I Never Picked Cotton

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"I Never Picked Cotton"
Single by Roy Clark
from the album I Never Picked Cotton
Released May 1970
Format 7"
Recorded 1969
Genre Country
Length 2:22
Label Dot Records
Writer(s) Bobby George and Charles Williams
Roy Clark singles chronology
"Right Or Left at Oak Street"
"I Never Picked Cotton"
"Thank God and Greyhound"

"I Never Picked Cotton" is a song made famous by country music singer Roy Clark. Written by Bobby George and Charles Williams, the song was released in 1970 as the title track to the album released that same year. The song peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart that summer.

Song plot[edit]

The plot of "I Never Picked Cotton" is told in first-person, mostly in flashback from the perspective of a native of a poor sharecropping family in Oklahoma.

In the first verse, the song's protagonist — the youngest son of a coal miner who died working in the mines — bitterly recalls his family's past and upbringing. He recalls (as a young boy, too young to work on a cotton plantation) how his mother, brother, and sister all picked cotton to support the family, while his dad died in the coal mine. Seeing that this is not the type of life he wants to live, the boy -- aware of the excitement and allure of the big city nightlife -- resolves that when he is old enough to do so, he will leave the farm and his family.

One night, the protagonist makes good on his vow, stealing $10 and a pickup truck, and leaving the plantation, never to return. He then turns to a lifestyle of partying ... "and I took it all with a gun". His criminal lifestyle ultimately leads to a fight with a local redneck on a Saturday night in Memphis, Tennessee; the redneck insults the protagonist's origins and is killed in return.

The protagonist, identified as the killer, is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. Just hours before his scheduled execution, he reflects on his life and notes that "there ain't a hell of a lot, that I can look back on with pride" – except that he made good on his vow to "never pick cotton" like his family did.

Cover versions[edit]

A cover version of "I Never Picked Cotton" was recorded by Johnny Cash for his 1996 album Unchained.

Chart positions[edit]

Roy Clark version[edit]

Chart (1970) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles 5
U.S. Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 22
Canadian RPM Country Tracks 2