Breedloves's Folk Songs


Clarence Ashley’s most popular song was “The Coo-Coo Bird” which has perhaps the
most interesting history of any of his songs. He was much more particular with “The
Coo-Coo Bird” than any of his other songs. He had recorded it earlier; but when he was
asked to play it in the 1960’s, he refused to play it before it was polished to perfection.
When he did play it, he often prefaced the song with “I don’t know if other people sing it
the way I do or not – and I don’t care.” Fritz Plous (folk archivist) gave an account of
seeing Ashley perform at The University of Chicago Folk Festival of 1962, in which the
audience was deeply moved by the almost oriental sound of the Tennessee farmer playing
a centuries-old song on a modal-tuned five-string banjo. The other members of the band
suddenly faded into the shadows as Ashley at seventy years of age picked up his banjo,
sat down in a chair, and spoke to the crowd: “I set this old bird a-flyin’ back in the
twenties, and she’s been flyin’ round the country ever since, people sing this song all
Oh the cuckoo she’s a pretty bird
She warbles as she flies
She never hollers coo coo till the fourth day of July
Gonna build me log cabin
On a mountain so high
So I can see Willie as he goes on by
Well I’ve played cards in Texas
And I’ve played cards in Maine
Oh I’ll bet you five dollars I’ll beat you next game
Jack of Diamonds Jack of Diamonds
Oh I know you of old
You robbed my poor pockets of silver and gold
Rye whiskey, rye whiskey
Oh I know you of old
You robbed my poor pockets of silver and gold
*Sometimes I feel much younger
Sometimes I feel so old
Sometimes the warm sun shines sometimes it’s dreadful cold
Oh the cuckoo she’s a pretty bird
How I wish she was mine
She never drinks water she only drinks wine

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