Friday, July 17, 2015

Old Time Childhood Songs & Their Possible "Frog Went A-Courtin" & "Keemo Kimo" Sources

Edited by Azizi Powell

In September 2014 I received these emails from a visitor to my now inactive* website:

September 11, 2014 from Brenda Paschke to Azizi Powell:
"HI, loved reading your information. I am.searching for the lyrics to some songs my grandmother sang to all of us kids. She lived from 1914 to 2014 and was born in Wildwood, Florida, raised later in Center, Alabama.

Here are some things I remember, spelling may be wrong:

Comb, combo hirum barum
Rumshackle, Cumshackle
Gitchie gitchie gimie oh
Up steps a pennywinkle
Back steps a nickel cat

She indicated once that we kids were mixing up several songs. I think she learned these on her grandparents plantation in Alabama.

Sincerely, Brenda Paschke"

Sep 12, 2014 from Brenda Paschke to Azizi Powell:
Forgot to add these
Cattle all ding ding ding
Cattle all ding dong ding dong day

A bowl of souse
For the farmers spouse
And a long tail mouse

* was a multi-page cultural website that I started in 2001 and continued editing until December 2014. Much of the content of that website can be found on this pancocojams blog as well as on several other blogs that I curate. The links to those blogs given in the "About Me" section that is found to the side of this post.

I regret that I didn't read Brenda's emails until July 2015 (Long story). I finally responded to her emails and received permission to re-post them. I also received the following clarification about whether these were seperate songs or verses of one song:

From July 14, 2015 from Brenda Paschke to Azizi Powell:
"Yes, My grandmother sang them to us in succession one after the other. We then repeated them as one song. She said they were actually different songs, but I am not sure about the details of this.

It seems to me she had some remorse about teaching us the Bowl of Souse lyrics, and mentioned it was shameful. Not sure what that was all about.

To me she sang them all with the same rhythm, tune and with one in succession to the another. Usually this was done with a young baby bouncing on her knee, its head rocking and flailing about. Today they would consider that “shaking the baby” "

From July 14, 2015
I emailed Brenda about these rhymes and asked permission to quote her emails. She responded with this note:
"Hi, thank you. Yes please use them with or without my name. Also her name was Evelyn Mc Elrath, maiden name. She passed one year ago at 99."

I. The verses that begin with the lines "Cattle All Ding Ding Ding" and "A Bowl Of Souse"
These verses are probably clips from longer songs. I've not found any song or rhyme source for the "Cattle all ding ding ding" verse, but it seems clear that those lines refer to the sound that the cow bell makes as the cattle move around.

I've also not found any song or rhyme source for the "A Bowl Of Souse". My guess is that Brenda's grandmother considered that verse to be shameful because the slang term "soused" means "drunk"/"intoxicated". Two additional definitions for "souse" are "to plunge into water or other liquid" and "to steep in pickling brine; pickle." However, in the context of Brenda's grandmother's verse, the word "souse" probably means "scouse" - "a type of lamb or beef stew. The word comes from lobscouse, a stew commonly eaten by sailors throughout Northern Europe, which became popular in seaports such as Liverpool."

II. The song that begins with the line "Comb, Combo Hirum Barum"
I believe this verse is a clip of a "Frog In The Well" song.

Since at least the mid 1950s, "Frog Went A-Courtin" has been the most well known of the "Frog In The Well" songs. [hereafter given as Wikipedia: Frog Went A Courtin"] provides some history about the "Frog Went A-Courtin'" song "Frog Went A-Courtin'"(Roud 16, see alternative titles) is an English language folk song. Its first known appearance is in Wedderburn's Complaynt of Scotland (1548) under the name "The frog came to the myl dur", though this is in Scots rather than English. There is a reference in the London Company of Stationers' Register of 1580 to "A Moste Strange Weddinge of the Frogge and the Mouse." There are many texts of the ballad; however the oldest known musical version is in Thomas Ravenscroft's Melismata in 1611.

Here's an excerpt from "The Many Versions of Frog Went A Courtin’" May 12th, 2007 [hereafter given as Mama Lisa: Frog Went A Courtin] that includes titles of other "Frog In The Well" songs:
"I’ve been having a lot of fun researching the history of the popular song Frog Went A Courtin’. There are many versions. It originated in Scotland over 450 years ago. There’s also a well-known British version called A Frog He Would A-wooing Go, which I’ve written about previously.

This song has also traveled around Canada and throughout the US. Along the way, many versions have cropped up – some with different tunes and names. One is called King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O, while another is called Sing Song Kitty (Won’t You Ki-Me-O)."...
The song "Keemo Kimo" is another member of the "Frog In The Well" family.

"Frog Went A Courtin" and other "Frog In The Well" songs combine words that have a given meaning with jibberish that is fun to sing. Here are my thoughts about some of those jibberish words in that "Comb, Combo Hirum Barum" verse that Brenda shared with me:

A. Comb, Combo
The word "combo" is very similar to the word "cambo", "crambo", and "crambone". Those words are found in several versions of "Frog Went A Courtin", but, without a doubt, since the mid 1950s the most well known of those "Crambone"/"Cambo" versions of "Frog Went A-Courtin" songs is featured in the 1955 Tom & Jerry cartoon "Pecos Pest". Click for the complete video of that cartoon.

Here's a synopsis from Wikipedia: Frog Went A-Courtin" about the "Crambone" version of that Uncle Pecos sung in Tom & Jerry cartoon "Popular culture
The song ["Frog Went A-Courtin"] has been heard by many people (as "Froggie Went A-Courtin'") in the 1955 Tom and Jerry cartoon
"In [the episode] Pecos Pest, Jerry's Uncle Pecos stays with him while getting ready for a television appearance, and continues to pluck Tom's whiskers to use as guitar strings throughout the cartoon. It is an improvised version with many lyrics that are unintelligible, and many changed."
That version of "Frog Went A-Courtin" was sung by (Anglo-American) Shug Fisher, a character actor on such television shows as "Gunsmoke" and the "Beverly Hillbillies" and a member of the Western music group Sons of The Pioneers. People who stutter when they speak usually can sing without stuttering. However, in that Tom & Jerry cartoon Uncle Pecos' stutters a lot while singing that song and ends each line of the verses with the word "crambone". That word is often given as "crambo" in YouTube comments about that Uncle Pecos' song, or in transcriptions of that song. Here are two examples of those comments:
From "Tom and Jerry - Crambone"
"CharmingRogue 9 months ago
froggy went-a-ccCccCcCCcc-c-c-c-courtin, he did ride a c-c-c-c--cc-ccCCcccCCccrambone
From "Uncle Pecos Tom and Jerry Crambo w/ lyrics"
Pointless, 2012
"Where will the W-w Weddin` Supper beeee C-c-c T-t-t C-c-c - Cramboooooo? Where Will the W-w -Weddin` Supper beeee Way down yonder in the Hickin` an a an Hickin an a an wa-wa-wa and ya a Cotton wa-wa C-c eh in a eucalyptus tree Cramboooooo!"
Initially, I thought that "crambone" was a folk processed form of the word "hambone". While that might be the case, the words "crambo" or "cambo" are found in 19th century examples of "Frog Went A-Courtin". However, the word "cambo" definitely predates the 1955 Tom & Jerry cartoon version of "Frog Went A-Courtin". For example, the award winning 1941 American movie "Sergeant York" includes a version of "Frog Went A-Courtin" in which each line of the refrain ends in "cambo". Here's a comment about that song and an excerpt of that song that I found on Mama Lisa: Frog Went A-Courtin (link given above):
"March 16th, 2009 at 2:23 pm

This version or very close to it appears in the old “Sergeant York” movie about WWI’s most decorated U.S. soldier. In the movie, the mail carrier is riding a mule and singing this song. I distinctly remember the sound of the “rinktum body meachy cambell” between every line. Here’s the link where I found the lyrics. [link no longer active when I tried to access it 7/15/2015]

Frog Went A-Courtin’
Kentucky Folk Song
1. Frog went a courtin’ and he did ride.
Rinktum body minchy cambo.
Sword and buckler by his side.
Rinktum body minchy cambo.

REFRAIN: Kimaneero down to Cairo, Kimaneero Cairo.
Shaddle-addle-adababa, ladababa linktum.
Rinktum body minchee cambo....
B. gitchie gitchie gimie oh"; up steps a pennywinkle, back steps a nickel cat
The line "Gitchie gitchie gimie oh" reads very much like the refrain in the "Frog In The Well" song "Keemo Kimo" (also known as "Kemo Kimo" an "Sing Song Kitty"). The word "pennywinkle" is found in versions of that song as is the term "nip cat" (a play on the word "catnip?). "Nickel cat" is probably a folk processed form of the term "nip cat".

Here's a long excerpt about the song "Keemo Kimo" that includes an excerpt of that song. That excerpt includes the words "can't you ki'me, oh!" and the term "nip cat" which appears in the song that Brenda Paschke sent to me in 2014. It should be noted that "Keemo Kimo" is a blackfaced minstrel song* that includes the referent "darkies" which is quite offensive nowadays.

"KEMO, KIMO. AKA and see "Polly Kimo." American, Dance and Song tune; English, Air and Morris Dance Tune (2/4 time). D Major (Ford, Raven): B Flat Major (Scott). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Raven, Scott): AABB (Ford). A black-face minstrel song, popularized in England in the nineteenth century by the vocalist Sam Cowell.
In South Car'lina the darkies go
Sing song, Kitty, can't you ki'me, oh!
That's whar the white folks plant the tow,
Sing song, Kitty, can't you ki'me, oh!

Kemo, Kimo! Dar! Oh, whar?
Wid my hi, my ho, and in come Sally, singing,
Sometimes penny-winkle-lingtum, nip-cat.
Sing song, Kitty, can't you ki'me, O! ... [Ford]
Ford also prints the words to a blackface minstrel song to the same tune called "Polly Kimo" (Ford, 1940; p. 540).

The song appears to have origins in England, brought to the United States by settlers and later reworked into the minstrel song. The title 'Keemo Kimo' was an old English nonsense rhyme incorporated into the "kimo" burden of songs like the "Froggie Went a-Courtin'" family. One early Herefordshire version begins "Kemo kimo down to Cairo", for example. It received extensive development in American texts, especially African American minstrelsy, and later was "cut loose" to form a different song
Source for notated version:
Printed sources: Ford (Traditional Music in America), 1940; p. 106 (additional verses on page 418). Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 154. Scott (English Song Book), 1926; p. 82.
*"Keemo Kimo" was first published in 1854. The word "tow" in that first verse is pronounced to rhyme with "cow". "Tow" is material used to make fiber, such as hemp or flax (nowadays synthetics). [information from this Mudcat discussion thread: "Kemo Kimo info".

Here's a comment from the discussion about that song that I find quite interesting:
Subject: RE: Kemo Kimo info
From: Irish sergeant, Date: 05 Nov 02 - 04:20 PM

"According to the sources i've found (Mostly other musicians) The tune comes from an old marching song called "Frog in The Well" In most if not all of our wars up to and including the Civil War, Some slaves accompanied their master to war. Though there is no proof for it I would like to think the tune was adapted by one such slave. Whoever he or she was, they would have made a hell of a song plugger. ANd just for your information, it works very well as a march and would likely have been adapted as a work song. Kindest regards, Neil "
Here's an excerpt of a version of "Sing Song Kitty" from another Mudcat discussion thread:
Richie, Date: 23 Jan 07 - 09:16 PM

[Editor, this blogger quotes a version of "Sing Song Kitty" as it is sung by Doc Watson* from an on-line source- citation not given]

Sing Song Kitty
Way down yonder and not far off
Sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh
Jaybird died with a whoopin' cough
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh

He mo heimo beetlebug jingo
Mehe my ho pretty petimingo
Ram tom a doodlesnake rang tang a rattlebug
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh....
*"Doc." Watson (March 3, 1923 – May 29, 2012) was an [Anglo] American Grammy awards winning guitarist, songwriter, and singer of bluegrass, folk, country, blues, and gospel music.
"King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O" is another version of "Keemo Kimo", The Anglo-American singer "Chubby" Parker recorded a version of that song in 1928. Click "Chubby Parker & His Old Time Banjo - King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O" for a YouTube sound file of that song. Information about that song and lyrics for that song can be found at "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki Me O". Here's an excerpt with chord notations:
"Froggie went a courting and he did [D] ride
[G] King kong kitchie kitchie [D] ki-me-o
[G] With a sword and a pistol by his [D] side
[G] King kong kitchie kitchie [D] ki-me-o [G]

[G] Ki-mo-ke-mo ki-mo-ke
[C] Way down yonder in a hollow [D] tree
[G] An owl and a bat and a bumble [D] bee
[G] King kong kitchie kitchie [D] ki-me-o [G]..."

In conclusion, I believe that the first song that Brenda shared with me which she learned from her grandmother, Evelyn Mc Elrath contains elements from several 19th century "Frog In Well" songs: "Frog Went A-Courtin", "Keemo Kimo" ("Sing Song "Kitty") and "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki Me O".

I wasn't able to find any song sources for the other two song fragments that Brenda Paschke shared with me.

Thanks Brenda!

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Do any of these songs "sound" familiar to you? Please share your memories with us.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. I too thought a "bowl of souse" must be a reference to the stew known as scouse, but for "souse"Oxford English Dictionary gives "Various parts of a pig or other animal, esp. the feet and ears, prepared or preserved for food by means of pickling." This sense continues from the late 14th century down to today - apparently "pudding and souse" is a traditional dish in Barbados.

    The word "souse" also meant to strike hard and rhythmically though, and such words often gain a sexual application. A "long-tailed mouse" could easily be a phallic symbol: perhaps a "bowl of souse" would tend to suggest its opposite?

    1. Thanks for your input, slam2011.

      Your possibilities seem likely reasons why a grandmother might think that it is shameful to pass this verse along to children.

      That's interesting information about the term "pudding and souse" in Barbados. I'm always on the look out for cultural information about Barbados as my maternal grandmother was from that Caribbean island.

  2. I sent Brenda Paschke a link to this post and received this response:

    On Friday, July 17, 2015:
    "Thank you. So much fun reading this. Our family history goes way back to Scotland and England 1600's and 1700's. Brenda"
    Given that information, it's possible that Brenda's grandmother could have learned some of these rhymes/songs from her Scottish or English ancestors.

  3. Hey, Azizi! 1) Thanks for all the info in this post! 2) Thought I'd point out that the lyric in one of the links you give,, has a variation on the 'bowl of souse' in it:
    'Oh I jus come from da white folks house
    sing song Polly want a kimee O
    a something in a bucket of souce
    sing song Polly want a kimee O'
    -- so that bit at least is also linked to the froggy and keemo-kimo roots :D have a great day!

    1. Thanks, squareD.

      I appreciate you pointing out that example.

      That frog (who fell in the well and went a'courtin) sure dide get around, didn't he? :o)