Monday, January 10, 2011

Nail That Catfish-- Steve Rosen

A recent live performance at the Brew Pub, with the usual suspects.

Nail That Catfish on the Tree sounds like a very old tune passed down to us from the Druids or something, but in actuality it was written by a fellow named Steve Rosen.  If you've never heard of Steve, allow me the pleasure of introducing you to him.  He's a very interesting fellow (as are almost all Old Time musicians and fans, in my humble estimation).  From his home page: 

    "Nail That Catfish to the Tree" is a fiddle tune i wrote a long time ago and people seem to like to play it. The first recording of it was by the band the "Volo Bogtrotters", on our first release.  Since then, many bands have recorded it, and I have made tens of dollars on royalties.
If you would like to record the tune on an album which you are selling, there is a standard royalty rate (maybe 9 cents per copy these days) and I am a working musician and can surely use it. 

   Now some folks might say that it ain't Old Time unless it was written by Anonymous, but I would beg to disagree.  This is a fine Old Time Song.  It just happens to have been composed by a guy in the present century instead of the 19th.  

   I laughed when Steve mentioned the business of making tens of dollars in royalties, but it speaks to a serious problem.  When you create a really popular song, people may tend to assume that it has been handed down for centuries, Hence the songwriter doesn't get the credit (or the tens of dollars) that he/she  deserves. 
Here's Steve.  Here's his homepage: .

Now what about the lyrics to this song?  Well as far as I know, they are as follows:


(as interpreted by Libby Eddy and others from our jam). 

As far as I know that's it.  It's a one word song!  Here is a version with some of our jam members at a house party a few years back (thanks to Richard Pierce for recording this).  There's a lot of background noise at first, but things pick up as Bob Shank switches from banjo to hammer dulcimer at about the two minute point:

Still I would guess that there have to be some words to it in someone's head somewhere. I think if you listen to the first two measures you can fairly here the title sung to them.  In my head I hear something like

Nail the catfish to the tree!  Diddle diddle diddle diddle
Nail that catfish to the tree!  Diddle diddle diddle diddle da! 
Blah blah blah....
Blah blah blah....

A family from Munich Germany, calling themselves the Munich Beer Garden Stringband, has changed the title to Drop the Catfish in the Beer. That sounds like something Germans would do (my dad's family is German so I can vouch for them). 

Perhaps then we should have a contest to write some complete lyrics, as this is definitely a hole in the music world that needs to be filled. 

Now, I have to admit that I don't know why you would nail a catfish to a tree.  One story has been posted on the internet, 
from which we get the story:
[Steve]  was on the banks of the Mississippi River watching a fisherman who hauled out, after a tremendous struggle, a huge channel catfish.     Now, I mean catfish are ugly but a channel cat is that ugly and really big.  We’re talking 300-plus pounds or more!  Steve involuntarily exclaimed, “I wonder how you skin one of those monsters?”  The fisherman overheard and, without missing a beat, said, “There’s only one way to skin a channel cat.  You’ve got to nail that catfish to the tree.”  He then proceeded to detail how to slice around the gills and then, using a pair of vice grips, how to pull the skin off from head to tail.
  But the title could simply be to some random neurons firing in Steve Rosen's brain.

At least driving a nail through a catfish would be one way to make sure that the critter is dead.  Catfish are legendary for their ability to survive.  Down south they can survive out of the water for quite some times, and sometimes they get stranded after a flood they can kind of walk around on their fins and they have been known to even attack small dogs.  Feisty little critters.    

True story:  one time my son caught a big catfish and I threw it in the ice chest so that it froze and became hard as a board.  Then at home I took it out and washed it to get it ready to cook and it kind of thawed out and came back to life and the gills started moving as it started breathing.  That freaked me out.