Hobart Smith’s version of Cuckoo Bird is the most hard-driving and rhythmically exciting version in this collection of variations. His “double-noting” technique contributes to this sound. Hobart Smith is a fascinating character in Old-time music for his virtuosic talent on the many instruments he mastered (fiddle, banjo, guitar and piano… and likely others, too). In this article from the Fiddlers Hall of Fame website Smith explains where he learned many of his tunes. The “double-noting” technique, which he used extensively in “The Cuckoo Bird,” was learned from a neighbor of his named John Greer who apparently learned the technique from African-American players in the area.

Smith begins his Cuckoo version as the others with his take on the “bird call” motive. His interpretation is very similar to Ashley’s, but includes an extra beat making the measure a group of 5 beats instead of 4. This subtle change breathes new energy into the motive and surprises the listener used to Ashley’s model. Smith’s structure is also similar to Ashley’s in how he alternates between “bird call” motive and lyrical verse regularly. However, Hobart Smith varies the length (number of beats) in between the “bird call” motives while Ashley remains consistent. Again, this subtle shift in timing creates energy and really keeps the listener on the edge of their seat, unsure of when the new section will begin.

Check out Alan Lomax’s Cultural Equity website for many great Hobart Smith performances (just search Hobart Smith to find).

Also included in this website is a transcription of Smith’s transfixing Wabash Blues for solo banjo.

Transcription of Hobart Smith’s banjo performance on the Lomax RecordingClick on the link to preview or purchase the track. Note: I have done my best to transcribe the performance accurately, but of course I am sure there are errors!

Click here for a short clip of Hobart’s performance corresponding to measures 1-6 in the transcription.

Click here for the pdf version of the transcription.

Hobart-Lomax-CuckooTAB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hobart-Lomax-CuckooTAB_2:5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hobart-Lomax-CuckooTAB_3:5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hobart-Lomax-CuckooTAB_4:5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hobart-Lomax-CuckooTAB_5:5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyrics for “The Cuckoo Bird” by Hobart Smith (Lomax Recording)

I’ve often / sit and wondered / what makes women / love men.
I looked back / and I studied / what makes men / love them.
It ain’t nothin’ / but a notion / that fly / through the wind.
They cause you / hard trouble / they cause you / downfall.
They cause you / hard labor / oh behind / prison walls.

Gonna build me / a steeple / on a mountain / so high.
I’ll watch my / horse race / as he / passes by.
Oh you / oh my / oh you / oh my / hm…

 

Old Kimball / gave me money / ? / he bet more.

Old Kimball / ? / through the keyhole / in the door.

 

Lyrics for “Cuckoo Bird” by Hobart Smith (Fleming Brown Recording)

I’ve oft times / sat and wondered / what makes women / love men.
I looked back / and studied / what makes men / love them.
It ain’t nothin’ / but a notion / that flies / through the wind.
They cause you / hard trouble / they cause you / downfall.
They cause you / hard labor / oh behind / prison walls.

Gonna build me / a steeple / on a mountain / so high.
I’ll watch my / horse race / as he / passes by.

Cuckoo bird / mighty fine bird / oh she warbles / as she flies.
She ain’t cuckooed / she ain’t cuckooed / since the Fourth / of July.