Salty Dog Blues

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"Salty Dog Blues" is an early 1900s[1] folk song. It is in the public domain.[2][3] It has been recorded by blues, jazz, country music, bluegrass groups and other styles. The oldest recordings of the song credit Papa Charlie Jackson, who adapted the song directly from the African-American traditional for Paramount and for Broadway in 1924.[4] According to Jas Obrecht, "Old-time New Orleans musicians from Buddy Bolden’s era recalled hearing far filthier versions of 'Salty Dog Blues' long before Papa Charlie’s recording."[5] Similar versions were recorded by Mississippi John Hurt and Lead Belly.[4]

The Morris Brothers version of the lyrics of the chorus of the song go: Let me be your Salty Dog / Or I won't be your man at all / Honey let me be your salty dog.[4] According to Richard Matteson:

The Morris chord progression for Salty Dog was also used by other performers, leaving the Morris version as an arrangement at best. During the 1920s and 30s many country performers claimed they wrote any song that they copyrighted. This was a customary practice because the royalties meant big money in some cases.[4]

Recordings and performances[edit]

The song has been recorded by Papa Charlie Jackson (1924), Clara Smith (1926), Freddie Keppard’s Jazz Cardinals (1926), the McGee Brothers (1927), The Allen Brothers (1927, 1930, 1934), Kokomo Arnold (1937), the Morris Brothers (1938, 1945), Flatt and Scruggs (1950),[4] Blind Willie McTell (1956), Bob Dylan (1961), Little Brother Montgomery (1962), Mississippi John Hurt (1963), The Brotherhood (Don Partridge & Pat Keene) (1966), Skip Battin (1973), and Johnny Cash (2003).[6] Others who have performed or recorded the song include Jelly Roll Morton, Lead Belly, Bo Carter, Reverend Gary Davis, Ricky Nelson, the Kingston Trio, Roger McGuinn, Hot Tuna, Leon Redbone, John Butz, Cat Power, and Greensky Bluegrass.

The song appears in a 1963 episode of The Andy Griffith Show, "The Darlings Are Coming", featuring The Dillards. In the show the band is called the Darling family and performs a rendition of "Salty Dog" with Andy Griffith on guitar.

In The Rolling Stones’ 1966 documentary film Charlie Is My Darling, the band members are briefly shown doing an impromptu performance of the song in a hotel room.


In his Library of Congress interviews, Jelly Roll Morton recalled a three-piece string band led by Bill Johnson playing the number to great acclaim,[7] probably before 1910.[citation needed]

Interviewed in the documentary Earl Scruggs: His Family And Friends, Zeke Morris, of The Morris Brothers, claimed to have written the song, although the song had been recorded before The Morris Brothers began performing as a group.[8]

Curly Seckler, who played with Flatt and Scruggs and with Charlie Monroe, was interviewed by Frank Stasio on the December 26, 2008 edition of The State of Things. Seckler was asked about the origin of the name "Salty Dog" and replied that he had been told that it was the name of a locally produced soft drink.[9]

The original meaning of the term "Salty Dog" comes from the archaic practice of rubbing salt into the coat of one's favorite dog as a flea repellent. Thus, one's "salty dog" is one's favorite person or best friend. This is the meaning of the line "Let me be your salty dog, or I don't wanna be your man at all."[citation needed]


As with many folk songs, the lyrics can vary massively. Some of the lyrics were published as early as 1911 by Howard Odum[4] in his article "Folk-Song and Folk-Poetry as Found in the Secular Songs of the Southern Negroes" in The Journal of American Folklore.[10]

One of the older versions runs:[4][5]

Oh won’t you let me be your salty dog,
I don’t want to be your man at all,
You salty dog, you salty dog.

Oh honey baby, let me be your salty dog,
Salty dog, oh you salty dog.

There's just one thing that worries my mind,
All of these browns and none is mine,
You salty dog, you salty dog.

The scaredest I've been in my life
Was when Uncle Bud nearly saw me kiss his wife,
You salty dog, you salty dog.

Lil' fish big fish swimmin' in the water,
Come on here and give me my quarter,
You salty dog, you salty dog.

Like lookin' for a needle in the sand,
Tryin' to find a gal that ain't got no man,
You salty dog, you salty dog.

God made a woman and he made her funny,
Lips 'round her mouth sweeter than honey,
You salty dog, you salty dog.


  1. ^ Richard Matteson Jr. (2006). Bluegrass Picker's Tune Book. Mel Bay Publications. p. 200. ISBN 978-0-7866-7160-1.
  2. ^ "Salty Dog Blues". Music Services. Retrieved August 5, 2011.
  3. ^ "Free Songs". Cumberland Books. Archived from the original on September 6, 2011. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Matteson, Richard. "History of 'Salty Dog Blues'". Matteson Art. Retrieved August 5, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Obrecht, Jas (June 23, 2011). "Papa Charlie Jackson: The First Popular Male Blues Singer". Jas Obrecht Music Archive. Archived from the original on July 7, 2011. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  6. ^ "Grateful Dead Family Discography: Salty Dog Blues". Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  7. ^ "Jelly Roll Morton - Library of Congress Narrative 2". Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  8. ^ David Hoffman (2017-03-11), 1972 - Earl Scruggs: OldTime Music At Its Greatest, retrieved 2018-08-19
  9. ^ Stasio, Frank; Barron, Katy (December 26, 2008). "Bluegrass Legend Curly Seckler". Retrieved August 5, 2011.
  10. ^ Odum, Howard W. (1911). "Folk-Song and Folk-Poetry as Found in the Secular Songs of the Southern Negroes". The Journal of American Folklore. 24 (93–94).

External links[edit]