Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Art-For-Art’s-Sake Theatre: “The Battle of New Orleans”

Time once again for our usual midday Wednesday feature.

On this day, exactly one hundred and ninety-nine years ago, the final major conflict of the War of 1812 took place, as American forces under the command of Colonel Andrew Jackson (later the seventh President of the United States, from 1829 to 1837), defeated the larger and more disciplined British Army led by General Edward Pakenham, thus securing possession of the "Louisiana Purchase," that vast midsection only recently having been purchased from France, of what later became the rest of the "lower forty-eight" United States.

The battle was remembered in an Irish fiddle tune renamed on this side of the Atlantic as “The 8th of January,” to which lyrics were set by an Arkansas high school history teacher and part-time musician named Jimmie Driftwood in 1945, as a means of instructing his students. Although he did manage to record it in 1958, the best-known rendering was that of country singer Johnny Horton, whose own recording in 1959 won the 1960 Grammy Award for Best Country And Western Performance.

In the course of making the song famous, Horton left out some of the more -- shall we say? -- colorful verses, including numbers two, three, and seven.

Well, I see'd Mars Jackson walkin down the street
talkin' to a pirate by the name of Jean Lafitte [La-FEET]
He gave Jean a drink that he brung from Tennessee
and the pirate said he'd help us drive the British in the sea.

The French said Andrew, you'd better run,
for Packingham's a comin' with a bullet in his gun.
Old Hickory said he didn't give a damn,
he's gonna whip the britches off of Colonel Packingham.
We'll march back home but we'll never be content
till we make Old Hickory the people's President.
And every time we think about the bacon and the beans,
we'll think about the fun we had way down in New Orleans.

The first clip is Horton's performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, but the full version can be heard sung by Driftwood in the second clip. His guitar was made by his grandfather, and he used it from his childhood days throughout his life. Driftwood said that its neck was made from a fence rail, its sides from an old ox yoke, and the head and bottom from the headboard of his grandmother's bed.

Now that's what I call a history lesson.

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