The death of folk and bluegrass great Doc Watson has prompted everyone from NPR to small-club musicians to play some of the man’s wonderful songs. His version of “Tennessee Stud” is often the chosen gem. I keep waiting, but so far I’ve not heard or read anyone mentioning the author of that song–Jimmy Driftwood.
Not to take anything away from Watson, but Jimmy Driftwood (1907-98) and his 6,000-plus songs gave more to American folk music than pretty much anyone else. (Yup, that’s right: 6,000 songs written.) His real name was James Corbitt Morris, according to the excellent entry about him in the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.
Jimmy Driftwood (fans always called him by both names) was a poet and a teacher by trade, and teach us he did. In preserving folk songs of the Ozark Mountains region by performing the ones passed from generation to generation, and writing more in the same vein, he set important history of early America in amber.
I grew up listening to his albums, and on long car trips, I still sing the one that starts this way:
I’m just a Damyankee way down in the South
I love to kiss Southern belles in the mouth
I laugh when they say all Damyankees are bad
For nobody knows I’m a Damyankee Lad.
And after several verses, it closes out with:
When I get so old that I’m ready to die
I’ll put on my uniform blue as the sky
They’ll march ’round my coffin and won’t they get mad
When they learn that I was a DamnYankee Lad.
My voice isn’t pretty, but neither was his.