Ole Joe Clark


Here’s another fiddle tune which I’ve been learning: “Old Joe Clark.”

Either click on the photo above or click here to listen to the video.  The back up guitar that you hear is from the excellent website “Old Time Jam.”

“Old Joe Clark” is an old mountain ballad from Kentucky and is one of the more popular traditional old time fiddle songs.

There actually was a real-life individual named Joseph Clark.  According to a biography by Lisa Clark, Joe  Clark was born in Clay  County, Kentucky on September 18, 1839. He married Elizabeth (Betty)  Sandlin  when he was 17 and she was 15.

When the  Civil War began, Joe was 22 years old and enlisted but  became ill during  the winter months and was discharged  in 1862. After the war, he  resumed farming  and lived in the log house on Sextons Creek that had been built by his family.

He also operated a country store and ran a  moonshine still, under license from the state. He sold his whiskey from an ox cart as well as at his store.  Joe earned a notorious reputation in the local area, his wife left him around  1864.  There are several stories surrounding his murder around 1885/1886. He is buried in the family cemetery on Sextons Creek.

Around that time there was popular tune which did not  have  lyrics, so some  started making up rhymes to be sung with the tune.  Others claim that the ballad came first and the melody later. There are estimated to now be about 90 stanzas in various versions of the song.

Some of the more popular lyrics are as follows:

Old Joe Clark’s a fine old man
Tell you the reason why
He keeps good likker ’round his house
Good old Rock and Rye

Old Joe Clark, the preacher’s son
Preached all over the plain
The only text he ever knew
Was High, low, Jack and the game

Sixteen horses in my team
The leaders they are blind
And every time the sun goes down
There’s a pretty girl on my mind

Old Joe Clark had a yellow cat
She would neither sing or pray
She stuck her head in the butermilk jar
And washed her sins away

Old Joe Clark had a house
Fifteen stories high
And every story in that house
Was filled with chicken pie

I went down to Old Joe’s house
He invited me to supper
I stumped my toe on the table leg
And stuck my nose in the butter

Fare ye well, Old Joe Clark
Fare ye well, I say
Fare ye well, Old Joe Clark
I’m a going away

If you pay attention, you’ll notice early in the song I get off from where the guitar is and also where my bow slips on the E-string a bit (oops….screeeeech!!!). Later in the song I relax and it sounds a little better. I have a lot to learn about old time fiddle shuffling with my bow.

Considering I began to teach myself this tune only two weeks ago and I’m still a beginner with a great deal to learn- it’s not too bad.

I’ve played guitar and clawhammer banjo for over 20 years. You can see some of them hanging on the wall behind me. I enjoy all of my instruments but I just LOVE the fiddle. It’s a beautiful delicate little instrument with such a lovely expressive voice.

I’ll post more videos of new songs as I learn them. As my fiddling gets better, I might even repost new videos of the same songs so you can see how I’m improving.


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