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“Tennessee Stud” has become a folk and country classic.
Author Jimmie Driftwood was born James Corbett Morris on June 20, 1907, at the foot of Fredonia Hill in Stone County’s West Richwoods. The Morrises were known as a musical family in an area already rich with music — and Driftwood spent much of his career helping establish the Mountain View area as an internationally-known traditional folk music destination.
Driftwood himself rode the folk revival wave of the 1950s and found success as a songwriter. “Tennessee Stud” reads like an epic poem and sounds like it could have been written years before — or, as the song goes, “long about 1825.”
Actually, Driftwood’s “Tennessee Stud” came out in 1958. Driftwood’s songs were more successful when covered by other artists — and country music legends embraced “Tennessee Stud.” Eddy Arnold first covered it in 1959. Chet Atkins — who played on Driftwood’s original RCA Victor version — Jerry Reed and dozens of other pickers have all since tried their hands at the song. Doc Watson recorded “Tennessee Stud” for his pivotal 1966 album “Southbound,” and again for the ground-breaking triple-record set of old and new country artists recording together — 1972’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”
The opening lyrics of the song credit the green-eyed horse, “long and lean [and] the color of the sun,” with getting the song’s hero through the Arkansas mud. After telling of a run-in with “an Indian band” — a verse omitted in some versions — the rider crosses the Rio Grande River, races and gambles. After he and the Tennessee Stud “loped right on across Arkansas,” the action resumes in the state — although Arkansas didn’t become a state until more than a decade after 1825 — with the narrator ultimately giving his girlfriend’s “bad outlaw” brother and father each a whipping,
Despite its traditional flavor, “Tennessee Stud” has yet to fade. Artists are still recording the song, especially in the country field. Hank Williams Jr. covered the song in 1981; Kingsland native Johnny Cash released a version in 1994.
In addition to being a musician, poet and songwriter, Driftwood was a teacher, and used music to teach. Driftwood said “Tennessee Stud” was written about an actual horse, owned by his wife Cleda’s grandfather, Jess Goodman. A Baptist preacher, Goodman owned a horse race track and store in Timbo and fought for the Union in the Civil War.
“He ... had race horses and always had a stallion called the Tennessee Stud,” Driftwood said of Goodman. “... When it became a violation of the law to race horses, Uncle Jess turned the racing field into a cotton field, and when it became against the law to sell whiskey in a store, Uncle Jess filled his barrels with vinegar and salt and sugar.”
Driftwood’s July 12, 1998, death at age 91 made the front page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. With his help creating the Arkansas Folk Festival, the Ozark Folk Center and the Jimmie Driftwood Barn, and in preserving Blanchard Springs and the Buffalo River in the 1960s and 1970s, “Tennessee Stud” is only one of Jimmie Driftwood’s substantial contributions to the Arkansas culture.
• “Tennessee Stud,” Jimmie Driftwood 1958
• “Tennessee Stud,” Doc Watson 1966
• “Tennessee Stud,” Johnny Cash 1994