The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
"Yas Yas Duck"

"Yas Yas Duck"

#269 / Oct. 20 Podcast

When The Flood first started doing this song some 40 years ago, Charlie’s sweet mother asked where such an odd little tune came from. We didn’t want to tell her the truth.

“Mom, it was a popular party song in the late 1920s.”

Well, that wasn’t a complete lie. It’s just that the “parties” where this song was born started very late at night and were in a part of town where nice girls generally didn’t go.

Stump’s Song

The song we’ve always called “Yas Yas Duck” is an old hokum jazz tune that has been recorded under a lot of different names for nearly a century now.

The first recording was made in St. Louis by the great piano pounder James “Stump” Johnson who released it in January 1929 as “The Duck Yas-Yas-Yas.” He recorded his song at least three times during his career, which ended with his death at 67 in 1969.

Also in 1929, new versions started cropping up. Flood heroes Tampa Red and Georgia Tom recorded a version on May 13, 1929. That’s where we learned it.

But a particularly popular rendition also was done by Oliver Cobb and his Rhythm Kings on Aug. 16, 1929, about a year before his untimely death.

In most versions, the song is perhaps best known for its opening lyrics:

Mama bought a rooster,
Thought it was a duck.
Brought it to the table with its legs straight up …

And, Uh, About That “Party”…

Wikipedia just tells it like it is (or was). “The song,” it reports, “is a ‘whorehouse tune,’ a popular St. Louis party song." (See there, mom? It says it right there! “Party song …”)

The title, Wikipedia goes on, is explained by the verse that goes, Shake your shoulders, shake 'em fast, if you can't shake your shoulders, shake your yas-yas-yas.

The Duck in the ‘60s

Folkies learned the song in 1961 when the legendary Dave Van Ronk released it as "Yas Yas Yas" on his Van Ronk Sings album (though Dave’s source was a variant recorded in the Bahamas by Blind Blake & his Royal Victoria Hotel Calypso Band, released as "Yes! Yes! Yes!" in 1951).

Meanwhile, in 1967 cartoonist R. Crumb used the song in his comic strip album Zap Comix, No. 0, quoting it in the first panel of a story called "Ducks Yas Yas."

Crumb also later recorded the tune with his band, The Good Tone Banjo Boys, on a transparent red vinyl 78 rpm stereo record in 1972.

Our Take on the Tune

For us, “Yas Yas Duck” became a kind of connective tissue between today and our jug band roots of the 1970s and ’80s. That’s why we put it on our first commercial album back in 2001, and why it still gets trotted out regularly at rehearsals, just so newer folks coming to the band room can learn it. Recently, it was Jack Nuckols’ turn.

As you can hear here, Jack’s drumming has brought us a whole new class of cool. Whether it’s his tasty solos, or rocking along with Randy’s bass under Charlie’s vocals, or making his wise and witty contributions to the ensemble supporting Danny and Sam’s solos, Jack’s rhythms have us all wanting to get up and dance.

The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
Each week The 1937 Flood, West Virginia's most eclectic string band, offers a free tune from a recent rehearsal, show or jam session. Music styles range from blues and jazz to folk, hokum, ballad and old-time. All the podcasts, dating back to 2008, are archived on our website; you and use the archive for free at: