MULESKINNER BLUES

I first heard the tune sung by one rockin’ band that played in a cafe in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. In fact, Bell Buckle’s only cafe. The band was out of Alabama, somewhere.

Immediately the question was begged: What is a muleskinner ? Not to mention, where the hell is Bell Buckle ?

Heck, everybody knows where Bell Buckle is. Middle Tennessee, 50 miles due south of Nashville. In fact, we owned a farm there once.

Former Civil War country, we once plucked from the dirt, with the help of a metal detector, a pile of Union minies and Confederate round balls, bullets, for those not familiar with the lingo. No doubt was left that we owned a little bit of a battlefield. ( Battle of Union Gap, Nov. 9&10, 1855 took place over the next hill from the farm.)

I digress. What was a muleskinner? By profession, he/she drove teams of mules that either pulled drays loaded with cargo or towed floating cargo barges using a towpath along a river canal.

Some Muleskinners were notorious bullies to their animals, but they had to keep moving. This was commerce.

It was said that some muleskinners were so deft with their whips that, from 20 feet, they could pluck a tortuous horsefly from a mule’s ear without touching the ear ! At least some skinners had a heart.

The crack of the whip, incidentally, sounded like a pistol. If it was brought to bear on a mule’s hide, it could possibly slice the skin. The term “Muleskinner” was thus born.

I love Dolly Parton’s version of Muleskinner Blues, complete with incredibly long-held notes and entertaining yodels.

So where is this tale going ? Hell, I don’t know! How did I even get on the subject? Was it something you said ?

I can tell you this: There was a standing ovation that night at the Bell Buckle Cafe.

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