Jimmy Driftwood

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Jimmy Driftwood
Jimmy Driftwood.jpg
Driftwood posing with his unusual guitar
Background information
Birth nameJames Corbitt Morris
Also known asJimmy Driftwood
Born(1907-06-20)June 20, 1907
Timbo, Arkansas
DiedJuly 12, 1998(1998-07-12) (aged 91)
Fayetteville, Arkansas
Genres Folk
Country and Western
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter, instructor, environmentalist
InstrumentsVocals, guitar, banjo, fiddle, dulcimer, mouth bow
Years active1925–1975
Labels RCA, Rounder, Monument
Website www.jimmydriftwood.com

James Corbitt Morris (June 20, 1907 – July 12, 1998), [1] known professionally as Jimmy Driftwood or Jimmie Driftwood, was an American folk music songwriter and musician, most famous for his songs "The Battle of New Orleans" and "Tennessee Stud". Driftwood wrote more than 6,000 folk songs, [1] of which more than 300 were recorded by various musicians.

Folk music musical and poetic creativity of the people

Folk music includes traditional folk music and the genre that evolved from it during the 20th-century folk revival. Some types of folk music may be called world music. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted orally, music with unknown composers, or music performed by custom over a long period of time. It has been contrasted with commercial and classical styles. The term originated in the 19th century, but folk music extends beyond that.

Tennessee Stud is a song written by Jimmy Driftwood. It was released in 1959 by Driftwood and tells the story about a man, his horse and their travels in Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, and Mexico in 1825. They eventually come across a girl who drives a Tennessee mare and the narrator sings that "the Tennessee stud loves the Tennessee mare".



Early life

Driftwood was born in Timbo, Arkansas, on June 20, 1907. [2] His father was folk singer Neil Morris.[ citation needed ]. He is on the album Songs of the Ozarks. Driftwood learned to play the guitar at a young age on his grandfather's homemade instrument. Driftwood used that unique guitar throughout his career and noted 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. [1] This homemade instrument produced a pleasant, distinctive, resonant sound.

Timbo, Arkansas Unincorporated community in Arkansas, United States

Timbo is an unincorporated community in Stone County, Arkansas, United States. It is in the Ozark Mountains region of the northern part of the state and is near the town of Mountain View.

Arkansas State of the United States of America

Arkansas is a state in the southern region of the United States, home to over 3 million people as of 2018. Its name is of Siouan derivation from the language of the Osage denoting their related kin, the Quapaw Indians. The state's diverse geography ranges from the mountainous regions of the Ozark and the Ouachita Mountains, which make up the U.S. Interior Highlands, to the densely forested land in the south known as the Arkansas Timberlands, to the eastern lowlands along the Mississippi River and the Arkansas Delta.

Driftwood attended John Brown College in northwest Arkansas and later received a degree in education from Arkansas State Teacher's College. He started writing songs during his teaching career to teach his students history in an entertaining manner.

John Brown University

John Brown University (JBU) is a private, interdenominational, Christian liberal arts college in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Founded in 1919, JBU enrolls more than 2,500 students from 41 states and 50 countries in its traditional undergraduate, graduate, online and concurrent education programs.

University of Central Arkansas

The University of Central Arkansas is a public research university in Conway, Arkansas. Founded in 1907 as the Arkansas State Normal School, the university is one of the oldest in the U.S. state of Arkansas. As the state's only normal school at the time, UCA has historically been the primary source of teachers in Arkansas. Today with a more academically diverse mission, UCA is noted for its nationally recognized programs in nursing, education, physical therapy, business, performing arts, and psychology.

1920s and 1930s

During the 1920s and 1930s, Driftwood left Arkansas, eventually hitchhiking through the southwestern United States. In Arizona he entered, and won, a local song contest.

Hitchhiking asking people, usually strangers, for a ride in their road vehicle

Hitchhiking is a means of transportation that is gained by asking people, usually strangers, for a ride in their automobile or other vehicle. A ride is usually, but not always, free.

Arizona state of the United States of America

Arizona is a state in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the Western and the Mountain states. It is the sixth largest and the 14th most populous of the 50 states. Its capital and largest city is Phoenix. Arizona shares the Four Corners region with Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico; its other neighboring states are Nevada and California to the west and the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California to the south and southwest.

In 1936, Driftwood married Cleda Johnson, who was one of his former students, and returned to Arkansas to raise a family and resume his teaching career. During this period of his life Driftwood wrote hundreds of songs but did not pursue a musical career seriously.

He wrote his later famous "Battle of New Orleans (song)" in 1936, to help a high school class he was teaching become interested in the event.


In the 1950s, he changed his name to Jimmy Driftwood, both publicly and legally.

In 1957, a Nashville, Tennessee song publisher learned of Driftwood, auditioned him, and signed him to his first record deal. Driftwood recalled playing some 100 of his songs in one day, of which 20 were chosen to be recorded. Driftwood's first album, Newly Discovered Early American Folk Songs, received good reviews but did not sell particularly well.

Nashville, Tennessee State capital and consolidated city-county in Tennessee, United States

Nashville is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Tennessee. The city is the county seat of Davidson County and is located on the Cumberland River. The city's population ranks 24th in the U.S. According to 2017 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the total consolidated city-county population stood at 691,243. The "balance" population, which excludes semi-independent municipalities within Davidson County, was 667,560 in 2017.

In the music industry, a music publisher is responsible for ensuring the songwriters and composers receive payment when their compositions are used commercially. Through an agreement called a publishing contract, a songwriter or composer "assigns" the copyright of their composition to a publishing company. In return, the company licenses compositions, helps monitor where compositions are used, collects royalties and distributes them to the composers. They also secure commissions for music and promote existing compositions to recording artists, film and television.


An audition is a sample performance by an actor, singer, musician, dancer or other performer. It typically involves the performer displaying their talent through a previously memorized and rehearsed solo piece or by performing a work or piece given to the performer at the audition or shortly before. In some cases, such as with a model or acrobat, the individual may be asked to demonstrate a range of professional skills. Actors may be asked to present a monologue. Singers will perform a song in a popular music context or an aria in a Classical context. A dancer will present a routine in a specific style, such as ballet, tap dance or hip-hop, or show his or her ability to quickly learn a choreographed dance piece.

"The Battle of New Orleans" was included on the album, but did not conform to the radio standards of the time because of the words "hell" and "damn" in the lyrics. Driftwood said that at the time those words could be preached but not sung in secular contexts for broadcast. Driftwood was asked to make a shorter censored version of the song for a live radio performance. Singer Johnny Horton, after hearing the song, contacted Driftwood and told him that he wished to record his own version.

Driftwood left Arkansas for Nashville and became popular by his appearances on programs including the Grand Ole Opry , Ozark Jubilee , and Louisiana Hayride . He was invited to sing for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev as an example of traditional American music during the leader's 1959 state visit to the United States. He became a member of the Opry in the 1950s. [3]

The popular peak of Driftwood's career came in 1959, when he had no fewer than six songs on the popular and country music charts, including Johnny Horton's recording of his "The Battle of New Orleans", which remained in first place on the country music singles chart for ten weeks, and atop the popular music chart for six weeks that year. The song won the 1960 Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

After Horton's success, Driftwood performed at Carnegie Hall and at major American folk music festivals before returning home to Timbo, Arkansas in 1962. [4] During his recording career Driftwood also won Grammy Awards for Wilderness Road, Songs of Billy Yank and Johnny Reb and Tennessee Stud. Driftwood songs were recorded by Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Homer and Jethro (the parody "The Battle of Kookamonga"), Odetta, Doc Watson and others. In 1958, Driftwood appeared as a guest challenger on the television game show, To Tell The Truth .


For a time during the 1960s, Driftwood toured the United States and Europe with the Preservation Hall New Orleans jazz band, although as a separate act. Back home, he became a folklorist, establishing the Rackensack Folklore Society, an association of local folk singers and musicians, and began performing at the local county fair in Mountain View. Driftwood became interested in promoting Arkansas folk music and the local folk performers he knew in the area. He invited members of the Mountain View community to perform at a festival of his own devising. First held on April 19 and 20 of 1963, [5] [6] this festival grew over the years, and transformed into the annual Arkansas Folk Festival which would attract more than 100,000 people.

Driftwood helped establish the Ozark Folk Center to preserve Ozark Mountain culture. The Folk Center was later absorbed into the Arkansas State Park system and remains a popular tourist destination. [4]

Environmental advocate

Driftwood became involved with environmental issues when the United States Army Corps of Engineers planned to dam the Buffalo River. He worked to defeat the plan, which ultimately resulted in the establishment of Buffalo National River. Driftwood had a major role in preserving Blanchard Springs Caverns which later came under management of the United States Forest Service. He recorded the song still heard in the orientation film in the visitor center.

Driftwood was appointed to direct the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Commission for his environmental efforts. He was also named to the Advisory Committee of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.. Due to his extensive knowledge of folk music he was appointed as a musicologist for the National Geographic Society.

Later years

During his later life Driftwood enjoyed performing free concerts for high school and college students. He died of a heart attack on July 12, 1998, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, at age 91. [1] [4]

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Mountain View is the largest city in and the county seat of Stone County, Arkansas, United States. Located in the Ozarks, the city has a rich tradition of preserving folk music and culture. Founded in 1873, the city's economy is largely based on tourism related to its title as the "Folk Music Capitol of the World". Mountain View hosts the Arkansas Folk Festival in April, various folk artists at Ozark Folk Center State Park throughout the year, and weekly music gatherings on the courthouse steps that are free and open to the public. The city is also known for outdoors recreation opportunities, including Blanchard Springs Caverns, trout fishing on the White River and the Ozark National Forest.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Biography of Jimmy Driftwood from the Association for Cultural Equity, 2001–2011
  2. "Jimmy Driftwood". In Memoriam. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
  3. "Opry Timeline – 1960s" . Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 "Jimmie Driftwood – Biography". CMT. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  5. "A Brief History of The Arkansas Folk Festival". Regional Studies Center, Lyon College. Retrieved April 24, 2014.
  6. "1963 Arkansas Folk Festival". Sing Out! Magazine. Retrieved April 24, 2014.