Turkey in the Straw

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TURKEY IN THE STRAW. AKA and see "Old Zip Coon," "Marie Chamberland.," "Natchez Under the Hill (1)," "Old Bog Hole (The)," "Sugar in the Gourd (4)." American, Reel (cut time): Irish, English, Canadian; Reel or Hornpipe. USA, Widely known and has even entered English country dance tradition. Canada, Prince Edward Island (where Ken Perlman says it is a very popular tune). G Major (Bayard, Brody, Linscott, O'Neill, Perlman, Phillips, Raven, Ruth, Shaw, Sweet): C Major (Ford): D Major (Bayard, Moylan). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Bayard, Shaw): AABB (most versions).

A spectacularly successful tune in American fiddle tradition. Bayard (1981) suggests that a Scottish tune called "(Bonny) Black Eagle (The)" (also called "Way to Edinburgh (The)" by Oswald) resembles "Turkey in the Straw" in in both parts. Besides Samuel Bayard, Alan Jabbour, Winston Wilkinson, George Pullen Jackson and others think that a tune with an even stronger resemblance in the first part to the first part of Turkey is "Rose Tree (1) (The)" (Maureen ni Cullenaun). Their apparent conclusion is that the Turkey tune is a composite of two older Scottish tunes, the 'A' part of "The Rose Tree" and the 'B' part of "The (Bonny) Black Eagle." There are other speculations: Nathan ("Dan Emmett," pg. 168) gives an Irish reel which seems to bear close resemblance to the 'A' part of Turkey, while Dreamer (in the Oxford Book of Carols, p. 252) gives a "little known Scottish melody" with a second section equivalent to that of Turkey (Bayard wonders if this particular strain has long been a floater). According to Linscott (1939) the tune is based on the old song "My Grandmother Loved on Yonder Little Green." Michael Cooney lists a number of fiddle tunes to which "Turkey in the Straw" is supposed to have been related, including "Glasgow Hornpipe" (Irish), "Haymaker's Dance" (English), "The Post Office" (Irish), "Lady Shaftsbury's Reel" (Scottish), "Rose Tree in Full Bearing" (Irish), "Old Mother Oxford" (a morris dance tune known in England and Scotland), and "Kinnegad Slashers" (Irish). Captain Francis O’Neill, in Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody suggested the latter was the original source of “Turkey,” although most reviewers dismiss this as an incidental resemblance only based on some similarities in the first part.

Whatever its origins, it was "undoubtedly in American folk tradition before the 19th century," says Bronner (1987), and that popular theater and minstrel groups during the 19th century helped consolidate and spread its popularity (it was often called "Old Zip Coon" in minstrel tradition). Fuld reports the title "Turkey in de Straw" appeared in 1861 attached to the tune through new song lyrics, copyrighted by one Dan Bryant, the melody labelled only an "old melody," presumably referring to “Old Zip Coon.”

Mention of the tune in playlists, periodicals and literature abound. “Turkey” was cited as having commonly been played for Orange County, New York, country dances in the 1930's (Lettie Osborn, New York Folklore Quarterly); Bronner (1987) agrees that it was commonly played in New York state for dances in the early 20th century. It was in the repertory of Buffalo Valley, Pa., region dance fiddlers Harry Daddario and Ralph Sauers. It was one of the tunes listed by the Clarke County Democrat of May 9, 1929, that was predicted would "be rendered in the most approved fashion" at an upcoming contest in Grove Hill, Alabama (Cathen, 1990). “Turkey” was played at a fiddlers' contest in Verbena in 1921 according to the Union Banner of October 27, 1921, and was one of the melodies listed as an example of an "acceptable old time number for a fiddlers' convention in Fayette, Alabama (Northwest Alabamian, September 4, 1930) {Cauthen, 1990}. Cauthen (1990) further cites a 1925 University of Alabama master's thesis by S.M. Taylor entitled "A Preliminary Survey of Folk Lore in Alabama" in which the tune is listed, and found it mentioned by Lamar County, Alabama, fiddler D. Dix Hollis in the Opelika Daily News of April 17, 1926, as one of "the good old tunes of long ago." The title appears in a list of the repertoire of Maine fiddler Mellie Dunham (the elderly Dunham was Henry Ford's champion fiddler in the late 1920's). Catskill Mountain region fiddler Harry Robinson (Lackawack, New York) was recorded in the field in 1944 by Benjamin A. Botkin (AFS 7759) playing an unaccompanied version of "Turkey in the Straw." The tune was recorded for the Library of Congress by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, from the playing of Ozark Mountain fiddlers in the early 1940's, while Texas fiddler Eck Robertson's (with Henry Gilliland) recording of the piece (backed with "Ragtime Annie") was the third best-selling country music record of 1923. It was in the repertoire of Virginia's Fiddlin' Cowan Powers and Family in the 1920's, and West Virginia fiddler Edden Hammons played a version. Paul Gifford remarks that, around the Sault Ste. Marie area of northern Michigan and Ontario, “Turkey in the Straw” is played in the tradition in the key of B Flat Major. The Skillet Lickers (in the configuration of Gid Tanner and Clayton McMichen on fiddles, Riley Pucket on guitar and vocals, and Fate Norris on banjo) recorded the song in Atlanta on April 17th, 1926, one of eight sides for Columbia records. Wayne W. Daniel (in his book Pickin’ on Peachtree: A History of Country Music in Atlanta, Georgia, 1990) opines: “The output from this historic recording session makes for a rather unimpressive list of what even there were long-familiar tunes and songs: “Hand Me Down My Walking Cane,” “Bully of the Town,” “Pass Around the Bottle and We’ll All Take a Drink,” “Alabama Jubilee,” “Watermelon on the Vine,” “Don’t You Hear Jerusalem Moan,” “Ya Gotta Quit Kickin’ My Dog Aroun’,” and “Turkey in the Straw.””

Burl Hammons, son of Edden Hammons mentioned above, played the tune and related this story about it (printed in the booklet with The Hammons Family: Traditions of a West Virginia Family and Friends):

Well, I was—where we lived, we lived down on the Williams River, when the—when I saw this thing, and so--. And we always went to bed pretty early, my dad did, and—about eight o’clock we always went to bed—and I laid down and I, didn’t seem like I could go to sleep. And I laid there a while and just directly I heard the click, open come the door, and in walked this skeleton of a man, Lord, I’ve—he was really tall, a-must’ve been six or seven feet tall or looked like that. And he had—I noticed he had a fiddle in his hand when he walked in; and he walked about the middle of the floor where I was a-sleeping. And he took off on that Turkey in the Straw, and boys I never heard nothing played like that in my life. And I shut my eyes to keep from looking at the skeleton of a man, but I was still listening at that tune. And, when I opened my eyes, he’d—I waited till he finished the tune before I opened my eyes, but he—when he finished it he was still a-standing but he just turned and walked to the door, and just ‘click’ open come the door and out he went.

And the next morning I was a-tellingmy dad about that. “Ah,” he said, “that’s a bunch of foolishness. Quit.” He said, “That was only just a dream or something you had,” he said. “Quit thinking of such stuff as that.” “No,” I said, “it was the truth.” I said, I wished I could’ve played Turkey in the Straw like that. “Ah,” he said, “that’s foolishness.” And I never told no more about it, but I can still mind that—what ever it was, I don’t know whether it was a dream or not, but I tell you I can still mind about it. A six or seven—a fellow only six or seven year old and still can mind that just as well as it was the day, you know it’s bound to be pretty plain, now—or he couldn’t have minded that.

A 1927 newspaper cartoon lampooned Henry Ford’s championing of “old-time” music and dance
.



The tune was popular enough that even Irish-American bands recorded it: O’Leary’s Irish Minstrels, from Boston, recorded it in 1928, and that same year the Flanagan Brothers recorded a medley in New York featuring “Turkey” along with “Chicken Reel” and “Arkansas Traveller.” Captain Francis O’Neill printed a version of “Turkey” that was recorded in more modern times by the Irish band De Dannan (on “Song for Ireland”). Scottish band-leader and accordion player Jimmy Shands recorded “Turkey” in a 1939 medley with “Chicken Reel.” “Turkey” was recorded and played by Sliabh Luachra (Rushy Mountain region, County Kerry/Cork) fiddler Denis Murphy and accordion player Johnny O’Leary, who learned it from influential fiddler Padraig O’Keeffe, although where he learned the tune is unknown. O’Neill (1922) remarks in a long note:

‘Turkey in the Straw’, or ‘Old Zip Coon’, as played nowadays may suit the rapid movements of buckdancers, but the frenzied rhythm is ruinous to the melody. Rendered after the manner of the famous Dan Emmett of Bryant's Minstrels, in slow reel time, this popular tune acquires a much enhanced appeal. Emmett, it will be remembered, was the author of the immortal ‘Dixie’, and it was his version of ‘Turkey in the Straw’ which we obtained from (fiddler) John McFadden of the Chicago Irish Music Club, that is here presented. The origin of this favorite of our fathers is wrapped in even deeper mystery than that of ‘Yankee Doodle’. Under the title ‘Old Zip Coon’ the tune appeared in Howe's Collections about the middle of the 19th Century, and possibly earlier. The first gleam of light on the question of how the old title eventually yielded to the popularity of the new name, came through a chance conversation while fishing in 1920 with a northern tourist at Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The latter confidently informed me that Alderman Silas Leachman of Chicago, a native of Kentucky, was the author of ‘Turkey in the Straw’ - both words and music! The melody I knew was older than the Alderman's grandfather, yet here was a lead worth investigating, for it was his melodious voice that first brought him to prominence. An interview with the talented official at Chicago a month later confirmed the statement that he was indeed the author of one song of that name, the best of several others on the same theme. One question was settled. The popularity of the modern song relegated to obscurity the name of the ancient tune. The pioneers or early settlers of West Virigina, Kentucky and Tennessee were largely of Irish ancestry, and obviously their music or tunes more or less varied by fancy, and defective memorizing from one generation to another, were of Irish origin. Fiddling and dancing being inseparable from all festivities and important events, the tunes became much more diversified, but the swing and spirit of the Gael however was always discernable in their reels and quadrilles, and so continues to the present day. For the convenience of musical antiquaries who may be interested in the subject, an old Irish March, or Jig, ‘The Kinnegad Slashers’ to which is sung ‘The Land of Sweet Erin’, is herewith submitted as a tune from which ‘Old Zip Coon’ or ‘Turkey in the Straw’ could have been derived or evolved. A third part added later by musicians is not essential in this illustration.

Lyrics set to the tune usually go something like the following:

As I went down the new cut road,
I met Miss Possum and I met Mr. Toad.
And every time the toad would sing,
The possum cut the pigeon wing.

Chorus:
Turkey in the straw, haw! haw! haw!
Turkey in the hay, hey! hey! hey!
The bull frog danced with his mother in law,
And they played 'em up a tune called turkey in the straw. .....[Ford]

Bryant’s 1861 verses begin:

As I was a-going down the road
With a tired team and a heavy load
I crack'd my whip and the leader sprung
I says day-day to the wagon tongue

Chorus:
Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay
Roll 'em up and twist 'em up a high tuckahaw
And twist 'em up a tune called Turkey in the Straw

African-American collector Thomas Talley, in his work Negro Folk Rhymes (1922, reprinted in 1991 edited by Charles Wolfe), printed an unusual version called “A Day’s Happiness.” Wolfe notes that while there were dozens of recordings of the tune by early country musicians there were very few by blacks. Talley’s song goes:

I went out to milk an’ I didn’ know how,
I milked dat goat instid o’ dat cow;
While a Nigger a-settin’ wid a gapin’ jaw,
Kept winkin’ his eye at a tucky in de straw.

I went out de gate an’ I went down de road,
An’ I met Miss ‘Possum an’ I met Mistah Toad;
An’ ev’y time Miss ‘Possum ‘ould sing,
Mistah Toad ‘ould cut dat Pigeon’s Wing.

I went in a whoop, as I went down de road;
I had a bawky team an’ a heavy load.
I cracked my whip, an’ ole Beck sprung,
An’ she busted out my wagin tongue.

Dat night dere ‘us a-gittin’ up, shores you’re born,
De louse go to supper, an’ de flea blow de horn.
Dat raccoon paced, an’ dat ‘possum trot;
Dat old goose laid, an’ de gander not.

Cecil Sharp collected a version of "The Turkey in the Straw" in England from Mitchell Wallin, of Allanstand on the 4.8.1916. See also the shared first strain of "Tralee Hornpipe."


Additional notes



Printed sources : - Adam, 1928; No. 22. Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; No 320A H, pp. 276 279. Brody (Fiddler’s Fakebook), 1983; p. 280. Bronner (Old Time Music Makers of New York State), 1987; No 3, pp. 21 22, No. 31, p. 121, No. 39, p. 145. Cazden, 1955; p. 26. Stephen F. Davis (Devil's Box), vol. 19, No. 4, Winter, 1985; p. 30. DeVille, 1905; No. 78 & 97. Ford (Traditional Music in America), 1940; p. 59. Howe (Diamond School for the Violin), 1861; p. 44. Howe (School for the Violin), 1851; p. 43. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 1), p. 23. Linscott (Folk Songs of Old New England), 1939; p. 84 85. Messer (Way Down East), 1948; No. 52. Moylan (Johnny O’Leary of Sliabh Luachra), 1994; No. 247, p. 142. O'Malley, 1919; pp. 13 & 40. O'Neill (Krassen), 1976; p. 155. O'Neill (Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies), 1903; No. 1520, pg. 281. O'Neill (Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems), 1907; No. 739, p. 129. O’Neill (Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody), 1922; No. 237. Perlman (The Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island), 1996; p. 65. Phillips (Fiddlecase Tunebook), 1989; p. 43. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 246. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 166. Robbins Music Corp. (The Robbins collection of 200 jigs, reels and country dances), New York, 1933; No. 26 & No. 158, p. 51. Roche (Collection of Traditional Irish Music, vol. 3), 1928; No. 215, p. 81 (Irish march version). Ruth (Pioneer Western Folk Tunes), 1948; No. 18, pg. 8. Ryan’s Mammoth Collection, 1883; pg. 48. Shaw (Cowboy Dances), 1943; pg. 389. Sweet (Fifer’s Delight), 1965/1981; p. 79. Thede (The Fiddle Book), 1967; p. 113. White's Excelsior Collection, 1907; pp. 33 & 73. White's Unique Collection, 1896; No. 173.

George R. Parisau's Band, Bad Axe, "thumb" of Michigan, c. 1940's.



Recorded sources : - BlueBird 6844 (78 RPM), Arthur Smith Trio (appears as "Straw Breakdown"). Brunswick 235 (78 RPM), The Kessinger Brothers. CCF2, Cape Cod Fiddlers – “Concert Collection II” (1999). Champion 15522 (78 RPM), Red Fox Chasers. Columbia 15084-D (78 RPM), Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers (1926). Conqueror 7741 (78 RPM), Doc Roberts. Document DOCD 8056, The Skillet Lickers (reissue). Edison 51278 (RPM), Jasper Bisbee (Michegan), 1923 (appears as last tune in "Girl I Left Behind Me" Medley). Flying Fish 102, New Lost City Ramblers "20 Years/Concert Performances" (1978). Folkways FA 2337, Clark Kessinger "Live at Union Grove." Folkways FA 2381, "The Hammered Dulcimer as played by Chet Parker" (1966). Front Hall, Fennigs All Star String Band "Fennigmania" (1981). Gennett (78 RPM), The Tweedy Brothers (1924. W.Va. string band). MCA 116 {formerly Decca DL7 4896}, Bill Monroe "Bluegrass Time." Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers' Association, Cyril Stinnett - "Plain Old Time Fiddling." Paramount 3015 (78 RPM), John Baltzell (Mt. Vernon, Ohio), 1927. Paramount 33153 (78 RPM), Dr. D. Dix Hollis (Alabama, 1861 1927), 1924. PearlMae Muisc 004-2, Jim Taylor – “The Civil War Collection” (1996). Rounder 0117, "Blaine Sprouse." Sonyatone 201, Eck Robertson "Master Fiddler." Starr 15279 (78 RPM), Antonio Gauthier (1926, as "Marie Chamberland"). Supertone 9163 (78 RPM), Red Fox Chasers. Victor 19149 (78 RPM), Eck Robertson (West Texas), 1922. Edden Hammons Collection, Disc 2.

See also listing at :
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]
Hear a 1940's performance recording of Michigan fiddler George R. Pariseau play8ng the tune at Slippery Hill [2] and at Digital collections from the Genessee Historical Collections Ctr. [3]



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