Papa's On The House Top

It's a mystery to me why this song isn't better known and more often covered. A spirited romp of a blues with a lyric that tilts toward the surreal, it defies you to take it — or yourself — too seriously. Leroy Carr is most often given credit for the song and for all I know he is indeed the composer. But it does have that cobbled-together feel of so many traditional songs that, like old houses, have been the work of many hands. Carr (on piano) recorded it with ace sideman Scrapper Blackwell (on guitar) in the early 1930's. Notice that in their version the sung portions (verse and chorus) are 8 bars long but that for the instrumental break they use a 12 bar blues form. We'll skip that complication and use the 8-bar form throughout.

Audio Clip: Leroy Carr on Papa's on the House Top


I first came across this song whilst trolling the Jim Kweskin catalogue, as I am wont to do, in search of great old songs. His mid-60's Jug Band was an influential, inventive and good-natured assemblage that featured some very talented musicians, including then-husband-and-wife Geoff and Maria Muldaur and Bill Keith, fresh off a stint as banjo player with Bill Monroe. Their arrangement is altogether different than the original: slower, and featuring harmonized fingerstyle guitars.

Audio Clip: Jim Kweskin's Jug Band on Papa's On The House Top

More recently, Tim and Mollie O'Brien covered the song live on a Christmas edition of Mountain Stage. (Maybe the Christmas tie-in is that Papa's on the housetop stringing lights.) Their version has a nice twist: a bar of only 2 beats toward the end of the progression. It work so well you hardly notice it, but it would throw you in a jam if you weren't ready. So count it out out, just in case they ask you to sit in next time they pass through town.

Audio Clip: The O'Briens on Papa's On The House Top