Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Rank Salty Dog Stranger

Her late Uncle Raymond & a couple cousins on my wife’s side are outstanding hillbilly musicians. When we go back home to visit, there is usually on afternoon/evening of music.
When the word gets out, musicians come from all over the place to play with Raymond. He really was that good, but never played professionally because that would mean playing where they serve alcohol, and that just wasn’t going to happen.
Once, after everyone finished singing “Rank Stranger,” my wife asked, "Just what is a “rank stranger?” Well, the crickets were louder than the bullfrogs until her brother said, “You always did ask the hard questions.”
In case you ever wondered, here’s the answer.

A “rank” stranger is a total & complete stranger. You may have heard the word used in sports. “Billy Joe is a rank amateur, but he sure is playing like a pro today!”

The next hard question for bluegrass fans is “What the heck is a ‘salty dog?’”

Turns out it is a slight corruption of the phrase “salted dog.” Back in the hill where the poor people live, they love their hunting dogs. Of all the dogs you own, one generally stood out as your favorite, so you wanted to take special care of that dog. With money being tight, you didn’t waste anything, including salt. But you would put salt on your favorite dog to rid him of fleas & ticks.

So “If I can’t be your salty dog, I won’t be your dog at all. Honey, let me be your salty dog!”


@BanJoe, thanks for the history lesson…that was interesting! I knew about that particular meaning of “rank”, but the “salty dog” reference was a complete mystery. I was literally wondering about this just the other day, so your timing was excellent!


Rank can also mean something with a strong, unpleasant smell. That would kind of change the meaning of the song :slight_smile:


Indeed, and not for the better.


A stinkin’ Beginner :wink:


Love the stage mic management on salty dog there. Learned to appreciate that at Ben’s summer camp. They move in and out seemlessly with their instruments and the vocals just sound great especially for the age of the clip.


Del McCoury called it "trading lacquer on expensive instruments ".


You touched on a topic find fascinating…“ganging around the microphone.”

Unlike today’s touring entertainers, these guys did not have a sound crew that traveled with them. They had to rely on whatever sound system was available in the gymnasium, the church , the auditorium or the state fair stage outdoors. In a lot of cases, there was no amplification, so they had to “rair back & holler!”
They sing loud because they had to, and that practice gave their songs a special quality.
Allison Krauss could not have cut it in the day because her vocal quality does not project well. Rhonda Vincent could have pulled it off.
And when we say “timing is everything,” that includes the timing of moving in & out of the single mic.
Del McCoury’s definition is perfect! Thanks, Mr Harrison!

It’s a personal thing, but when I listen to bluegrass, I want to hear them holler! :grin: