Mule Skinner Blues

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"Blue Yodel #8" /
"Mule Skinner Blues"
Song originally by Jimmie Rodgers
Published 1930
Recorded July 11, 1930
Genre country
bluegrass
Blues
rockabilly
Length 2-5 minute
Label RCA/Victor
Record label from Bill Monroe's version, 1946
Cover of the Fendermen's version, 1960

"Mule Skinner Blues" (a.k.a. "Blue Yodel #8", "Muleskinner Blues", and "Muleskinner's Blues") is a classic country song written by Jimmie Rodgers and George Vaughan. The song was first recorded by Rodgers in 1930 and has been recorded by many artists since then, acquiring the de facto title "Mule Skinner Blues" after Rodgers named it "Blue Yodel #8" (one of his Blue Yodels).

"George Vaughn", a pseudonym for George Vaughn Horton, is sometimes listed as co-author. Horton wrote the lyrics for "New Mule Skinner Blues", Bill Monroe's second recorded version of the song.[1]

Structure[edit]

The song tells the tale of a down-on-his-luck mule skinner, approaching "the Captain", looking for work ("Good Morning, Captain / Good Morning to you, son. / Do you need another muleskinner on your new mud line?"). He boasts of his skills: "I can pop my 'nitials on a mule's behind" and hopes for "a dollar and a half a day". He directs the water boy to "bring some water round".

Tom Dickson's "Labor Blues"[edit]

The first verse the song is similar to Tom Dickson's 1928 recording "Labor Blues" in which the exchange is clearly between a white boss and an African-American worker who is quitting the job, not applying for it:

It’s "good mornin’ Captain", ‘e said "good mornin’ Shine",
Said "good mornin’ Captain", said "good mornin’ Shine".
"T’ain’t nuthin’ the matter, Captain, but I just ain’t gwine.
"I don’t mind workin’, Captain, from sun to sun,
I don’t mind workin’, Captain, from sun to sun.
But I want my money, Captain, when pay-day come."

Captain was a traditional term for the white boss; Shine is a derogatory expression for "African-American". Dickson was black. After the narrator rebels and quits because he is not being paid, he turns his attention to his "Mississippi gal" and the remaining lyrics concern their romance. In this 12-bar blues recording, muleskinning is not mentioned, and the remaining Dickson lyrics differ from Rodgers', whose other Blue Yodels also used verses previously recorded by Blues musicians, such as Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Versions of "Muleskinner Blues"[edit]

1930s[edit]

  • Rodgers' original version was a hit.
  • Roy Acuff recorded the song in 1939; his version was released in 1940.[2]
  • Bill Monroe performed the song for his November 25, 1939 debut on the Grand Ole Opry. The performance can be found on the MCA compilation Music of Bill Monroe From 1936-1994 (1994).[2][3]

1940s[edit]

  • The song was Monroe's first solo studio recording. Recorded on October 7, 1940 for RCA Victor, the song became a hit and one of Monroe's signature tunes.[2]
  • Woody Guthrie recorded the song in 1944 for Asch Recordings, which can be found on Muleskinner Blues: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 2, and on Original Folk: Best of Woody Guthrie (Music Club Deluxe, 2008).

1950s[edit]

  • Monroe re-recorded the song in 1950 as "New Mule Skinner Blues" in his first session for Decca, with new lyrics written by George Vaughn Horton (credited as "George Vaughn"). Monroe apparently never sang the song with Horton's lyrics in concert.[1]
  • Odetta - Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues (1956)
  • Lonnie Donegan - Lonnie Donegan Live, 1957 [1]
  • Ramblin' Jack Elliott - Jack Takes the Floor (1958)
  • Joe D. Gibson (Jody Gibson) recorded a souped up version titled "Good Morning Captain" on tetra Records which served as a model for The Fendermen.

1960s[edit]

1970s[edit]

1980s[edit]

1990s[edit]

2000s[edit]

2010s[edit]

Charting versions[edit]

Release date Artist Chart Positions
U.S. C&W U.S. CAN C&W U.K.
1960 The Fendermen 5 16 32
1970 Dolly Parton 3 4
1976 Jerry Palmer 3

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Rosenberg, Neil V. (2007). The Music of Bill Monroe (1st ed.). University of Illinois Press. p. 83,84. ISBN 978-0252031212. 
  2. ^ a b c Rosenberg, Neil V. (2007). The Music of Bill Monroe (1st ed.). University of Illinois Press. p. 26-28,34. ISBN 978-0252031212. 
  3. ^ "Bill Monroe Biography". AllMusic.com. Retrieved 2012-04-09. 
  4. ^ I have the record
  5. ^ "Marcus Singletary Sings Country Music Standards". Amazon. Retrieved 7 February 2013.