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Apr 13, 2018 - 7:14:34 PM
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5651 posts since 8/7/2009

I learned to play this from a recording made by John Hoffman and Mac Benford (It’s About Time). http://

But – I think they mistakenly called it “Old Hen She Cackled”. They only early version of this tune I found that sounds like the tune they recorded was from John Salyer called "Old Hen Cackled".

John Salyer / AEae

Most everything else I heard, is not what I would consider a “variation” – but a different “version”. I have choosen to learn this version, because “I like it.”

Fiddler’s Companion. Perhaps another fluke of Fiddler's Companion, but they seem to equate John Carson's version as the same tune that John Salyer played.  Not the same in my book.

[1]Old Hen Cackled. AKA and see “Barnyard Serenade,” "Cacklin' Hen [1]," “Christmas Calico,” "Cluck Old Hen [1]," "Hen Cackle(d)," "Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow." Old Time, Breakdown. USA; Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Missouri. G Major: A Major. Standard or AEae (John Carson, John Salyer) tuning. AABBCCDD. Popular with both black and white mid-South string bands, writes Charles Wolfe (1991), although it is “conspicuously absent from most standard collections of black folk songs.” As evidence of the tune in black tradition, it was in the repertoire of African-American fiddler Cuje Bertram (of the Cumberland Plateau region, Kentucky), recorded by him on a 1970 home recording he made for his family. It also was recorded by African-American fiddlers Howard Armstrong and the string-band team of Joe Evans and Arthur McClain.
The tune was widely known in the South and Mid-West, with several regional and personal variants. It was one of the first country music recordings ever made, in 1923, by north Georgia musician and entertainer Fiddlin’ John Carson (1868-1949), who called it “Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster’s Going to Crow.” Later in the same era Chattanooga fiddler Jess Young added a part in the key of C in his recording. The tune was recorded for the Library of Congress by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph from Ozark Mountain fiddlers in the early 1940's. “Old Hen Cackle” is one of ‘100 essential Missouri tunes’ listed by Missouri fiddler Charlie Walden. It was popular in the mountais of southeastern Kentucky, notes Jeff Titon (2001) in a number of related tune and title variants, such as “Cacklin’ Hen,” “Hen Cackle,” “Cluck Old Hen,” etc. Kentucky fiddler Bill Hatton called it “Christmas Calico.” Apart from numerous recordings in the 78 RPM era, evidence for its popularity comes from contemporary newspapers. It is listed in the Northwest Alabamian (Fayette) of August 19, 1929, as one of the tunes likely to be played at an upcoming fiddlers' convention. The Chilton County News (Alabama) of June 1, 1922, predicted it would be one of the tunes that would "vie with the latest jazz nerve wreckers for first place" at a Chilton County fiddlers' convention. That a fiddler’s rendition “Old Hen Cackles” was often a benchmark of his skill is illustrated by John Carson’s recorded exchange (on Okeh 45448) with a fiddler named ‘Bully’ Brewer:
Bully: I’m the best fiddler that ever wobbled a bow.
John: I don’t give a durn, I’m the best fiddler that ever jerked the hairs of a horse’s tail across the belly of a cat.
Bully: Well, I’ll play Old Hen Cackle
John: Turn your dog loose.
(Bully plays)
Bully: Well, what’re you going to play, John?
John: I’m going to play the fiddle…that’s a durn sight more than you’ve done.
One set of lyrics, collected by African-American collector Thomas Talley, go:
De ole hen she cackled,
An’ stayed down in de bo’n.
She git fat an’ sassy,
A-eatin’ up de co’n.
De ole hen she cackled,
Git great long yaller laigs,
She swaller down de oats,
But I don’t git no aigs.
De ole hen she cackled,
She cackled in de lot,
De nex’ time she cackled,
She cackled in de pot.
Not unlike Fiddlin’ John Carson’s:
Old hen cackled everybody knows,
The old hen cackled and the rooster's going to crow.
Old hen cackled, cackled mighty loud,
Ain't laid an egg, walked mighty proud.
Old hen cackled, cackled in the lot,
Last time she cackled, cackled in the pot.

Sources for notated versions: Tony Gilmore (Jefferson City, Missouri) [Christeson]; John M. Salyer (Salyersville, Magoffin County, Ky., 1941) [Titon]. R.P. Christeson (Old Time Fiddlers Repertory, vol. 1), 1973; pg. 105. Titon (Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes), 2001; No. 116, pg. 144. Arhoolie LP1095, Howard Armstrong (1985). County CD2712, Art Stamper (Ky.) - "The Lost Fiddler" (c. 1982). Gennett 3021 A and SVT 4011 (78 RPM's), Jess Young Band (Chattanooga, Tenn.), 1924 {recorded as "Old Hen Cackled"}. Okeh 45448 (78 RPM), Fiddlin’ John Carson. Oriole 8095 & Perfect 12751 (78 RPM), Joe Evans & Arthur McClain (1931). Rounder Records 1003, Fiddlin' John Carson (north Ga.) "The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow." In the repertoire of Uncle Jimmy Thompson (1848 1931) {Texas, Tenn.}, Uncle Bunt Stevens (Tenn.), Kentucky African-American fiddler Cuje Bertram, and G.B. Grayson (from eastern Tennessee who recorded it under the title “Barnyard Serenade”).

Here is John Carson's "version"...

..would you consider that a variation - or a totally different version - maybe a different tune / song all together?

Edited by - tonyelder on 04/13/2018 19:17:56

Apr 14, 2018 - 5:22:35 AM

3872 posts since 9/26/2008

Okay. The Hartford link is messed up ,so I didn't listen to it. Your (and Sayler's) version sounds like part of something else to me, Callahan maybe. The other (Carson) sounds like this classic barnyard animal tune often just called "Cackling Hen"

I recall an Ed Haley story involving a contest and you couldn't play something someone else played. Someone played Cackling Hen, Ed's signature contest tune. Well, he got up and played what seemed to be CH. He called it "The Brown Pullet" and said "she cackles too." Names morph and while some Versions are totally different tunes, some are Variations of the same theme. 

Apr 14, 2018 - 5:30:21 AM

5651 posts since 8/7/2009

John Hoffman's version Old Hen She Cackled

Bruce Molsky's Callahan

It would be hard for me to make the connection. But I play Callahan too, so the difference would more obvious to me

Edited by - tonyelder on 04/14/2018 05:35:45

Apr 14, 2018 - 6:11:31 AM

3872 posts since 9/26/2008

It’s not Callahan, just that the coarse part reminds me of one of the many phrases in Luther Strong’s Version of Last of Callahan. Your tune in A is very familiar, and it is likely I’ve played it in a jam. The Carson one is in G.

FC is flat out wrong to lump these tunes together. I need to add yours to my repertoire and get better at the barnyard part of the other.

Apr 14, 2018 - 10:03:34 AM

19 posts since 2/11/2008

I like the way, in the A part, it sounds like a 5/4 bar followed by a 3/4 bar. Sure it equals the same a two 4/4 bars, but what a difference in the perceived rhythm. Very interesting and unique.

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