Annotation:Cotton Eyed Joe (1)

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X:1 T:Cotton-Eyed Joe [1] M:4/4 L:1/8 S:Steve Hawkins, Rowan County, Ky. 1911 B:Thomas & Leeder - "Singin' Gathering" (1939) K:C G|c2 AA A<(G G)A|c2 AA A3A|c AA G2E2|G<F D2 C3C| C2 EE G<(G G)G|A2 AA G3G|AAAA GGEE|G<ED>C C3||

COTTON-EYED JOE [1]. AKA – "Dominicker Duck." See "Citaco." American, Reel. USA, widely known, but may have originally been a Texas tune. A Major (most versions): G Major (Ford, Kaufman): D Major (Zenith String Band). Standard or AEae, AEac#, ADae, GDad (Devil's Box, Thede, John Dykes) tunings (fiddle). AABB (Beisswenger & McCann, Perlman): AABBA: AA'BB' (Kaufman). Charles Wolfe has called this tune "a Texas dance-hall anthem" but it has had such widespread currency in the United States that the tune is really a pastiche of melodies using interchangeable phrases, the most recognizable of which usually is associated with the verses:

Where did you come from, where will you go?
Where did you come from Cotten-Eyed Joe.

Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers (1927) also sang:

Want to go to church and couldn't get to go,
I had to stay home with Cotton-Eyed Joe.

There have been several thoughts about what the title might refer to. Some think 'cotton-eyed' means to be drunk on moonshine, and a related suggestion is that it refers to an individual who has been blinded by drinking wood alcohol (as happened during the Prohibition, for example), turning the eyes milky white. Marion Thede believes 'cotton-eyed' may refer to a (black) person with very light blue eyes. Alan Lomax suggests it was used to describe a man whose eyes were milky white from Trachoma (a bacterial infection), while others have suggested cataracts, syphilis or glaucoma. Some recall the term referring to the contrast of dark skin tone around white eyeballs in African-Americans, and indeed, the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang references the 'prominent whites of the eyes' meaning to 1905. Charles Wolfe (1991) writes that African-American collector Thomas Talley, in his manuscript of stories, Negro Traditions, related a story entitled "Cotton-Eyed Joe, or the Origin of the Weeping Willow." The story includes a stanza from the song, "but more importantly 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." "Cotton Eyed Joe" was the name of a heel-and-toe dance in Texas in the 1880's.

The tune was a favorite of John Dykes (Magic City Trio {Eastern Tenn.}), was recorded in the 1920's by Carter Brothers and Son and the Skillet Lickers, and it was in the repertoire of Arizona fiddler Kenner C. Kartchner (in the key of G Major) who said a fellow fiddler named Youngblood brought it to the territory from Mississippi around 1890. It was one of the tunes played at the turn of the century by Etowah County, Alabama, fiddler George Cole, according to Mattie Cole Stanfield in her book Sourwood Tonic and Sassafras Tea (1963), and was mentioned in accounts of the DelKalb County Annual (Fiddlers) Convention, 1926–31. It was recorded by North Carolina fiddler Marcus Martin, whom Alan Jabbour suspects learned the tune from Fiddlin' John Carson's recording. The title appears in a list of traditional Ozark Mountain fiddle tunes compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954. Some versions are similar to North Georgia fiddler Lowe Stokes popular "Citaco," notably that played by John Dykes of the Dykes Magic City Trio and the rendition in Marion Thede's Fiddle Book (both in GDad). Alan Jabbour believes it may have ties to the Mississippi version of "Dusty Miller" (supported by Fiddlin' John Carson's 1927 recording of "Cotton Eyed Joe"), and "Cornbread Molasses Sassafras Tea" has also be pointed to as a related melody. Ken Perlman (1996), who collected the tune on Prince Edward Island, believes Canadian versions probably derived from the playing of radio and TV Maritime fiddler Don Messer (the 'B' part is played with a strong Acadian flavor). See also Bayard's (1981) note to a related tune "Horse Called Rover (The)" (No. 10, pp. 20–21).

The reel is often played crosstuned in AEae (e.g. Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers), a "Cotton-Eyed Joe" in AEac# tuning (as played by Scott Meyer on Yodel-Ay-Hee 024, "The Improbabillies") is a current 'revival' favorite. Kerry Blech says this version was originally collected from the playing of Noah Beavers by Garry Harrison.

Where'd you come from, where'd you go?
Where'd you come from Cotten-Eyed Joe.
I'd-a been married a long time ago,
If it hadn't a-been for Cotten-Eyed Joe.

Cornstalk fiddle and shoestring bow,
Come down gals on Cotten Eyed Joe.
Wanna go to meeting and wouldn't let me go,
Had to stay home with Cotten Eyed Joe.

Come a little rain and come a little snow,
The house fell down on Cotten Eyed Joe. (Thede)

Hold my fiddle and hold my bow,
'Till I knock the devil out of cotton-eyed Joe. (Ford)

I'll make me a fiddle and make me a bow,
And I'll learn to play like Cotten-eyed Joe.
I tun'd up my fiddle, I went to a dance,
I tried to make some music, but I couldn't get a chance.

You hold my fiddle and you hold my bow,
Till I whip old Satan out of Cotten-eyed Joe.
I've make lot of fiddles and made lot of bows,
But I never learned to fiddle like Cotten-eyed Joe. (Thomas & Leeder).

Thomas Talley records the following in Negro Folk Rhymes:

Hol' my fiddle an' hol' my bow,
Whilst I knocks ole Cotton Eyed Joe.[1]
I'd a been dead some seben years ago,
If I hadn' 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' stay's home wid Cotton Eyed Joe.

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

"Cotton Eyed Joe" was commercially recorded several times in the 78 RPM era, first by the Dykes' Magic City Trio in 1927 (fiddler John Dykes and family) and, independently in 1927 by north Georgia's Fiddlin' John Carson. This was followed by recordings in 1928 by Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers (of Searcy, Arkansas, consisting of two fathers-and-sons, with John Chism on fiddle), and in the same year by Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers. Lowe Stokes and Clayton McMichen released it in 1930.

Additional notes
Source for notated version : - Highwoods String Band (New York) [Brody]; John Hendricks (Bates, Arkansas) [Thede]; Tommy Magness [Phillips/1994]; Steve Hawkins (Rowan County, Kentucky, 1911) [Thomas & Leeder]; Louise Arsenault (b. 1956, Wellington, East Prince County, Prince Edward Island) [Perlman]; John Chism with Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers [Beisswenger & McCann]; Howdy Forrester [Devil's Box].

Printed sources : - Beisswenger & McCann (Ozarks Fiddle Music), 2008; p. 175. Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 74. R.P. Christeson (Old Time Fiddler's Repertory, vol. 1), 1973; p. 20. Stephen F. Davis (Devil's Box), vol. 22, No. 4, Winter 1988; p. 50. Ford (Traditional Music of America), 1940; p. 60. "Byron Berline: The Fiddle," Frets Magazine, September 1981; p. 64. Kaufman (Beginning Old Time Fiddle), 1977; p. 50. Perlman (The Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island), 1996; p. 86. Phillips (Fiddle Case Tunebook: Old Time Southern), 1989; pg. 12. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; pp. 56 & 57 (two versions). Thede (The Fiddle Book), 1967; pp. 26–27. Thomas & Leeder (The Singin' Gatherin'), 1939; p. 60.

Recorded sources : - Bay 209, "The Gypsy Gyppo String Band" (1977. Learned from Paul Ermine of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan). Bay 727, "Kenny Hall and the Sweets Mill String Band." Briar 0798, Earl Collins – "That's Earl." Caney Mountain Records CEP 213 (privately issued extended play LP), Lonnie Robertson (Mo.), c. 1965-66. Cassette C-7625, Wilson Douglas – "Back Porch Symphony." County 506, The Skillet Lickers – "Old Time Tunes, 1927-1931." County 518, Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers – "Echoes of the Ozarks, Vol. 1." County 520, Carter Brothers and Son – "Echoes of the Ozarks, Vol. 3." County 528, Carter Bros. & Son – "Mississippi Breakdown, Traditional Fiddle Music of Mississippi, Vol. 1." County 544, Fiddlin' John Carson – "Georgia Fiddle Bands, Vol. 2." County 756, Tommy Jarrell – "Sail Away Ladies" (1976. Learned after 1925 from a friend, Charlie Lowe, a clawhammer banjoist who heard the tune broadcast on Nashville radio). Gusto 104, Tommy Jackson – "30 Fiddler's Greatest Hits." Heritage XXIV, Dave Holt – "Music of North Carolina" (Brandywine, 1978). Heritage XXXIII, Zenith String Band (Conn.) – "Visits" (1981. Learned from the Carter Brothers via Vermont/Ohio fiddler Pete Sutherland). June Appal JA 028, Wry Straw – "From Earth to Heaven" (1978. Version learned from Creed Power {Dungannon, VA} and Byard Ray {Shelton Laurel, N.C.}). Mercury SRW 16261, Tommy Jackson – "Instrumentals Country Style." Marimac 9000, Dan Gellert & Shoofly – "Forked Deer" (1986. Version learned from Carter Bros. & Son recording). Marimac 9009, Doris Kimble & Dave Spilkia – "Old Time Friends" (1987). Old Homestead OHCS191, "Dykes Magic City Trio" (Eastern Tenn.) {originally recorded in 1927 on a Brunswick 78}. Pickaway Press, Noah Beavers - "Dear Old Illinois" (2007. Various artists). Rounder 0074, Highwoods String Band- "No. 3 Special" (1977). Rounder 0047, Wilson Douglas – "The Right Hand Fork of Rush's Creek" (1975). Rounder 0193, Rodney Miller – "Airplang" (1985). Rounder CD0262, Mike Seeger – "Fresh Oldtime String Band Music" (1988. With the Ithica, N.Y., group Agents of Terra). Rounder 18964-1518-2, Various Artists (Marcus Martin) – "American Fiddle Tunes" (a reissue of the 1971 Library of Congress LP of field recordings). Rounder CD 0529, Dwight Lamb – "Hell Agin the Barn Door" (2005. Learned from Nebraska fiddler Uncle Bob Walters, who had it from his father, Wilse, of a family originally from Kentucky). Stoneway 143, Ernie Hunter – "All About Fiddling." Tennvale 004, Bruce Molsky – "An Anthology."

See also listing at :
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]
Hear Noah Beavers (Elkville, Ill.) version at the Old Town School of Folk Music Fiddle Tune Archive [2] and at Slippery Hill [3]
Hear Texas fiddler Thomas Jefferson "Duck" Wootan's 1958 home recording at Slippery Hill [4]

Back to Cotton Eyed Joe (1)

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  1. The Kimble Family sang the line for collector Ray Alden (Marimac 9009) in 1975 as:"Ready up the fiddle, rosin up the bow, Pick a little tune called cotton eyed Joe."