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Clarence Ashley: “The Cuckoo”

This clip is about half interview and half performance. Check out Ashley’s bio. It’s real Americana, and told by the man who lived it. Ashley began performing in medicine shows in the Appalachians in 1911. He isn’t well known, but had a big influence. Indeed, the Wikipedia profile credits him with the first recorded version of “The House of the Rising Sun.” The profile points out artists upon whom he had impact:

Several notable musicians cite Ashley as an important influence. Roy Acuff once worked medicine shows with Ashley, and Ashley probably taught him “House of the Rising Sun” (which Acuff recorded during 1938) and “Greenback Dollar.”[2] Folk musician Doc Watson began his recording career with Ashley in 1960 and played in Ashley’s band throughout much of the decade. Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia once said in an interview that he learned clawhammer picking from “listening to Clarence Ashley”. Other folk musicians influenced by Ashley include Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Jean Ritchie.[2](Continue Reading…)

Here are versions of “The Cuckoo” by John Renbourn and Doc Watson. It’s possible that Ashley plays on Watson’s version. The English folk song has quite a history.