Old Joe Clark

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Old Joe Clark is a US folk song, a mountain ballad that was popular among soldiers from eastern Kentucky during World War I and afterwards.[1] Its lyrics refer to a real person named Joseph Clark, a Kentucky mountaineer who was born in 1839 and murdered in 1885.[1][2] The "playful and sometimes outlandish verses" have led to the conjecture that it first spread as a children's song and via play parties.[3] There are about 90 stanzas in various versions of the song.[1] The tune is in the Mixolydian mode.[4]

Although Old Joe Clark may have originated in the 19th century, no printed records are known from before 1900.[3] An early version was printed in 1918, as sung in Virginia at that time.[1]

Old Joe Clark has been described as "one of the most widely known of all Southern fiddle tunes [as of the late 20th century. ... It] has, to a degree, become part of the [United States] national repertory. One may hear it in bluegrass jam sessions, old-time fiddle sessions, and country dances throughout the United States."[3]


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   a4 a4 |%1
   a4 a4 |%2
   a4 a4 |%3
   e4 e4 |%4

   a4 a4 |%5
   a4 a4 |%6
   a4 e4 |%7
   a4 a4 |%8

   a4 a4 |%9
   a4 a4 |%10
   a4 a4 |%11
   g4 g4 |%12
   a4 a4 |%13
   a4 a4 |%14
   a4 g4 |%15
   a4 a4 |%16
\new Staff \relative c''{
\time 2/4
\key a \mixolydian
\repeat volta 2 { %start repeat
   e8 fis8 g8 fis8   |%1
   e8 d cis e16 e    |%2
   e8 fis g fis      |%3
   e4 e4             |%4
   e8 fis8 g fis     |%5
   e8 d8 cis4        |%6
   a8 a16 a b a gis8 |%7
   a4 a              |%8
  } %end repeat


  \repeat volta 2 { %start repeat
   a4 a              |%9
   e'8 d cis4        |%10
   a4 a              |%11
   b4 b              |%12
   a4 a              |%13
   e'8 d cis4        |%14
   a8 cis b g        |%15
   a4 a              |%16



The song has been recorded by many artists, including:

Modern adaptations[edit]

  • The riff of Ian Dury's 1977 single "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" originates from "Old Joe Clark".
  • The melody was adapted by Mojo Nixon, Jello Biafra, and the Toadliquors for "Let's Go Burn Old Nashville Down" for their 1994 album Prairie Home Invasion, a song that has been described as a comment "on the sad state of country music in the '90s".[8]
  • On jazz guitarist Pat Metheny's "80/81" album, bassist Charlie Haden quotes from the melody of "Old Joe Clark" during his solo on "Two Folk Songs 1st | 2nd." Haden had also quoted from the song in his earlier solo in Ornette Coleman's "Ramblin'" (from 1960's Change of the Century), and the same unmistakable riff shows up as well in Haden's solo bass performance "Taney County" (on Haden's 1987 Quartet West album). Haden's preoccupation with the song is evident, too, on Rambling Boy (a reference to the 1960 Coleman song...?), the 2008 album credited to "Charlie Haden Family & Friends"; on this collection of collaborative interpretations of standards, Jack Black takes the lead singing "Old Joe Clark."
  • A boogie-woogie adaptation by Gerald Martin was published under the title "Old Joe Clark's Boogie".[9]


  1. ^ a b c d "Old Joe Clark Ballad". Historical Marker #1382. Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky Department of Highways. 1970. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
  2. ^ Clark, Lisa. "Old Joe Clark Biography". The Rosinators. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
  3. ^ a b c alan, jabbour,; henry, reed,. "Old Joe Clark". The Library of Congress. Retrieved 2017-06-03.
  4. ^ Anthony, Wendy (February 2007). "Building a Traditional Tune Repertoire: Old Joe Clark". Mandolin Sessions. Mel Bay Publications. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
  5. ^ Brody, David (1983). The Fiddler's Fake Book. New York: Oak Publications. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-8256-0238-2.
  6. ^ Building a Traditional Tune Repertoire by Wendy Anthony Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Album: "Don Partridge", Columbia Records SCX 6280 (1968)
  8. ^ "TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: Outlawing Nashville". No Depression. 2011-09-16. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  9. ^ Agay, Denes; Martin, Gerald (2011). The Joy of Boogie and Blues. Yorktown Music Press. ISBN 9781783231423.

External links[edit]