "Fiddle Tunes from D:Grayson County, Va." (1977). F: Z:Transribed by Andrew Kuntz K:A c-|e2cc e2cc-|BABc (d[d2f2])(f|e)ccc eccc|BABc A3:| K:D (A|d)dfd edee|dd[d2f2] {f}[d3g3]g|fdfd ecec|BAB-c A3(A| d)dfd edee|dd[d2f2] {f}[d3g3]g|fgaf- e2ce| BAcB A2||

SHEEP SHELL CORN BY THE RATTLING OF HIS HORN. AKA - "Sheep Shuckin' Corn," "Sheepy Shell Corn." AKA and see "Fuller's Reel." American, Reel (cut time). USA; Virginia, Arkansas. A Major ('A' part) & D Major/A Major ('B' part). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Silberberg): AABB (Kuntz, Phillips). "Sheep Shell Corn" is a Galax, southwestern Virginia, standard, and was in the repertoire of older Grayson County fiddlers such as Emmett Lundy (1864-1953), Roscoe Parish (1897-1984) and Luther Davis (1887-1986). Lundy learned some of his repertoire from an older fiddler named Greenberry Leonard (1810-1892), although there is no indication whether "Sheep Shell" was one of the tunes acquired from that source. However, the title (as "Sheepie Shell Corn") appears in a list of traditional Ozarks Mountains fiddle tunes compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954. If Ozarks fiddler George Mert Reeves' version is representative, then the tune is quite distanced from the one played by Galax musicians. Contemporary Mid-West fiddler Brad Leftwich calls the melody "Fuller's Reel" after his source, who had no name for it.

Lundy and Reeves sang no verses to the tune, but verses dating to the 19th century are extent albeit set to different tunes. Two versions can be found in the Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folkore, vol. III (1922, No. 196, p. 135 [1]). One of the Brown versions, a call-and-response song used for a corn-shucking party contributed in 1922 or 1923 by Laura M. Cromartie (Ivanhoe, Sampson County, N.C.), goes:

Sheep shell corn by the rattle of his horn,
Blow, horn, blow;
Send to the mill by the whip-poor-will,
Blow, horn, blow.

O! Blow your horn,
Blow, horn, blow;
O! Blow your horn,
Blow, horn, blow.

Hunt for the nubbins,
Bang o' rang;
Hunt for the nubbins,
Bang o' rang.

African-American collector Thomas Talley (born c. 1870) printed a song called “Sheep Shell Corn” in his 1922 book Negro Folk Rhymes (set to a completely different tune), that contains the first line of the song (as sung by the Highwoods String Band), but introduces a supernatural element to the lyric:

De Ram blow de ho’n an’ de sheep shell co’n;
An’ he sen’ it to de mill by de buck-eyed Whoppoorwill.
Ole Joe’s dead an’ gone but his Hant blows de ho’n;
An’ his hound howls still from de top o’ dat hill.

De Fish-hawk said unto Mistah Crane;
I wishes to de Lawd dat you’d sen’ a liddle rain;
Fer de water’s all muddy, an de creek’s gone dry;
If it ‘twasn’t fer de tadpoles we’d all die.

When de sheep shell co’n wid de rattle of his ho’n,
I wishes to de Lawd I’d never been bo’n;
Caze when he Hant blows de ho’n, de sperits all dance,
An’ de hosses an’ de cattle, dey whirls ‘round an’ prance.

Yonder comes Skilled an’ dere goes Pot;
An here comes Jawbone ‘cross de lot.
Walk Jawbone! Beat de Skilled an’ de Pat!
You cut dat Pigeon’s Wing, Black Man!

Take keer, gemmuns, an’ let me through,
Caze I’se gwinter dance wid liddle Mollie Lou.
But I’se never seed de lak since I’se been born,
When de sheep shell co’on wid de rattle of his ho’n!

The lyrics above are quite different from the ones popularized in the late 20th century by the Highwoods String Band, but show that the title phrase "Sheep shell corn by the rattle of his horn" was in circulation for some time, although the exact meaning of the phrase is obscure. "Sheep Shell Corn" also receives mention by Joel Chandler Harris (of "Bre'r Rabbit" fame) in his poem/song "A Wishing Song", printed in The Century Illustrated Monthly (Vol. LXIV, 1902, p. 522) [2]:

Mr. Fox'll scrape de fiddle, Miss Cow'll blow de horn--
A-wish, wish, within'--
An' de tune gwineter tell how de sheep shel corn--
Des a-sishin'.

An even older mention appears in James Battle Avirett's The Old Plantation, How We Lived in Great House and Cabin before the War (1901, p. 101), wherein it was recalled:

Soon the air was vocal with the suggestive notes of the old-fashioned dance music of:

Hush, Miss Betsey, doan' you cry,
Your sweetheart will come by and by;
When he comes he'll come in blue,
To let you know his lub am true.

And then the chorus, in which the fine voices of the negro musicians would ring out in perfect time with the instruments:

Sheep shell corn by the rattle of his horn,
Send to the mill by the whip-poor-will.

The Highwoods String Band sang:

Never seen the like since I was born,
Sheep shell corn by the rattlin' of his horn.

Corn's in the cupboard and the butter's in the churn,
Never seen the like since I was born.

Sheep shell corn by the rattle of his horn,
Never seen the like since I was born.

Sheep shell corn by the rattle of his horn,
Swing that gal with the red dress on.

Additional notes

Sources for notated versions: - Emmet Lundy (Grayson County, Virginia) and the Highwoods String Band (N.C.) [Kuntz]; Walt Koken & Bob Potts with the Highwoods String Band [Phillips].

Printed sources : - Kuntz (Ragged but Right), 1987; pp. 357 358 (two versions). Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 217. Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; p. 142.

Recorded sources: - Heritage 056, Highwoods String Band - "The Young Fogies" (various artists). Heritage 070, Luther Davis, Roscoe & Leone Parish - "The Old Time Way" (1986). Marimac 9000, Dan Gellert & Shoofly - "Forked Deer" (1986).

See also listing at:
See/hear Pat Conte's archaic version (employing Talley's lyrics) on [3]
Read the entry at the Bluegrass Messengers site, which borrows in part from information perviously collected here. However, Richard L. Matteson Jr. has added an interesting tracing of the words from Dan Emmett's "Old Dan Tucker" [4]

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