Friday Five: Cotton

Ken Morton, Jr. | October 28th, 2011

Cotton and country music have a long and passionate love affair together.  “Cotton-Eyed Joe” is one of the earliest recorded country-folk songs on record. Cotton blue jeans are practically the stock uniform for contemporary country performers. And with as many drinking songs that have been written over the years, certainly a fair share of country performers have woken up to cotton mouth.  Why, cotton, the fabric of our lives. And in case you don’t think it is a sweet topic for a Friday Five, let me remind you that it even has a candy named after it.

5. Alabama – “High Cotton”

Remember when Alabama was a quartet instead of a trio?


4. Charley Pride – “Mississippi Delta Cotton Picking Town”

Interestingly enough, although cotton growing was a strictly Southern affair back in the day—North Carolina alone has had over a million acres of cotton fields for over 100 years—it was a true Yankee named Eli Whitney that revolutionized the farming industry with the invention of the cotton gin.


3. Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Hey, Mr. Cotton Picker”

“Yonder comes a cotton picker walkin’ down the road
Puffin’ like a locomotive carryin’ a load
‘Hey, Mr. Cotton Picker, watcha gonna do?’
‘Gonna get gone away from you’
Here is Mr. Cotton Picker passin’ by my shack
Seems as if his back is breakin’ with a cotton sack
‘Hey, Mr. Cotton Picker, when you gettin’ paid?’
‘Reckon as soon as my sack gets weighed'”

The moral of this story is that manual labor is equal parts pain and suffering.


2.Johnny Cash – “I Never Picked Cotton”

This little tune was made famous first by Roy Clark back in 1970 on his album of the same name. Cash released this as a cover on his 1996 album Unchained. Sharecropping, cotton picking, coal mine deaths and hangings all make this the perfect tune for the Man in Black, who grew up picking cotton with his family in Dyess, Arkansas.


1. Merle Haggard – “California Cotton Fields”

This heartbreaking tale by The Hag tells the story of his “Daddy” trading one miserable existence farming cotton in Oklahoma to one miserable existence farming cotton in California: “But the only change I remember seeing for my Daddy was when his dark hair turned to silver gray.”

  1. bob
    October 28, 2011 at 8:40 am

    I like songs 1, 4 & 5. Never heard the first 4 before.

    How about “Cotton Jenny”, solely written by Gordon Lightfoot and recorded by Lightfoot and Anne Murray.

  2. Jon
    October 28, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Oh, for crying out loud, “California Cottonfields” isn’t a tale by The Hag, it’s a tale by Dallas Frazier (you might have heard of him) and Peanut Montgomery.

    Good call on the Charley Pride song, though.

  3. Barry Mazor
    October 28, 2011 at 9:16 am

    “MS Cotton Pickin Delta Town” is–inevitably–the single we put up at the top of the new Charley Pride historical marker in Sledge, Ms. (One of my jobs is researching and putting together the material on those markers.)

    Things being what they were there when Charley was growing up, he never even met the main composer of the song, Harold Dorman, who grew up (and is white) in the same little town at the same time, until they were both successful adults in music, and then they became friends. (Dorman also wrote the rock and country standard “Mountain of Love.”)

  4. Rick
    October 28, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    One of my favorite tracks on Blake Shelton’s “Barn & Grill” album is “Cotton Pickin’ Time” although the song doesn’t have a whole lot to do with cotton! (lol) Why it wasn’t released as a radio single is absolutely beyond me, and the video would have really been fun too!

    It may be one of Hag’s shortest songs, but “Tulare Dust” is a great little cotton picking ditty.

    And since this is a Cotton theme, let’s not forget about the yodeling blonde bombshell Carolina Cotton who was one of the few female artists to do a full tour with Bob Wills. Working in western films and focusing on western swing and cowboy music guaranteed that Carolina’s career would fade by the mid 1950’s. Fortunately Carolina’s daughter, who now resides in Bakersfield, went through the effort it took to compile two full CD’s of Carolina’s recordings that are available on CD Baby. Carolina’s duet version of “Ragtime Cowboy Joe” is the best you’ll find in the Amazon MP3 library.

  5. Occasional Hope
    October 28, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    What about Gene Watson’s ‘From Cotton To Satin’?

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