Sunday, January 8, 2017

A battle, a song and an Ozarks connection

Today is the Eighth of January, and that brings to mind a battle with a bit of an Ozarks connection.
The battle is the Battle of New Orleans that started on Jan. 8, 1815, and brought an end to the War of 1812. The Ozarks connection is a song titled "The Battle of New Orleans," written by an Ozarks schoolteacher to an old fiddle tyne played by Ozarks fiddlers, titled "Eighth of January."
Here's Jimmy Driftwood singing:

Jimmy Driftwood's real name was James Corbitt Morris, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, and he claimed to have written the song in 1936 while he was a teacher. The song was a way to get students interested in history and to teach them the difference between the American Revolution and the War of 1812.
Driftwood recorded his original version in 1958, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, but it did not achieve much airplay, owing to the use of the words "hell" and "damn." He must have been a real Ozarks character to sing a song like that to Arkansas schoolchildren back in the 1930s and 1940s.
Driftwood took an existing fiddle tune, "Eighth of January," that had been written sometime after the battle and was also known as "Jackson's Victory," referring to Gen. Andrew Jackson.
The Library of Congress reports that a couple of ethnographers recorded versions of the fiddle tune played by Oklahoma dust bowl migrant workers in California. It was a popular tune at square dances.

Driftwood, who continued to collect and write songs, eventually became a performer on the Grand Ole Opry, the Ozark Jubilee and the Louisiana Hayride. It was at the Hayride in Shreveport that he met Johnny Horton in 1959. Driftwood toned down the lyrics for Horton who recorded it that year and put it atop the country music chart for over 10 weeks and the pop music chart for six weeks.
It is one of the top 100 Western songs of all time, according to the Western Writers of America.
Jimmy Driftwood led in the founding of the Arkansas Folk Festival and the Ozark Folk Center. He died in 1998.

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