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Tune History

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The Stories Behind Your Favorite Tunes


Shove The Pig’s Foot A Little Further In The Fire

A Crafty Tactic To Conceal Porcine Pilferage?

Shove/Push That Pig’s/Hog’s Foot A Little Closer To/Farther In/Further Into/The Fire/Bed/Under The/ Bed/Cover

Is this fiddle tune based on an old tale about stealing a pig? Is it about a tool? Is it about cooking? How is a bed involved? As in many old tunes, the history is pretty murky, but here are some possibilities for this Old Time staple, usually played in the key of G:

1.  A pig’s foot is another name for a fire poker or smithing tool. 

Sorry, but despite what we have all been told over the years, multiple blacksmithing sources and lack of a companion fiddle tune put this theory in last place.

2. A pig’s foot describes  a particular kind of crowbar.

There are lots of references to a pig’s foot in crowbar world because of what the tip looks like. In fact, a railroad spike extraction tool is commonly called a pig’s foot. Depending on the tip shape, many other crowbar animal descriptions abound - starting with Crowbar itself, there's also Cat’s Claw, Crow Foot, Gooseneck, etc. The Italian term for crowbar is “un piede di porco” (a pig's foot) and in Portuguese, it is a "pé-de-cabra" (a goat's foot). Sounds like we are on the right track, but what is missing? None of these implements have anything to do with a fire, a bed, or, more importantly, a fiddle tune.

3. Pig’s foot refers to an actual pig’s foot. Pig’s feet are commonly eaten and need to be cooked, so now we have a strong premise that combines the foot and the fire. There are even some old song lyrics via Joel Shimberg via Mike Seeger that say “ Shove that pig’s foot into the fire, do it now Miss Liza”. Now we have a lyrics, and a fire to put the pig's foot closer to, or further in, etc.

4. The title of the tune has a specific origin, but changed over time.

Old Time Party presents this possibility: 

This song derives from an old slave folktale which later became a chant and finally a tune. The story goes like this. A slave had just stolen from his master’s larder a shoat (in other variants just its haunch) and had hidden the meat beneath his bed sheets (again in other variants it was hidden under the bed itself). The slave was in his cabin telling his wife of his prize when the master, along with a friend, appeared in the door of the slave’s cabin, requesting that the slave demonstrate his fine skill on the fiddle. Aware that the pig’s foot was exposed and its discovery, which appeared imminent, would cost him a whipping or worse, the slave quickly took down his fiddle and began to play and sing:

Shove that pig’s foot further in the bed

Further in the bed

Further in the bed

Shove that pig’s foot further in the bed

Katie, Katie, Katie, can’t you hear me now

The master and his friend watched the performance with glee while his wife Katie heard the message (hidden in plain sight) and covertly slid the pig’s leg beneath the bedsheets. At the end of the song the master exclaimed, “well, there’s a song I’ve never heard before!” and he and his friend gave the fiddler a short round of applause before making their exit. Not that Old Time Party was trying to be a scholarly research journal, but there is no documentation listed to support this story and the link for the cited source does not exist any longer. But all is not lost - The title “Push The Hog's Feet Under The Bed” is referenced in the book Negro Folk Rhymes Wise and Otherwise (collected in the early 1900’s -published in 1922) by Tennessee author Thomas Washington Talley. Unfortunately there are no other details, but it does lend a degree of support to the slave story origin. 

Over time, the “under the bed/covers” morphed to “closer to/further in the fire”. We do not know why but, as you know, words are changed in folk music all the time. Western North Carolina fiddler Marcus Martin is often cited as the source for the "...Closer To The Fire” title and the melody commonly played today. He said he learned it from his father, Rowan, who learned the tune while employed as a logger and rail worker. Rowan would have had to gotten it prior to the early 1880’s in order to pass it on to Marcus, who was born in 1881. A Marcus Martin version, credited to "Traditional" appeared on the “Cold Mountain”(2003) movie soundtrack, but was renamed “Ruby with the Eyes that Sparkle.” ed. - Maybe Ruby was someone's very special pig.

John Hartford does a version called “Shove That Hog’s Foot Further In The Bed '' which he got from West Virginia fiddler Ed Haley (1885- 1951). On the “In Search Of Ed Haley” site, Lynn Davis, friend and Haley biographer says, “Well, I know about the hog’s foot thing. He said they went someplace to play and they didn’t have anything to eat and those boys went out and stole a hog and said they brought it in and butchered it and heard somebody coming. It was the law. They run in and put that hog in the bed and covered it up like it was somebody sleeping. And Ed was sitting there fiddling and somebody whispered to him, said, ‘Ed, that hog’s foot’s stickin’ out from under the cover there.’ So he started fiddling and singing, ‘Shove that hog’s foot further under the cover…’ He made it up as he went.” As you see, the Haley story line is remarkably similar to the slave folk tale, and his lyrics are the same ones reported by Old Time Party. Draw your own conclusions. The Haley melody is not the same as Marcus Martin's, is fairly notey, and in A modal tuning. There are no known recordings of Haley playing the tune, but we will assume that Hartford, who studied Haley extensively, plays it like the original.

We will likely never know the exact origin of this tune, and that's OK. It's much more important to play it with friends and have a good time!

Shove The Pig's Foot a Little Further In The Fire"

Marcus Martin

"Shove That Pig's Foot a Little Farther Into the Fire"

Fiddle Tune Forensics with Hayes Griffin

“Shove That Hog’s Foot Further In The Bed ''

John Hartford

Ruby With The Eyes That SparkleStuart Duncan & Dirk Powell
00:00 / 03:24
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