“Old Joe Clark”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1842
Keywords: humorous talltale nonballad animal playparty floatingverses bawdy dancetune
Found in: US(Ap,SE,So)


Old Joe Clark, a "fine old man" and a "preacher's son," lives an improbable life of courting, gambling, drinking, and sundry accidents. Versions range from the thoroughly clean (often involving animals) to the significantly bawdy


Randolph-Legman I offers some of the rarely printed bawdy verses to this familiar square dance and quatrain ballad. - EC

Since this piece is often played as a fiddle tune, and since the verses are usually improbable, often come from other songs, and rarely show any connection to each other, this song has been suspected of having begun life as an instrumental. - RBW

Seeger states that Joe Clark was "an actual person, a veteran of the War of 1812." - PJS

I'd love to know what evidence there is to prove that this soldier inspired the song.... - RBW

This shouldn't be confused with the fiddle tune "Old Joe," which is separate. "Old Joe" is reported to have been a nickname for syphilis. - PJS

Same tune

Cross references



  1. Randolph 533, "Old Joe Clark" (10 texts plus 2 excerpts, 1 tune)
  2. Randolph/Cohen, pp. 399-401, "Old Joe Clark" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 533A)
  3. BrownIII 86, "Old Joe Clark" (5 texts); also 111, "Wish I Had a Needle and Thread" (7 text, of which only "E" is really substantial; it is certainly the "Italy" version of "Going Across the Sea." The other fragments contain verses typical of "Shady Grove," "Old Joe Clark," and others)
  4. Randolph-Legman I, pp. 428-430, "Old Joe Clark" (5 texts, 1 tune)
  5. SharpAp 183, "Old Joe Clarke" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Lomax-FSUSA 25, "Old Joe Clark" (1 text, 1 tune -- plus the modern adaption "Round and Round Hitler's Grave")
  7. Lomax-ABFS, pp. 277-279, "Old Joe Clark" (1 text, 1 tune, composite)
  8. Botkin-AmFolklr, pp. 814-818, "Old Joe Clark" (1 collated text, 1 tune)
  9. JHCox 174, "Old Joe Clog" (1 text, partly from "Old Joe Clark" and partly floating verses, several of them from "Shady Grove")
  10. Abrahams/Foss, p. 89, "Old Joe Clark" (1 partial text)
  11. PSeeger-AFB, p. 35, "Old Joe Clark" (1 text, 1 tune)
  12. Darling-NAS, pp. 249-250, "Old Joe Clark" (1 text)
  13. Silber-FSWB, p. 206, "Old Joe Clark" (1 text)
  15. ADDITIONAL: Fred W. Allsopp, Folklore of Romantic Arkansas, Volume II (1931), p. 209, "(Old Joe Clark)" (1 text)
  16. Roud #3594
  17. BI, R533