It’s the Eighth of January!

And that means it’s time for ‘The Battle of New Orleans’ with Johnny Horton (1959):



Johnny Horton of course took the song from Jimmy Driftwood (whose real name was James Morris).  From a site called the Greasespot Cafe, a post by one ‘dmiller’:

Jimmy Driftwood was a high school principal and history teacher who loved to sing, play instruments and write songs. Mr. Driftwood wrote many songs, all for the sole purpose of helping his students learn about this battle and other historical events.

But this song turned out to be so popular that it won the 1959 Grammy Award for Song Of The Year (awarded in 1960 for musical accomplishments in 1959). Johnny Horton also won the 1959 Grammy Award for Best Country And Western Performance for his recording of this song. “The Battle of New Orleans,” is about a battle in the War of 1812, and it became one of the biggest selling hits of 1959.

The words were written to correspond with an old fiddle tune called “The 8th of January,” which is the date of the famous “Battle of New Orleans”.

Here’s Jimmy singing the original, with all the verses left out of Johnny Horton’s version:


Jimmy Driftwood himself wrote (quoted by ‘dmiller’ on the Greasespot thread):

“After the Battle of New Orleans, which Andrew Jackson won on January the 8th eighteen and fifteen, the boys played the fiddle again that night, only they changed the name of it from the battle of a place in Ireland to the ‘Eighth of January’. Years passed and in about nineteen and forty-five an Arkansas school teacher slowed the tune down and put words to it and that song is ‘The Battle Of New Orleans’.”

It would be nice to learn the name of that Irish tune.  However, it was apparently not called ‘The Eighth of January’ right after the battle.  From a detailed account on a site called The Fiddler’s Companion:

One of the most popular and widespread of Southern fiddle tunes. The melody was originally named “Jackson’s Victory” after Andrew Jackson’s famous rout of the British at New Orleans on January, 8th, 1815. This victory, by a small, poorly equipped American army against eight thousand front-line British troops (some veterans of the Napoleonic Wars on the Continent), came after the peace treaty was signed and the War of 1812 ended, unbeknownst to the combatants. The victory made Jackson a national hero, and the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans was widely celebrated with parties and dances during the nineteenth century, especially in the South. Around the time of the Civil War, some time after Jackson’s Presidency, his popular reputation suffered and “Jackson’s Victory” was renamed to delete mention of him by name, thus commemorating the battle and not the man. Despite its wide dissemination, Tom Carter (1975) says that some regard it as a relatively modern piece refashioned from an older tune named “Jake Gilly” (sometimes “Old Jake Gilly”). Not all agree—Tom Rankin (1985) suggests the fiddle tune may be older than the battle it commemorates, and that it seems American in origin, not having an obvious British antecedent as do several older popular fiddle tunes in the United States. A related tune (though the ‘B’ part is developed differently”) is Bayard’s (1981) Pennsylvania collected “Chase the Squirrel” (the title is a floater).

I’m guessing that a ‘floater’ is a song title that’s applied to many different fiddle tunes.

So the tune, which may have come from an old Irish song about a battle—or may not have—got its name changed to “Jackson’s Victory’, and then again to ‘The Eighth of January’ after President Jackson fell out of favor (in the North?).  At any rate, it’s a fine tune.  Listen to Johnny Warren and Charlie Cushman play it, bluegrass style:




Man, I could listen those two all day!  They’re touring, of course, with the fabulous Flatt and Scruggs revival band, The Earls of Leicester.  /CL

This entry was posted in Bluegrass, Country History, Old-Timey and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to It’s the Eighth of January!

  1. Steve Kilbride says:

    Tony Rice also does an instrumental guitar version of
    Eighth of January….

  2. Hey guys and gals, I just gave another listen to the Warren-Cushman instrumental, and was floored by what Charlie was doing on the banjo while Johnny was playing the melody. Shades of Don Stover or someone equally talented (and tasteful). Listen for yourselves! /CL

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