Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What is this: Mule Skinner

Image from Hazel Holley Crabtree c 1920's
Mule Skinner

A muleskinner is a professional mule driver whose sole purpose was to keep the mules moving. The term “skinner” is slang for someone who might “skin” or outsmart a mule. Mules have a characteristic of being very stubborn so outsmarting them to make them move used skill, wit, and a type of determination. Depending on the amount of cargo attached to the load the muleskinner could be in charge of one mule or a team of mules. The driver in most cases rode on the back of one mule and used a attached whip like leather line called a "jerk line" to steer and control the movements of the mule(s). A leaned and experienced skinner knew every characteristic of the mule team and could use this knowledge to understand how to make a productive driving machine.
The height of the mule driven freight industry hit the American frontier right before the introduction of the steam driven engine. During this time muleskinners worked every sort of terrain ranging from the freight docks of the eastern U.S. all the way to the western outskirts of the American frontier. The muleskinner main purpose was to move materials in and out of towns, farms, and stores. Mule Skinners could drive their cargo 2 to 2 ½ miles an hour across the prairie but the more prosperous muleskinners worked in and around the communities of the Appalachian and Rocky mountain ranges. In these areas mules had better footing than horses and trains could not reach the outskirts of the land. The mule skinnner became a sort of a "traveling man." These colorful characters became folk icons when Jimmy Rogers recorded a song called Blue Yodel #8 in 1931. Since then many bluegrass, folk, and old time musicians covered the song. Bill Monroe’s 1939 version of Mule Skinner Blues became a sudden hit.

Jimmie Rodgers and George Vaughn

Good mornin', foreman good mornin', boss
Do you need another mule skinner
With a blacksnake whip to toss.
Yodel lay, ee ee, yodel ay ee ee.
Lord, I been workin' hard
An' ah feel so bad!
I've got a good woman
An' I want to keep 'er glad.
I'm an ol' mule skinner from down Kentucky way
I can make any mule listen
Or I won't accept no pay.


Mule Skinner Blues Bill Monroe

Good morning captain good morning son
Do you need another mule skinner
Out on your new road line
Well I like to work I'm rolling all the time
Lord I like to work boy I'm rolling all the time
I can pop my initials Right on a mule's behind
Well it's hey little water boy bring your water 'round
Lord it's hey little water boy bring your water 'round
And if you don't like your job just set that water bucket down
I work out on the new road from a dollar and a dime a day
Lord I work out on the new road I make a dollar and a dime a day
I've got three women on Saturday night Waiting to draw my pay
Well I'm going to town honey what can I bring you back
Well I'm going to town baby what can I bring you back
Just bring a pint of good rye And a John B.Stetson hat
Lord it's raining here and it's storming on the deep blue sea
Lord it's raining here and it's storming on the deep blue sea
Can't no blonde headed woman make a monkey out for me
If your house catches fire and there ain't no water 'round
If your house catches fire and there ain't no water 'round
Just throw your good gal out the window let your house just burn on down
Well I'm leaving here and I ain't gonna take no clothes
I'm leaving here and I ain't gonna take no clothes
There may be good times in this old town but it's better on down the road

Lyrics Link


Mike Mason said...

There's an early Grateful Dead version of Mule Skinner Blues with bluesman Ron McKernan howling out the yodels. I'm not sure if it's on any of their record-label albums. The version I have is a mp3 of a live show in what I can imagine was a dark, smoke filled theater on the West Coast. If this works, I've linked a copy of the song here. Dial-up users beware. It's a 3+MB file.

John L. Kerns said...

Along the same lines Jerry Garcia's great bluegrass band, Old and in the Way, play another great version of Monroe's classic tune on the record, Breakdown.

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

dolly parton singing it is my favorite!! i love that!! bee

Our Goblin Market said...

One reason this topic sparked my interest was Tony Ric's version of "Mule Skinner Blues". The cd is "Cold on the Shoulder" Check out the players on this list for this one cd. This is a must have for your collection

Jerry Douglas - Dobro
Sam Bush - Mandolin
Kate Wolf - Vocals Harmony
Todd Phillips - Bass
Larry Rice - Mandolin,
Vassar Clements - Fiddle
J.D. Crowe - Banjo,
Bela Fleck - Banjo
"Barbecue" Bob Hicks - Fiddle
Bobby Hicks - Fiddle

tko said...

Hi there! I really like this site. A lot of wonderful information about appalatian music that I want to access. Will visit often.

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Karen A. Placek said...

Hi there, my name is Karen and I write a few blogs on google as well and as I was preparing nothing but needed the description to explain a 'skinner' I placed in search on GOOGLE 'Mule Skinner' and your post was the first one and without seeing it was a private blog first I posted it on my google+ as I am preparing for Winter too!! I live in California and we are usually in a drought yet this past year and as you may know it rained and rained and now we are in conundrum, thereby using your post to explain to the City where I was born April 29th, 1965 at Childrens Hospital and also the city where I was raised and felt great treasure for particular everybody:) although not all feel the heat of the flame as I do and therefore please email me back on any of the six blogs and I will remove your post and replace it with the Wikipedia describe to the word 'skinner' in description to Nature and her prowess by designation to dime supplied. Thanks, Karen A. Placek, Tiburon, California 94920 (415) 435-3154 or call I guess:) (::) (:

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