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Cotton fields / Leadbelly
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This song is Leadbelly's way of telling us there is no place like home.
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Genre
Traditional
Copyright 2005 by Mark Winegar

Wed Jun 22, 2005
Blues : Blues Rock
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Charts position
» highest in charts:   # 72   (55,653 songs currently listed in Blues)
» highest in sub-genre:   # 36   (16,254 songs currently listed in Blues > Blues Rock)
About the song
Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) was born on 15 January (in some sources on Jan. 21), 1888, by Caddo Lake near Shreveport, Louisiana. He grew up in Louisiana and Texas, where his family moved when he was five. At home his uncle Bob taught him to play the guitar and his father taught him accordion. Travelling around in his early teens, Leadbelly picked up music that dated back to slave days. He absorbed all kinds of music he heard and made it his own. His mother sang spirituals and children's play songs, from wandering piano players he adopted the bass figurations of boogie woogie, and in barrelhouses and prison he heard songs that came straight from the heart. First Leadbelly played an eight-string and later 12-string guitar, which was to become his trademark instrument. Also many other blues singers, notably Blind Willie McTell and Lonnie Johnson on some of his earliest records, used the 12-string Stella.

At the age of sixteen Leadbelly was married, and he played and drank all night. At eighteen he went to Texas where he picked cotton, and had many other jobs, too. In Dallas in 1910 he heard a jazz band playing for the first time. There he also met Blind Lemon Jefferson, who taught him many songs. With his quick temper Leadbelly lived violently and he had trouble with "the truculent Dallas prostitutes". His musical career was interrupted in 1916, when he was jailed for assaulting a woman. His parents mortgaged their farm to pay for the lawyer. Leadbelly escaped from the chain gang - across a fresh-ploughed field - and spent a couple of years hiding under the alias of 'Walter Boyd'. His freedom outside society ended when he shot and killed a man in an argument over a woman, and received a 30-year sentence in Harrison County Prison in Texas.

I sing the song the way I heard Leadbelly play it on an old recording but I usually add one verse of my own at the end. It refers to international travel. Leadbelly did tour Europe after his first parole.
Lyrics
When I was a little bitty baby
My mama would rock me in the cradle
In them old cotton fields back home
(Repeat)

Oh when them cotton bolls get rotten
You can't pick very much cotton
In them old cotton fields back home
It was down in Louisiana
Just about a mile from Texarkana
In them old cotton fields back home

Well it may sound a bit funny
but I didn't need very much money
in those old cotton feidls back home
(Repeat)

Oh when them cotton bolls get rotten
You can't pick very much cotton
In them old cotton fields back home
It was down in Louisiana
Just about a mile from Texarkana
In them old cotton fields back home

Well my folks back in Arkansas
said boy what'd you come home for
to these old cotton fields back home
(repeat)

Oh when them cotton bolls get rotten
You can't pick very much cotton
In them old cotton fields back home
It was down in Louisiana
Just about a mile from Texarkana
In them old cotton fields back home

Well I've traveled around the world
and I've seen lots of fancy girls
but nothing like those American girls back home
(repeat)

Oh when them cotton bolls get rotten
You can't pick very much cotton
In them old cotton fields back home
It was down in Louisiana
Just about a mile from Texarkana
In them old cotton fields back home
In them old cotton fields back home