I have played Cripple Creek forever, but I didn’t play it very cool until I added some licks from a Benny Thomasson transcription. Of course, I added my own stuff in there too. I even included it on my recent album, Long Time Comin‘.
Tonight, I was asked by Andy May to join him playing at a fundraiser for rebuilding after the High Park fire. I was honored to be asked, and happy to be a part of the event. I don’t know how much was raised for the rebuilding fund, but there was a big jar full of money when I left. And, the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves. I would say that the night was a big success.
Cripple Creek Song History By Richard L. Matteson Jr.
If you’ve ever learned the banjo, chances are you’ve played Cripple Creek. A meandering or a crooked stream is referred to as a “cripple” creek. The most famous Cripple Creek is a town in Colorado. Gold was discovered there in 1891 and the mining town that sprang up was considered by some to be the source of the song. Folklorist Alan Jabbour, of the Library of Congress found that the oldest Appalachian fiddlers he collected from could recall the first time that they had heard “Cripple Creek,” leading Jabbour to speculate that the title might have something to do with the Cripple Creek, Colorado, labor troubles.
I believe that the Cripple Creek location in our bluegrass song is Cripple Creek, Virginia, a small community located in Wythe County at latitude 36.821 and longitude -81.098 with an elevation of 2,188 feet. The Cripple Creek, Virginia area was explored in 1654 and settled in the mid-1700’s. A settlement was built at Fort Chiswell (lead was discovered in 1756 by John Chiswell) and farmers moved into the fertile land around the Cripple Creek and New River. In Virginia is was lead and iron ore that was mined, not gold. In 1887 when the Norfolk and Western Railroad reached the area, a zinc smelter was started and charcoal furnaces to make iron were built up and down Cripple Creek and the New River.
Betty Vornbrock confirms that there is a ‘town’ by the name of Cripple Creek south of Wytheville, in Wythe County adjacent to Grayson County, near Elk Creek and Bull Mountain (both in Grayson). She heard the name came from “hunters were on the trail of a large buck elk who led them over Buck Mountain, then along and across Elk Creek and on up north till they shot him, but only crippled him, at Cripple Creek.
According to Bob Coltman: “My opinion is that the tune probably is earlier than the Cripple Creek gold strike (1891), but that the words, and thus the song title, could have been put to it afterward, say at the turn of the century.” ” Mike Yates (2002) confirms that “most Virginia musicians believe that it relates to a location in Wythe County, Virginia.” Glen Lyn, Virginia, fiddler Henry Reed (1884-1968), for example, told Alan Jabbour that he was sixteen years old when he first heard “Cripple Creek.” Jabbour explains that Reed said the man who first played it for him was from Texas and was simply passing through the Tug River region (i.e. Tug Fork of Big Sandy River) of the West Virginia/Kentucky border, where Reed and his brother were employed as young men in the coal country region of southern West Virginia doing blacksmith work (which perhaps does argue for western origins for the tune).
Versions of the bluegrass song began appearing in the early 1900s. The first reference to the tune as “Cripple Creek” is in the Journal of American Folklore, 1915. Two fragments of “Cripple Creek” were collected by E. C. Perrow, and published in JOAFL, 1915, vol. 28, “Songs and Rhymes of the South,” Part VIII, no. 42. No musical score.
42. CRIPPLE CREEK (1) 1909 Versions
A. “(From East Tennessee; mountain whites; from memory; 1909)”
Goin’ to Cripple Creek, goin’ ter Rome (roam),
Goin’ ter Cripple Creek, goin’ back home.
See them women layin’ in the shade,
Waitin’ fer the money them men have made.
Roll my breeches ter my knees
En wade ol’ Cripple Creek when I please.
“(1) A well-known mining district in Virginia.” (2) Probably Rome, Tennessee; also a Rome in Georgia.
B. “(From South Carolina; country whites, MS. of Mr. Bryan; 1909)”
Goin’ to Cripple Creek, going in a run;
Goin’ to Cripple Creek to have my fun.
When Cecil Sharp collected folk songs in the Appalachian Mountains in 1917 he found one version of Cripple Creek:
*Gone to Cripple Creek” Sung by Mrs. Wilson Pineville, KY Aug 27, 1917.
Gone to Cripple Creek, gone in a run,
Gone to Cripple Creek to have some fun.
Gone to Cripple Creek, gone in a run,
Gone to Cripple Creek to have some fun.
*Gone is probably a mishearing of- goin’.
Sharp also collected a tune named Cripple Creek that was a different tune and song. It shows that Cripple Creek was a popular location and song in the early 1900s. Certainly the song originated in the 1800s but there is no documented proof. I have an autographed copy of banjo picker Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s 1927 book “30 and 1 Folksongs From the Southern Mountains” where he knew of a Cripple Creek within five minutes walking distance of his office in the Flat Iron Building in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. Lunsford sang “Cripple Creek” in 1921. His version also appears in The Frank C. Brown Collection of NORTH CAROLINA FOLKLORE Vol 5, “The Music of the Folk Song,” Chapter VIII, “Folk Lyric” Duke University, #299, p212 as well as “Cripple Creek” sung by Mrs. Arthur Moore, Lenoir, Caldwell county in 1922.
Cripple Creek was a frequently recorded by early country musicians in the 1920s and 1930s. The first recording issued was by a black one-man band Sam Jones, as Cripple Creek- Stovepipe No. 1 on August 20, 1924. The day before that, Fiddlin’ Powers of Dungannon, VA recorded it but it was not issued. The song was well-known in the Atlanta area; Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett of the Skillet Lickers also recorded the song in 1924. It was also recorded by Arthur Tanner and Fiddlin’ John Carson as “Going Down to Cripple Creek” (OKeh 45214, 1928). Musicians from all over the Appalachian region flocked to the Georgia Fiddlers Convention, held in Atlanta, where the tune was transmitted.
Two early recordings are by Virginians from the Galax area, Stoneman and the Hopkins Brothers (Hill Billies). Cripple Creek isn’t that far west from Galax up in Wythe County. According to one source Ernest Stoneman claimed to write the song, but this seems unlikely. Stoneman made a living off his royalties from copyrighting traditional songs.
Many artists, probably to avoid copyright issues, changed the name to a different local creek or river. Land Norris of Georgia recorded it in the mid-20’s as “Red Creek.” Clark Kessinger and later Milton Brown and his Brownies recorded it as “Goin’ Up Brushy Fork.” Charlie Poole recorded a great version titled ‘”Shootin’ Creek” on July 23, 1928. There’s a Shooting Creek region in Franklin County also in Southwest Virginia. This area was famous as a center for distilling homemade whiskey and it appears that Poole was a frequent visitor. Here’s a bit of Poole’s version which has the standard chorus:
Shootin’ Creek (Charlie Poole)
CHORUS: Going up Shootin’ Creek, going in a run,
Going up Shootin’ Creek, have a little fun.
VERSE: Ida Red she’s a darned old fool,
Tried to put a saddle on a humpbacked mule.
Up the road and across the creek,
Can’t get a letter but once a week.
Cripple Creek Lyrics
Verse: I gotta gal and she loves me,
She’s as sweet as she can be,
She’s got eyes of baby blue,
Make’s my gun shoot straight and true.
Chorus: Goin’ up Cripple Creek, goin’ in a whirl,
Goin’ up Cripple Creek, to see my girl.
Goin’ up Cripple Creek goin’ in a run
Goin’ up Cripple Creek to have some fun.
Verse: My gal lives at the head of the creek,
I go up to see her ‘bout twice a week.
She’s got kisses sweet as any wine,
wraps herself ‘round me like a sweet pertater vine.
Verse: Cripple Creek’s wide and Cripple Creek’s deep,
I’ll wade old Cripple Creek before I sleep
Roll my britches to my knees
I’ll wade old Cripple Creek when I please.