This is such a fun, strange song. I used to play it a lot when I was a kid. I couldn’t figure out a lot of the lyrics so I think I just made them up phonetically. There are words, but also lots of yodeling and some impressions of farm animals. I really had no idea what “Mule Skinner Blues” was about, but I loved it just the same.
Doing a little research on it as I prepared to write this blog I discovered that “Mule Skinner Blues” has been recorded many times, originally by country singer Jimmie Rodgers (who wrote it) in 1930. His version tells the tale of a mule skinner looking for work, bragging to the captain about his skills.
Good mornin’, Captain
Good mornin’, son
Do you need another mule skinner
On your new mud line?…
I can pop my ‘nitials
On a mule’s behind…
These lyrics are very similar to a 1928 song by Tom Dickson called “Labor Blues,” which describes the interaction between a white boss and a black man who is quitting his job because he’s not getting paid. The racial context of that song is obviously very different from what The Fendermen were singing in their 1960 recording. Their version is more lighthearted and bouncy, and pretty much without any social commentary.
“Mule Skinner Blues” is a country song, and The Fendermen’s version stays true to that while also mixing in some rockabilly; I hear some early surf music in there as well. And it ends with a shout of “cha cha cha,” which would seem out of place if this song didn’t mix so many genres and weirdness already.
This is one of those songs I played a lot and was excited about because I knew that nobody else my age had ever heard of it. It’s a gem.