Old Joe Clark

Biography of Old Joe Clark
Song History

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The Rosinators

"Old Joe Clark" by The Rosinators
Paul Castle, vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo, bass
Will Sneyd, fiddle ; Fliss Premru, fiddle

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Lyrics/Song history research on other recordings by The Rosinators
Orange Blossom Special
One Kind Favour
I Saw the Light (Hank Williams)
In My Time of Dyin'
Blue Ridge Mountain Blues
Cindy's Breakdown (aka Get Along Home Cindy)
Joli Blon (aka Jolie Blonde)
Little Sadie

Looking for the Stone (aka Daniel Saw The Stone)
Poncho's Lament (Tom Waits)



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"Brilliant version injecting new life into the song" 
[Country Music Round-Up Magazine]

"On the first listening I was under it's spell;
on the second I was hooked! This is real
acoustic roots at its best. Don't let this one
pass you by!" [Maverick Magazine]

"It blew me away. Just such a wonderful
piece of work." [Bill Hahn, 'Traditions,
WFDU FM, New Jersey, USA]

"Buy the album. You won't regret it"
[Gail Comfort, CMR Nashville]

More Radio DJ / Press Comments
Old Joe Clark by The Rosinators
The Rosinators on the Left Field Stage at the 2005 Glastonbury Festival, UK

"When American roots music deejays rave about bluegrass passion, Cajun verve
and country-gospel authenticity, you know that The Rosinators are the real deal.
From deep in the heart of Balham Alligator territory, the London-based trio have
added their own stamp to the American old time tradition so convincingly that most
of their radio airplay comes from US stations. Formed in 2001, they blazed out of
the traps with dynamic three-part vocal harmonies and fiery twin-fiddle attacks
driven by crackin' guitar picking."
[Acoustic Music Centre - Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Aug 2005]

Old Joe Clark Lyrics

(as sung by The Rosinators)

Lyrics video

1. 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
    Fare thee well Old Joe Clark
    Fare thee well I'm bound
    Fare thee well Old Joe Clark
    Goodbye Betsy Brown

2. Old Joe Clark had a mule
    His name was Morgan Brown
    And every tooth in that mule's head
    Was sixteen inches round


3. Old Joe Clark had a yellow cat
    She would neither sing nor pray
    Stuck her head in a buttermilk jar
    And washed her sins away


4. Old joe clark had a house
    Fifteen stories high
    And every story in that house
    Was filled with chicken pie


5. 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


6. Wished I had a sweetheart
    Put her on the shelf
    And every time she'd smile at me
    I'd get up there myself


COUNTRY MUSIC SONG LYRICS - links to Bluegrass,
Cajun, Country Blues and Gospel Country song lyrics




Old Joe Clark lyrics - performed by The Rosinators


Old Joe Jatta (Old Joe Clark) by Bela Fleck's Africa Project  -
Bela Fleck (banjo) and Casey Driessen (fiddle) with Moussa Sissoko
& Alou Coulibaly (percussion) at Clowes Memorial Hall in Indianapolis,
IN - Feb 19, 2010


Old Joe Clark by Darrell Scott
(with Matt Flinner on banjo and Bryn Davies on upright bass)


The Callahan Brothers perform Old Joe Clark in the
1945 Jimmy Wakely western "Springtime in Texas"


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Orange Blossom Special  One Kind Favour  I Saw the Light   Joli Blon   Little Sadie
In My Time of Dyin'    Cindy's Breakdown   Blue Ridge Mountain Blues

Biography of Old Joe Clark

Genealogical research Lisa Clark

Below the hill and in front of the US Post Office at Sextons Creek,
Kentucky, stands a State Historical Marker (#1382), listing this bit
of Mountain History:

  Kentuck Historical Marker #1382
Photo from Tour Southern & Eastern Kentucky site


 Mountain ballad, about 90 stanzas,
  sung during World War 1 and later
  wars by soldiers from eastern
  Kentucky. Early version, as sung
in Virginia, printed in 1918.
  Joe Clark, born 1839, lived here;
a shiftless and rough mountaineer
of that day. His enemies were
  legion; he was murdered in 1885.
In the moonshining days of 1870's,
he ran a government-supervised still.

1970 Kentucky Historical Society
  Kentucky Department of Highways #1382


According to Lisa Clark's research, Joseph Clark was born in Clay
County, Kentucky on September 18, 1839. He was raised on the
family farm at Sextons Creek, and married Elizabeth (Betty) Sandlin
on January 12, 1857, when he was 17 and she was 15.

When the Civil War began, Joe was one of the first to enlist, even
though he was married and had three children. He was 22 years old,
stood 5 feet 8 inches, had a fair complexion, with light hair and blue
eyes. He became ill during the winter months and was given a
Disability Discharge in 1862.

Joe returned to Clay County and resumed farming. He bought 700
acres of land from his father in 1868, and lived in the log house on
Sextons Creek that had been built by the Clark pioneers.

"Fare Thee Well" by Russell May
"Fare Thee Well" by Russell May - a limited edition print of Joe Clark's
two storey log cabin, which according to his great grandson Elijah Clark,
is still standing today. [For details of Russell May's prints contact Kathy May]

Joe began earning a reputation in the local area, and Betty left him
around 1864. He lived with several different women and had more
children which he raised.

There was a popular break-down tune at the time that did not have
lyrics, so some of Joe's friends started making up rhymes to be sung
with the tune. From this originated the ballad of "OLD JOE CLARK."
Joe is said to have liked the song until some of the more fun loving
souls started making up rhymes that were not very complimentary.

He operated a country store near his house and also ran a moonshine
still, under license from the state. The still was located in the bottom
near his house, and Joe had orchards from which to gather the fruit
for brandy and other drinks. He would load an ox cart with whiskey
and take it to the round bottoms as well as selling it from his store.
Joe had a Spencer rifle which he carried across his lap when riding
and is said to have used it to shoot the arm off one of his neighbors
when they got into a fight. One story has it that Joe also lost an arm,
but J.B. Weaver, who married Joe's great-granddaughter, claimed Joe
lost some use of his left arm after he had a fight with the father of
John Lucas, who slashed him across the collar bone with a knife.

There are several stories surrounding his death. J.B. Weaver gave this
account, as told to him by Joe's son. Joe was living with a woman named
Chris Leger and they split up. He then began living with a McKenney
woman in his store, renting his house to Chris and her new friend, the
brother of Old Jim Howard. Leger and Howard then devised a plan
whereby they would kill Joe and she would claim he had left the farm to
her. Howard shot and killed Joe on April 22, 1886, near the back porch
of the store. Howard then fled to Beattyville, where a few days later
while crossing a bridge, he was stabbed to death by two men from
Clay County.

Joe is buried in the Clark Cemetery on a hill overlooking the farm at
Sextons Creek.

Lisa Clark

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Song History / Research

According to The Traditional Tune Archive, Mike Seeger (1983) relates the
local story of the origins of the tune where he lives in Rockbridge County,
Virginia. Joe Clark's father settled around Irish Creek, near South River,
in the early 1800's. Joe Clark had a daughter, and a jilted beau is said to
have written the song, out of jealousy, in the late 1800's. The Clarks have
been family-style string musicians right down through the years.

Another investigation determined the source of the tune to be the murder in
Maryland of a traveling salesman named Herbert Brown by Joe Clark and
Brown's wife Betsy sometime after the Civil War. Joe and Betsy attempted
to cover up the crime by asserting that Brown was on a trip up North.

Copyright 1995-2000 by Andrew I. Kuntz

Bradley Kinkaid's 'Favorite Old-Time Songs and Mountain Ballads, Book 3

According to Bradley Kincaid, in Book 3 of his 'Favorite Old-Time Songs
and Mountain Ballads' (1930), "Old Joe Clark," who is immortalized in one
of the ballads in this collection, was a notorious character in Clay County,
Kentucky. As with many mountain ballads, the song tells something of his
character. They will tell you in Manchester that he was a hard, rough-and-
ready bully, who was shot to death by his own son, in a fight over some
hogs. The boy was exonerated by the jury and commended by the
community where he still lives. When the fiddlers strike up "Old Joe
Clark," every foot in Manchester beats time.

Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier - The Henry Reed Collections
Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier
The Henry Reed Collections

"Old Joe Clark" seems, from the vantage point of the later twentieth century,
to be one of the most widely known of all Southern fiddle tunes. Indeed, it is
one of those Southern tunes that has to a degree become part of the national
repertory. One may hear it in bluegrass jam sessions, old-time fiddle sessions,
and country dances throughout the United States. But though it may date back
into the nineteenth century, one cannot find sets older than the turn of the
century. It is possible that it circulated first in children's tradition and in play-
parties--which might account for its playful and sometimes outlandish verses--
then erupted into the fiddle and banjo world. Henry Reed's set shares with
most old-time fiddlers from the Upper South the movement of the melody to
the high octave (A) by the third phrase of the high strain, and the drop of the
melody to the lower dominant (E) in the second phrase of the low strain.

The Traditional Ballad Index includes this description of the song:
Old Joe Clark, a "fine old man" and a "preacher's son", lives an
improbable life of courting, gambling, drinking, and sundry accidents.
Versions range from the thoroughly clean (often involving animals) to
the significantly bawdy.

and lists the following Recordings:

James "Iron Head" Baker
(AFS 200 A3, 1933)

H. M. Barnes & his Blue Ridge Ramblers
(Brunswick 313, c. 1929)

Fiddlin' John Carson
(Okeh 40038, 1924)

James Crase

Da Costa Woltz's Southern Broadcasters
(Gennett 6223/Challenge 333/Herwin 75565, 1927; on GoingDown)

The Hillbillies
(OKeh 40376, 1925) (Vocalion 15369, 1926)

Bradley Kincaid
(Brunswick 485, c. 1930; Conqueror 8090, 1933)

Clayton McMichen & his Georgia Wildcats
(Varsity 5029, 1942)

New Lost City Ramblers
(on NLCR05, NLCR11)

W. Lee O'Daniel & the Light Crust Doughboys
(Vocalion 02975, 1935)

Mose "Clear Rock" Platt
(AFS 197 A1, 1933)

Fiddlin' Powers and Family
(Victor 19434, 1924) (Edison 51662, 1925)

Riley Puckett
(Columbia 15033-D, c. 1925)

Ernest V. Stoneman
(Victor 20302, 1926)

Pete Seeger
(on PeteSeeger07, PeteSeeger07b)

Gid Tanner & his Skillet Lickers
(Columbia 15108-D, 1926)

Wade Ward [instrumental]
(on LomaxCD1702)

The Almanac Singers
The Almanac Singers 1941 (left to right - Woody Guthrie, Lee Hays,
Millard Lampell & Pete Seeger)

Pete Seeger (who wrote "Round and Round Hitler's Grave" with fellow
Almanac Singers Woody Guthrie and Millard Lampell to the same tune
in 1941 - see lyrics) states in his book 'How to Play the 5-string Banjo'
that Joe Clark was "an actual person, a veteran of the War of 1812."

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Other Notabe Recordings

Old Joe Clark by Doc & Merle Watson
(from their album 'Home Sweet Home')

Home Sweet Home - Doc & Merle Watson

Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com


Old Joe Clark by Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs
(from their album 'Flatt & Scruggs 1964-1969, Plus
[6 Audio CD box set]

   USA/World                  UK/Europe

Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys
(from the album 'Anthology')

Old Joe Clark - Bill Monroe: Anthology  

 USA/World                  UK/Europe

Old Joe Clark by The Kentucky Colonels
(from the album 'Livin' In The Past 1961-65')

   USA/World                  UK/Europe

Old Joe Clark by Chet Atkins
(from his album 'Essential Guitar Masters')

Old Joe Clark - Essential Guitar Masters


Old Joe Clark by Charlie Haden (feat. Jack Black)
(from his album 'Rambling Boy')


Rambling Boy - Charlie Haden With Family & Friends / Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk


Tab / Sheet Music / Video / Links


Fiddle lessons by Ian Walsh

Free fiddle tabs and free fiddle lessons
Sheet music for Old Joe Clark - sample of one of
the 25 songs available in the Fiddle Primer Book


Sheffield Banjo Lessons - Old Joe Clark
Tab for
Osborne Rolls, Part A and Part B

Clawhammer Banjo For The Beginner
taught by Ryan Spearman - Old Joe Clark

Mel Bay Old-Time Festival Tunes for Clawhammer
This book and two CD set is intended to be a tune
repertoire book. It includes over 100 Old-Time festival
favorites (including Old Joe Clark). The book contains
2 lines of tablature (one basic and one advanced) as
well as standard notation and suggested chords. The
basic version should be playable by those with general
clawhammer skills. The advanced version will require
more time and finesse as it is more ornamental (often
more than just melodic) and may include intuitive ways
of playing some passages.

Banjo Hangout
Comprehensive banjo resource including over 2,200
banjo tabs and 350 lessons + discussion forum, reviews
and banjo links


Dave Yates of Appalachian Music Lessons



Guitar chords/lyrics for Old Joe Clark
by The Rosinators [*note: change capo
to capo 2 on the right]

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Lyrics/Song history research on other recordings by The Rosinators

Orange Blossom Special
One Kind Favour
I Saw the Light (Hank Williams)
In My Time of Dyin'
Blue Ridge Mountain Blues
Cindy's Breakdown (aka Get Along Home Cindy)
Joli Blon (aka Jolie Blonde)
Little Sadie

Looking for the Stone (aka Daniel Saw The Stone)
Poncho's Lament (Tom Waits)

Country Song Lyrics - bluegrass, Cajun, Country Blues & Gospel

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