"16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought-Six" as written by and Tom Waits....
Plugged sixteen shells from a thirty-ought-six
And the Black Crow snuck through a hole in the sky
So I spent all my buttons on an old pack mule
And I made me a ladder from a pawnshop marimba
And I leaned up against a dandelion tree
Leaned up against a dandelion tree
Leaned up against a dandelion tree

I'm gonna cook them feathers on a tiny spit
And I filled me a sachel full of old pig corn
And I beat me a billy from an old French horn
And I kicked that mule to the top of the tree
Kicked that mule to the top of the tree
Blew me a hole 'bout the size of a kickdrum
And I cut me a switch from a long branch elbow

I'm gonna whittle you into kindlin'
Black Crow, sixteen shells from a thirty-ought-six
Whittle you into kindlin'
Black Crow sixteen shells from a thirty-ought-six

Well, I slept in the holler of a dry creek bed
And I tore out the buckets from a red Corvette
Tore out the buckets from a red Corvette
Lionel and Dave and the Butcher made three
Well, you got to meet me by the knuckles of the skinnybone tree
With the strings of a Washburn stretched like a clothesline
Oh, you know me and that mule scrambled right through the hole
Me and that mule scrambled right through the hole

I'm gonna whittle you into kindlin'
Black Crow, sixteen shells from a thirty-ought-six
Whittle you into kindlin'
Black Crow sixteen shells from a thirty-ought-six

Now I hold him prisoner in a Washburn jail
That I strapped on the back of my old kick mule
Strapped him on the back of my old kick mule
Bang on the strings just to drive him crazy
Oh, I strum it loud to rattle his cage
Strum it loud just to rattle his cage
Strum it loud just to rattle his cage
Strum it loud just to rattle his cage

Oh, I'm gonna whittle you into kindlin'
Black Crow, sixteen shells from a thirty-ought-six
Whittle you into kindlin'
Black Crow sixteen shells from a thirty-ought-six


Lyrics submitted by archmastermind

"16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought Six" as written by Thomas A. Waits

Lyrics © Peermusic Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group

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16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought-Six song meanings
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12 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentSounds way too complicated to me DollarShort. Song is about missing a crow after shooting at it 16 times. He gets mad, chases it, gets it, stuffs it in his guitar, and pisses it off later to amuse himself.
    gabrieleadeson December 04, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentOld mate seems to be a little mad and insane. Going with the general theme of the album, I think this is about an ex soldier a little messed up after returning home from war.
    I agree- a rocking song! Love the bridge school benefit version
    mrsiegalon November 06, 2014   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI get the impression the song is told from the perspective of a desperate, dedicated lawman, obsessed with capturing some notorious criminal who always seems to evade him. The lawman has been on the trail a long time, and the longer it takes, the more his hatred of the object of his pursuit grows. Great song.
    DollarShorton December 02, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI could be completely wrong, but this is how I interpret the song.

    A crow means many things in different cultures but one I am familiar with is that it brings a sense of foreboding, something bad is going to happen. So I take it that the crow is actually symbolism, he knows something is about to go down. With all the references to guitars I imagine that is really what the "16 shells from a thirty-ought-six" is referring to. Imagine carrying a rifle and holding a guitar. I think that what is really going on is something along the lines of the "Crossroads", selling your soul to be able to play. The more he gets into it the deeper he gets, and the crow is his sign that something is going on but instead of preventing it or doing something to change it he just traps this feeling in what he plays. The "whittle into kindlin" is using the impending eruption to fuel his music. Its torture when he hears what he plays, hence the "banging on the strings just to drive him crazy", and trapping this crow in the guitar, in what he creates musically. I could be completely off the mark, but that is how I take the song, and I love a song that can be listened to by a thousand different people and be taken a thousand different ways.
    scoobydooduuon January 14, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSUCH a rocking song.
    beardponyon December 22, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI like the interpretation of DollarShort. Tom Waits songs seem to be a little deeper than the face value of the lyrics.
    bradrock1on May 29, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAt first I was thinking wtf.Now I think this song is either about learning guitar or how to make music.The crow being the devil, a muse, or the ego he has to capture it. The 30 ought 6 might be a guitar and the knuckles of the skinnybone tree are the frets. When he finally catches it he keeps it prisoner in a Washburn jail and bangs on the strings just to drive him crazy and strums it loud just to rattle his cage.
    Stevenp68on May 25, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is a song about a kind of dreamland character who is tormented by a crow that has appeared from a hole in the sky. He becomes obsessed with capturing it so spends all his money on a pack mule, builds a ladder and makes the mule climb up to the top of a tree. He uses the strings from his guitar to climb up to the hole where he catches the crow. Now he holds the crow prisoner in the Washburn (guitar) and rides off with it strapped to the back of the mule. He likes to bang on the strings & "strum it out loud" so he can now be the one who torments the crow.
    jacksunon December 13, 2009   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationI always thought that the crow was the singer's impending death, that he chased down in the netherworld he entered through the hole, exhausted the crow by shooting at him, then imprisoned the crow in the guitar, and now enjoys his new-found immortality by torturing Death (as we are all tortured by the thought of our demise) by strumming the guitar-prison.

    I always imagined this taking place around turn of the century (aside from the 'buckets from a red corvette' line) and the last scene would be the singer in the modern world with old fashioned clothes on strumming his guitar with a big grin.
    depst8on May 24, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI'll meet you guys by the knuckles of the skinny bone tree.
    IrishMan44on November 05, 2014   Link

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