John Snipes’ “Coo Coo” is the only performance in the Cuckoo genus that does not include lyrics. Snipes’s performance is a mellow, haunting stroll through shifting time signatures and motivic fragments. Snipes performs the tune on a fretless banjo so he is able to play with the intonation of the F-naturals / F-sharps and B-flats / B-naturals to create a distinctive harmonic fingerprint. His version is built by riffs that come and go in various lengths, making the listener always surprised at what comes next. For example the very first measure, which includes the “bird call” motive, is repeated exactly in measure 2 and again in measure 3. However, in measure 3 Snipes adds a beat to the grouping by repeating the sixteenth note dropped-thumb lick to offset the regular metrical feel from the outset.
Transcription of John Snipes’ banjo performance on Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia. Click on the link to preview or purchase the song on the Folkways website. Note: I have done my best to transcribe the performance accurately, but of course I am sure there are errors! Click here for the pdf version of the transcription.