Sunday, September 1, 2013

Jawbone Walk, Jawbone Talk (information & lyrics)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a three part series about songs that include the verse "jawbone walk, jawbone talk/jawbone eat with a knife and fork." This post contains information and lyrics of several old time songs from the United States that include that verse.

Part II showcases one sound file and two videos of "Jawbone Walk" songs from the United States. Click for that post.

Part III of this series focuses on the Caribbean song "Tingalayo". Click for that post.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

From Google Book: The Alabama Folk Lyric: A Study in Origins and Media of Dissemination
edited by Ray Broadus Browne
The Jawbone Song . 120 [page 311]

[This excerpt is presented under the heading "Pseudo Negro Songs]

"The jawbone as a musical instrument and as humor in song has long been popular, especially with Negroes. Scarborough (On The Trail Of Negro Folk-Songs, pp. 102-104), printed several Negro songs mentioning the jawbone as an instrument – “the jawbone of an horse, or ox or mule, with the teeth left in, which makes a queer song when a key or piece of metal was drawn across the teeth.”
For an interesting headnote see Randolph (II, 333). The comic value of the jawbones were recognized by the minstrels and taken up by them. White (American Negro Folk-Songs, pp 305, 333) cites an old minstrel song entitled “The Old Jawbone” was printed in the The Negro Minstrel (Glasgow, 1850, p. 14) and “Walk Jaw Bone” was published in the Negro Forget-Me-Not Songbook (1847, p.55)...

It was also published in Christy’s Negro Melodies No 4 (Phila. ca. 1854, p.18) and in Old Dog Tray Songster (Baltimore, 18-, p. 248), in a version that deserves printing here for comparison:
De jawbone hung agin de wall
De gals all thought dat it would fall.
But dar it hung till de gals all gone,
Den hurra for de old jawbone.

Den walk Jawbone, ginger log
Jaw bone gwine de whole hog...

[Includes text of two songs called “Old Jawbone” collected from two sources in 1952 and 1953]
"agin" - against
"hurra" - hurray

Posted by Guest Richie, October 10, 2002
"The origins and branches of Jawbone/Jawbone Walk and the Irish "Walk Jawbone" are numerous. The lyrics seem to be somewhat interchangeable. The tune has minstrel origins, with 'jawbone' probably referring to a stock character in such shows, says Charles Wolfe (1991).

There are early biblical references to the Jawbone: The jawbone was used by Samson, who slew a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass.

In the US, the Jaw Bone is a dance, an instrument, a stock character in minstrel shows as well as a fiddle tune and song.

Here is some info about the uses of the jawbone as an instrument:

"The jawbone was also a recognized instrument in 19th century African-American traditional music." Ceolas

"Now the ol' jawbone, that is a humble instrument. It does help by the way, if the jawbone is removed from the head, stripped and cleaned and dried. Some people keep the lower jaw intact so it has a U shape suitable for carrying. But only one side works too, should you want to share." From

"A jawbone played with a stick so the teeth would rattle was a minstrel percussion instrument - probably borrowed from blacks." From Leadbelly page 19, Charles Wolfe, Kip Lornel.

"The Jaw Bone was a plantation music/minstrel show icon where it was often used as a rhythm instrument in place of, or along side of, bones. Hence there are a lot of mid 19th century songs, some parodies of each other, with Jawbone titles or references. Steven Foster sang of how Angelina Baker left him to weep a tear and beat on the old Jawbone "De Old Jawbone" chorus goes:

"Walk Jawbone with the Turkey too, Never mind that Boogerboo." ...

Hans Nathan (in his book Dan Emmett) records it was sung at a Tennessee frolic in the early 1830's, and it has some similarities to minstrel Dan Emmett's tune (recorded by Uncle Dave Macon and the Fruit Jar Drinkers) "Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel, I Believe." The fiddle tune "Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel" is also known as "Old Jawbone."...

Wolfe found the tune in old minstrel collections, some of which indicate the song was associated with the "Colored Saboyard" Cool White- Words and Music by Silas Sexton Steele "Walk, Jaw Bone" (1844)(written expressly for Cool White)[Source: pages 210-211 from "Minstrel Songs, Old and New" (1883).

Library of Congress recordings of the tune/song prior to WWII were collected from Florida to Ohio. See also the variant "Johnson City Rag." Various ditties have been sung to the melody."
[Also, here are two posts on that same discussion threead by by "Guest, Oct. 11, 2002]

"The use of a jawbone, the teeth scraped with a hollow stick, was noted in Florida in 1837 (Epstein, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals, p. 156). The jawbone was mentioned in 1777 (Epstein, p. 49). Probably was a practice brought over from Africa."

" An 1856 edition of one of the minstrel volumes was printed in Ireland. I have lost the reference to the title of the book, but it did contain the Jawbone song. It also appeared in "The Negro Minstrel," Glasgow, 1850 (Talley, Negro Folk Rhymes).

Minstrel songs from the States were very popular in the British Isles, and the minstrel troupes went over and played there. The books and tours may be the "Irish" source."*
A previous commenter had asked whether there was a source of the "Jawbone" song from Ireland. Another commenter in that discussion thread or another discussion thread about this song or the song "Tingalayo" indicated that the referent to "Irish" here may have actually been "Scottish". [As an aside, there is a "Jawbone Walk" in a famous park in Edinburgh, Scotland. That walkway is so named because a whale's jawbone is placed at the end of this tree lined path. Consequently, that walk may have no connection to the Jawbone Walk song.] In any event, the information about minstrel groups [some of whom were Black] performing in Europe is quite interesting.

Also note that Thomas W. Talley was an African American educator & folklorist. His 1922 book Negro Folk Rhymes was a collection of songs that were sung by African Americans. That said, all of those songs didn't originate with African Americans.

Furthermore, with regard to minstrel songs and old time songs, in the 19th century and early 20th century the referent "Negro songs" sometimes referred to songs that were composed by White people in [supposedly] imitation of "Negroes". Those songs may have include actual verses from Black plantation dance songs, but those sources usually can't be identified.

From a comment that I posted December 2004 on this Mudcat thread:
Lyr Req: Lula Gal (Jawbone Walk)
"Also, I found a similar verse in a passage about plantation dances and instruments in Paul Oliver's "The Story of The Blues" {Radnor,PA, Clinton Book Co; third printing, 1973;p.49}

In Texas, where the dances were subject to many ethnic influences, Mance Lipscomb played the Buck and Wing, a plantation dance with bird-like steps and flapping arms, the Buzzard Lope, with hunched shoulders and loose-limbed slides, the Hop-Scop which was danced in "stop-time", with suspended rhythm, and the Heel and Toe Polka which hinted at European origin. Most blues guitarist of an older generation, or songsters, and musicians played for such balls for both white and coloured people, who danced similar dances. Henry Thomas, "Ragtime Texas", called out the sets of his Old Country Stomp while strumming his guitar and playing his pan-pipe "quills".

Get your partners, promenade
Promenade 'round the hall
Fall in this side of the hall
take yo'(your)partners-Promenade

Miss Jenny eat, Miss Jenny talk,
Miss Jenny eat with knife and fork

The playing of "quills" is an indication of Thomas' generation.
A Pan's pipe [is]of but three reeds, made from single joints of common brake and called by the English speaking Negroes "the quills"."
The "jawbone walk, jawbone talk"/jawbone eat with a knife and fork" verse is also found in the Caribbean Calypso song "Tingalayo. Read a comment about how that could have occurreed in Part III of this series.

Example #1

Samson, shout! Samson, moan!
Samson, bring on yō' Jawbone.
Jawbone, walk! Jawbone, talk!
Jawbone, eat wid a knife an fo'k.
Walk, Jawbone! Jinny, come alon'!
Yon'er goes Sally wid de bootees on.
Jawbone, ring! Jawbone, sing!
Jawbone, kill dat wicked thing.

Source: Thomas W. Talley Negro Folk Rhymes: Wise And Otherwise (originally published in 1922).
Electronic book can be found at

Example #2

My wife died in Tennessee,
She sent her jawbone back to me.
Laid my jawbone on the fence,
Ain’t seen nothin' of my jawbone since.

Old jawbone, Jinny get along,
In come Sally with the big boots on.

Who's been here since I've been gone?
A pretty little girly with the red dress on.
She pulled it off, I put it on,
In come Sally with the big boots on.

Old Jawbone, &c.

Jawbone walk and Jawbone talk,
Jawbone eat with a knife and fork.
Laid my jawbone on the fence,
Ain’t seen nothin' of my jawbone since.

Old Jawbone, &c.
Posted by Bud Savoie
Date: 21 Jan 01 - 01:19 PM

Thanks to all those who have collected and published these old time songs. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.

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