Annotation:Sheep Skin and Bee's Wax

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X:1 T:Sheepskin and Bee’s Wax M:4/4 L:1/8 Z:David Clark K:Ador A2 AA BAGB | AGAa gfef | g2 fd efed | Beed BAAG | EA (3AAA BAGB | AGAa gfef | gefd efed Beed BAAB | a2 ab agga | bagf edef | gefd efed | Beed BAAB | a2 ab agga | bagf edef | gefd efed | Beed BAAG :|

SHEEP SKIN AND BEES WAX. AKA and see “Aunt Jemima’s Plaster.” Canadian, Reel. Canada, Québec. A Dorian/Mixolydian. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. The tune is from the playing of the Irish community of Valcartier, northwest of Québec City, particularly fiddler Eric Corrigan (b. 1931), and is traditional. Eric’s cousin Keith Corrigan (b. 1933), an accordion player also from Valcartier, learned the tune from his father, Patrick. This ditty was sung to the melody when they were children, according to Hart & Sandell:

Sheepskin and beeswax,
It made the mighty plaster
The more you tried to get it off
The more it stuck too faster.

That rhyme is widespread, however, and has been collected in tradition in Vermont, the Ozarks Mountains, West Virginia, and Tennessee. The song appeared in print in songsters in California in the 1850's and 1860's[1], and is contained in J.P. McCaskey's Franklin Square Song Collection No. 8 (1891, p. 124), and in Trifet's Budget of Music (March, 1892, pp. 241-242). There area several verses and a chorus (which is the rhyme above, the same as the Corrigans remembered), having to do with a woman who sold the plasters to keep pets and husbands at home, capture thieves, and prevent her sister from growing too tall. The same rhyme was printed by Vance Randolph in his Ozark Folksongs vol. III (1946, No. 414), to a different and much more simple vocal melody.

The Corrigans' tune has been recorded by La Bottine Souriante and by Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll (who had it from fiddler Lisa Ornstein and Denis Pépin). Normally a 16 measure reel, La Bottine Souriante recorded it as a 32 bar reel, doubling the parts. The group has been so influential that Montréal fiddlers mostly play it in the 32 bar version, according to Quebec fiddler Pascal Gemme.

The tune can be found in both dorian mode and mixolydian mode versions, with backing chords consequently played either A Minor or A Major.

Additional notes
Source for notated version : - Keith Corrigan, via Lisa Ornstein [Hart & Sandell].

Printed sources : - Hart & Sandell (Dance ce Soir), 2001; No. 43, p. 77. Susan Songer with Clyde Curley (Portland Collection vol. 3), 2015; p. 195.

Recorded sources : - La Bottine souriante – “a Mistrine” (1994). La Bottine souriante – “En spectacle” (1996). Lisa Ornstein & Denis Pépin – “Danseries de la belle provcince” (1984).

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  1. Robertson, "Check List of California Songs", 1940, p. 6.