Shove the Pig’s Foot a Little Bit Further Into the Fire




One story claims that a “pig’s foot” is a tool used by a blacksmith (or alternatively, at a foundry) to hold a bit of pig iron (“pig” iron…how convenient) in a fire. While this explanation is nearly entirely wrong, there may be a grain of truth in it, as we will shortly see.

The fact is that this tune, like many, has seen its title change slightly over time.

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.

In other variants, the slave’s wife’s name is Ginny, but the story is the same. The tale was a favorite among the miserable slaves who could always benefit from a laugh, especially from a yarn involving a slave pulling such a trick — two tricks really — on his loathsome master.

In time it became a field holler and later a fiddle tune. When Marcus Martin’s father learned it from white loggers working along the railroad lines in Western North Carolina, the title had apparently changed. Perhaps they were ignorant of the story and didn’t see why a pig’s foot would be in a bed, so they changed the word to fire. Perhaps they thought “bed” referred to a bed of coals and made, what they thought to be a reference to barbecue, more explicit.

Or perhaps these railroad men were familiar with the tool known as a “pig’s foot” — a short crowbar with a cloven end — and took delight in the idea of the double-entendre permitted by such an image. Because of course, “poking the fire” was a well-known euphemism for the act of sex. Recall the famous story in which James Monroe expressed to Thomas Jefferson his surprise that James Madison was able to engage in carnal acts with a wife as homely as Dolley Madison. Jefferson replied with a broad grin, “My dear young man, I am quite certain that the President does not find the need to admire the mantel whilst he is poking the fire!”


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