Cotton-Eyed Joe

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"Cotton-Eyed Joe"
Also known as "Cotton-Eye Joe", "Cotton Eyed Joe", "Cotton Eye Joe"
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"Cotton-Eyed Joe"
Also known as "Cotton-Eye Joe", "Cotton Eyed Joe", "Cotton Eye Joe"

"Cotton-Eyed Joe" (also known as "Cotton-Eye Joe," "Cotton Eyed Joe," and "Cotton Eye Joe") is a traditional American country folk song popular at various times throughout the United States and Canada, although today it is most commonly associated with the American South. In the Roud index of folksongs it is No. 942.

"Cotton-Eyed Joe" has inspired both a partner dance and more than one line dance that is often danced at country dance venues in the U.S. and around the world. The 1980 film, Urban Cowboy, sparked a renewed interest in the dance. In 1985, The Moody Brothers' version of the song received a Grammy Award-nomination for "Best Country Instrumental Performance". Irish group The Chieftains received a Grammy nomination for "Best Country Vocal Collaboration" for their version of the song with lead vocals by Ricky Skaggs) on their 1992 album, Another Country. In 1994, a version of the song recorded by the Swedish band, Rednex, as "Cotton Eye Joe" became popular worldwide.


The origins of this song are unclear, although it pre-dates the 1861–1865 American Civil War.[1] American folklorist Dorothy Scarborough (1878–1935) noted in her 1925 book On the Trail of Negro Folk-songs, that several people remember hearing the song before the war and her sister, Mrs. George Scarborough, learned the song from a man who had known the song during his earliest childhood from slaves singing it on plantations in Louisiana.[2] Both the dance and the song had as many variants as the old old folk song that it is.[3] American publishing house Harper and Brothers published a version in 1882, heard by author Louise Clarke Pyrnelle (born 1850) on the Alabama plantation of her father when she was a child,[4] that was later republished in 1910:[5]

"Cotton-eyed Joe, Cotton-eyed Joe,

What did make you sarve me so,
Fur ter take my gal erway fum me,
An' cyar her plum ter Tennessee?
Ef it hadn't ben fur Cotton-eyed Joe,
I'd er been married long ergo.

"His eyes wuz crossed, an' his nose wuz flat,
An' his teef wuz out, but wat uv dat?
Fur he wuz tall, an' he wuz slim,
An' so my gal she follered him.
Ef it hadn't ben fur Cotton-eyed Joe,
I'd er been married long ergo.

"No gal so hansum could be foun',
Not in all dis country roun',
Wid her kinky head, an' her eyes so bright,
Wid her lips so red an' her teef so white.
Ef it hadn't ben fur Cotton-eyed Joe,
I'd been married long ergo.

"An' I loved dat gal wid all my heart,
An' she swo' fum me she'd never part;
But den wid Joe she runned away,
An' lef' me hyear fur ter weep all day.

O Cotton-eyed Joe, O Cotton-eyed Joe,
What did make you sarve me so?
O Joe, ef it hadn't er ben fur you,
I'd er married dat gal fur true."

By 1884, the same year Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published, the fiddle based song was referred to as "an old, familiar air."[6] In 1925, another version was recorded by folklorist Dorothy Scarborough and published.[7]

Don't you remember, don't you know,

Don't you remember Cotton-eyed Joe?
Cotton-eyed Joe, Cotton-eyed Joe,
What did make you treat me so?
I'd 'a' been married forty year ago
Ef it had n't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe!

Cotton-eyed Joe, Cotton-eyed Joe,
He was de nig dat sarved me so, ?
Tuck my gal away fum me,
Carried her off to Tennessee.
I'd 'a' been married forty year ago
If it had n't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe.

Hi's teeth was out an' his nose was flat,
His eyes was crossed, ? but she did n't mind dat.
Kase he was tall, and berry slim,
An' so my gal she follered him.
I'd 'a' been married forty year ago
Ef it had n't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe.

She was de prettiest gal to be found
Anywhar in de country round;
Her lips was red an' her eyes was bright,
Her skin was black but her teeth was white.
I'd 'a' been married forty year ago
Ef it had n't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe.

Dat gal, she sho' had all my love,
An swore fum ne she'd never move,
But Joe hoodooed her, don't you see,
An' she run off wid him to Tennessee,
I'd 'a' been married forty years ago,
Ef it hadn't a-been for Cotton-eyed Joe."

Scarborough noted that the song seemed to be well known in the South prior to the Civil War, and parts of it had been sent in by various persons.[7]

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"Cotton Eye Joe", performed by Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers (1929).

Over the years, many different versions of the song have been performed and/or recorded with many different versions of the lyrics (and many without lyrics). "Cotton-Eyed Joe", on occasion referred to as "The South Texas National Anthem", was played for minstrel-type jigs, and it has long been popular as a square dance hoedown and a couple dance polka.[8]

A resident of Central Texas who learned the dance in Williamson County in the early 1880s described it as nothing but a heel and toe "poker" with fringes added. These fringes added to the heel and toe polka were clog steps which required skill and extroversion on the part of the dancer.[9]

During the first half of the twentieth century the song was a widely known folk song all over English-speaking North America.

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A 1939 recording of the folk song

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One discography lists 134 recorded versions released since 1950.[10] In more recent decades, the song has waned in popularity in most regions except some parts of the American South where it is still a popular folk song.[11]

A list of the possible meanings of the term "cotton-eyed" that have been proposed includes: to be drunk on moonshine, or to have been blinded by drinking wood alcohol, turning the eyes milky white; a black person with very light blue eyes; someone whose eyes were milky white from bacterial infections of Trachoma or syphilis, cataracts or glaucoma; the contrast of dark skin tone around white eyeballs in black people;[12] and possibly pterygium, a reddish-white corneal overgrowth associated with chronic sun exposure.[citation needed]

Bob Wills and Adolph Hofner and His San Antonians both recorded the song, and Hofner's version (Columbia 37658), issued in 1941,[13] apparently[clarification needed] being the one that did the most to popularize the song.[14]

A 1967 instrumental version of the song (KIKR k202) by Al Dean, who recalled the song called "The Gingerbread Man" in South Texas, inspired a new round dance polka for couples. This dance was adapted into a simplified version as a nonpartner waist-hold, spoke line routine. Heel and toe polka steps were replaced with a cross-lift followed by a kick with two-steps. The lift and kick are sometimes accompanied by shouts of "whoops, whoops," or the barn yard term "bull shit", mimicking the act of kicking off barnyard muck.[8] The practice continues to this day. The Kickin′ album included "Cotton-Eyed Joe" by Dean. (KIK-R: 10012)

One version of a dance called "Cotton-Eyed Joe" can be found in the 1975 edition of Encyclopedia of Social Dance. This version has the men on the inside of a circle facing out, and the women on the outside facing in. The dance consists of eight kick steps, side, close left together, right together, and a series of struts.[15]

The spoke line version gained popularity not only in Texas, but across the US and overseas[clarification needed] in the 1980s.[8]

Ray Benson of the Western Swing band Asleep at the Wheel talks about playing the Bob Wills version of "Cotton-Eyed Joe" in Texas in the 1970s when the dance was very much alive.[16]

A Western "Craze" followed the 1980 release of Urban Cowboy.

"Cotton-Eyed Joe", and its continued popularity in Texas, was referred to in the lyrics to Alabama's song "If You're Gonna Play in Texas." "I remember down in Houston we were puttin' on a show when a cowboy in the back stood up and yelled, "Cotton-Eyed Joe"!"

In Merle Haggard's "Texas Fiddle Song", the final verse makes reference to the "Cotton-Eyed Joe" and features the melody of both the Bob Wills and Al Dean versions.

The song has become a staple song played at many professional and college baseball games during the seventh-inning stretch with the preference going to the Rednex version.

Select list of recorded versions[edit]

Rednex version[edit]

"Cotton Eye Joe"
Single by Rednex
from the album Sex & Violins
Released12 August 1994
FormatCD, 12"
GenreEurodance,[18][19] country[19][20]
LabelInternal Affairs (UK)
Battery (NA)
ZYX (Germany)
Writer(s)Janne Ericsson
Örjan Öban Öberg
Pat Reiniz
Producer(s)Pat Reiniz
Rednex singles chronology
"Cotton Eye Joe"
"Old Pop in an Oak"

"The Chase"

"Cotton Eye Joe 2002"

"Mama Take Me Home"

In August 1994, Swedish recording group Rednex covered the song as "Cotton Eye Joe" for their album Sex & Violins, combining their style with traditional American instruments, such as banjos,[21] and fiddles. In 2002, "Cotton Eye Joe" was remixed in a dance version, and was released from Rednex's greatest hits album, The Best of the West.

Chart performances[edit]

The Rednex version of the song (using "Eye" instead of "Eyed"), along with a dance-mix version, was very successful in Europe, where it remained at number one in Norway for 15 weeks, Switzerland for 13 weeks, Germany for 10 weeks, Sweden for 8 weeks, Austria for 7 weeks, and for 3 weeks on the UK Singles Chart. In Oceania, it topped the New Zealand Singles Chart for 6 consecutive weeks. In Australia it peaked at number 8 in April 1995. In the US, it peaked at number 25 in March 1995.

Critical reception[edit]

Blender magazine ranked the song at #38 on the list of the "50 Worst Songs Ever".[22] Matthew Wilkening of AOL Radio listed the song at #86 on the list of the 100 Worst Songs Ever, calling it "[t]he worst song the New York Yankees could have picked for their seventh-inning stretch music. No wonder they're nicknamed the 'evil empire.'"[23]

Track listings[edit]

  1. "Cotton Eye Joe" (Original Single Version) — 3:14
  2. "Cotton Eye Joe" (Madcow Mix) — 4:46
  3. "Cotton Eye Joe" (Madcow Instrumental) — 4:46
  4. "Cotton Eye Joe" (Overworked Mix) — 6:20
  5. "Cotton Eye Joe" (Original Instrumental) — 3:08
CD - 2002 version
  1. "Cotton Eye Joe 2002" - 3:33
  2. "Cotton Eye Joe 2002 (Dance Nation Remix)" - 7:32
  3. "Cotton Eye Joe 2002 (Aquagen Remix)" - 7:45
  4. "Ride the Hurricane's Eye (Winnetoons Version)" - 3:02
  5. "Cotton Eye Joe 2002 (Extended Version)" - 5:56

Charts and sales[edit]

Chart successions[edit]

Order of precedence
Preceded by
"Love Is All Around" by Wet Wet Wet
Swedish number-one single
September 2, 1994 - October 21, 1994 (8 weeks)
Succeeded by
"This Is the Way" by E-Type
Dutch Top 40 number-one single
September 17, 1994 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"Dromen zijn bedrog" by Marco Borsato
Norwegian VG-Lista number-one single
41/1994 - 2/1995 (15 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Old Pop in an Oak" by Rednex
Preceded by
"Saturday Night" by Whigfield
German number-one single
November 4, 1994 - January 6, 1995 (10 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Tears Don't Lie" by Mark 'Oh
Preceded by
"Hey Süßer" by Lucilectric
Austrian number-one single
November 6, 1994 - December 18, 1994 (7 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Hey Süßer" by Lucilectric
Preceded by
"Secret" by Madonna
Swiss number-one single
November 27, 1994 - February 26, 1995 (13 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Conquest of Paradise" by Vangelis
Preceded by
"Always" by Bon Jovi
Eurochart Hot 100 number-one single
December 10, 1994 - February 11, 1995 (10 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Here Comes The Hotstepper" by Ini Kamoze
Preceded by
"Stay Another Day" by East 17
UK Singles Chart number-one single
January 8, 1995 - January 28, 1995 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Think Twice" by Céline Dion
Preceded by
"Tomorrow" by Silverchair
New Zealand RIANZ number-one single
March 5, 1995 - April 9, 1995 (6 weeks)
Succeeded by
"If You Love Me" by Brownstone
Preceded by
"Everybody on the Floor (Pump It)" by Tokyo Ghetto Pussy
Canadian RPM Dance chart number-one single
March 13, 1995 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"You & I" by J.K.

Contemporary "Cotton-Eyed Joe" versions[edit]

In November 2010, The Moody Brothers' version of "Cotton-Eyed Joe" was used in an opening "redneck wedding" dream sequence scene on One Tree Hill.[50]

Cotton-Eye Joe was featured in New Girl[51]


  1. ^ Everett, Holly: "The Many Lives of ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’", Canadian Society for Traditional Music Conference, 2002, Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland.
  2. ^ Scarborough, Dorothy; Ola Lee Gulledge (1925). On the Trail of Negro Folk-songs. Harvard University Press. p. 289. ISBN 0-674-01262-3. Retrieved March 3, 2011. He said he had known it from his earliest childhood and had heard the slaves sing it on the plantations. 
  3. ^ Lloyd Shaw, The Round Dance Book, The Caxton Printers, Ltd, 1948, p. 314. No ISBN or catalogue number.
  4. ^ Pyrnelle, Louise Clarke (1910). Diddie, shoots, and Tot: or, Plantation child-life. Harper and Brothers. p. vi. Retrieved March 3, 2011. The stories, plantation games, and Hymns are just as I heard them in my childhood 
  5. ^ Pyrnelle, Louise Clarke (1910). Diddie, Dumps, and Tot: or, Plantation child-life. Harper and Brothers. pp. 135–36. Retrieved March 3, 2011. 
  6. ^ Brotherhood of locomotive firemen and enginemen's magazine 8. Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. 1884. p. 534. Retrieved March 3, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b Dorothy Scarborough, assisted By Ola Lee Quiledge (1925). "On The Trail Of Negro Folk-Songs-online book. A collection of negro folk songs with lyrics, sheet music & commentaries". pp. 69–70. Retrieved 2014-03-31. 
  8. ^ a b c Dance Across Texas Betty Casey, University of Texas Press, 1985, p. 17. ISBN 0-292-71540-4
  9. ^ Harris, Pittman, Waller, Dance a While. Handbook of Folk, Square, and Social Dancing. 1950, 1955, 1964, 1968. Burgess Publishing Company, Fourth Edition, p. 151.
  10. ^ "Grateful Dead Family Discography:Cotton-Eyed Joe". Retrieved 2014-03-31. 
  11. ^ Everett, 2002
  12. ^ "Information at The Fiddler's Companion". Retrieved 2014-03-31. 
  13. ^ "COLUMBIA 78rpm numerical listing discography: 37500 - 38000". Retrieved 2014-03-31. 
  14. ^ Bill C. Malone, Don't Get above Your Raisin′, University of Illinois Press, 2001, p. 313. ISBN 0-252-02678-0
  15. ^ Albert and Josephine Bulter, Encyclopedia of Social Dance, New York: Albert Bulter Ballroom Dance Service. New York, New York, 1975.
  16. ^ "Honky Tonks, Hymns, & the Blues". Retrieved 2014-03-31. 
  17. ^ "Eye of Cotton Joe". 
  18. ^ Loftus, Johnny. "Rednex – Sex & Violins". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved February 16, 2014. 
  19. ^ a b The A.V. Club (2009). Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined by Saxophone, and 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop-Culture Lists. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4165-9473-4. 
  20. ^ Flick, Larry; Pride, Dominic (February 18, 1995). "Will U.S. Fans Dance To Jive's Rednex Fiddling ?". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media). p. 117. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  21. ^ "Cotton Eye Joe – Rednex". Retrieved 2014-03-31. 
  22. ^ [1][dead link]
  23. ^ Wilkening, Matthew (September 11, 2010). "100 Worst Songs Ever". AOL Radio. Retrieved December 19, 2010. 
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h "Cotton Eye Joe", in various singles charts (Retrieved February 6, 2008)
  25. ^ a b c d Billboard (Retrieved July 30, 2008)
  26. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 2012-02-10. 
  27. ^ Billboard October 29, 1994. Billboard. 1994-10-29. Retrieved 2010-12-01. 
  28. ^ "Billboard - Google Books". 1994-11-05. Retrieved 2014-03-31. 
  29. ^ German Singles Chart (Retrieved April 10, 2008)
  30. ^ Irish Single Chart (Retrieved April 10, 2008)
  31. ^ a b "Single top 100 over 1994" (PDF) (in Dutch). Top40. Retrieved 17 April 2010. 
  32. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2. 
  33. ^ UK Singles Chart (Retrieved April 10, 2008)
  34. ^ 1994 Austrian Singles Chart (Retrieved July 30, 2008)
  35. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 2012-02-10. 
  36. ^ 1995 Australian Singles Chart (Retrieved July 30, 2008)
  37. ^ 1995 Austrian Singles Chart (Retrieved July 30, 2008)
  38. ^ 1995 French Singles Chart (Retrieved January 30, 2009)
  39. ^ 1995 Swiss Singles Chart (Retrieved July 30, 2008)
  40. ^ "Billboard Top 100 - 1995". Retrieved 2010-08-27. 
  41. ^ "Accreditation Awards". Australian Fun Countdowns. 2011-04-07. Retrieved 2012-06-29. 
  42. ^ "Austrian single certifications – Rednex – Cotton Eye Joe" (in German). IFPI Austria. Retrieved June 29, 2012.  Enter Rednex in the field Interpret. Enter Cotton Eye Joe in the field Titel. Select single in the field Format. Click Suchen
  43. ^ "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Rednex; 'Cotton Eye Joe')" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie. Retrieved June 29, 2012. 
  44. ^ "Dutch single certifications – Rednex – Cotton Eye Joe" (in Dutch). Nederlandse Vereniging van Producenten en Importeurs van beeld- en geluidsdragers. Retrieved June 29, 2012. 
  45. ^ "Norwegian single certifications – Rednex – Cotton Eye John" (in Norwegian). IFPI Norway. Retrieved June 29, 2012. 
  46. ^ "Guld- och Platinacertifikat − År 1987−1998" (PDF) (in Swedish). IFPI Sweden. Retrieved June 29, 2012. 
  47. ^ "The Official Swiss Charts and Music Community: Awards (Rednex; 'Cotton Eye Joe')". Hung Medien. Retrieved June 29, 2012. 
  48. ^ "British single certifications – Rednex – Cotton Eye Joe". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved June 29, 2012.  Enter Cotton Eye Joe in the field Search. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Click Go
  49. ^ "American single certifications – The Rednex – Cotton Eye Joe". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved June 29, 2012.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
  50. ^ Default. "One Tree Hill Music". Retrieved 2012-02-10. 
  51. ^ "New Girl: "Elaine's Big Day" Review - IGN". 2013-05-14. Retrieved 2014-03-31. 

External links[edit]