Click on the picture to hear a clip.

Hollerin' is not for the weak of spirit. It's a long-distance communications device, alarm system, karaoke alternative, and slightly questionable method of telling your girlfriend that you're coming over so she should brush her hair. It's also one of the oldest and most exhilarating-sounding methods of communication that I've heard. This compilation of music on Rounder Records documents a contest held in Spivey's Corner, North Carolina between the years of 1969-1975. If you have a history of Hollerin' in your family, please tell me about it! Read some history and listen to excerpts here. It was Leonard Emmanuel, 1971 Hollerin' champion, who said it best: "There was just as much a need of hollerin' as there was of eatin' at that day and time."

Special thanks to Joshua Burkett of the beloved Mystery Train Records in Amherst, MA for sending me this album a few years ago.

This post is part of a series about music that disorients the senses. I've found that some of the most amazing and jarring auditory illusions are not the usual scientifically distilled or synthesized ones, they're often found in folk music and made by people's voices. Of course, in a way, it makes perfect sense - the vocal chords are some of the most complex and advanced musical instruments in existence. They are ubiquitously available, and we've been experimenting with them for longer than any other sound-making implement.


  1. I look forward to hearing more of the series, Meara!

    I am not sure how to contact you here on Boing Boing; I wanted to suggest another entry in the category of “music that disorients the senses”:

    Don Joyce, a member of the sound collage prankster band Negativland, produces the “Over The Edge” radio show for KPFA-Berkeley. He did a program called (I believe) “The History of Noise” several years ago that might be of interest to you. You can find the radio web site at:


  2. My roommate had this album about 15 years ago.
    After a month of Hollerin’ I was ready to commit a homicide.

    Great stuff, just not for heavy rotation.

  3. My hollerin’ story… My mom grew up in Korea in the ’50s. When I was growing up in Virginia in the late ’70s, Mom would yell for me when she wanted me to come home. These were looong, drawn out yells. Think of a cross between Johnny Weissmueller’s Tarzan yell and the roars in My Neighbor Totoro. If I wasn’t home by the end of her third holler, it meant an ass-whipping. Anyway, one day, I go down to a friend’s house many blocks away. I lived in the suburbs and all the streets were named after trees. For weeks, I had been collecting unopened bottles of beer tossed on the side of the road. Mostly Stroh’s and Lowenbraus, from what I recall. The plan was for me and my friend to drink those beers (we were both nine, maybe ten). So, we’re in a culvert behind his house, drinking the godawfulest tasting piss, when my pal says he hears something. “Your mom’s yelling for you,” he says. “No way, it’s too far.” We shut up and I can hear my Mom’s voice just hanging in the wind. In a panic, I jump out of the ditch, leaving my friend to drink alone (which he still does, happy to do so) and start running back home: past Maple, Spruce, Chestnut, Poplar, Cedar, Pine and Elm. I didn’t make it back in time for the end of her third yell, but I didn’t get the belt because you don’t give a whipping to a puking kid.

    1. Wait, what? Unopened bottles of beer tossed on the side of the road? I understand the words, but they don’t make any sense.

      Loved the hollerin’. Spine chilling.

  4. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a hog farmer in southwestern Georgia back in the 1960’s through to the early 80’s. He’s gone now, as I imagine all the guys on the Hollerin’ album are, as they were all from the same generation.

    I do remember that, even at an advanced age, my grandfather could effortlessly emit hog calls (similar to hollering) that would make your eyeballs rattle in their sockets. He would do that “mocking the fox” thing too, usually when playing with his German Shepherd dog, Major (or, before Major, there was Sarge).

    Meanwhile, I had some second and third cousins on my father’s side, who lived in Rabun County, Georgia. Some of them were closer to doing what’s in this album, though they moved freely between hollering and yodeling as the mood struck them, and mostly as an accompaniment to the bluegrass music they enjoyed playing. Again, those old-timers are gone now.

    Among the vocal styles associated with the very rural, hollering is definitely the most obscure. Isn’t it interesting, too, how this kind of communication always seems to show up in relatively isolated, mountain- and tundra-dwelling cultures? You don’t hear about it too much in places like the midwestern US or rural France. It’s only in the mountains or subarctic places. Wild places, where whoops and calls could carry for miles in the open, undisturbed air.

    1. Among the vocal styles associated with the very rural, hollering is definitely the most obscure.

      I suspect that Eephing is even more obscure (and I’d love to find out more about it).

  5. Amazing! My plate has been filled with obscure sounds today and this was a lovely dessert. The audio reminds me of the yodelling at the beginning of some Goofy skiing toon.

  6. “the vocal chords are some of the most complex and advanced musical instruments in existence”

    That’s some lovely hyperbole, but you’d be hard-pressed to prove it.

  7. In the early ’70s as the back to the land movement brought people to the hills of Northern California, we used similar hollers to call across the canyons from homestead to homestead. Sometimes for social gatherings and sometimes as warnings about police raids or other happenings in the neighborhood. Then CB radios took over and later on cell phones became the tools to communicate but I can still hear my friends hollering that ” CAMP is on the road” or ” Dinner and music at Big Ben’s house.” The echoes still linger somewhere in the mists.

  8. When I was 10 or 12, we had a milk cow named Ethel. She was really easy to milk, very patient and with long teats. My Dad used to call her across the pasture, up to a half-mile away: “Come, Boss; Cooome Boss!” I learned how to do it, too, and I always imagined it was “Boss” as in the one who makes you show up twice a day to milk her, but it is a fact that the scientific name of cattle is Bos taurus.

  9. Even though I sold my original LP copy of this a few years ago, I kept my cd copy even though I never listen to it, it’s one of those records I feel a need to keep just because it’s so unique– I don’t think there are any other hollerin records out there. Several times I found myself putting it on and trying to play along to the hollerin on guitar or drums.

  10. No hollerin’ anecdotes here, but I thought I would put in a word about kulning, a tradition of cow-calling in Sweden with related traditions in other northern mountainous regions. It’s uncanny and totally cool, travels up to 5 km, and comes attached to all these really interesting details about herding communities and their lives and practices. For instance, it was really a women’s vocal tradition, because they would go up past the treeline with the cattle to the summer pastures, and needed a way of communicating with the family in the summer village below, with each other on different mountains, with the cattle themselves… they could even use it to ward off wild animals if necessary.
    See examples at http://www.metafilter.com/58637/swedish-cowcalling-songs
    and an overview at http://www.isvroma.it/public/pecus/rosenberg.pdf

  11. It may disorient the senses but it also expands the mind.

    Many thanks to you for this series and to BB for thinking of inviting you.

  12. I grew up about 30 minutes from Spivey’s Corner, where this “album” was recorded. Spivey’s Corner is basically a crossroad, much like the rest of southeastern North Carolina. The Hollerin’ Contest takes place on the 3rd Saturday in June of each year, and brings in the best ‘hollerers’ from around the US. If you didn’t grow up in the area, it’s definitely a bit of a culture shock, as you’ll probably have more teeth, more clothing, and more intelligence than most that will be surrounding you. But, if you’re in NC during June, it’s something that you should check out, if only for the experience.

    1. ” If you didn’t grow up in the area, it’s definitely a bit of a culture shock, as you’ll probably have more teeth, more clothing, and more intelligence than most that will be surrounding you.” I’m confused as to how this bit of racist self-loathing gets posted when I just finished reading the “Alice in Wackoland” comments.A couple of mods certainly had no problem calling out those racist “teabaggers”. Is there more than one standard?

      1. What exactly was racist about Anon’s comment? I wasn’t so keen on the “intelligence” comment either, but I see nothing “racist”.

        1. “Within the US, particularly the Southeast, folklore researchers have found the practice of hollerin’ to be present primarily among traditionally black communities. Although hollerin’ is rarely found to have survived in white communities, many folklorist believe it to have once been widespread throughout the region and practiced by both whites and blacks alike. Oddly, in Sampson County, North Carolina, the reverse of the norm is true; while hollerin’ has continued to live on in white localities, there is little or no evidence of its existence among the black population. (The Rounder Collective, Hollerin’ Record Jacket, 1975, p.5).”
          It appears that according to the article, the toothless, poorly dressed, less intelligent people doing the hollering are members of the local white community.
          Reverse that for me and see how it sounds.

  13. Having grown up on a farm, hollerin’ was a frequent and functional vocal activity.

    We hollered in the cattle – “Wooooooooooooo-Eeeee!!! Wooooooooooooo-Eeeee!!!” and they’d come running for the hay (the cow and calf herd) or corn in the feed troughs (feeder steers).

    My mom would holler when supper was ready and my brother and I were off somewhere on the farm.

    And then, of course, there were times when you’d just up and commence hollerin’ because you were out in the middle of nowhere, and hollerin’ is fun.

  14. That “Lulu’s My Darling” melody sounds the same as “Down In The Valley” from Stir Crazy.

  15. Wow – when I was growing up in St. Louis, Missouri – the city of St. Louis, not the suburbs – in the 1970’s we kids would call each other out to play using that method. I had no idea where it came from. We would stand outside the front door of one of our friends and call out “Oh Joey – or whatever the kid’s name was” and if there was more than one of us, we’d do it together.

  16. When my father was a boy, he’d come home through a little echoing alley and loudly holler something like ‘huandaleoh’, sounding rather similar to the above sample, so his parents knew he was coming home. It took years before they figured out he was actually shouting ‘hondelul’, which is dutch for dog dick. :-)

  17. Here’s in Switzerland, some old people do this in the mountains. Young people think it’s crap, mind you, and would rather listen to Die Antwoord, but that’s culture for you.

  18. Johnny Carson would have the winners from the contest at Spivey’s Corner on the Tonight Show every year. Letterman took up the tradition when Carson retired, but I couldn’t find any clips on YouTube. Fun stuff. :)

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