Orange Claw Hammer lyrics

Originally appeared on Trout Mask Replica

Uh thick cloud caught uh piper cub’s tail
The match struck blue on uh railroad rail
The old puff horse was just pullin’ thru
‘n uh man wore uh peg leg forever
I’m on the bum where the hoboes run
The air breaks with filthy chatter
Oh I don’t care there’s no place there
I don’t think it matters
My skin’s blazin’ thru
‘n my clothes in tatters
‘n the railroad looked
Like uh “Y” up the hill of ladders
Ohe shoe fell on the gravel
One stick poked down
Gray of age fell down on uh pair of ears
An eagle shined thru my hole watch pocket
Uh gingham girl baby girl
Passed me by in tears
Uh jack rabbit raised his folded ears
Uh beautiful sagebrush jack rabbit
‘n an oriole sang like an orange
His breast full uh worms
‘n his tail clawed the evenin’ like uh hammer
His wings took t’ air like uh bomber
‘n my rain can caught me uh cup uh water
When I got into town
Odd jobs mam ah yer horse I’ll fodder
I’m the round house man
I once was yer father
Uh little up the road uh wooden
Candy stripe barber pole
‘n above it read uh sign “Painless Parker”
Lic-licorice twisted around under uh fly
‘n uh youngster cocked ‘er eye
God before me if I’m not crazy
Is my daughter
Come little one with yer little dimpled fingers
Gimme one ‘n I’ll buy you uh cherry phosphate
Take you down t’ the foamin’ brine ‘n water
‘n show you the wooden tits
On the Goddess with the pole out s’full sail
That tempted away yer peg legged father
I was shanghaied by uh high hat beaver moustache man
‘n his pirate friend
I woke up in vomit ‘n beer in uh banana bin
‘n uh soft lass with brown skin
Bore me seven babies with snappin’ black eyes
‘n beautiful ebony skin
‘n here it is I’m with you my daughter
Thirty years away can make uh seaman’s eyes
Uh round house man’s eyes flow out water
Salt water


Originally made available at Justin Sherill’s Home Page Replica, transcribed by Jonathan Machell.

See the Orange Claw Hammer song notes.


  1. I always thought it was “the railroad looked like a wild hill of ladders” but “Y up the hill of ladders” might be it. I just always loved that “wild hill of ladders”. Very imagistic.

  2. And a youngster cocked her eye I thought he said ” and a youngster, cock dry.” Hmm I will listen again. thanks

    1. I always heard it as up the hill of letters.
      I mean, what is a hill of ladders? Whereas the railroad tracks would have looked like a Y as they went off into the distance.
      Please let me know and correct me.

      1. always thought the tracks with the sleepers would look like ladders from a distance and where the lines split it would look like a Y ?

  3. piper clubs tail or piper cub’s tail? a Piper Cub being a smallish aircraft.

    1. Yes, you’re right Jim. A typo on our part … I’ve corrected it.

  4. Y up a hill of ladders is a great image. Railroad up a hillside would look like a ladder and forking in two would look like a y.

  5. Three things. One, there’s a version of this with Zappa strumming a 6/8 pattern underneath and until I heard it I never fully realized that it is, in fact, a sea chanty. Worth hunting down. Two, is that I’ve always been fascinated by Viet’s choice of intertwining those anachronistic bits–“Piper Cub” and “bomber” into the imagery. Nearest I can come to the effect of that is that it’s like it’s an incredibly vivid evocation of the past, almost hallucinatory in its particulars, but one that’s taking place in the present. I’ve always loved that he just breaks the chronology almost without noticing, just goes with it. And I guess the third is how he momentarily gets distracted by that jack rabbit. A beautiful sage brush jack rabbit, he observes. My god what a superb poet he was, on so many levels.

  6. The version with Zappa on acoustic guitar is a masterpiece. Such a beautiful, sweet and powerful song. I saw him do it live years ago without knowing anything about him. It changed my life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *