Old Joe Clark is a folk song, a mountain ballad that was "sung during World War I and later by soldiers from eastern Kentucky." An early version was printed in 1918, as sung in Virginia at that time. Joe Clark was born in 1839, a mountaineer who was murdered in 1885. There are about 90 stanzas in various versions of the song. The tune is in mixolydian mode.
The song has been recorded by many artists, including:
- 1924: Cowan Powers and his Family Band - third best selling album that year
- 1927: Ben Jarrell
- 1940s: Woody Guthrie
- 1962: Kingston Trio
- 1985: Uncle Charlie Osborne
The melody was adapted by Mojo Nixon, Jello Biafra, and the Toadliquors for "Let's Go Burn Old Nashville Down" for the Prairie Home Invasion album. On guitarist Pat Metheny's "80/81" album, bassist Charlie Haden quotes from the melody of "Old Joe Clark" during his solo on "Two Folk Songs 1st | 2nd." Haden had also quoted from the song in his earlier solo in Ornette Coleman's "Ramblin'" (from 1960's Change of the Century), and the same unmistakable riff shows up as well in Haden's solo bass performance "Taney County" (on Haden's 1987 Quartet West album). Haden's preoccupation with the song is evident, too, on Rambling Boy (a reference to the 1960 Coleman song...?), the 2008 album credited to "Charlie Haden Family & Friends"; on this great collection of collaborative interpretations of standards, it's none other than Jack Black who takes the lead singing "Old Joe Clark." The riff of Ian Dury's 1977 single "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" originates from "Old Joe Clark".
- "Old Joe Clark Ballad". Historical Marker #1382. Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky Department of Highways. 1970. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
- Clark, Lisa. "Old Joe Clark Biography". The Rosinators. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
- Anthony, Wendy (February 2007). "Building a Traditional Tune Repertoire: Old Joe Clark". Mandolin Sessions (Mel Bay Publications). Retrieved 2008-08-26.
- Brody, David (1983). The Fiddler's Fake Book. New York: Oak Publications. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-8256-0238-2.
- 1927: Ben Jarrell
- Building a Traditional Tune Repertoire by Wendy Anthony
- BluegrassNet Bluegrass Lyrics
- Digital Tradition Mirror - Old Joe Clark
- Folk Den