Wednesday, January 9, 2013

History: Jimmy Driftwood's Song

Everyone of a certain age has hummed along to the old standard folk song familiarly titled "The Battle of New Orleans" written by Jimmy Driftwood. Jimmy was a master of the folk genre and wrote and published upwards of six thousand tunes. "The Battle of New Orleans" was a song that, at one time anyway, was taught in schools. I remember singing it at a choir performance in sixth grade.

But, like most people, I sang only part of the song and had no idea - as I'm sure was the case with my teachers - that the song as originally written had so much detail regarding not only the battle but the people involved. And of course, we're talking about pirates.

Enter that encyclopedic expert on all things piratical, Captain Swallow. On Monday, the eve of the 198th anniversary of the great battle, the Captain sent an email to the members of the Pyrates' Union giving us the lyrics of the song in their entirety and a link to a performance by none other than Driftwood himself. Here then, via the Captain, is the song "The Battle of New Orleans" as it should be sung and including a key line about Triple P's favorite racketeer, Jean Laffite:

Weill in eighteen and fourteen we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans,
And we fought the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.

Well, I see'd Mars Jackson walkin' down the street
Talkin' to a pirate by the name of Jean Laffite
He gave Jean a drink that he brung from Tennessee
And the pirate said he'd help us drive the British in the sea.

The French said Andrew, you'd better run,
For Packingham's a comin' with a bullet in his gun.
Old Hickory said he didn't give a dang,
He's gonna whip the britches off of Colonel Packingham.

(Chorus:) We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'.
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago.
We fired once more and the began to runnin'
Down to the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

Well, we looked down the river and we see'd the British come,
And there must have been a hundred of 'em beatin' on the drum.
They stepped so high and they made their bugles ring
While we stood by our cotton bales and didn't say a thing.

Old Hickory said we could take 'em by surprise
If we didn't fire a musket til we looked 'em in the eyes.
We held our fire til we see'd their faces well,
Then we opened up with squirrel guns and really gave a yell.


Well, we fired our cannon til the barrel melted down,
So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round.
We filled his head with cannon balls and powdered his behind,
And when they fetched the powder off, the gator lost his mind.

We'll march back home but we'll never be content
Till we make Old Hickory the people's President.
And every time we think about the bacon and the beans,
We'll think about the fun we had way down in New Orleans.


Well, they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go.
They ran so fast the hounds couldn't catch 'em
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

You can find Jimmy singing his fabulous ballad on YouTube here.

My thanks, as always, to Captain Swallow for once again educating us all about the history not only of pirates and privateers, but the world. Now go out and sing, Brethren!

Header: A page from "Pirate and Patriot"; find the entire comic here


Capt. John Swallow said...

Thank ye for the kind mention; I am but a humble ol' Pyrate -glad to share some knowledge with The Brethren (or any who will listen with an open mind) - much like yerself and the fine blogs ye populate with such history! Coming across this info was most enlightening and imagine my joy in finding our man Laffite immortalized in song for the first time!
Many years ago I worked at a small AM radio station in an armpit o' a town and produced the morning call-in talk show, after which I played an hour or so o' "classic hits from the 50's - 70's"...Horton's version o' "The Battle O' New Orleans" was a regular pick and when I discovered the Station PD hated it, I played it all the more! Pyrate.

I gave forwarded the complete lyrics to our mates "The Whiskey Bay Rovers" o' Lafayette, LA and instructed them to learn the song in it's entirely to add to their repertoire by NOLA Pyrate Week for subsequent performances (and sing along).

Capt. John Swallow said...

BTW...I think it amusing that in the comic (which looks fantastic) the map shows "Chef Menteur Road" - unlikely to have been called that in Jackson's time!
In fact, it's still funny they named a road (or anything else) for the "Lying Chief" - though there is some discussion on who or what that referred to - Gov. Kerlerec for reneging on a treaty with the Choctaw Nation, a Choctaw Chief who was corrupt or possibly a reference to the "untrustworthy" navigation o' the Mississippi. Given the indigenous peoples had been around the Mississippi for thousands o' years I doubt the latter...and given the corruption inherent in politics - especially "settler" politics, my guess is the first explanation.

Capt. John Swallow said...

Not that I'm trying to overstate me welcome...LOL...

Seems the road in question was Gentilly Road AND Chef Menteur back around 1798 but later named only as Gentilly (when it occurred to someone what "Menteur" was, perhaps) - it shows this way in the later 1800's well after the battle. Somewhere, someone brought it back and even dropped Gentilly...politicians...can't live with 'em, can't keel haul 'em all. (as an aside Perdido Rd. was once the perfect place for Politicians - out in the middle o' the swamp, truly "lost"...unfortunately now they found themselves in the middle o' the city...guess the Gators didn't want them either...they don't generally eat junk food...)

Timmy! said...

That is great, Pauline. I was only familiar with the first verse, myself. Thankee to the every informative Captain Swallow as well.

Pauline said...

Captain: Thank you so much for this post and for, as always, adding a million little details to it. I am once again in your debt.

Timmy!: Can't get this song out of your head now, can ya? Me either.