One of the most popular and widespread of Southern fiddle tunes, with a large number of variants albeit with the consistent "Eighth of January" title. Parts are often reversed from version to version, and sometimes extra parts are added.
The melody was originally named "Jackson's Victory" after Andrew Jackson's famous rout of the British at New Orleans on January, 8th, 1815. This victory, by a small, poorly equiped American army against eight thousand front-line British troops (some veterans of the Napoleonic Wars on the Continent), came after the peace treaty was signed and the War of 1812 ended, unbeknownst to the combatants. The victory made Jackson a national hero, and the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans was widely celebrated with parties and dances during the nineteenth century, especially in the South. Around the time of the Civil War, some time after Jackson's Presidency, his popular reputation suffered and "Jackson's Victory" was renamed to delete mention of him by name, thus commemorating the battle and not the man. Despite its wide dissemination, Tom Carter (1975) says that some regard it as a relatively modern piece refashioned from an older tune named "Jake Gilly" (sometimes "Old Jake Gilly"). Not all agree--Tom Rankin (1985) suggests the fiddle tune may be older than the battle it commemorates, and that it seems American in origin, not having an obvious British antecedent as do several older popular fiddle tunes in the United States. A related tune (though the 'B' part is developed differently") is Bayard's (1981) Pennsylvania collected "Chase the Squirrel" (the title is a floater). Most older fiddlers, however, appear to have retained the tune's association in lore with Jackson's battle.
Some variants stray quite far from the core melody that is more-or-less familiar to many modern fiddlers (c.f. Dr. Humphrey Bate and His Possum Hunters); some sets feature the second strain played an octave higher for variation. It is on Charlie Walden's list of '100 essential Missouri fiddle tunes'. The "Eighth of January" was recorded for the Library of Congress from Ozark Mountain fiddlers in the early 1940's by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, and from Mississippi fiddlers (John Hatcher, W.E. Claunch, Enos Canoy, Hardy Sharp) in 1939 by collector Herbert Halpert. The reel was in the repertoire of Cuje Bertram, an African-American fiddler from the Cumberland Plateau region of Kentucky who recorded it on a home tape in 1970, made for his family. In 1936 James Morris (Jimmy Driftwood), while teaching scholl in Timbo, Arkansas, famously refashioned the old traditional tune with new lyrics into "The Battle of New Orleans" (recorded on "Jimmie Driftwood Sings Newly Discovered Early American Folk Songs", Victor RPM 1635), supposedly to make the event more interesting to his students (see Streeter, The Jimmy Driftwood Primer, p. 20). In 1959 singer Johnny Horton recorded a version of Driftwood's song, which rose to the top of the hit parade that year (recorded on "Johnny Horton Makes History", Columbia 1478).
...more at: Eighth of January - full Score(s) and Annotations
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