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The song tells a story about the adventures of a man and his horse, a courageous, sun-colored, green-eyed stallion he nicknamed the "Tennessee Stud". The song's timeline appears to take place during a period of over twenty years, beginning in 1825 and ending after the Great Flood of 1844.
After some trouble with his sweetheart's father and her outlaw brother, the man sends her a letter through his uncle and then rides away on his horse, the Tennessee Stud. Together they have a series of adventures, including winning big in a horse race against a Spanish foal south of the border, outmaneuvering a band of Indians, and then escaping after a shootout with a gambler who insulted Tennessee.
Eventually the man and his horse both become lonely and homesick, and ride back to Tennessee where the man gives his girl's father and outlaw brother their comeuppance. He and his girl, on her "Tennessee Mare", ride off together across "the mountains and the valleys wide", and then after crossing the "Big Muddy", and "fording the flood", build a cabin and settle down; the man and his girl marry and have a baby while Stud sires a colt with the mare.
Eddy Arnold recording
Eddy Arnold was the first artist to cover the song. His version was a Top 5 hit on the Billboard Country Singles chart in 1959, and was nominated for a Grammy Award in both country and folk categories the same year.
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Other artists who have covered the song include:
- Doc Watson, whose first cover of the song was in his 1966 album Southbound. Interest in the song was renewed in 1972 when he re-recorded it with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in their rock/country crossover album, Will the Circle be Unbroken and again for his own 1976 album, Doc and the Boys. The song became an audience favorite when Watson added it to his live performances including a 1978 episode of Austin City Limits; he later remarked that he had performed the song an estimated five thousand times. Watson again released the song on his 2003 compilation album of the same name.
- Chet Atkins (who recorded an instrumental version of the song with Jerry Reed).
- Dobroist Mike Auldridge recorded and instrumental version on his album Blues and Bluegrass.
- Johnny Cash
- Hank Williams Jr.
- Michael Martin Murphey
- Osborne Brothers
- Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
- Chris LeDoux
- Country Joe McDonald
- Billy Strings
- Porter Wagoner
- Koch, Stephen; Brantley, Max (March 17, 2005). "Tennessee Stud". Arkansas Times. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
- Stone, Peter. "Jimmy Driftwood". Cultural Equity. Association for Cultural Equity. Retrieved 25 May 2015.
- "Cover versions of Tennessee Stud written by Jimmie Driftwood". Secondhandsongs.com. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
- Whitburn, Joel (2013). Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, 14th Edition: 1955-2012. Record Research. p. 43.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 31.