Boil Them Cabbage Down

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"Boil Them Cabbage Down" (also "Bile 'Em Cabbage Down") is an American folk song.[1] Hoecakes are small cornmeal cakes that were baked over a fire on the blade of a hoe. A breakfast of hoecakes and cabbage soup testifies to the humble origins of this song. According to Alan Lomax, musicologist and folklorist formerly of the Library of Congress, this tune was originally associated with African slaves brought from Niger.[citation needed]

Notable versions of the song have been played by such artists as Pete Seeger,[2] Ruby Jane Smith[3] and the Smothers Brothers. Sam Hinton sings the song in the album How the West Was Won (1959).


\relative c''{
\key a \major \time 2/4
\repeat volta 2
   cis8 cis cis cis |%1
   d4 d             |%2
   cis8 cis cis cis |%3
   b4 b8. b16       |%4
   cis8 cis cis cis |%5
   d8 d d d         |%6
   cis8 cis b b     |%7
   a2               |%8 



As Byron Arnold and Bob Halli noted in An Alabama Songbook, the song, musically and lyrically, is far from stable, with verses being swapped at will by the performers, and is interchangeable with many other songs, including "Old Joe Clark" and "Cindy".[5]


This simple tune is often used in old-time music circles to teach young folks how to play the fiddle, banjo, mountain dulcimer and/or guitar. The following is the basic tune with the lyrics of the chorus. These tabs assume the player has a diatonically fretted instrument tuned to one of the 1-5-8 open tunings like G-D-G or D-A-D, such as one might find on a mountain dulcimer or a stick dulcimer.

2 2 2 2 3 3
Boil them cab-bage down, down.
2 2 2 2 1 1
Turn them hoe-cakes 'round, 'round.
2 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 3
The on-ly song that I can sing is
2 2 1 1 0
Boil them cab-bage down.

Here's the same tune tabbed for a chromatically fretted instrument like a tenor guitar (or banjo) tuned GDgd (or other 1-5-8-12 tuning).

4 4 4 4 5 5
Boil them cab-bage down, down.
4 4 4 4 2 2
Turn them hoe-cakes 'round, 'round.
4 4 4 4 5 5 5 5 5
The on-ly song that I can sing is
4 4 2 2 0
Boil them cab-bage down.

The tablature below is for violin (or viola), using the 2-3 finger pattern most students learn first. Only 2nd and 3rd fingers are close together. The numbers followed by a dash are held twice as long as the rest of the notes. It may be played on any string, though it is usually done on the D string.

2 2 2 2 3 - 3 -
Bile 'em cab-bage down, down.
2 2 2 2 1 - 1-
Bake 'em bisc-uits brown, brown
2 2 2 2 3 3 3 3
On-ly tune that I did learn was
2 2 1 1 0 - 0 -
Bile ‘em cab-bage down, down.


There are many different verses to this song, and only a few popular ones are listed here:

Went up on a mountain
(To) give my horn a blow, blow.
Thought I heard my true love say,
"Yonder comes my beau."
Boil them cabbage down, down.
Turn them hoecakes 'round, 'round.
The only song that I can sing is
Boil them cabbage down.
Possum in a 'simmon tree,
Raccoon on the ground.
Raccoon says, you son-of-a-gun,
Shake some 'simmons down.
Someone stole my old coon dog.
Wish they'd bring him back.
He chased the big hogs through the fence,
And the little ones through the crack.
Met a possum in the road,
Blind as he could be.
Jumped the fence and whipped my dog
And bristled up at me.
Butter-fly, he has wings of gold.
Fire-fly, wings of flame.
Bed-bug, he got no wings at all,
But he gets there just the same.
Once I had an old grey mule,
his name was Simon Slick.
He'd roll his eyes, and back his ears,
and how that mule would kick.
How that mule would kick,
he'd kick with his dying breath.
He shoved his hind feet down his throat,
and kicked himself to death,


  1. ^ Sisson, Stephanie (2001-03-29). "National Perspective; Education: It May Be Hillbilly, but These Kids Love Their Mountain Music; Kentucky school uses bluegrass to give students a sense of pride in their rich cultural heritage. The program is also helping to keep the down-home tunes alive". Los Angeles Times. p. A.5.
  2. ^ "Pete Seeger Sings New Versions of Old Songs on Album". Morning Edition. PBS. 1996-05-15. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  3. ^ Sisson, Carmen K. (2006-11-13). "Backstory: Fiddler on the youth". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2010-01-10.
  4. ^ "American Old-time music, Scores and Tabs for Guitar - Bile Them Cabbage Down". Traditional Music Library. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  5. ^ Arnold, Byron; Halli, Jr., Robert W. (2004). An Alabama Songbook: Ballads, Folksongs, and Spirituals Collected by Byron Arnold. U of Alabama P. p. 156. ISBN 9780817313067.