I used to HATE Boil Them Cabbbage Down! When I was a kid, my dad had me play it ALL the time. Every concert we did, every time I practiced. It was painful.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am not good with repetition in general. My parents signed me up for suzuki violin when I was 5, and after a couple of months of Twinkle Twinkle, I was done with it.
Boil Them Cabbage nearly became the fiddle equivalent of Twinkle. At some point, I told my dad that I wasn’t going to play it anymore, and I didn’t for years. I remember hearing Dick Barrett play a really cool tune sitting out in front of the Weiser High School and asking him what it was. He said it was Biol Them Cabbage Down. I thought that surely he was kidding me. This song was so much cooler than the tune I learned as a beginner. I didn’t really learn the tune at that time, but it started to grow on me.
I think it was 1998 when I got the Junebug on a Barbwire – a Jam Session recording of Major Franklin (picked it up at Weiser from a protected fiddle source). And, I loved the way Major played Boil Them Cabbage. The whole album was some of the coolest breakdown fiddling that I had ever heard. And so I learned the new/old version of Boil Them Cabbage, and I still play it similarly to how I learned it from that recording.
I recorded this at the Sylvandale Guest Ranch booth at the Loveland Business Expo.
Bile Them Cabbage Down according to Fiddler’s Companion
BILE THEM CABBAGE DOWN. AKA ‑ “Boil Them Cabbage Down,” “Bake Them Hoecakes Brown.” AKA and see “Carve Dat Possum ,” “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 EtowahCounty 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.’
More fun Boil Them Cabbage Down Lyrics
Got my gal a bicycle
She learned to ride it well
’til she rode into a telephone pole
And busted it all to ….pieces
Took my gal to a blacksmith’s shop
to have her mouth made small.
She turned around a time or two
and swallowed it shop and all.