Barlow Knife is a cool tune, and I hadn’t ever played it before Steve Taught it to me (at this gig.) It was a tune I had heard before, but not more than once or twice, and I thought it was cool enough to make it today’s fiddle tune a day.
I think it’s an old song, and I’m excited to learn more about it.
Wow! It’s really old. The first known record of it was in 1627!
Barlow Knife according to Fiddler’s Companion
BARLOW KNIFE . AKA and see “Blue Goose” , “Cabin Creek .” Old‑Time Breakdown and Song. USA, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi. G Major (most versions, but also played in the key of D). Standard tuning. AB (Silberberg): AABB: AABBCC (Johnson, Phillips). A barlow knife is a type of folding pocket knife that features double or single blades that open at one end only. The knife-style bears the name of a man named Barlow of Sheffield, England, one of the earliest and most famous makers.
I been livin’ here all my life,
All I got is a Barlow Knife;
Buck horn handle and a Barlow blade,
Best dang knife that ever was made.
I’ve been married all my life,
And all I’ve got is a Barlow knife.
Glen Lyn, Virginia, fiddler Henry Reed called the tune “Cabin Creek,” and fiddle players have tended to use that title (banjo players more frequently refer to it as “Barlow Knife”). Jeff Titon (2001) says a variant of the tune is “I’ve Got a Grandpa,” and Kentucky fiddler Buddy Thomas played another variant under the title “Blue Goose.” Mark Wilson reports that it was called “Boatin’ Up Sandy” (somewhat of a floating title—it has been attached to several tunes) in the Portsmouth, Ohio, region. Titon concludes that the tune was fairly widespread in the South under the “Barlow” title and variants.
Nigel Gatherer has found melodic strains similar to “Barlow Knife” in two old Scottish manuscripts. The earliest, the Straloch MS. (1627) contains a tune called “The Old Man,” while the second, the Skene MS (c. 1640) has a more developed version under the title “Long Er Onie Old Man.”