Bile Them Cabbage Down

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Bile Them Cabbage Down

(The Traditional Tune Archive)
 Theme code Index    3H3H4H5H 3H3H2H2H
 Also known as    Boil Them Cabbage Down, Bake Them Hoecakes Brown, Carve dat Possum (1), Possum Pie
 Composer/Core Source    
 Region    United States
 Genre/Style    Old-Time
 Meter/Rhythm    Reel (single/double)
 Key/Tonic of    D
 Accidental    2 sharps
 Mode    Ionian (Major)
 Time signature    2/4
 History    USA(Upland South), USA(Piedmont), USA(Southeast), USA(Central), USA(Mid Atlantic), USA(Ozarks/Western Tenn), USA(Southwest)
 Structure    AABB
 Editor/Compiler    Viola "Mom
 Book/Manuscript title    Pioneer Western Folk Tunes
 Tune and/or Page number    No. 118, p. 41
 Year of publication/Date of MS    1948
 Artist    Uncle Dave Macon
 Title of recording    
 Record label/Catalogue nr.    Vocalion 14849 (78 RPM)
 Year recorded    1924

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BILE THEM CABBAGE DOWN. AKA - "Boil Them Cabbage Down," "Bake Them Hoecakes Brown." AKA and see "Carve Dat Possum (1)," "Possum Pie." Old-Time, Breakdown. USA; Oklahoma, Arkansas, southwestern Pa., northeast Alabama. D Major (Bayard, Thede): A Major (Beisswenger & McCann, Reiner, Ruth, Sweet): G Major (Silberberg). Standard or AEae (McMichen) tunings. One part: AABB (Sweet): AA'BB'CC' (Beisswenger & McCann): AABBCCDD' (Ruth). The word 'bile' means 'boil'. Ralph Rinzler traces the tune to an early English country dance "Smiling Polly," in print in 1765. "Bile Them Cabbage Down" is commonly found in beginning fiddle instructors and in ditty-books, and is "a negro reel tune which has become universally popular among white square dance musicians" (Alan Lomax). African-American origins are evident in collections of White, Scarborough and Brown-all from black informants. Tennessee banjoist and entertainer Uncle Dave Macon recorded one of the first versions of the song in 1924; that same year Georgia fiddler and entertainer Fiddlin' John Carson, and Georgia guitarist and singer Riley Puckett both separately recorded the tune. Clayton McMichen put together a virtuoso version of this tune to use in competition at various major fiddle contests. Also played by Arthur Smith on his radio broadcasts (Frank Maloy). The tune was Clayton McMichen's favorite contest tune, by his own account (Charles Wolfe). Richardson, in American Mountain Songs, pg. 88., thought the tune was derived from "Oh Susanna." The title appears in a list of traditional Ozark Mountain fiddle tunes compiled by folklorist/musicologist Vance Randolph, published in 1954. Cauthen (1990) found evidence the tune was commonly known in northeast Alabama from its mention in two sources: reports of the De Kalb County Annual (Fiddlers') Convention 1926-31, and in the book Sourwood Tonic and Sassafras Tea (where it was listed as one of the tunes played by turn of the century Etowah County fiddler George Cole). Richard Nevins believes the tune was not known in the Mt. Airy, N.C., musical community until the advent of the phonograph. Beisswenger & McCann (2008) note that Ozark fiddlers typically employ the "Nashville shuffle" bowing pattern when playing this tune, and that it is often used as the vehicle for contest fiddlers to show off crowd-pleasing virtuostic techniques.

African-American collector Thomas Talley was the first to publish the text of the song in his book Negro Folk Rhymes (1922, reprinted in 1991 edited by Charles Wolfe). His lyric (No. 232, "Cooking Dinner") goes:

Go: Bile dem cabbage down.
Turn dat hoecake 'round,
Cook it done an' brown.

Yes: Gwineter have sweet taters too.
Hain't had none since las' Fall,
Gwineter eat 'em skins an' all.

Modern lyrics go:

Bile them cabbage down,
Bake that hoecake brown;
The only song that I can sing
Is 'Bile Them Cabbage Down.'

Sources for notated versions: Claude Thompson (Cotton County, Oklahoma) [Thede], John Nicholson (Fayette County, Pa., 1949) [Bayard]; Roger Fountain (b. 1948, of Pineville, Arkansas) [Beisswenger & McCann]. Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; No. 219, pg. 173.

Printed source: Beisswenger & McCann (Ozarks Fiddle Music), 2008; p. 33. Reiner (Anthology of Fiddle Styles), 1977; p. 8. Ruth (Pioneer Western Folk Tunes), 1948; No. 118, p. 41 (appears as "Bake Those Hoe Cakes Brown"). Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; p. 9. Sweet (Fifer's Delight), 1964; p. 76 (includes variations, and appears as "Boil the Cabbage Down"). Thede (The Fiddle Book), 1967; p. 69.

Recorded sources: Recorded by numerous North Georgia bands: Riley Puckett and Gid Tanner (1924), The Skillet Lickers (1928), Earl Johnson (1928), and the Georgia Wildcats (1937) {Clayton McMichen's band}. County 723, Fred Cockerham, Tommy Jarrell & Oscar Jenkins - "Back Home in the Blue Ridge". Paramount 3151 (78 RPM), 1928, The Dixie Crackers {North Georgia}. Heritage 048, "Georgia Fiddle Bands" {Brandywine, 1982}, (1983). Vocalion 14849 (78 RPM), Uncle Dave Macon (1924). Roger Fountain - "Cloggin' Jiggin' Waltzin' Two-Steppin'" (2000).

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