Old Dan Tucker

Dale Cockrell

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Went to town the other night,
I hear the noise, then saw the fight,
The watchman was a-running round,
Crying “Old Dan Tucker’s come to town.”
Old Dan Tucker’s back in town,
Swinging the ladies, all around;
First to the right, and then to the left;
Then kiss the gal that he loves best.

Get out of the way! Get out of the way!
Get out of the way! Old Dan Tucker,
You’re too late to come to supper.

Dan began early in his life,
To play the banjo to win a wife,
But every time he’d company keep,
He’d play himself fast asleep.
Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man,
He washed his face in the frying pan,
He combed his hair with a wagon wheel,
And died of a toothache in his heel.


Old Dan Tucker came to town,
A-riding a goat, and leading a hound,
The hound gave a howl, and the goat gave a jump,
And threw Dan Tucker a-top a stump.
I went to meetin’ the other day,
To hear old Tucker preach and pray,
They all got the spirit, but me alone,
I make ole Tucker walk jawbone.


When old Dan Tucker passed away,
They missed the music he used to play,
They carried him on his last long ride,
And buried his banjo at his side.


© Dale Cockrell. All rights reserved.

This song, with its jaunty melody and sprightly verses, has been sung and enjoyed up to the very present. “Old Dan Tucker” is attributed to Daniel Decatur Emmett (1815-1904), a New York-based performer from Ohio. The lyrics are certainly Emmett’s while the tune, which has a folk-like quality, has been thought by some to come from the oral tradition (although no record of it exists before the publication of this song in 1843).
Mr. Edwards, who helped the Ingalls build their log cabin on the prairie, is showered in appreciation with food and music. As he reluctantly leaves to return to his own cabin, he invites Pa to “Play me down the Road!” “Old Dan Tucker” was just the tune to put lilt in a working man’s tired feet, and “faintly from the creek bottoms came a last whoop from Mr. Edwards.” (“House on the Prairie” chapter)

Dale Cockrell

About the Artist:

Dale Cockrell is director of the Program in American and Southern Studies at Vanderbilt University and Professor of Musicology and American Studies.
He has published widely in the field of American music studies, including Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), which was the recipient of the C. Hugh Holman Award presented by The Society for the Study of Southern Literature; and Excelsior: Journals of the Hutchinson Family Singers, 1842-1846 (Stuyvesant, New York: Pendragon, 1989), which won the Irving Lowens Award.
Dale is a former president of the Society for American Music and a member of the American Antiquarian Society. He is currently at work on a volume for the Music of the United States of America series, titled The Ingalls-Wilder Songbook (a critical edition of the music referenced in the Little House® books by Laura Ingalls Wilder); a study of music in the lives of common-class antebellum southerns (titled Common People and Their Uncommon Music); and an exploration of the place of American Music Studies in the pantheon of scholarly disciplines.

He is the founder, owner, and president of Pa’s Fiddle Recordings, LLC, a record label dedicated to recording the music referenced in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books so that children and their parents might once again engage and enjoy the magnificence of America’s musical heritage.


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