Clarence Tross - Hound Chase (1960)

Clarence Tross plays “Hound Chase”, also known as “Fox Chase”, “Old Rattler Run the Fox”, “The Fox and the Hounds”, or simply “The Hounds”, among various other names for Pete Hoover, Mike Seeger, and Marj Seeger on March 12th, 1960 in Durgon, West Virginia on the front porch of Tross’ neighbors house. “Fox Chase” can be traced back to traditional Irish and Scottish piping tunes about Fox Hunting, one of which is known as “The Fox Chase”.

Another likely origin for the American version of the tune are West African “hunter” songs played on antecedents to the banjo, as well as anthropomorphic trickster figures in West African folklore. The characterization of the fox as a malevolent trickster (rather than a sympathetic protagonist as is the case in the original Irish “The Fox Chase”), as well as the imagery of a son learning to hunt from his father are all likely West African additions to the American version.

Other elements such as spoken word delivery are also likely West African elements, with comparative examples in akonting/ekonting music as well as the music of griots/jeli. Similarly to The Coo Coo Bird (or “The Cuckoo”), black banjoists often incorporated musical mimesis into Fox Chase, which is the imitation of everyday sounds within a piece of music.

This is seen particularly in Dink Roberts’ (as well as Tross’) version of Fox Chase in which the natural sounds of humans (i.e., crying) and animals (chickens, a galloping mule, etc etc) are imitated in short, distinct riffs.

This element can be both traced back to to the Irish version of the tune, as well as Sub-Saharan African music, where musical mimesis is also observed, such as among the San/Khoisan peoples of Southern Africa (local animals such as giraffes, hyenas, and gazelles, are imitated in repetitive riffs on their musical bows). Musical mimesis is also seen within the Afro-Brazilian tradition of capoeira in Brazil (i.e., the call of the horned screamer, a type of bird native to Brazil, is imitated in the berimbau toque “Iuna”, similarly to the way the cuckoo’s call is imitated in “The Coo Coo Bird”).