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tune variations for Old Joe Clark


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GUEST,tony 27 Feb 18 - 05:00 PM
Brian Peters 27 Feb 18 - 06:38 PM
GUEST,tony 27 Feb 18 - 08:24 PM
GUEST,Jerry 28 Feb 18 - 03:44 AM
Brian Peters 28 Feb 18 - 06:30 AM
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Subject: tune variations for Old Joe Clark
From: GUEST,tony
Date: 27 Feb 18 - 05:00 PM

Can someone tell me which is the oldest tune (chords) for Old Joe Clark? If played for example in the key of G, I've heard it played with G and D, or with G and F. I personally prefer the G and D tune, but the G and F version seems more common. Which is the way it was played originally, or is that impossible to say? thanks, tony

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Subject: RE: tune variations for Old Joe Clark
From: Brian Peters
Date: 27 Feb 18 - 06:38 PM

I think it would be difficult to trace it back far enough to know what was the original tune, and it may not have had a chordal accompaniment back in the 19th century anyway. However, the tune is usually in the mixolydian mode, i.e. with the 7th note of the scale flattened: in the key of G this would be F natural.

To accompany a mixolydian tune in G, F would be the best fit for the second chord. A D major chord contains an F# so would clash with the F in the melody - though of course that doesn't mean that an old-time guitarist would never have played a D chord.

Cecil Sharp collected a great version of the song in Virginia n 1918, which I suspect is on of the earliest documented versions. That is actually in dorian mode, i.e. both the 3rds and the 7ths are flattened, giving it a more 'minor' sound. I would certainly accompany that with F chords if I were playing it in G (Sharp actually notated it in A).

Then again, I've just looked in Frank C. Brown (huge North Carolina collection, all available free for download), and there are several versions in Vol. 5, some of which don't have the flattened 7th, and go back to the 1920s.

So it looks like the tune was quite variable - as were the words!

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Subject: RE: tune variations for Old Joe Clark
From: GUEST,tony
Date: 27 Feb 18 - 08:24 PM

thanks. I guess I was thinking of the version that uses the I & V chords, which is how I learned Old Joe Clark, but nobody seems to play that version anymore.......they all seem to play it using the flattened note like you said. I wondered which version came first.

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Subject: RE: tune variations for Old Joe Clark
From: GUEST,Jerry
Date: 28 Feb 18 - 03:44 AM

Surely the flattened seventh came first, because that is the normal note in the myxolydian mode. However, some diatonic instruments can’t play a flat seventh note .or chord easily, so the tune is often adulterated in deference to squeeze box players, etc. In fact, many play it in the key of D, so they can get the flat seventh by playing a C natural. The same goes for contemporary versions of Horses Bransle and the like, which in old notation has a flat third note, but is seldom now heard.

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Subject: RE: tune variations for Old Joe Clark
From: Brian Peters
Date: 28 Feb 18 - 06:30 AM

This is an interesting question, Tony. My initial point was that the tune (at least when used to carry a set of words) was clearly very variable and that, depending which version of the tune you picked, the chording would necessarily be different. But after doing some more research I've modified that view a little.

I've looked up a few versions as posted on the popular session tune websites. These are much more standardized than the old versions in Frank Brown (as you'd expect with mass media etc), but even so there is one important variable.

Old Joe on 'The Session' notates the tune in A, and the last note in bar 7 is G natural. This implies you'd play a G (i.i a VII) chord.

Most of the other current versions (e.g. wiki,, most of the examples on abcnotation, etc) likewise go to the flat 7th on the penultimate note of the phrase.

But look at this one: Old Joe alternative 1. Here the penultimate note is a B and, although the chord specified is a VII, there's no reason at all that a V chord wouldn't work.

This is worth looking at:
Old Joe on the Traditional Tune Archive

Then have a listen to the early recordings listed there (which are all great and the real reason I'm taking the time to post this):

Old Joe by Fiddlin' Powers, 1924

Old Joe by Fiddlin' John Carson

Old Joe by The Skillet Lickers

Old Joe by Wade Ward

All of those old recordings use the V chord, but that's not surprising since none of those versions of the meldoy use a flat 7th. In the Skillet Lickers recording you can clearly hear a sharpened 7th, and in the others the penultimate note is either the 2nd or the 5th below, either of which fits fine with a V chord.

There's an good discussion at Banjo Hangout, on which some of the contributors are saying that, although the V chord is technically 'wrong' when played against a flat 7th, it has a bluesy sound because of the clash, and is the more 'authentic' way of chording the tune, and that a VII chord is a modern bluegrass innovation.

So there are arguments both ways, and I'd say to Tony, play it the way you like!

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