"Cotton-Eyed Joe" is a popular American country song known 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 number 942.

"Cotton Eyed Joe" (also known as "Cotton Eye Joe") has inspired both a partner dance and more than one line dance that is often danced at country dance venues in the United States 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 a vocal by Ricky Skaggs) on their 1992 album Another Country. And in 1994, a version of the song recorded by the Swedish band Rednex as "Cotton Eye Joe" became popular worldwide.

History[edit source | editbeta]Edit

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][8]

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.[8]

MENU   0:00 [1]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.[9]

A resident of Austin, 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.[10]

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

One discography lists 134 recorded versions released since 1950.[11] In more recent decades, the song has waned in popularity in most regions except some parts of theAmerican South where it is still a popular folk song.[12]

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; and the contrast of dark skin tone around white eyeballs in black people.[13]

Bob Wills and Adolph Hofner and His San Antonians both recorded the song, and Hofner's version (Columbia 37658), issued in 1941,[14] apparently[clarification needed] being the one that did the most to popularize the song.[15]

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.[9] The practice continues to this day. The Kickin′ LP 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.[16]

The spoke line version gained popularity not only in Texas, but across the US and overseas[clarification needed] in the 1980s.[9]

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.[17]

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

The Bob Wills version of the song is still popular with dancers.

"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.

Selective list of recorded versions[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Rednex version[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"Cotton Eye Joe"
Single by Rednex
from the album Sex & Violins
Released August 12, 1994
Format CD12"
Recorded 1994
Genre Eurodancecountry
Length 3:14
Label Internal Affairs (UK)

Battery (NA) ZYX (Germany)

Writer(s) Janne Ericsson

Örjan Öban Öberg Pat Reiniz

Producer Pat Reiniz
Rednex singles chronology
"Cotton Eye Joe"


"Old Pop in an Oak"


"The Chase" (2001)

"Cotton Eye Joe 2002" (2002)

"Mama Take Me Home" (2006)

In August 1994, Swedish techno/folk/bluegrass band Rednex covered the song as "Cotton Eye Joe" for their album Sex & Violins, combining their style with traditional American instruments, such as synthesized banjos (from Roland MT-32),[20] 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 source | editbeta]Edit

The Rednex version of the song (using "Eye" instead of "Eyed"), along with a dance-mix version, was very successful in Europe, reaching number 1 in the U.K. in January 1995, and staying in the number one slot in Norway for 15 weeks, Switzerland for 13 weeks, Germany for 10 weeks, Sweden for 8 weeks, and Austria for 7 weeks. In the U.S., it peaked at #25 in March 1995, while in Australia topped out at #8 in April 1995.

Blender magazine ranked the song at #38 on the list of the "50 Worst Songs Ever".[21] 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.'"[22]

Track listings[edit source | editbeta]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 source | editbeta]Edit

Peak positions[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Chart (1994/95) Peak


Australia (ARIA)[23] 8
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[23] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[23] 1
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[24] 10
Canada Dance (RPM)[25] 1
Denmark (Tracklisten)[26] 1
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[27] 1
France (SNEP)[23] 10
Germany (Media Control Charts)[28] 1
Ireland (IRMA)[29] 2
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[30] 1
New Zealand (RIANZ)[23] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[23] 1
Spain (AFYVE)[31] 8
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[23] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[23] 1
United Kingdom (The Official Charts Company)[32] 1
U.S. BillboardHot 100[24] 25
U.S. BillboardHot Dance Club Play[24] 5
U.S. BillboardTop 40 Mainstream[24] 30
Chart (2002) Peak


Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40) 32

End of year charts[edit source | editbeta]Edit

End of year chart (1994) Position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[33] 7
Canada (RPM)[34] 13
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[30] 9
End of year chart (1995) Position
Australia (ARIA)[35] 34
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[36] 10
France (SNEP)[37] 50
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[38] 10
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[39] 93

Sales and certifications[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Australia (ARIA)[40] Gold 35,000^
Austria (IFPI Austria)[41] Platinum 30,000x
Germany (BVMI)[42] 2× Platinum 1,000,000^
Netherlands (NVPI)[43] Gold 50,000^
Norway (IFPI Norway)[44] 2× Platinum 100,000
Sweden (GLF)[45] Platinum 50,000x
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[46] Platinum 50,000x
United Kingdom (BPI)[47] Platinum 600,000^
United States (RIAA)[48] Gold 500,000^

  • sales figures based on certification alone ^shipments figures based on certification alone xunspecified figures based on certification alone

Chart successions[edit source | editbeta]Edit

[show]Order of precedence

Contemporary "Cotton Eyed Joe"[edit source | editbeta]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.[49]

In April 2008 "Cotton-Eyed Joe" was used as the music for a Country Western group dance on the nationally broadcast show "Dancing with the Stars".

"Cotton-Eyed Joe" has been a standard during the seventh-inning stretch at Texas Rangers baseball games since the team moved to Texas in 1972. The Rednex version has been played at Yankee Stadium since the mid-'90s during the seventh-inning stretch. Since late 2001, the song has been moved to the eighth inning to accommodate the playing and/or singing of "God Bless America". During the song, a video on the Diamond Vision screen claiming to be "live from the control room" shows an individual identified as "Cotton Eye Joey" in a straw hat dancing along.

"Cotton-Eyed Joe" has become a fan favorite following the seventh-inning stretch at the University of Texas' UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

During the Green Bay Packers games at Lambeau Field, "Cotton-eye Joe" by the Rednex is often played during timeouts. The song's traditional dance can be seen throughout the stadium

The Rednex version of the song is played frequently at football and basketball games of the University of Wyoming Cowboys, as a reflection of the country roots of the state.

"Cotton-Eyed Joe" was used for an act on America's Got Talent.

Various times during Pittsburgh Penguins hockey games, "Cotton-Eyed Joe" is played and fans are encouraged to dance, sometimes being shown on the jumbotron.

Cotton-Eye Joe was featured in New Girl[50] [S02E25: Elaine's Big Day], where it was used by Schmidt and Winston in an attempt to sabotage Cece's Hindu wedding proceedings, following an initial prank in which an air-horn was hilariously used to startle Shivrang's stallion. Nick described the song as being '[sic] just so damn catchy!', and was depicted subconsciously 'fist-pumping' along in a flashback.