Thursday, November 14, 2019

THROWBACK THURSDAY: No Mules Were Harmed in the Making of This Blog Post

Don't skin me, bro ..."

Good morning, Captain!

I've been listening to a podcast about Dolly Parton and, the other day while driving around I heard a segment about one of Dolly's greatest early hits, "Muleskinner Blues."

As you'll see here, and probably already know, Dolly wasn't the first to record this song, which was written by country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers with George Vaughan. It's been recorded by Roy Acuff, Woody Guthrie, Merle Haggard, The Maddox Brothers & Rose, skiffle master Lonnie Donegan and countless others.But some argue Dolly did it best, which is true -- at least until The Cramps.

Here she is on the Porter Wagoner Show in 1970:

Jimmie Rodgers' was the first version of the song to involve mules, but two years before "Blue Yodel #8," a bluesman named Tom Dickson released the strikingly similar "Labor Blues."

While "Muleskinner Blues" is about a guy applying for a job, Dickson's song is about a laborer who's quitting his job because the "captain" isn't great about paying him on time for his hard work.

Like the more famous song, "Labor Blues starts out "Good morning captain / Good morning shine ..." basically a dialogue between boss and worker. It has to be noted that "shine" is a racial slur against African Americans (which Dickson was." Some of the "Muleskinner" versions that followed kept the word "shine" thought some, such as Dolly's changed it to "son" or "sir."

Here's the Singing Brakeman, who wanted to skin some mules. Actually, as Fred Sanders explained on his excellent article about the song a few years ago:

“Muleskinner” is just a funny name for a muleteer or mule-driver; a person who specializes in keeping the mules moving. “I can pop my initials on a mule’s behind” is a comical boast about proficiency with a whip. The mule gave a song full of aural hooks the lyrical hook it needed to catch on.

Bill Monroe turned the song into a bluegrass standard

Dolly Parton was not the first woman to skin this mule. That would be Odetta, who drove the mule back to its black roots

The Fendermen, a rockabilly duo from Wisconsin made it rock

The Cramps, obviously inspired by The Fendermen, took it to Voodoo Island

And Van Morrison made it funky

For more deep dives into songs, check out The Stephen W. Terrell Web Log Songbook

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