Cotton-Eyed Joe

"Cotton-Eyed Joe"
also known as Cotton-Eye Joe
Published pre-1861

"Cotton-Eyed Joe" is a popular American folk song known at various times throughout the United States and Canada, although today it is most commonly associated with the American South. In the Roud index of folksongs it is number 942.

"Cotton Eyed Joe" (also known as "Cotton Eye Joe") has inspired both a partner dance and more than one line dance that is often danced at country dance venues in the US and around the world. The 1980 film Urban Cowboy sparked a renewed interest in the dance. In 1985, The Moody Brothers' version of the song received a Grammy Award nomination for "Best Country Instrumental Performance." Irish group The Chieftains received a Grammy nomination for "Best Country Vocal Collaboration" for their version of the song on their 1992 album "Another Country." And, in 1994, a version of the song recorded by the Swedish band Rednex as "Cotton Eye Joe" became popular worldwide.



The origins of this song are unclear, although it pre-dates the 1861–1865 American Civil War.[1] American folklorist Dorothy Scarborough (1878–1935) noted in her 1925 book, On the trail of Negro folk-songs, that several people remember hearing the song before the war and her sister, Mrs. George Scarborough, learned the song from a man who had known the song during his earliest childhood from slaves singing it on plantations in Louisiana.[2] Both the dance and the song had as many variants as the old old folk song that it is.[3] American publishing house Harper and Brothers published a version in 1882, heard by author Louise Clarke Pyrnelle (born 1850) on the Alabama plantation of her father when she was a child,[4] that was later republished in 1910:[5]

"Cotton-eyed Joe, Cotton-eyed Joe,
What did make you sarve me so,
Fur ter take my gal erway fum me,
An' cyar her plum ter Tennessee?
Ef it hadn't ben fur Cotton-eyed Joe,
I'd er been married long ergo.

"His eyes wuz crossed, an' his nose wuz flat,
An' his teef wuz out, but wat uv dat?
Fur he wuz tall, an' he wuz slim,
An' so my gal she follered him.
Ef it hadn't ben fur Cotton-eyed Joe,
I'd er been married long ergo.

"No gal so hansum could be foun',
Not in all dis country roun',
Wid her kinky head, an' her eyes so bright,
Wid her lips so red an' her teef so white.
Ef it hadn't ben fur Cotton-eyed Joe,
I'd been married long ergo.

"An* I loved dat gal wid all my heart,
An' she swo' fum me she'd never part;
But den wid Joe she runned away,
An' lef' me hyear fur ter weep all day.

O Cotton-eyed Joe, O Cotton-eyed Joe,
What did make you sarve me so?
O Joe, ef it hadn't er ben fur you,
I'd er married dat gal fur true."

By 1884, the same year Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published, the fiddle based song was referred to as "an old, familiar air."[6] In 1925, another version was recorded by folklorist Dorothy Scarborough and published.[7][8]

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
If 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 persons.[8]

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 it has long been popular as a square dance hoedown and a couple dance polka.[9]

A resident of Austin, Texas who learned the dance in Williamson County in the early 1880s described it as nothing but a heel and toe "poker", with fringes added. These fringes added to the heel and toe polka were clog steps which required skill and extroversion on the part of the dancer.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

Bob Wills and Adolph Hofner and His San Antonians both recorded the song, and Hofner's version (Columbia 37658), issued in 1941,[14] apparently[clarification needed] being the one that did the most to popularize the song.[15]

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 "Kickin'" LP included "Cotton Eyed Joe" by Dean. (KIK-R: 10012)

One version of a dance called "Cotton Eyed Joe" can be found in the 1975 edition of "Encyclopedia of Social Dance". This version has the men on the inside of a circle facing out, and the women on the outside facing in. The dance consists of eight kick steps, side, close left together, right together, and a series of struts.[16]

The spoke line version gained popularity not only in Texas, but across the US and overseas[clarification needed] in the 1980s.[9]

Ray Benson of the Western Swing band Asleep at the Wheel talks about playing the Bob Wills version of "Cotton Eyed Joe" in Texas in the 1970s, when the dance was very much alive.[17]

A Western "Craze" followed the 1980 release of Urban Cowboy.

The Bob Wills version of the song is still popular with dancers.

"Cotton-Eyed 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 Merle Haggard's "Texas Fiddle Song", the final verse makes reference to the Cotton Eyed Joe and features the melody of both the Bob Wills and Al Dean versions.

Selective list of recorded versions

Rednex version

"Cotton Eye Joe"
Single by Rednex
from the album 'Sex & Violins'
Released August 12, 1994
Format CD, 12"
Recorded 1994
Genre Eurodance, Country
Length 3:20
Label Internal Affairs (UK)
Battery (NA)
ZYX (Germany)
Writer(s) Janne Ericsson
Örjan Öban Öberg
Pat Reiniz
Producer Pat Reiniz
Rednex singles chronology
"Cotton Eye Joe"
"Old Pop in an Oak"

"The Chase"

"Cotton Eye Joe 2002"

"Mama Take Me Home"

In August 1994, Swedish eurodance band Rednex covered the song as "Cotton Eye Joe" for their album Sex & Violins, combining their style with traditional American instruments, such as synthesized (or in some cases, sampled) banjos, fiddles, and harmonicas. In 2002, "Cotton Eye Joe" was remixed in a country-dance version, and was released from Rednex's greatest hits album, The Best of the West.

Chart performances

The Rednex version of the song (using "Eye" instead of "Eyed"), along with a dance mix version, was very successful in Europe, reaching number 1 in the United Kingdom in January 1995, and staying in the number one slot in Norway for 15 weeks, Switzerland for 13 weeks, Germany for ten weeks, Sweden for eight weeks, and Austria for seven weeks. In the United States, it peaked at #25 in March 1995, while in Australia topped out at #8 in April 1995.

Blender magazine ranked the song at #38 on the list of the "50 Worst Songs Ever".[20] Most recently, Matthew Wilkening of AOL Radio listed the song at #86 on the list of the 100 Worst Songs Ever, calling it "[t]he worst song the New York Yankees could have picked for their seventh-inning stretch music. No wonder they're nicknamed the 'evil empire.'"[21]

Track listings

  1. "Cotton Eye Joe" (Original Single Version) — 3:20
  2. "Cotton Eye Joe" (Madcow Mix) — 4:46
  3. "Cotton Eye Joe" (Madcow Instrumental) — 4:46
  4. "Cotton Eye Joe" (Overworked Mix) — 6:20
  5. "Cotton Eye Joe" (Original Instrumental) — 3:08
CD - 2002 version
  1. "Cotton Eye Joe 2002" - 3:33
  2. "Cotton Eye Joe 2002 (Dance Nation Remix)" - 7:32
  3. "Cotton Eye Joe 2002 (Aquagen Remix)" - 7:45
  4. "Ride the Hurricane's Eye (Winnetoons Version)" - 3:02
  5. "Cotton Eye Joe 2002 (Extended Version)" - 5:56

Charts and sales

Peak positions

Chart (1994/95) Peak
Australian ARIA Singles Chart[22] 8
Austrian Singles Chart[22] 1
Canadian Singles Chart[23] 10
Danish Singles Chart[24] 1
Dutch Top 40[25] 1
French SNEP Singles Chart[22] 10
German Singles Chart[26] 1
Irish Singles Chart[27] 2
New Zealand RIANZ Singles Chart[22] 1
Norwegian Singles Chart[22] 1
Swedish Singles Chart[22] 1
Swiss Singles Chart[22] 1
UK Singles Chart[28] 1
USU.S. Billboard Hot 100[23] 25
USU.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play[23] 5
USU.S. Billboard Top 40 Mainstream[23] 30
Chart (2002) Peak
Austrian Singles Chart 32

End of year charts

End of year chart (1994) Position
Austrian Singles Chart[29] 7
Dutch Top 40[25] 9
End of year chart (1995) Position
Australian Singles Chart[30] 34
Austrian Singles Chart[31] 10
French Singles Chart[32] 50
Swiss Singles Chart[33] 10
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[34] 93


Country Certification Date Sales certified
Austria[35] Platinum 1994-12-12 30,000
Germany[36] 2 x Platinum 1995 1,000,000
Netherlands[37] Gold 1994 40,000
Norway[38] 2 x Platinum 1995 80,000
Sweden[39] Platinum 1994-10-10 20,000
Switzerland[40] Platinum 1995 50,000
United KingdomUK[41] Platinum 1995-02 600,000
United StatesU.S.[42] Gold 1995-09-05 500,000

Chart successions

Order of precedence
Preceded by
"Love Is All Around" by Wet Wet Wet
Swedish number-one single
September 2, 1994 - October 21, 1994 (8 weeks)
Succeeded by
"This Is the Way" by E-Type
Dutch Top 40 number-one single
September 17, 1994 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"Dromen zijn bedrog" by Marco Borsato
Norwegian VG-Lista number-one single
41/1994 - 2/1995 (15 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Old Pop in an Oak" by Rednex
Preceded by
"Saturday Night" by Whigfield
German number-one single
November 4, 1994 - January 6, 1995 (10 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Tears Don't Lie" by Mark 'Oh
Preceded by
"Hey Süßer" by Lucilectric
Austrian number-one single
November 6, 1994 - December 18, 1994 (7 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Hey Süßer" by Lucilectric
Preceded by
"Secret" by Madonna
Swiss number-one single
November 27, 1994 - February 26, 1995 (13 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Conquest of Paradise" by Vangelis
Preceded by
"Always" by Bon Jovi
Eurochart Hot 100 number-one single
December 10, 1994 - February 11, 1995 (10 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Here Comes The Hotstepper" by Ini Kamoze
Preceded by
"Stay Another Day" by East 17
UK Singles Chart number-one single
January 14, 1995 - January 28, 1995 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Think Twice" by Céline Dion
Preceded by
"Tomorrow" by Silverchair
New Zealand RIANZ number-one single
March 5, 1995 - April 9, 1995 (6 weeks)
Succeeded by
"If You Love Me" by Brownstone

Contemporary Cotton Eyed Joe

In November 2010, The Moody Brothers' version of "Cotton-Eyed Joe" was used in an opening "redneck wedding" dream sequence scene on the nationally broadcast Warner Brothers show One Tree Hill (TV series) on the CW Network.[43]

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.

"Cotton-Eyed Joe" has become a fan favorite following the seventh inning stretch at the University of Texas' UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

During the Green Bay Packers games at Lambeau Field, "Cotton-eye Joe" by the Rednex is often played during timeouts. The song's traditional dance can be seen throughout the stadium

The Rednex version of the song is played frequently at football and basketball games of the University of Wyoming Cowboys, as a reflection of the country roots of the state.

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

Various times during Pittsburgh Penguins hockey games, "Cotton-Eyed Joe" is played and fans are encouraged to dance, sometimes being shown on the jumbotron.

External links


  1. ^ Everett, Holly: The Many Lives of ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’, Canadian Society for Traditional Music Conference, 2002, Memorial University, St John’s, Newfoundland
  2. ^ Scarborough, Dorothy; Ola Lee Gulledge (1925). On the trail of Negro folk-songs. Harvard University Press. p. 69. ISBN 0674012623. Retrieved March 3, 2011. "He said he had known it from his earliest childhood and had heard the slaves sing it on the plantations." 
  3. ^ The Round Dance Book. Lloyd Shaw. 1948. The Caxton Printers, Ltd. no ISBN or catalogue number. page 314.
  4. ^ Pyrnelle, Louise Clarke (1910). Diddie, Dumps, and Tot: or, Plantation child-life. Harper and Brothers. p. vi.,+plantation+games,+and+Hymns+are+just+as+I+heard+them+in+my+childhood%22&hl=en&ei=OoVvTZz4AcKclgfew7WQBA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22The%20stories%2C%20plantation%20games%2C%20and%20Hymns%20are%20just%20as%20I%20heard%20them%20in%20my%20childhood%22&f=false. Retrieved March 3, 2011. "The stories, plantation games, and Hymns are just as I heard them in my childhood" 
  5. ^ Pyrnelle, Louise Clarke (1910). Diddie, Dumps, and Tot: or, Plantation child-life. Harper and Brothers. pp. 135–136. Retrieved March 3, 2011. 
  6. ^ Brotherhood of locomotive firemen and enginemen's magazine. 8. Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. 1884. p. 534. Retrieved March 3, 2011. 
  7. ^ "On The Trail Of Negro Folk-Songs-online book. A collection of negro folk songs with lyrics, sheet music & commentaries. By Dorothy Scarborough Assisted By Ola Lee Quiledge Copyright, 1925 By Harvard University Press". 
  8. ^ a b On The Trail Of Negro Folk-Songs. by Dorothy Scarborough, assisted by Ola Lee Gulledge. Harvard University Press. 1925. pages 69, 70.
  9. ^ a b c Dance Across Texas Betty Casey. 1985. University of Texas Press. page 17. ISBN 0-292-71540-4
  10. ^ Dance a While. Handbook of Folk, Square, and Social Dancing. Fourth Edition. Harris, Pittman, Waller. 1950, 1955, 1964, 1968. Burgess Publishing Company. page 151.
  11. ^ The Grateful Dead Family Discography
  12. ^ Everett, 2002
  13. ^ "Information at The Fiddler's Companion". 
  14. ^ The Online 78 rpm Discographical Project
  15. ^ Don't Get above Your Raisin' by Bill C. Malone. 2001. University of Illinois Press. page 313. ISBN 0-252-02678-0
  16. ^ Encyclopedia of Social Dance. Albert and Josephine Bulter. 1975. Albert Bulter Ballroom Dance Service. New York, New York.
  17. ^ Honky Tonks, Hymns & The Blues
  18. ^ "Page about Michelle Shocked's song Prodigal Daughter". 
  19. ^ "Eye of Cotton Joe". 
  20. ^ The 50 Worst Songs Ever! Watch, Listen and Cringe! from (Retrieved on August 20, 2010.)
  21. ^ Wilkening, Matthew (September 11, 2010). "100 Worst Songs Ever". AOL Radio. Retrieved December 19, 2010. 
  22. ^ a b c d e f g "Cotton Eye Joe", in various singles charts (Retrieved February 6, 2008)
  23. ^ a b c d Billboard (Retrieved July 30, 2008)
  24. ^ Billboard October 29, 1994. Billboard. Retrieved 2010-12-01. 
  25. ^ a b "Single top 100 over 1994" (in Dutch) (pdf). Top40. Retrieved 17 April 2010. 
  26. ^ German Singles Chart (Retrieved April 10, 2008)
  27. ^ Irish Single Chart (Retrieved April 10, 2008)
  28. ^ UK Singles Chart (Retrieved April 10, 2008)
  29. ^ 1994 Austrian Singles Chart (Retrieved July 30, 2008)
  30. ^ 1995 Australian Singles Chart (Retrieved July 30, 2008)
  31. ^ 1995 Austrian Singles Chart (Retrieved July 30, 2008)
  32. ^ 1995 French Singles Chart (Retrieved January 30, 2009)
  33. ^ 1995 Swiss Singles Chart (Retrieved July 30, 2008)
  34. ^ "Billboard Top 100 - 1995". Retrieved 2010-08-27. 
  35. ^ Austrian certifications (Retrieved July 30, 2008)
  36. ^ "German certifications – Cotton Eye Joe" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie. Retrieved July 30, 2008. 
  37. ^ Dutch certifications (Retrieved December 9, 2008)
  38. ^ Norwegian certifications (Retrieved July 30, 2008)
  39. ^ Swedish certifications (Retrieved September 11, 2008)
  40. ^ Swiss certifications (Retrieved July 30, 2008)
  41. ^ UK certifications (Retrieved February 1, 2009)
  42. ^ U.S. certifications (Retrieved July 30, 2008)
  43. ^

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