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Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?

DigiTrad:
COTTON-EYED JOE


Related threads:
Help: Cotton Eye Joe History (33)
Lyr/Chords Req: Cotton-Eyed Joe (32)
Cotton-eyed Joe (10)
Cotton Eyed Joe....what's it mean.... (8) (closed)
Chords Req: Cotton Eyed Joe (5)
Lyr/Chords Add: cotton eyed joe (2)


katlaughing 06 Sep 99 - 10:22 AM
06 Sep 99 - 12:09 PM
SandyBob 06 Sep 99 - 01:28 PM
katlaughing 06 Sep 99 - 01:36 PM
j0_77 06 Sep 99 - 01:51 PM
Tony Burns 06 Sep 99 - 04:59 PM
katlaughing 06 Sep 99 - 08:04 PM
Art Thieme 06 Sep 99 - 09:20 PM
Lorne Brown 06 Sep 99 - 09:22 PM
Wally Macnow 06 Sep 99 - 10:21 PM
katlaughing 06 Sep 99 - 11:12 PM
Arkie 06 Sep 99 - 11:31 PM
Frank Hamilton 07 Sep 99 - 10:30 AM
Art Thieme 07 Sep 99 - 12:07 PM
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Subject: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 10:22 AM

Just wondering if anyone knows the background of this song, besides it's being an example of the prejudice of past society. Was there a real "Joe" or is it from a composite of experiences? Who wrote it? Where, exactly did it come from? Does anyone perform it? What about offending? I know it has been popular among C&W fans and there is a dance named after it and danced to it.

JustcuriousKat


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From:
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 12:09 PM

Well, I just heard it played yesterday on "Prarie Home Companion"... no one seemed upset about it!

SpitWhistle


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: SandyBob
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 01:28 PM

I've heard two versions of the origin of the phrase cotton-eye. One comes from Tommy Thompson and would be considered racist today. The other refers to cataracts. I'm curious as to this songs origins also as it is one of my favorites.

SandyBob


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 01:36 PM

Yes, Sandy-Bob, the one in the DT is what would be considered the racist one. I've not heard about the one refering to cataracts.

SpitWhistle: I'd heard it on PHC, too. That's what got me to wondering. I would be interested in knowing how people of colour feel about it.

kat


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: j0_77
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 01:51 PM

We all are Kat. BTW I suspect absolutely nothing -


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Tony Burns
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 04:59 PM

Sometime Mudcatter balladeer does a wonderful version of Cotton Eyed Joe. I never thought of it as racist. Maybe I should listen closer the next time she sings it. It makes for wonderful harmonies.

Just looked at the DT words. They are not the same as the version balladeer does.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 08:04 PM

Tony, if you get a chance, would you post the lyrics she uses, please?

Thanks,

kat


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 09:20 PM

Kat, Nina Simone did a beautiful laid-back version of the song. That was on Colpix. I loved it & did it with guitar for many years. When I recorded it for Sandy, I used a jew's harp. That's on one of the cassettes I sent you. Right? If not, let me know and it'll be on it's way to ya post haste.

Art


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Lorne Brown
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 09:22 PM

Cotton Eyed Joe is one of the oldest songs in my repertoire; not necessarily old itself, but I've been singing it for fifty years.

Ed McCurdy used it as his theme song, and told me it referred to a blind street musician.

Only two verses in his/my version: Where do you come from? Where do you go? Where do you come from, Cotton eyed Joe? I come for to see you/ come for to sing/ Come for to show you/my diamond ring.

Ella Jenkins has a minor key version in her new Smithsonian Folkways CD.

I've always considered those the "age old questions" and think about the shelves of books of history, religion, philosophy, etc. that try to answer the questions: Where do we come from? Where do we go? The song has been an important part of my life's philosophy.

Storytelling and folk music help answer those questions for me.

Lorne Brown


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Wally Macnow
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 10:21 PM

From what I've been told, I don't think I'd call it racist. Cotton-eyed is what some people called a blue-eyed black person. The first version I first heard was Josh White's which, if memory serves, has the same verses as Lorne's. Then there's the old time fiddle tune which is often used to accompany square dance calls. That one also has verses but I've never heard any sung that were offensive. That's not to say they don't exist; I just don't know anyone who sings 'em.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 11:12 PM

Thank you, Wally, Art & Lorne. Art...no it wasn't on one the tapes you so kindly shared:-)

I only saw what I consider to be a racist, albeit histrical, version of lyrics in the DT and those were the words I was originally asking about whether they were based on a true story or a composite of the days of slavery.

Would those of you who have them please post lyrics to add, of these other versions. I would really appreciate it. It's always been a song I enjoyed, never paid much attention to the words, until recently when I looked them up in here.

Lorne, I find your words to be so true; it is interesting how a simple song can ask the most profound questions, isn't it?

Thanks again, Love kat


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Subject: Lyr Add: COTTON EYED JOE (from Albert Sands)
From: Arkie
Date: 06 Sep 99 - 11:31 PM

Though I have known a version of this song forever, and have seen it in practically every paperback song collection, I really fell in love with a version sung by Stone County Arkansas native Albert Sands. Albert was a practical nurse at the local hospital and often worked the night shift. During my single days, my house was on the hill above Albert's and he would stop in on his way home for a visit and a sip of Jack Daniels. I asked him to sing the song every chance I had. He did it in a slow, plaintive style that I never mastered but did try to emulate when I sang the piece.

Here are some of the verses, he sang.

Want to go to meeting, but I couldn't go,
Had to stay home with Cotton Eyed Joe.

Had not a been for Cotton Eyed Joe,
I'd a been married along time ago.

Honey, will your dog bite? No, chile, no.
Wolf bit his biter off a long time ago.

Honey, will your hen peck? No, chile, no.
Done pulled the pecker off a long time ago.

Cornstalk fiddle and a peavine bow,
Play a little tune called Cotton Eyed Joe.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 10:30 AM

I guessed from the preceding posts that there are two different variants being talked about. One, the plaintive tune I first heard on an old Burl Ives record. The other, which some might have found offensive (although I can't imagine why in this day and age) is the one popularized by the Texas night club owned by Mickey Gilley in which as part of the dance, the dancers call out "BULL SHIT!" One seems to be a slow holler and the other a set-running tune. Don't know if the two got together or whether they grew separately. Any ideas?

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 12:07 PM

I always did it:

Where do you come from,
Where do ya go,
Where do you come from,
Cotton eyed Joe.

I come for to see you ...(as above)

If it hadn't've been for C.E.J....(as above)

Load 'em and stack 'em
and take 'em on down,
Put 'em ashore
at Evansville town.

The river go up,
And the shack it goes down,
River run through
Old Evansville town.

Art Thieme


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Subject: Lyr Add: COTTON EYED JOE
From: balladeer
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 12:25 PM

Dear Kat: Tony is too kind. My lyric is quite common. I learned it from Doug Bush, a man of colour, circa 1960. Quite possibly he learned it from Josh White or Nina Simone. I may have embellished such embellishments as Doug had already made....

COTTON EYED JOE

Where do you come from
And where do you go?
Where do you come from
My cotton-eyed Joe?

I come for to see you
And I come for to sing
I come for to show you
My diamond ring.

Got a hole in my pocket
Got a nail in my shoe.
I've been oh so lonesome
Since you told me we're through.

If it hadn't of been for
Cotton-eyed Joe
I'd a-been married
A long time ago.

Regards, Balladeer

PS. See you at practice, Lorne! B


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 02:09 PM

Thanks, Balladeer! I like those and I like Art's version, too. I will extract them, both, from this thread, if that is alright with you guys and ask that they be added to the DT, as they are much better, IMHO, than the old historical ones.

I am really bad about words, until I read them, then I remember them. So, this was my first time at getting the words to this and I was dismayed at the ones in the DT because I really like the tune. I am really glad to know of these alternate words.

Thanks everybody. BTW, Art, I meant to say, I would be thrilled ot hear your version with jew's harp! 'Course I'd be thrilled to hear ANYTHING you did!

katlaughing&Art'smostardentgroupie:-)


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: fox4zero
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 05:30 PM

07 SEP 99. Rather than cataracts, it is more likely that Cotton-eyed refers to a viral disease called Trachoma. This ia an infectious disease which was once considered grounds for non-admission to the US. I have never heard any racial lyrics to this song. The oldest recorded version of this song that I have ever heard was made by the Skillet Lickers in the late 1920's. I'm sure that it is close to 100 years old. It was essentially a fiddle dance tune. Parish


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 07:46 PM

These are the ones in the DT that I consider to be racist.

COTTON-EYED JOE

Way back yonder a long time ago
Daddy had a man called cotton-eyed joe
Blew into town on a travelin' show
Nobody danced like the Cotton eyed Joe.

CHORUS:
Cotton-eyed Joe, Cotton-eyed Joe
where did you come from?
Where did you go?
Where did you come from?
Where did you go?
Where did you come from Cotton-eyed Joe?

Mama's at the window
Mama's at the door
She can't see nothin' but the Cotton-eyed Joe

Daddy held the fiddle,
held the bow
He beat the hell out of Cotton-eyed Joe

Made himself a fiddle,
Made himself a bow
Made a little tune called the Cotton-Eyed Joe

Hadn't oughta been
For Cotton-eyed Joe
I'da been married some forty years ago.

Whenever there's a dance
All the women want to go
And they all want to dance with Cotton-Eyed Joe

Daddy won't say
But I think he know
Whatever happened to Cotton-eyed Joe !


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: balladeer
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 08:30 PM

Dear Kat: Wow! That is a painful lyric. Certainly sounds authentic. I coudn't sing it. Balladeer


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: CarlZen
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 09:39 PM

On the fringes of folk, Michelle Shocked did a version on her "Arkansas Traveler" CD. She transposed the lyrics so they told the story of a young pregnant girl asking where Cotton Eyed Joe (the father) "came from, where did you go?"..... an interesting part of the folk process IMHO.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 09:47 PM

This is so interesting. Please keep it up. Thanks, CarlZen. I'll have to see if I can find a copy to listen to. Folk does process on, eh?**G**


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 09:53 PM

Kat, I mailed the cass to you this afternoon...

How about:

Papa loved mama,
Mama loved men,
Mama's in the grave yard,
And papa's in ther pen.

Six little kids,
Hangin' 'round the door,
Most of 'em look like,
Cotton eyed Joe.

Where do you came from...

(I forgot to include these lyrics that I often put into the song. I used the "Mama loved papa" verse long before Garth Brooks did his song with that in it and sold a million of 'em. [him, not me] I got it from a biography of Carl Sandburg that stated that Mr. Sandberg thought that single verse was the "shortest ballad ever written". I often put it into every light-hearted song in a given set just to have fun with it and to show how zipper verses would almost fit anywhere---as long as it fit the tempo of the particular song. When Garth made a hit of it, I quit doing that pretty much 'cause folks were confused and didn't get the point--or they got the wrong point.)

Art


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: raredance
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 11:09 PM

The DT version that kat posted was recorded by the Red Clay Ramblers on their 1992 "Rambler" CD. It sounds so pretty that it's easy to ignore the lyrical content.

rich r


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: LonLigon
Date: 07 Sep 99 - 11:50 PM

I have heard that the original song was referring to a Bull. A bull was called a "JOE" out west, and when a bull was mad and ready to charge, he would lower his head and roll his eyes back exposing the whites of his eyes. They called a bull with the white showing as a "Cotton Eyed Joe" and a very dangerous bull. At least that is what I heard about the origin of the song.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 12:22 AM

Art! Thank you. You ARE a sweetie. I cannot wait to get the mail, now! And, thanks for the zipper verse. Couldncha sue ole Garth or sumpin'? Sheesh!

richr: I think I'd have a hard time with the lyrics regardless of how pretty it sounded! I think it's too bad they didn't use different lyrics. I've heard them before and always liked their sound.

LonLogin: thanks for that input. Boy, ya ask one questions and folk comes up with so many versions! I love it!

Thanks!

kat


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Dan Evergreen
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 10:23 AM

Katlaughing, what's racist about it?


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 10:41 AM

Considered in the context of our nation's history, it depicts a slave owner making his slave dance, beating him, and ultimately murdering him, as far as I can see. I thought it was obvious.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Dan Evergreen
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 05:09 PM

But unless it somehow condones or make light of such, why is it racist? Evils and tragedies are depicted in much of song and literature.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 05:49 PM

Kat

Is it racist? It might have a different meaning if "Daddy" was a black man. "Daddy had a man" might mean that he employed someone and Cotton Eyed Joe ran off with his wife. (Just a thought.) It sounds like the tune might have emanated from the minstrel shows. Does anyone know? Heard a lot about secondary sources like Michelle Shocked, Red Clay Ramblers, Garth Brooks but has anyone come across a field recording or a date that goes back a little? Where did Burl Ives get his version (which predates many of the secondary sources given here)? Are there two major sources for this song? Two "Cotton Eyed Joes", one a dance tune and the other a slow holler?

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 06:19 PM

Good questions, Frank. Ones I had hoped would be answered in this thread.

Dan, but we have had many, many discussions on this. So that I don't sound too repetitive and for a good read on what others think, too, I would ask you to check out the Song Appropriateness thread here.

Thanks,

katlaughing


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Subject: Lyr Add: COTTON EYED JOE (from Lomax & Lomax)
From: raredance
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 09:06 PM

The Penguin Book of American Folk songs edited by Alan Lomax has a 2-verse version of Cotton-eyed Joe in the "lullaby" section. It has the "Where did you come from..." verse and the "Come for to see you, come for to sing, come for to show you my diamond ring." In a very brief explanatory note, Lomax adds: "In Southern parlance a man is 'cotton-eyed' if his irises are milky-coloured. Cotton-Eye Joe, the obscure hero of a number of Negro dancing tunes and fiddler's airs, here turns up in one of the loveliest of Southern mountain lullabies, found by Margaret Valliant in the hills of Tennessee."

In a different vein American Ballads and Folksongs by John and Alan Lomax contains a "Cotton-Eyed Joe" that they describe as a square dance song or breakdown. The lyrics are:

If it had not-a been for Cotton-eyed Joe,
I'd 'a' been married forty years ago.

Cornstalk fiddle and cornstalk bow,
I'm gwine to beat hell out-a Cotton-eyed Joe.

Gwine to go shootin' my forty-fo',
Won't be a nigger in a mile or mo'.

Hain't seen ol' Joe since way last fall,
Say he's been sold down to Guines Hall.

Great long line and little short pole,
I'm on my way to the crawfish hole.

Oh, it makes dem ladies love me so,
W'en I come roun' a-pickin' Cotton-Eyed Joe.

Hol' my fiddle an' hol' my bow,
Whilst I knock ol' Cotton-Eyed Joe.

Oh, law, ladies, pity my case,
For I's got a jawbone in my face.

O Lawd, O Lawd, come pity my case,
For I'm gettin' old an' wrinkled in de face.

rich r


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: CarlZen
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 09:28 PM

Cotton Eyed Joe is also a fairly standard fiddle tune in many folk's repertoire. Like so many fiddle tunes with alternate songs that share the same tune and title, I often wonder which came first. I often thought that the tunes had been around until someone like Jimmy Driftwood came around and added a rhyming story to it. But in some cases it may have worked the other way around.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 12:28 AM

I suspect that the lyrics in the DT represent someone's recent attempt to make a semi-coherent story out of a bunch of random "filler" verses to a fiddle tune. As far as racist content, it seems to me that it lies solely in the phrase "had a man". Change that to "knew a man" and there ain't nothing to offend anyone (except, possibly, adulterers).

The opening verse I heard first was:
Hold my fidle; hold my bow
I'm gonna kick hell outa Cotton-eyed Joe.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Arkie
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 11:21 AM

Somewhere, tucked into the recesses of my mind, is a vague recollection of having heard a Texas swing band do a rather risque version of the piece. Can't remember if the R rating was due to explicit sexual references or the insertion of a vulgar word or two at a specific spot which the audience would enthusiastically scream with the band whenever it came around. Tend to think it was the latter. Since no one has mentioned it to this point, I'm beginning to think that possibly I am more creative than I had imagined.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: _gargoyle
Date: 26 Sep 99 - 03:37 PM

Ah....the worrisome (little wanna be liberal)PC's.

Nothing racist to it.....it is a cuckold song.

cotton-eyed adj. So.
1905 DN III 75: Cotton-eyed...Having the whites of the eyes prominent. 1952 Steinbeck East of Eden 228: The crooked little cotton-eyed piano player stood in the entrance.

Lighter, J.E.,Random House Dictionary of Historical American Slang. Volume 1, p 490, 1994.

DN indicates Dialect Notes


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Les B
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 01:58 AM

Boswell's Folk Songs of Middle Tennessee, which references Talley, The Negro Traditions has this to say: "According to black folk traditions of late-nineteenth-century Bedford County, Cotton-Eyed Joe was a well-known pre-Civil War slave musician whose tragic life caused his hair to turn white; eventually he played a fiddle made from the coffin of his dead son." Boswell collected seven versions. The one printed is similiar to many already quoted in this thread.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 02:39 AM

Parish, I found your theory interesting, that the "cotton-eyed" condition was Trachoma. Now, was that the eye condition that Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes) suffered from as a kid? Sounds similar.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Stewie
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 04:58 AM

Frank

Bill C. Malone agrees with you. He writes, at page 19 of 'Country Music USA': 'Black-face minstrelsy contributed some of the most venerated fiddle tunes such as "Old Dan Tucker", "Listen to the Mockingbird", "Old Zip Coon" (better known as "Turkey in the Straw") and "Cotton-eyed Joe" ...'

Numerous oldtime performers recorded the song in the 1920s. Two that spring to mind are the Mississippi stringband Carter Brothers and Son who recorded it in Memphis in November 1928 and Fiddlin' John Carson who recorded in Atlanta in March 1927. The Skillet Lickers also recorded it in late 1920s, but I do not have a specific date - it is on County LP 506. On the notes to that LP Norm Cohen writes: '"Cotton-eyed Joe" is an ante-bellum song found in both the white and Negro tradition, and probably originated in the minstrel theatre. Alan Lomax suggests that the title refers to a person whose eyes were milky white from trachoma'.

Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Stewie
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 05:08 AM

My apologies, Parish, I somehow missed your comment re Skillet Lickers - but the Lomax comment quoted by Cohen certainly backs up what you were saying.

Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Stewie
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 11:12 AM

I have found the date of the Skillet Lickers version - 10 April 1928. The early recordings that I have found are:

Virginian stringband - Dykes Magic City Trio 9 March 1927 in New York
Georgian stringband - Fiddlin' John Carson and Virginia Reelers 17 March 1927 in Atlanta
Arkansas stringband - Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers 6 February 1928 in ?
Georgian stringband - Skillet Lickers 10 April 1928 in Atlanta
Mississippi stringband - Carter Brothers and Son 22 November 1928 in Memphis

Thus, Dykes Magic City Trio got in ahead of Fiddlin' John by 6 days. I have not heard the Dykes Magic City recording, but it was reissued on Old Homestead LP 191. The other four above are fiddle dominated dance tunes. The Fiddlin' John rendition is basically a series of dance calls. In his notes to County 544 (Georgia Fiddle Bands Vol 2) Gene Wiggins writes that John's 'Cotton-eyed Joe' with its 'mixolydian cast' is said 'by old-timers to be older than other tunes with the same name'. The other renditions are mostly lengthy instrumental breaks interspersed with the usual couplets - 'had it not been for ...' 'went to the window, went to the door ...' etc - the Skillet Lickers' has the most lyrics but even these are repeated - and definitely none is racist. The early recording artists focused on using it for dance purposes. The Carter Brothers and Son recording is great - wild, exuberant twin fiddling. Maybe, as Frank suggests, we are looking at two sources for the song - one dance orientated and the other not. Certainly, judging from other contributions to the thread, they have some lyrics in common. But where are the links that thread the later versions to what the experts say is the song's minstrel origins? Did the stringbands simply drop what they did not need? Were the expanded lyrics later accretions? This little songs raises many questions to which none of us seems to be able to provide satisfactory answers.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 11:20 AM

Wannabe?? No, I AM a liberal and proud of it! If one were to examine the words which are in the DigiTrad database, which I referred to several times, one would see that THOSE words most definitely reflect the racist views of the time period.

I appreciate the latest postings by LesB and Stewie.

kat


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 11:36 AM

Katlaughing- I am reminded about the furor that happened a couple of years back on the Bluegrass list when someone decided that Groundhog was racist: The line:

"Up jumped Sal with a snigger and a grin.."

ws heard as " ...with his nigger and a grin"

As Gilda Radner used to say: "Never mind."


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 01:33 PM

Can't mention minstrel show origins without concluding that the lyrics are by necessity racist. I don't know that the term "cotton-eyed Joe" is racist, more descriptive I think. It could be applied to any race.

Thanks Stewie for the discography. Very helpful.

I think that the incorporation of the minstrel show into the Appalachian tradition (ie: Uncle Dave Macon) has been cited in "That Half-Barbaric Twang", a wonderful social survey of the banjo. The question arises again as to what constitutes "good taste" in the singing of these songs. Sometimes, a straight-out explanation is in order and I think can be accepted quite readilly without offense.

I sing "Marching Through Georgia" for Southern audiences who recognize that it is a historical document and understand what General Tecumseh Sherman was about. We try to give different perpectives on this. I think the same can be done for Cotton Eyed Joe. Did the song lose it's racist overtones when it was incorporated into the Southern Mountain tradition? It may have. Many of the early settlers in the Southern Mountains according to Jean Ritchie never saw a black person and had no reference for prejudice.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Dan Evergreen
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 04:18 PM

Wonder what the lyrics are all about. WHAT diamond ring? WHO would have been married and how did Joe prevent such?


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 06:11 PM

Ah, Dan....my original question!


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Jerry Friedman
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 06:49 PM

If a man sings it, I'd infer that he would have been married but his girlfriend left him for C.E.J. If a woman sings it, I'd infer that she would have gotten married but she couldn't give up C.E.J.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Stewie
Date: 27 Sep 99 - 06:54 PM

After about 1928-29, what happened to 'Cotton-eyed Joe' will have to be found elsewhere than in the recorded music industry. The Great Depression and the increasing importance of radio as a source of entertainment changed everything for what had been essentially an amateur, down-home music from people like Carson who was born in 1868 and learned tunes like 'Cotton-eyed Joe' direct from family and friends. Only the tried and tested or the desperately novel could survive in the Depression years and what emerged in the second half of the 30s was a bird of very different wing that, after the second social cataclysm of World War II, sloughed off its rural amateurism entirely to become a vernacular popular music that gave Tin Pan Alley a run for its money (and ultimately gave rise to young Garth and the other hats). The tension was there already by the late 20s - you can see it reflected in the Skillet Lickers with Gid Tanner reaching back to the past and Clayton McMichen and Lowe Stokes straining forward to the future. As Bob Coltman so aptly put it 'Uncle Dave Macon, the Skillet Lickers (minus McMichen and Stokes), Fiddlin' John Carson and Moonshine Kate ... sounded archaic. No longer did the old rousers satisfy; the melody did not linger on'.

As Frank has pointed out above, minstrel show origins almost by definition imply racist sentiments. In addition to the Karen Linn reference that he gave, chapter two of Bill Malone's 'Singing Cowboys and Musical Mountaineers', headed 'Popular Culture and the Music of the South', provides a brief but stimulating discussion of minstrelsy, medicine shows etc.

Are there any surviving minstrel texts to tell us what Carson and his contemporaries inherited? It is a long journey from the minstrel stage to Lomax's lullaby, the Red Clay Ramblers, Michelle Shocked and Garth Brooks. It would be fascinating to know some of the steps between.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: J. Davis
Date: 31 Oct 99 - 12:15 PM

I understand that the original tune for "Cotton-Eyed Joe" was originally a Scottish piece called "General Burgoyne's March." If this is so, what were the Scottish lyrics to the tune?

When a woman says she "had a man," it doesn't mean she owned him.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,OTMurphy
Date: 19 Feb 00 - 07:27 PM

As an old, very old ex-Kentucky mountain boy, I remember that "had a man" had nothing to do with slavery. My grandfather every fall "got a man" to help him with the hog killing. My grandmother even "got a man" with a mule to help plow the garden plot in the Spring after my grandfather died. And she, as a deep fundalmentalist Christian, would have been shocked to think that getting a man had anything to do with courtship or an affair. OTMURPHY


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Osmium
Date: 19 Feb 00 - 07:44 PM

Bottom line is that its a very catchy tune. Most professional historians admit that it is almost impossible to judge history - because we cannot know the vibes of the time; what would be considered ludicroudsly racist now might have been the statements of the profoundly libetarian then! Enjoy it and stop feeling guilty that it is enjoyable.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: raredance
Date: 20 Feb 00 - 02:33 PM

Since this thread last appeared, I have come across a couple other "old" versions of CEJ, although nothing to connect with minstrel shows. The first is from "Negro Folk Rhymes" by Thomas Talley. Talley was the son of ex-slaves and a chemistry professor at Fisk University in Nashville, TN. His original book was published in 1922. I have the 1991 edition annotated by Charles K Wolfe and expanded to include music transcriptions (Univ. Tennessee Press). Wolfe is/was an English professor at Middle Tennessee State University. Wolfe comments about CEJ: "Surviving today primarily as a popular western swing fiddle tune, the song has deep roots in black traditional lore. This version (i.e. Talley's) is apparently the earliest published...Versions of it also appear in White (i.e. "American Negro Folk-Songs" by Newman Ivey White, 1928) collected from black sources in 1915-16. For details of the song's history as a fiddle tune se Alan Jabbour, notes to "North American Fiddle Tunes" (these are the notes accompanying the Library of Congress LP recording, LCLP AFS 62. Any mudcatters have that one? -rr). In his manuscript of stories, "Negro Traditions", Talley includes a story entitled "Cotton Eyed Joe or The Origin of the Weeping Willow"; it includes a short stanza from the song, but more importantly details a bizarre of a well-known pre-Civil War Plantation musician, Cotton Eyed Joe, who plays a fiddle made from the coffin of his dead son."
Note that Talley's lyrics have a lot in common with some of those published later by Lomax.

Cotton Eyed Joe (from Thomas Talley)

Hol' my fiddle an' hol' my bow,
Whilst I knocks ole Cotton Eyed Joe.

I'd a been dead some seben years ago,
If I hadn't a danced dat Cotton Eyed Joe.

Oh, it makes dem ladies love me so,
W'en I comes 'roun' pickin' ole Cotton Eyed Joe!

Yes, I'd a been married some forty years ago,
If I hadn't stay'd 'roun' wid Cotton Eyed Joe.

I hain't seed ole Joe, since was las' Fall;
Dey say he's been sol' down to Guinea Gall.

A different version of CEJ is found in Dorothy Scarborough's "On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs" (1925 Harvard Univ. Press; reprinted 1963 Folklore Associates). Scarborough is also the author the delightful book "A Song Catcher in Southern Mountains" (1937, Columbia Univ Press). She grew up in Texas and was active in Texas folklore societies and later became an English professor at Columbia University in New York. Her book on Negro folk songs is gentle and loving and at the same time rife with what I would consider racial stereotypes. She coaxed and cajoled songs and tunes from a lot of black southerners. The greatest obstacles being the inherent shyness of her sources along with an acquired religious piety in the sources that kept them from relating the old non-religious songs that they clearly still knew. She was also not totally rigorous in accepting material as she included some material that was second or third hand, sometimes from white sources who said they heard blacks singing it. Here is the lead-in to her Cotton Eyed Joe entry:

"A less comely person of a different sex is celebrated or anathematized in another song, which seems to be fairly well known in the South, as parts of it have been sent in by various persons. According to the testimony of several people who remember events before the war, this is an authentic slavery-time song. The air and some of the words were given by my sister, Mrs. George Scarborough, as learned from the Negroes on a plantation in Texas, and other parts by an old man in Louisiana, who sang it to the same tune. He said he had known it from his earliest childhood and had heard the slaves sing it on the plantation. A version was also sent by a writer whose pen name is Virginia Stait."

COTTON-EYED JOE (from Scarborough)

Don't you remember, don't you know,
Don't you remember Cotton-eyed Joe?
Cotton-eyed Joe, Cotton-eyed Joe,
What did make you treat me so?
I'd 'a' been married forty year ago
Ef it had n't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe!

Cotton-eyed Joe, Cotton-eyed Joe,
He was de nig dat sarved me so,-
Tuck my gal away fum me,
Carried her off to Tennessee.
I'd 'a' been married forty year ago
Ef it had n't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe!

His teeth was out an' his nose was flat,
His eyes was crossed, - but she did n't mind dat.
Kase he was tall, and berry slim,
An' so my gal she follered him.
I'd 'a' been married forty year ago
Ef it had n't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe!

She was de prettiest gal to be found
Anywhar in de country round;
Her lips was red an' her eyes was bright,
Her skin was black but her teeth was white.
I'd 'a' been married forty year ago
Ef it had n't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe!

Dat gal, she sho' had all my love,
An' swore fum me she'd never move,
But Joe hoodooed her, don't you see,
An' she run off wid him to Tennessee.
I'd 'a' been married forty year ago
Ef it had n't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe!

While I have no documentation to support it, I would throw out the possibility that the jilted lover scenarios exhibited here could in some way be connected to the more violent versions where all manner of mayhem is visited upon CEJ. The revenge for stealing the lover motif is not unknown in English and white American folk songs.

rich r


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 20 Feb 00 - 05:22 PM

Wow, rich r! Thanks for including all of that. It is very interesting.

katlaughing


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: BanjoRay
Date: 20 Feb 00 - 06:36 PM

I would have thought that if the DT words were racist Daddy wouldn't have had a man called cotton-eyed joe, he'd have had a BOY. Cheers Ray


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 20 Feb 00 - 08:01 PM

Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes - not Trachoma, conjunctivities, set off by the irritation from coal dust.

I reckon Dick Greenhaus has the rights of it, the DT version is floating verses arranged to make some kind of a story, just fillinmg in the space between the lovely chorus, which is what makes tyhe song. The chorus deserves a better set of verses to match the mood it sets up, and scattered along this thread there's the makings of this.

But though they aren't the set of verses I'd choose if I was singing it, I can't see how the DT verses are racist, unless you assume that Daddy and Cotton-Eyed Joe are different colours, and that "had" implies ownership.

>

Though if that's the assumption kat made, I doubt she's alone, which would mean singing them would be likely to give offence to people you don't want to offend,and comfort to people you don't want to comfort.

But the crucial resons to avoid them would be that, by not singing them, you might upset the people who are always going around sneering, and talking about "PC carried to the point of madness", when what they are complaining about is someone showing a little common courtesy - and they deserve to be annoyed.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 20 Feb 00 - 10:35 PM

I just learned last year from friends that are into clogging (this is Kentucky, folks...and yes Catspaw, we wear shoes when we clog) that various songs have set choreographies much like ballet. Cotton-eyed Joe is a standard that cloggers from different groups all seem to do the same way.

Mary (who is wearing shoes)


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Scotsbard
Date: 21 Feb 00 - 02:01 PM

The verses to Cotton Eyed Joe were often made up on the spot, according to a couple of old geezers who used to call square dances for us. Apparently they took great pride in "improving" the words each time, and would have to continue rapping out verses until either the fiddler or the dancers called it quits. I can see how some versions of the lyrics could be interpreted as having racial stereotypes, but neither of our callers (both of mixed heritage, btw) seemed to mind. The words are really secondary to the dance tune for this particular song. To me the music of that era became one of the tools of integration, and the words are part of our history.

I hadn't thought of that slow Burl Ives version for years, but still wouldn't consider it politically incorrect.

That modern line-dance routine and the "BS" call were invented back in the late '70s as country music's response to disco dancing. Gilley's was a wild place back then, you really had to be there to get the full flavor. We'd play CEJ for 10 minutes and then get requests for Harlem Shuffle (as if we were actually going to try that on banjo/fiddle, guitar and bass). Hearing CEJ sandwiched between songs like Boogie Fever and Brick House at a local disco wouldn't have been unusual in the early '80s (at least around here, anyway.) CEJ is just one of those timelessly good dance tunes.

~S~


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: CapriUni
Date: 09 Feb 02 - 08:19 PM

(came here through a link answer to a new request for the history of this song...)

Seems to me that whether this song is racist or not depends on who's singing it.

The version from Scarborough, as written by slaves for slaves about slaves is not racist (and may in fact be among the earliest versions of "my gal done left me" blues).

But if a white slave owner heard the song, and stuck in verses about beating and killing his slave as an 'amusement' (which, I agree with Katlaughing, seems to be what's happening in the song) than it is racist.

Also, the did the verses Art Thieme posted:

"Load 'em and stack 'em
and take 'em on down,
Put 'em ashore
at Evansville town.

The river go up,
And the shack it goes down,
River run through
Old Evansville town."

strike anyone else as possibly referring to selling slaves, or is my brain being quirky?

Anyway, this all raises the question of whether the version about the jilted lover and the beaten slave are really the same song...

Yes, they have the same (or similiar) tune, and the same central figure. But how big of a role does intent play in a song's identity -- Both on the author/performer side and the audience side?

I realize this question may lead to massive thread drift, but so be it...


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Feb 02 - 09:38 PM

CapriUni, this thread, with the exception of a few factual threads by Rich R, OTMurphy, Thieme, Stewie, etc., is loaded with nonsense.
1. Load 'em an' stack 'em: Anyone not paranoid would assume bales, barrels, etc. The normal loading of a boat at a river port (Thieme puts the town under water after a flood, a common occurrence in the old days). Shawneetown, Illinois, was one of many that got wiped out so often that it was moved.
2. Had a man: I have used this phrase all my life about having someone hired to do something, anything. I had a man clean my sidewalk a couple of days ago. (common language, stated by OTMurphy above)
3. The song reproduced from Scarborough indicates that Cotton-eyed Joe stole the singer's gal. The same story, pared down, is echoed in the version in the DT. I see absolutely nothing racist in it. If I had been Daddy and had a shotgun, I might well have made mincemeat out of Cotton-eyed Joe or any other salty dog hired hand that sweet-talked my wife. (Before WWI, consequences probably nil).
4. In Georgia, people with large whites to the eyes are called cotton-eyed. No disease or conjunctivitis required. This usage is fairly common, as pointed out in the quote from a dictionary of slang (Gargoyle).
The song probably had a Negro origin, but, like all good tunes, was quickly adapted by whites. I have heard a Metís fiddle band play it.


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Subject: RE: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Serena
Date: 31 Aug 04 - 05:19 PM

Hey guys, I'm from Italy and I'm writing my university graduation thesis about Country Music and old American fiddle-tunes...found your info VERY USEFUL, and wanted to thank you all!!!
Love!

Serena


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Sam Clements
Date: 04 Oct 04 - 09:10 PM

I've possibly found the earliest mention of "Cotton-eyed Joe" yet.

8 May, 1875 _Saturday Evening Post_

A fictional piece, wherin the young white heroine is singing this song while cooking with her Black nursemaid/cook. She says that the Black nursemaid taught her the song. The nursemaid says "hush. Don't sing that" knowing that the girl's mother wouldn't approve.

The line she sings is "Don't you remember a long time ago, I dreamed that I ran away w/ Cotton-eyed Joe?"

Later in the story she sings "Oh, I'd have been married twelve months ago, if it had not have been for Cotton-eyed Joe."

Next, who comes to the door but her blue-eyed cousin, Joe.

Later in the story, a character describes Joe as a person with "great white eyes."

But, still later in the story, Joe is described again as having BLUE eyes.

So, perhaps the song was originally put to words by African Americans, obviously prior to 1875. But whites certainly knew the words by 1875. I can't see any derogatory racial meanings here. The term could have reference to both persons with prominent whites of the eye, and also could refer to blue-eyed persons. Or both.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Tannywheeler
Date: 05 Oct 04 - 01:22 PM

It seems to me the verses A.T. (and CU) quoted would have more to do with people loading cargo to ship -- on a riverboat, perhaps -- to places along the river. These people could be any color, or condition of servitude.   Tw


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 05 Oct 04 - 04:16 PM

Cotton-eyed Joe as a fiddle piece seems to have arisen in the mid-1800s. Verses, often floaters, were attached and called to the dancers. Where and when these verses originated is difficult to determine. There is much speculation about racial content in some of the verses- some of them do but most of them don't.
Many people seem unable to accept the song as a party and dance song used by both blacks and whites, but that is the case, since it occurs in the literature of both races (all verse references are 20th c, unless Guest Sam Clements find is proven). Which group, black or white, had it first? Impossible to tell without dated references.

In the earliest printed usage, cotton-eyed is defined as having the whites of the eyes prominent. This is a characteristic that appears occasionally in both whites and blacks (sometimes activated by thyroid disorder), and when it does, people remember it. Some verses imply that Cotton-eyed Joe was a vagabond; a trouble-maker, here today and gone tomorrow.

Guest Sam Clements, what is the exact reference to the story you quote? Title of story? Page numbers? Vol. and No.? It is an interesting find because of the date, which is earlier than any reference so far found. Not unlikely, however, since the fiddle tune's use in America seems to go back at least that far.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Scouse
Date: 07 Oct 04 - 12:41 PM

Doc Watson sang "Cotton Eyed Joe." on the sound track of the Film "Places in the Heart." As Aye, Phil


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 07 Oct 04 - 02:34 PM

For an old time dance version, Fiddlin Johnny Carson and His Virginia Reelers on Honking Duck, a 1927 Okeh recording.
Cotton Eyed Joe

(www.honkingduck.com; click on 78s, then click on title and get alphabetic listings. I always find something new to me when I go through these listings) Honking Duck


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: penguin
Date: 22 Nov 05 - 07:50 PM

The "Cotten-eyed Joe" is so embedded in Texas culture that it is sung during the seventh inning stretch of a baseball game. When I first moved the Texas, it was the only song performed. Now both "Take me out the the Ballgame" and "Cotten-eyed Joe" are sung during the seventh inning stretch. So it is not a song confined to honky-tonks and country western venues and history.

In past posts others have described the dance and song in Texas. It is performed as a line dance with each person putting their arms around each others waist and going around the dance floor.   The caller says something like "what's that smell", the dancers kick forward and yell "bullshit". "Say it again" "Bullshit" and so on


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Arne Langsetmo
Date: 23 Nov 05 - 01:26 PM

This is all fascinating.

It does seem that many songs had "filler" verses that just did quantum leaps from song to song (often with the resuls being even more inexplicable than [*HAPPY CENTENNIAL!*] relativity), and thus acquired many different variants. The "Chew Tabbacah/Soda Cracker" thread hereabouts is just another example. Some verses in the CEJ variants above are borrowed, it seems, in quite the same fashion.

But CEJ is interesting in that it seems to have at least three distinct musical strains to it as well. I noted this back when I was doing my mornning folk music show at WWUH, and one morning played my "Cotton Eyed Joe" medley: a set consisting of quite different treatments of Cotton Eyed Joe. Been a while, but IIRC, I played Mike Seeger's CEJ from his "Fresh Oldtime String Band Music" (with the Agents of Terra), a quite different instrumentation and tempo of the "standard" tune, then played Tom Paxton's CEJ from "New Songs From The Briarpatch" with a different melody, then Michelle Shocked's quite interesting homage to CEJ from her "Arkansas Traveller". Don't remember if I put in the Red Clay Rambler's version from "Rambler". If you weren't paying attention, you might not notice they were all the "same" song. FWIW, I think this medley far more interesting than the medley I keep requesting when jamming: "Red Haired Boy/Little Beggarman/Gilderoy").... ;-)

Here's a pretty big list of sources and performers and other info as well as the fine stuff folks have contributed above.

The folk process is interesting ... but perhaps a bit maddening if you're an IP/copyright attorney....

Cheers,


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 23 Nov 05 - 05:49 PM

Bob Wills did a great uptempo version with a very different tune. In it his line is "Daddy worked a man called Cotton-Eyed Joe."

Now the man could well be black, but could as easily be white. "Worked a man" refers most directly either to a hired man, or to a tenant farmer, i.e. sharecropper -- not necessarily a slave. Given the time of probable origin (well after emancipation), I'd say the man was hired.

The Talley and Scarborough versions, both very early, seem to confirm that this song began as a black song, the Talley version sung by blacks about blacks, the Scarborough bearing every sign of being from the white blackface minstrel stage -- which could never be accused of being gentle about black stereotypes. Likely the minstrels based it, like so many in their repertoire, on a black original.

Still, nearly every later version seems more or less assimilated into the southern dance tradition, with words that are not particularly race-specific.

Kat, I admit I was surprised when you and another poster found the "racist" version painful...or even distinctly racist. Am I just missing something here? Fiddlers commonly "whup hell" out of the fiddle; I'd say the reference there is to the tune, not the man. The possible reference to a back-alley murder in the last verse is real tenuous.

The possibility that Mama and Cotton-Eyed Joe had an affair is implicit, maybe. There's very little mention of interracial sex in traditional songs, and I'm not sure this really is one. Again, Joe may be white.

I'm working hard to pick out the pain and the racism, but somehow it just doesn't strike me that way. If it's there, and these aren't just random verses, it's a good deal less obvious, certainly, than a good few other songs that are more overt.

I think you took this song to be essentially a narrative, like a ballad, and I just think it's a lot less story-oriented than that. What do you think?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 23 Nov 05 - 09:33 PM

The earliest dated mention of Cotton-eyed Joe I have found is in Perrow, a song from the MS of Dr. Harrington, 1909, collected from Mississippi Negroes.

Ef it hadn't been fer dat Cottoneye Joe,
Mought er been married six er seben year ago.

E. C. Perrow, "Songs and Rhymes from the South, 1915, part VIII, no. 81, Jour. American Folklore, vol. 28.

Scarborough's notes suggest that it could go back to slavery times. It does seem to be a Black song.

Common slang usage, as stated here or in another thread, defines cotton-eyed as having the whitea of the eye prominent (J. E. Lighter, Historical Dictionary of American Slang, vol. 1).
Nothing suggests a white man is involved, and I see nothing to support racist interpretations.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Scott & Hollie
Date: 24 Nov 05 - 04:31 PM

I think cotton eye joe, is a man called Joe, who has a cotton eye. he goes to alot of pubs in Cattemajo and dances alot, doin the 1 eye gallop shuffle. He is a cross btween a pirate an a mexican.. i think? pirates have patches.. he has a cotton eye? hmm same thing rly enit?! lol aight thnks for listenin n gd nite.. lol!...


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: CapriUni
Date: 27 Jan 06 - 06:11 PM

Just checked out the song in the DT... wanted to download the midi, so I could write new words to the tune...

But the tune file attached to the lyrics on that page is all slow and mournful, and there are far too few syllables, to my ear... I think the links may have gotten mixed up.

Just giving a heads up.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Texas Girl
Date: 06 Apr 06 - 07:07 PM

For as long as I can remember the cotton eyed joe was played, sung and danced at every Texas occasion with out fail. There are many versions and many different lyrics. The song is so much a part of the soul of Texas. If your going to play in Texas you gotta have a fiddle in the band.Another name for cotton eyed joe is The Best Ole
Fiddle. My fiddles made of wood. Your's is the best ole fiddle excepting mine. My fiddles made of pine. Cornstalk bow. Cotton Eyed Joe is discribled as ugly but lean and tall. No teeth and flat nose.
Cross eyed. To very good looking.
He came to town like a midwinter storm
He rode through the fields so
Handsome and strong
His eyes was his tools and his smile was his gun
But all he had come for was having some fun
Could it be that the cotton eyed joe came from several different sources. From the Texas and Louisiana plantations where the Negro slaves sang the song while picking cotton as discribed by Scarborough and also from Scotts. Many Scotts married Native Americans and Negroes such as the Cherokee who also owned plantation and also Negro slaves. When the Cherokee/Scottish mixed were forced off their land on the eastern coast and sent on the trail of tears they took their black slaves with them to Oklahoma and Texas. The slaves became part of the tribe and were discribed as Black Cherokees. Many mixed Cherokee (black hair but green and blue eyes)
left the east coast prior to the Trail Of Tears and started over in Texas. They blended with society. The way the song is danced to will remind one of both cherokee and Scottish dances. Old tunes from the old country were often blended with both Native American and American Negro songs. My great uncle made fiddles for many years. From cherry wood, pine well whatever wood he could find and yes his favorite tune was cotton eyed joe.Yes he was Cherokee and Scottish.
I can remember as a little girl watching him tap his foot on the old wood floor as he tried out his newest fiddle. Every fiddle played Cotton Eyed Joe before it's new owner came to pick it up. Every type of payment was made for the fiddles. Horses, cows and pigs. Tobacco,
grain, sugar, corn flour or material for my great aunt a new dress, whatever he needed at the time he would except as a payment for his work. Once he stated that the musician came all the way from Tennesse to pick up that cherry wood.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Azizi
Date: 07 Apr 06 - 02:08 PM

Thanks for sharing this information and your personal experiences with Black Indians.

For more information on this subject, those interested may want to read the William Loren Katz's book Black Indians


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Goose Gander
Date: 15 Jun 06 - 08:46 PM

I too have long assumed 'Cotton-Eyed Joe' was derived from minstrelsy, but are there any nineteenth-century prints of the lyrics in any form? What about sheet music? Any solid evidence it was ever a staple of the minstrel stage?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 15 Jun 06 - 10:49 PM

'Cotton-eyed' as a descriptive adjective for having the whites of the eyes prominent was first noted in print in "Dialect Notes," 1905; older references are anecdotal.
Gargoyle noted this way back in 19 and 99 in this thread, and correctly identified the subject of the song as seduction.

Dorothy Scarborough, in "On the Trail of Negro Folk Songs" (1925) received anecdotal evidence that the song was sung by slaves on plantations in Texas and Louisiana. Since these sources were multiple, chances are good that it actually is an African-American party song from the 19th c.
In threads above is the excellent version collected by Scarborough as well as one from Talley, "Negro Folk Rhymes." N. I. White collected fragments from Blacks in Alabama in 1915-1916.

The song has not been found in minstrel routines as far as I can determine.

The party song has persisted among whites as a fiddle tune (multiple recordings in the 1920's), but with lyrics that no longer tell a complete story.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 16 Jun 06 - 01:40 PM

The post by Guest Sam Clements, 04 Oct 04, seems to support the African-American origin of the song, and dates the song back at least to 1875. I had forgotton this post. I would like to verify the Sat. Eve. Post reference, but haven't got a copy yet.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Goose Gander
Date: 16 Jun 06 - 07:26 PM

Where did you come from, Cotton-Eyed Joe?

Talley's 'The Origin of Negro Traditions' (1942-43, published in two parts in the journal Phylon) has some very interesting speculations about the origin and meaning of Cotton-Eyed Joe. Referring first to anthropological discoveries in an Alabama cave in 1842, he cites a report of "eight or ten wooden coffins of black and white walnut, hollowed or cut out of the solid in the fashion of a 'dugout' canoe." (p. 375, part one). He further notes that the song includes "the statement that Cotton-Eyed Joe's child was buried in a coffin made by hollowing out the log from a trunk of a tree." He traces this practice back to the Bronze Age. "To make a long story short," he writes, "the tradition of Cotton-Eyed Joe appears to have originated in some form away back in the Bronze Age of prehistoric times and to have traveled down through the ages to the early seventies in the last century (nineteenth century) when I heard it as a mere child after its multitudinous revisions and recastings extending over thousands and possibly over millions of years." (p. 31, part two)

Whew. That's quite a theory to build upon a few lines in a song and a discovery in a cave (which seems almost certainly to have been Native American in origin). But Talley's childhood memories (if accurate) do place the song in the 1870s, at least.

More recently, Robert Winans in "Black Instrumental Music Traditions in the Ex-Slave Narratives" (Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Spring, 1990), p.43-53) listed Cotton-Eyed Joe among "the most frequently rememembered dance tunes and songs played on instruments" mentioned in the WPA ex-slave narratives collected in the 1930s. (P.51-52). This provides further evidence dating the song (instrumentally at least) to the antebellum era in the American South.

Also, for what it's worth, historian Grady McWhiney (certainly no musicologist) wrote in his book Cracker Culture (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 1988) that Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains identified Cotton-Eyed Joe as an Irish song upon first hearing it in North America. Judging from previous posts, some folks seem to think the tune is Scottish in origin, and there may well be some connection to the British Isles.

But to return to my original question, I can't find anything that specifically connects Cotton-Eyed Joe to the stage, whether minstrel, vaudeville, medicine show, what have you. When you consider how many different prints and parodies there are of popular minstrel songs such as Jordan Am A Hard Road, Old Dan Tucker, Root Hog or Die, etc., I would certainly expect to have found something.

I'll feel pretty dumb if someone goes and posts some commericially printed lyrics circa 1800s, but it seems safe to say that Cotton-Eyed Joe is not directly connected to blackface minstrelsy.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 16 Jun 06 - 08:14 PM

The post by Morris pretty well sums up the status of our knowledge.
Certainly the tale of seduction found by Scarborough, White, Talley and others doesn't appear in any of the minstrel routines that I have found so far.

I don't know where he published it or if it is in his papers at Fisk, but Talley "details a bizarre tale of a well-known pre-Civil War plantation musician, Cotton Eyed Joe, who plays a fiddle made from the coffin of his dead son" ("Negro Folk Rhymes," 1922 (1949), p. 27-28).
If anyone has the original reference, I would like to hear more of it.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Kegan
Date: 01 Jul 06 - 05:24 AM

Wow... I read the whole damn thing LOL.

Let's not forget Walter Brennan's narrative version, nor the '90s version by the Rednex...

I have a version by some Cajun band, a stanza runs:

"I'da been married a long time ago
If it had'nt a-been for the cotton-eyed Joe
Where didja go, now what didja do?
Where didja go...cotton-eyed Joe?

Now what do we say? Crawfish!
Whadda we say? Aw, crawfish
What do we say? Crawfish!
And away we go with the cotton-eye Joe"

I LOVE IT!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,noel C
Date: 04 Sep 06 - 11:38 AM

A friend of mine was playing fiddle with Hank thompson I believe and was in a bar somwhere in Texas. There was a group of bar hopper that kept wanting to hear the cotton eyed joe. He got ticked because they kept wanting to hear it. So habk T started to ask him questions like in the song and he answered bull shit. that's how the BS vertion of cotton eyed joe got started. just in case anyone wanted to know. He also wrote the song pop a top and very many of Hank Thompsons hits.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,50yearspicking banjer
Date: 14 Dec 06 - 11:05 PM

listing to the skillit lickers singing (cotton eyed joe) i think he was a horse or a mule,he was to busy following the durn mule even to get married,love the music


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Scoville
Date: 15 Dec 06 - 09:31 AM

Good grief--EVERYONE plays this tune. I've got so many versions of it just in the recordings I own, I can't even believe it. Actually, the Bob Wills one I have is pretty nice--not as rip-roaring fast as the old-time ones and has a nice a melodic variation.

Don't you remember, don't you know?
Daddy worked a man called Cotton-Eyed Joe,
Daddy worked a man called Cotton-Eyed Joe.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Had not a-been for Cotton-Eyed Joe,
I'd 'a' been married a long time ago,
I'd 'a' been married a long time ago.

Down in the cotton-patch, down below,
Everybody's singing the Cotton-Eyed Joe,
Everybody's singing the Cotton-Eyed Joe.

I know a gal lives down below,
I used to go to see her but I don't no more,
I used to go to see her but I don't no more.

Tune my fiddle and I rosin my bow,
Gonna make music everywhere I go,
Gonna play a tune they call "Cotton-Eyed Joe".


And the Freight Hoppers recorded a fast version with the verses, most of which are floating:

Well, run to the window, run to the door,
And I ain't seen nothing but the Cotton-Eyed Joe,
I ain't seen nothing but the Cotton-Eyed Joe.

Chorus:
Where'd you come from, where'd you go?
Where'd you come from, Cotton-Eyed Joe.

Sitting in the window singing to my love,
. . .like a bell from the window up above,
Mule ate a grasshopper eating ice cream,
Mule got sick so they laid him on a beam.

Well, down in the henhouse on my knees,
I thought I heard a chicken sneeze,
He sneezed so loud with a whoop and cough,
He sneezed his head and tail right off.

So, Cotton-Eyed Joe, he had a wooden leg,
Leg wasn't nothing but a little wooden peg,
One shoe off and one shoe on,
He could do a double-shuffle till the cows come home.

[Don't sing first time around]
If it had not 'a' been for the Cotton-Eyed Joe,
I'd 'a' been married twenty years ago.

[Don't sing first time around]
So, eighteen, nineteen, twenty years ago,
Papa worked a man called Cotton-Eyed Joe,


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Scoville
Date: 15 Dec 06 - 09:33 AM

Which, I was going to say, "worked a man" goes along with the idea of "had a man" as in a hired man, not an owned man. But then I've very commonly heard the phrase "had a man" to mean a hired hand; I've seen it in older writings and it's still in use now, at least in this part of the country.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,john brandon sterling jared
Date: 06 Jan 07 - 07:54 PM

i think this song is about ghnorrea!!!!!!!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,cfizzle
Date: 26 Jan 07 - 02:25 PM

thank you for your help. i feel educated


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Arkie
Date: 26 Jan 07 - 11:21 PM

This is certainly an example of a song that has survived a long time in many different forms because it holds some appeal and not because of popular recordings.   I think that the main reason for the appeal is the tune and almost anything can be thrown in for a verse.   If the term "cotton eyed" ever had wide usuage there seems to be no record of it. From the version I learned from Albert it seemed like Joe may have had problems with vision, and someone had to stay home and look after him.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 26 Jan 07 - 11:36 PM

'cotton-eyed' appeared in "Dialect Notes" in 1905. Southern provenance.
Steinbeck used it in his novel, "East of Eden," 1952.

I have heard it off and on in both south and west.

Defined as having the whites of the eyes prominent.

(Posted before, I think this thread).
Reference- J. E. Lighter, Historical Dictionary of American Slang, vol. 1, p. 491.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,tomtom1942
Date: 03 Feb 07 - 08:59 PM

About 1950 someone gave my aunt a old Victrolla with a stack of 78's. One of the songs was "Cotton eyed Joe" and the lyrics went something like this:
Way down south where the cotton grows high,
'ol (something,something)is quite a guy,
when he picks cotton, his eyes do shine,
dats why they call him cotton eyed joe.

Then the words:where did you come from, where did you go, etc
I have no idea who recorded this or when


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,chloe
Date: 04 Feb 07 - 09:08 AM

wat r the dance moves to the cotton eyed joe song i need them for my p.e lesson we r doin dancin


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Duke
Date: 04 Feb 07 - 09:48 AM

I know the same version as Balladeer and I learned it from the same person (Doug Bush) that she did. He was an amazing musician and I wish I had not lost touch with him over the years.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Azizi
Date: 04 Feb 07 - 03:24 PM

Hello GUEST,chloe!

From reading a version of "Cotton Eye Joe" that I have from 1922 {Thomas W. Talley "Negro Folk Rhymes"} my guess is that the individual dance steps that were done would have names that are no longer familiar to people nowadays. But it seems that the dances were performed with onlookers standing around in a circle watching couples {man/woman} dance together. In a couple of songs there are references to swinging your partner and wheeling and turning.

Some instrumental tunes and songs became associated with certain movements {dance steps} and so people would say that they were dancing "Cotton Eyed Joe". But I would imagine that the dance steps could be used for other tunes and songs too, just like today with the "Chicken Noodle Soup" song and its dance movements. Or since many of these 19th century dances had a person who called out which movements people would do, maybe it would be closer to say that "Cotton Eye Joe" was more like the instructional dance songs & social dances such as the dancehall reggae song "Pon Di River (Pon Di Bank)" by Elephant Man.

Maybe the dances that people did way back when were something like USA square dances or country dances.

If you can get YouTube, click on this video for an example of a square dance done to the song "Jingle Bell Rock".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=memvr99utdc

Best wishes,

Azizi

Btw, if anyone here knows any more about what Chloe is asking, I'd love to learn more about this and I don't mind being corrected.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 04 Feb 07 - 04:54 PM

Some seventeen versions of Cotton-eyed Joe at Bluegrass Messengers:
Bluegrass



(I think square dancers, following the orders of a 'caller' while the fiddle band is doing its stuff, can dance to it.
This is something I have stayed away from, so no help here- only mis-direction)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Wordsmith
Date: 09 Feb 07 - 01:08 AM

This is quite a thread. I must admit I never paid attention to most of the words of the version I heard which had to be more recent, maybe the Rednex version, because I was too busy laughing while stumbling over my feet trying to learn the line dance my friends were teaching me. I found the melody to be quite pleasant, but fast. Wish I'd paid more attention, but from what I've read from top to bottom, I'd have to agree that someone got jilted (because his gal ran off with Cotton Eyed Joe) or at the very least dumped because of him. I never knew it was such an old song. Thanks for the history lesson. I loved it.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Mizu
Date: 03 Mar 07 - 06:09 PM

I'm sure this has already been thrown out there but...

I found the most simplestic answer to be that (ruling out the racism) Joe was a "worker" and his "boss" made him dance for entertainment. Well... He became a good dancer and all the women loved him... The "boss" proposed to a woman with a diamond ring but she did not love him beacuse he was an... An ass to his "workers" and she ended up running of with him, hince the lyrics "If it haden't been for Cotton-Eyed Joe then I'd be married a long time ago".

Uh... Yeah...


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Tary Morris
Date: 15 Apr 07 - 10:20 PM

My dad was a square dance caller back in the 70's and early 80's and this song was what was called a "Round Dance", similar to line dances in clubs. I dont recall any racism in the words that my dad used, and sometime he would just let the record play with no words. I know this doesnt help anyone in the research of this song but it has been fun to read the threads. BTW does anyone know where i can get an intrumental version of this song. Preferably folk sound Rednex version is good but the old tune sounds so great!!

Thanks,

Tary


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 16 Apr 07 - 12:42 AM

A great old tune it is.
People like to read more into a song than is there. A particular failing here at Mudcat.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Goose Gander
Date: 16 Apr 07 - 02:50 PM

Here's a few recordings from American Memory . . . .

Cotton Eyed Joe performed by the King Family at Visalia FSA Camp, 2-9-41

Source: Voices From the Dust Bowl


Cotton Eyed Joe

Cotton Eyed Joe

Both performed by Elmo Newcomer near Pipe Creek, Bandera County, Texas, 5-3-39

Source: John and Ruby Lomax Southern States Recording Trip


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Goose Gander
Date: 16 Apr 07 - 03:28 PM

Cotton Eyed Joe

Lyrics as sung by King Family in Visalia, 1941.

Where did you come from
Where did you go
Where did you come from
Cotton Eyed Joe?

I come from the city
I come for to show
Come from a place
Called cotton Eyed Joe

Cotton Eyed Joe had a new suit of clothes
Nobody knows where he got them clothes

Went to the country
Went to the show
Stuffed my gut
Full of sweet cake dough

Cotton Eyed Joe had a new suit of clothes
Nobody knows where he got them clothes

And here's the Ballad Index entry . . .

Cotton-Eyed Joe
DESCRIPTION: "If it hadn't been for Cotton-eyed Joe, I'd have been married a long time ago." "Where did you come from, where did you go...." Stanzas describe country life, fiddle playing, and attempts to outshine Cotton-eyed Joe
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1927 (recording, Dyke's Magic City Trio)
KEYWORDS: fiddle music nonballad
FOUND IN: US(SE)
REFERENCES (5 citations):
BrownIII 104, "Page's Train Run So Fast" (1 text)
Scarborough-NegroFS, pp. 69-70, "Cotton-Eyed Joe" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-ABFS, pp. 262-263, "Cotton-Eyed Joe" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 35, "Cotton-Eyed Joe" (1 text)
DT, COTTNEYE*
Roud #942
RECORDINGS:
Arthur "Brother-in-Law" Armstrong, "Cotton-Eyed Joe" (AFS 3979 B2, 1940)
Granville Bowlen, "Cotton Eyed Joe" [instrumental] (on MMOK, MMOKCD)
Fiddlin' John Carson, "Cotton Eyed Joe" (OKeh 45122, 1927)
Carter Brothers and Son, "Cotton-Eyed Joe" (Vocalion 5349, 1929; on GoingDown)
Dyke's Magic City Trio, "Cotton-Eyed Joe" (Brunswick 120, 1927)
Spud Gravely & Glen Smith, "Cotton Eye Joe" (on HalfCen1)
New Lost City Ramblers, "Cotton-Eye Joe" (on NLCR10)
Elmo Newcomer, "Cotton Eyed Joe" (Cromart 101, n.d. but prob. mid-1930s)
Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers, "Cotton-Eyed Joe" (Victor 21469, 1928)
Bookmiller Shannon, "Cotton-Eyed Joe" (on LomaxCD1707)
Gid Tanner & his Skillet Lickers, "Cotton-Eyed Joe" (Columbia 15283-D, 1928)
Art Thieme, "Cotton-Eyed Joe" (on Thieme03)
Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, "Cotton-Eyed Joe" (Columbia 37212, c. 1947)
Notes: Primarily a fiddle tune, with the sort of chaotic words one would expect of such a piece. I assume "Cotton-Eyed Joe" stands for something, but I've never heard an explanation. - RBW
It's been suggested that Cotton-Eyed Joe was a local character who was blind due to cataracts or another eye disease such as trachoma. - PJS


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 25 Apr 07 - 03:49 AM

As Q said , there are too many people looking for all sorts of interpretations of lyrics . Some of us have even less reason for posting ! Mine is :-


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: open mike
Date: 25 Apr 07 - 11:59 AM

there is a link to a recording of this
sung by Dodie Kallick in the 1960's
posted by BK Lick (Dodie's husband,
if i am not mistaken, in her obit
thread--April 2007)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Michelle MAC
Date: 05 May 07 - 11:35 PM

Its about an STD he cought from some of the girls they all were shareing now he can't get married because he's got the drips sometimes


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: balladeer
Date: 06 May 07 - 01:05 AM

I recorded Cotton Eyed Joe on my debut CD, All the Good Times, released in 2001. A two-mnute clip can be heard on my CD Baby web site. If you hear echoes of Josh White or Nina Simone in my reading, it's because I loved what they each did with the song and was probably inspired by them. Joanne Crabtree


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Goose Gander
Date: 29 May 07 - 06:41 PM

Cotton Eyed Joe dance steps from the website of the Folk Dance Federation


And two from the Wolf Folklore Collection . . . .

Cotton Eye Joe Sung by: Gus Mahon (with instrumental accompaniment); Recorded in Heber Springs, AR.

Eighteen, nineteen, twenty years ago,
. . . run away with Cotton Eye Joe.

Had not a-been for Cotton Eye Joe,
I'd been married a long time ago.

Hold my fiddle and a-hold my bow,
Gonna beat the devil out of Cotton Eye Joe.

(Fiddle Tune: "Tennessee Wagner")


Best Old Fiddle (Cotton-Eyed Joe) Sung by: W.P. Detherow
Recorded in Batesville, AR, 7/19/52

The best old fiddle and the best old bow,
The best old fiddle in the countee-o.

My old fiddle is made of wood,
The best old fiddle in the neighborhood.

Your old fiddle is made of pine,
The best old fiddle exceptin' mine.

Homemade sugar and a puncheon floor,
I spend my money and I work for more.

Tune up a fiddle and I rosin up a bow,
And I knocked darnation out of Cotton-Eyed Joe.

I'd been married six or seven years ago,
T'hadn't a-been for Cotton-Eyed Joe.

Wanted to go to meeting and they wouldn't let me go,
And I had to stay at home with Cotton-Eyed Joe.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Leonard Powell
Date: 08 Oct 07 - 06:40 PM

I have heard the song,but what I want to know is who is (cotton Eyed Joe)I have heard the song all my life, but only recently it has come to me.Was he a traveling salesman, or did he just go around getting women pregnant. There has to be a story somewhere that provaked this sons. email me at
LPowell32@cfl.rr.com


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,T-Bone
Date: 27 Oct 07 - 10:47 AM

I am amazed that no one has seen the conection between some of the lyrics in this "fiddle" tune, and "The Devil went Down to Georgia".


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,SCWV
Date: 27 Oct 07 - 12:47 PM

The Josh White version doesn't sound racist at all. The way he sings it & listening to the lyrics makes me think that it might be an Underground Railroad song, although I have not conferred this notion of mine with research.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,SCWV
Date: 27 Oct 07 - 12:59 PM

What is the race of Cotton-Eye Joe? My guess is that he is of mixed race. I keep thinking he is black, despite all the redneck allusions in some versions, but Cotton-Eyed indicates that he is a white person. I guess it can't be Underground Railroad after all.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 27 Oct 07 - 01:28 PM

Read the threads linked above and all will be explained (more or less).


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Dadsfolk
Date: 31 Oct 07 - 11:03 PM

Entertaining thread. Many useful references, but reminds me of Mark Twain's observations about science - a massive return in speculation for a trifling investment of fact! :-)

Given that it was widely enough known to be used in the Saturday Evening Post in 1875, and for everyone to jump on when recording in the '20s, it's a bit surprising to me that there's no printed version in sheet music or song sheets in the American Memory collection. Perhaps it was *too* widely known?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Mr Happy
Date: 04 Dec 07 - 11:53 AM

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=cHQZBXJxCbA


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,rogmc
Date: 25 Jan 08 - 03:30 PM

I had heard in Missouri, back around 1960 that the term Cotton-eye referred to someone whose eye color was blue or light. I don't think it means anything exotic like a rare eye disease. I thought that cotton-eye along with towheaded
were old-timey descriptive words.

--rogmc


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Angel
Date: 26 Jan 08 - 10:52 PM

The True original verson of this song dates a long way back and it is not actually recorded who wrote it how ever you can look at these few places and do a little reading you will find that a black woman and/or man once sang the song so there is no prejudice in it do your research and read!
www.luckymojo.com/bluescottoneyedjoeunknown.html    (INFO)

http://www.high-priestess.com/cottoneyedjoe    (Woman singing plus lyrics)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: katlaughing
Date: 26 Jan 08 - 11:03 PM

LMAO, thanks Mr. Happy!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Buster
Date: 29 Jan 08 - 09:08 AM

I have to be honest...it really irritates me when someone makes a blanket statement about such a great song. This thread started with someone saying that this song has racist origins. I think it's clear from all of the responses that no one knows for sure WHAT exactly the origins of this song are and that's what makes it all the more beautiful.

I grew up in eastern Kentucky and this song was a part of my childhood. The term "Cotton Eyed Joe" we always assumed referred to a very good looking guy with light blue eyes that whipped into town, stole girls hearts and dissapeared.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Mar 08 - 06:12 PM

who is the original artist of the song? Who was the first to sing it?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Goose Gander
Date: 28 Mar 08 - 07:46 PM

For the long answer, read through the thread.

Short answer: noone knows!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Goose Gander
Date: 22 Apr 08 - 12:33 AM

Just saw and heard the worst ever version of Cotton-Eyed Joe on 'Dancing With the Stars' - don't ask me why I was watching, it was an accident.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: balladeer
Date: 05 May 08 - 05:47 AM

I have my own a cappella version of Cotton Eyed Joe. It's slow, bluesy, and mournful. Paul Mills and I recorded it in 2000 on a CD called All the Good Times. These days, it's selling through iTunes Europe, but I still have some hard copies for ayone who'd like one. People love to sing along. It came down to me from Doug Bush, Nina Simone, and Josh White.

I,too, heard it recently on Dancing With the Stars. I loved that version as well. It's part of the fiddle-tune tradition, a little jazzed up for modern country-music fans. A touch of the Charlie Daniels sound. And why not keep adapting the song for different times and tastes? That way, it will live forever.

I make no apology for watching the dance shows. I'm a performer myself and I learn a lot from the work ethic of the dancers, especially the kids on So You Think You Can Dance?

I usually avoid anything on tv that did not originate with HBO, home of arguably the best films being made in the US today, but I do learn a lot from the dance shows - and from baseball, of course! Baseball teaches me everything I need to know about the ups and downs of life.

Balladeer


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Durango_Trucker
Date: 16 Sep 08 - 01:31 AM

the cotton eyed joe I am most familiar with and like is the Isaac Payton Sweat Version. For those who don't know, the fiddle is a must in this version and goes like this:

I'd been married a long time ago,
Had not have been for cotton eyed joe,
Where did ya come from where did ya go,
Where did ya come from Cotton eye joe.

Got a ball peen hammer and a two by four
Gonna whip the hell outta cotton eyed joe
Where did ya come from where did ya go,
Where did ya come from Cotton eye joe.

Now what'ya say?! (Bull Shit!!!)
Step in what?!   (Bull Shit!!!)
A little bit louder now (Bull Shit!!)
Aw the hell ya say!

Made himself a fiddle, made himself a bow,
mad a little tune called the cotton eyed joe.
Where did ya come from where did ya go,
Where did ya come from Cotton eye joe.

there are a couple more verses along with the interlude/refrain and it is usually played a little faster towards the end.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Goose Gander
Date: 23 Dec 08 - 04:21 PM

Wilson Douglas plays 'Cotton Eyed Joe'

Lester McCumbers plays 'Cotton Eyed Joe'


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: oombanjo
Date: 24 Dec 08 - 04:37 AM

I have often wondered if the words "cotton eyed joe" refer to having a white film over the eye ?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 26 Dec 08 - 01:04 PM

Oombanjo, I agree. I always understood it to be a filmy eye, maybe from a cataract. If you've seen people with that sort of eye disease (it's rare now because so easily corrected), you would be very likely to describe it as a cotton eye. (Eye damage from misuse of household caustics can also produce that kind of look, I believe, though I'm no expert and could be wrong about this. Caustics were the cause of blindness for a good few rural people years back.

My, that Bugs Bunny clip is a good'un. I ask myself, how did Hollywood get hold of this old traditional song? Not sure who the soundtrack artist is, but it's a steam-powered version all right, and doesn't clearly derive from either of the commonly circulated pop versions of that era -- Burl Ives' or Bob Wills'.

I'm guessing the song turned up in California by way of a migrant musician, maybe an Okie but maybe not. There were a lot of people heading for Sunny Cal in those days to find fame and fortune, and California had a bushel of country artists who derived from the southeast, midwest and southwest.

Bob


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 17 Jan 09 - 08:37 AM

I'm guessing that in early days, say before 1940, there was a parallel tradition using "Cotton-Eyed Joe" as a lullaby.

The earliest example I know of is Burl Ives' early-1950s recorded version, mentioned briefly above. It is sung slowly, to a tune that is distinct from the various dance melodies for the song. If memory serves, Burl used only two verses:

Where did you come from, where did you go?
Where did you come from, old Cotton-eyed Joe?

Come for to see you, come for to sing,
Come for to show you my diamond ring.

It has a meditative, lullaby sound. It's also an odd match -- notice verse 2 only seems to answer verse 1; it really doesn't. As if the two were put together from different sources or even different songs.

I don't know Ives' source, though growing up in Jasper County, Illinois, he learned a fair number of songs from his grandmother. I haven't found any indication whether this may have been one of hers. I'd hoped I might find Burl'd written some comments about it, but unfortunately he didn't include it in his Burl Ives Song Book, nor elsewhere that I know of -- only on record, without notes.

The diamond ring verse isn't found in the dance versions until very late (like, after 1960), and probably did not originate there. It's not in any of the early printed versions I've seen—Talley, Scarborough, White, Lomax.

So:

1. Is Burl Ives the first known user of the "diamond ring" verse in this song? Wonder what its origin is? Anyone know?

2. Anyone know of any pre-1940 evidence for "Cotton Eyed Joe" as a lullaby?
(i.e. I'd like to narrow the question down to pre-1950 at the latest, excluding versions that came later)

3. Know of any other verses used in early lullaby versions?

4. In fact, what are the chances that "Cotton-Eyed Joe" in the Ives tradition might be a separate song that just happens to be about the same figure and share a first verse?

Real mystery, this! -- Bob


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 17 Jan 09 - 08:57 AM

WARNING, X-RATED VERSION AHEAD.

Maybe the bawdy versions of "Cotton-Eyed Joe" can clarify some of the questions asked above? The Randolph-Legman Ozarks collection "Roll Me In Your Arms" gives the following from a Mr. E.W., Eureka Springs, Ark, 1949, from a dance-call version:

COTTON-EYE JOE

Long as a hoe, tough as a boot,
Gals all think he's terrible cute,
Where [did?] he come from, where did he go?
Never can tell about Cotton-Eye Joe.

All holler yes, never say no,
Gals line up for Cotton-Eye Joe,
All line up with a do-si-do,
Pull down (your) pants for Cotton-Eye Joe

Mammy (done) told me a long time ago,
Don't never monkey with Cotton-Eye Joe,
Gals all think he's terrible cute,
Watchin' for a chance to grab his old root.

I'd a been married long time ago
If I hadn't laid up with Cotton-Eye Joe.

That last couplet maybe explains why the difficulty getting to the altar. Could be VD, could be getting such a reputation nobody'd touch her (or him??) for marriage material.
Randolph-Legman also give a fragment from "a lady in Carroll County, Arkansas", 1952:

The biggest prick I ever saw
Growed right here in Arkansas,
Gals all a-playing high and low,
Took down their pants for Cotton-Eye Joe.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Amos
Date: 17 Jan 09 - 11:17 AM

Wikipedias, unusually, has an article on the song. It says, inter alia,

"The precise origins of this song are unclear, although it predates the American Civil War[1]. One version was recorded by folklorist Dorothy Scarborough and published in 1925.[2][3]

Don't you remember, don't you know,
Don't you remember Cotton-eyed Joe?

Cotton-eyed Joe, Cotton-eyed Joe,
What did make you treat me so?

I'd 'a' been married forty year ago
Ef it had n't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe!

Cotton-eyed Joe, Cotton-eyed Joe,
He was de nig dat sarved me so, ?

Tuck my gal away fum me,
Carried her off to Tennessee.

I'd 'a' been married forty year ago
Ef it had n't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe.

Hi's teeth was out an' his nose was flat,
His eyes was crossed, ? but she did n't mind dat.

Kase he was tall, and berry slim,
An' so my gal she follered him.

I'd 'a' been married forty year ago
Ef it had n't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe.

She was de prettiest gal to be found
Anywhar in de country round;

Her lips was red an' her eyes was bright,
Her skin was black but her teeth was white.

I'd 'a' been married forty year ago
Ef it had n't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe.

Dat gal, she sho' had all my love,
An swore fum ne she'd never move,

But Joe hoodooed her, don't you see,
An' she run off wid him to Tennessee,
I'd 'a' been married forty years ago,
Ef it hadn't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe."

Scarborough noted that the song seemed to be well known in the South prior to the Civil War, and parts of it had been sent in by various pesons.[4]

Over the years, many different versions of the song have been performed and/or recorded with many different versions of the lyrics (and many without lyrics). Cotton-eyed Joe, on occasion referred to as "the South Texas National Anthem", was played for minstrel-type jigs, and has long been popular as a square dance hoedown and a couple dance polka.[5] During the first half of the twentieth century the song was a widely known folk song all over English-speaking North America. One Discography lists 134 recorded versions released since 1950.[1] In more recent decades, the song has waned in popularity in most regions except some parts of the American South where it is still a popular folk song[6].

A list of the possible meanings of the term "cotton eyed" that have been proposed includes: to be drunk on moonshine, or to have been blinded by drinking wood alcohol, turning the eyes milky white; a black person with very light blue eyes; someone whose eyes were milky white from bacterial infections of Trachoma or syphilis, cataracts or glaucoma; and the contrast of dark skin tone around white eyeballs in black people. [7]
Bob Wills and Adolph Hofner and His San Antonians both recorded the song, and Hofner's version (Columbia 37658) apparently being the one that did the most to popularize the song.[8]

A 1967 instrumental version of the song (KIKR k202) by Al Dean, who recalled the song called "The Gingerbread Man" in South Texas, inspired a new round dance polka for couples. This dance was adapted into a simplified version as a nonpartner waist-hold, spoke line routine. Heel and toe polka steps were replaced with a cross-lift followed by a kick with two-steps. The lift and kick are sometimes accompanied by shouts of "whoops, whoops," or the barn yard term "bull shit", mimicking the act of kicking off barnyard muck.[9] The practice continues to this day.

The spoke line version gained popularity not only in Texas, but across the nation and overseas in the 1980s.[10]

Ray Benson of the Western Swing band Asleep at the Wheel talks about playing the Bob Wills version of "Cotton Eye Joe" in Texas in the 1970s, when the dance was very much alive. [2]

A Western "Craze" followed the 1980 release of Urban Cowboy. Dancers nationwide even dressed the part in cowboy boots, hats, and jeans. To accommodate the singles in attendance, creative Texans resurrected old nonpartner, spoke-line dances (such as "Cotton-eyed Joe") and invented new ones. They changed some of the formations from couple to spoke-lines and altered the steps to fit, so that lines made up of single dancers could link arms around each other's waists and prance or glide around the hall. [3]

The Bob Wills version of the song is still popular with dancers.
"Cotton Eye Joe", and its continued popularity in Texas, was referred to in the lyrics to Alabama's song "If You're Gonna Play in Texas." "I remember down in Houston we were puttin' on a show when a cowboy in the back stood up and yelled, "Cotton-Eyed Joe"!"
In April 2008 "Cotton-Eyed Joe" was used as the music for a Country Western group dance on the nationally broadcast show "Dancing with the Stars".

"Cotton-Eyed Joe" has been a standard during the seventh-inning stretch at Texas Rangers baseball games since the team moved to Texas in 1972. The Rednex version has been played at Yankee Stadium since the mid-90s during the seventh-inning stretch. Since late 2001, the song has been moved to the eighth inning to accommodate the playing and/or singing of God Bless America. During the song, a video on the Diamond Vision screen claiming to be "live from the control room" shows an individual identified as "Cotton Eye Joey" in a straw hat dancing along.

In Florida at the Bank Atlantic Center 2008-2009 During The Florida Panthers (Ice Hockey) Games while in between plays, They bring out a lone man dressed like a cowboy that dances to the song for the on looking fans when they are winning or tied. Bank Atlantic Center also plays the song with a blow up "mad" cow, named Mad by a large number of fans for when the Panthers are losing; they bring him out to get the fans going. When used they come out most of the time in the second period, but have been seen in the third, both aren't used every game.

"Cotton-Eyed Joe" was used for an act on America's Got Talent."


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 24 Jun 09 - 07:04 AM

I am surprised no one has discovered the possible explanation for cotton-eyed to mean drunk, or made blind from moonshine, a known side affect from that kind of alcohol.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Stewie
Date: 08 Mar 11 - 09:28 AM

Can any 'catter check these lyrics of 'Cotton-eyed Joe' as sung by Mike Seeger's band Agents of Terra in reggae style back when the world was young?

COTTON-EYED JOE
(As performed by Agents of Terra)

Eighteen nineteen, 20 years ago
Daddy had a man he called cotton-eyed Joe

Tell me, where did you come from
Where did you go
Tell me, where did you come from
Cotton-eyed Joe

I fell down, stubbed my toe
Call for the doctor, cotton-eyed Joe

Tell me, where did you come from
Where did you go
Tell me, where did you come from
Cotton-eyed Joe

Instrumental break

Eighteen days of rain and snow
The roof fell in on cotton-eyed Joe

Tell me, where did you come from
Where did you go
Tell me, where did you come from
Cotton-eyed Joe

When you're feelin' down,
Feelin' kind of low
Need a little needle now,
To get you through the show

Tell me, where did you come from
Where did you go
Tell me, where did you come from
Cotton-eyed Joe

Instrumental outro

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,randmor
Date: 27 Oct 11 - 03:41 AM

Scoville's version of Cotton Eyed Joe includes the lines:

So, eighteen, nineteen, twenty years ago,
Papa worked a man called Cotton-Eyed Joe,

Which reminds me of a Zydeco song called "Uncle Bud"
and which includes the lines:

Eighteen, nineteen, twenty years ago
Uncle Bud beat the devil out of Cotton Eyed Joe

I guess that pesky Cotton Eyed Joe really got around.

Here's the rest of the lyrics to "Uncle Bud". I'm not sure
who wrote or recorded it, but it could have been Boozoo.

18, 19, 20 years ago
Uncle Bud beat the devil out of Cotton Eyed Joe
Uncle Bud

Some people say Uncle Bud is dead
You dog-gone liers, he's sick in bed
Uncle Bud

Uncle Bud's got a daughter
Her name is Joan
What I like about her
Make an old man moan
Uncle Bud

Uncle Bud's got cotton, ain't never been picked
Uncle Bud's got corn, ain't never been shucked
Uncle Bud's got a daughter, ain't never been touched
Uncle Bud

Big fish, little fish
Swimming in the water
Some son-of-a-gun done coached(?) my daughter

Down in Louisiana where the grass grows green
They've got more women than you've ever seen
Uncle Bud

Uncle Bud got this
Uncle Bud got that
Uncle Bud got a big old cowboy hat
Uncle Bud

Yonder come Mark with a pack on his back
He bring more cotton than he can pack
Uncle Bud

I guess this is just another example where verses sometimes
just float from one song to another... like all those that
are shared between 'Old Joe Clark' and 'Boil Dem Cabbage Down".

-rm


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Barbara
Date: 27 Oct 11 - 07:56 PM

Big fish, little fish
Swimming in the water
Some son-of-a-gun done coached(?) my daughter

I would venture a guess that the word is 'poached' as in 'stolen'.
Blessings
Barbara


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Kyle
Date: 12 Mar 13 - 01:47 PM

Interesting possibility found on another site (Ask.com) that "cotton-eyed" derives from the Southern colloquial verb, "to cotton", meaning, "to take a liking to." So, Cotton-Eyed Joe may refer to a man who has an eye for the ladies, or to the ladies who take a liking to him. This makes sense in a song that clearly references sexual promiscuity and infidelity.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: mayomick
Date: 12 Mar 13 - 03:55 PM

A pic of Cotton Eye Joe Delaney , a notorious Dublin criminal, here . So called because of his weepy eyes according to the article . I'm not sure whether he got his nick name from the song , which is well known in Ireland, or if the term " cotton eye" existed in Ireland before the song was written.

http://www.sundayworld.com/columnists/index.php?aid=6790


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: GUEST,Marg Pearce
Date: 22 Jul 14 - 04:27 PM

My dad had a radio show in New Zealand of jazz music for 30 years and Cotton-eyed Joe was his theme song. He loved the American negro and trad jazz so I can't imagine he would have used it if he thought it was racist in any way.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Airymouse
Date: 23 Jul 14 - 12:34 PM

I don't know anything about this song, except what I heard. It seems to me there are two possibilities. It was a catchy tune, easy to dance to and all sorts of verses got attached to it. In this case, as Dick Greenhaus suggests, any coherent story is just an attempt to piece together from all the attached verses something that makes sense. The second possibility is that there was an old song and because of its catchy tune the fiddlers appropriated it for dance music. Thereafter lots of travelling verses were added, muddying the waters. Anyway here is what I heard from Lightning Jack in Floyd VA:
Hadna been for Cotton-eyed Joe
I'd been married 9 years ago

Corn cob fiddle pea vine bow
I beat the devil outa cotton-eyed Joe

Where did you come from where did you go
Where did you come from Cotton-eyed Joe?

Come fo to see you come fo to sing
Come fo to show you my diamond ring

Looked in the window
Looked in the do'
All I saw was cotton-eyed Joe


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Subject: RE: Origins: Cotton-eyed Joe-true story/composite?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 23 Jul 14 - 01:50 PM

Many added verses by various fiddlers, singers and local bands..

Airymouse, thanks for adding. The "beat the devil" verse I hadn't heard or didn't remember.


This thread has been repeatedly hijacked by spammers. It is closed for the time being - if someone needs to post, contact a moderator. --mudelf


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