The Lost Art of Eephing

The eccentric Southern tradition of “eephing” is best described as the hillbilly equivalent of the hip-hop human “beat box” vocal style — a kind of hiccupping, rhythmic wheeze that started in rural Tennessee more than 100 years ago.

Just like human beat-box artists of the 1980s rendered perfect imitations of drum machines with their mouths, the original eephers of the 1880s imitated the hogs and turkeys living in their backyards.

The odd music genre — variously spelled “eefing,” “eeephing” or “eeefing” — appealed to a young Memphis producer named Sam Phillips, who recorded “Swamp Root” as one of his first singles. It didn’t really catch on, but another of Phillips’ offbeat performers — a fellow named Elvis Presley — would.

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