Steamboat Bill

As played by Clark Kessinger from the West Virginia region

Rag in A

From the Clark Kessinger Collection

3 files for this tune:

Melody-Only Transcription (PDF)
Full Transcription (PDF)


78rpm Record


Steamboat Bill was a comedic song published around the turn of the 20th century. The lyrics, which can be found here, describe a riverboat race in which the titular riverboat pilot is killed in a boiler explosion.   The song apparently inspired a silent film, and then one of earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons. It is probably due to the well-known cartoon that this tune is still heard today. It is a really fun tune that I have added to my personal repertoire.

It sounds as if Kessinger played it in A in the recording. There are a lot of chords with a C# on the second string and an A on the third string, but these are made easier by cross-tuning. Alternatively, you could play this tune in G (which is what I generally do).   Beware of the occasional pizzicato note, which you will pluck with a finger of your left hand on an open string. For slides up to a C#, start on and emphasize the C natural.

Cross-tune to AEAE.


This is the famous cartoon that ensured the ongoing popularity of Steamboat Bill:

And a nice modern orchestral version:

Vocal version:

This tune is a member of the following groups:


Dr. Fiddle's Favorite Rags

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