Old Rattler

DESCRIPTION: Chorus: "Here, Rattler, Here." Rattler is a great tracking dog. When (Old Riley) escapes from prison, Rattler is put on his trail, and finds the man despite many distractions and even (the Brazos River) in the way
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1924 (recording, George Reneau)
KEYWORDS: dog manhunt prison escape captivity worksong chaingang floatingverses prisoner
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Courlander-NFM, pp. 104-105, "(Here, Rattler, Here)" (1 text, perhaps composite, plus apparently a portion of another version)
Lomax-ABFS, pp. 66-67, "Ol' Rattler" (1 text, 1 tune)
Jackson-DeadMan, pp. 282-285, "Long Hot Summer Days" (2 texts, 2 tunes); pp. 290-296, "Rattler" (4 texts, 2 tunes)
McNeil-SMF, p. 29, "(Rattler Treed a 'Possum)" (1 short text, not typical of the versions of this song, but it mentions Rattler, so it goes here tentatively)
Silber-FSWB, p. 66, "Old Reilly (In Dem Long Hot Summer Days" (1 text); p. 395, "Old Rattler" (1 text, with the chorus of this song though the verses are those of "Old Tyler")
ADDITIONAL: Moses Asch and Alan Lomax, Editors, _The Leadbelly Songbook_, Oak, 1962, p. 38, "Old Riley" (1 text, 1 tune)
Harold Courlander, _A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore_, Crown Publishers, 1976, pp. 409-411, "Here Rattler Here" (1 text)

Roud #6381
Elizabeth Cotten, "Here Old Rattler Here" (on Cotten01)
Mose "Clear Rock" Platt & James "Iron Head" Baker, "Old Rattler" (AFS 208 B1, 1934; on LC8)
Mose "Clear Rock" Platt, "Old Rattler" (AFS 205 B2) [this is a solo recording, as opposed to the duet with James "Iron Head" Baker]
George Reneau, "Here Rattler, Here" (Vocalion 14814, 1924)
John Snipes, "Old Rattler" (on ClassBanj)
Texas state farm prisoners, "Here Rattler Here" (on NPCWork)

cf. "Take This Hammer" (lyrics)
cf. "Long John (Long Gone)" (floating lyrics)
cf. "Poor Lazarus (Bad Man Lazarus)" (plot)
Here, Rattler, Here
NOTES: The "Old Reilly" version is officially credited to Huddle Ledbetter. This looks to me like Lead Belly's adaption of "Long John" -- but of course there is Lomax influence. Given that "Long John" is also derived primarily from the Lomaxes, it's hard to have any confidence about the relationship between the songs, or even their folk status. - RBW
Seeger reports that the Texas state farm prisoners from whom he collected a version of the song believed it described the escape of the prisoner Riley from Clements State Farm. - PJS
To add to all the fun, Jackson thinks that the Leadbelly-type versions which combine "Old Rattler" verses with the chorus "In the long, hot, summer days" are a composite of "Old Rattler" with an independent song which he would title "Long Hot Summer Days." At first glance, this seems reasonable, since he has a "Long Hot Summer Days" version which never mentions Rattler. But it has a lot of "Godalmighty Drag" in it. And his other version does mention Rattler. So, in desperation, I'm continuing to file "Long Hot Summer Days" versions here until we find a pure "Long Hot Summer Days" version.
Jackson of course also has "Rattler" texts with no mention of "Long Hot Summer Days." He says that the convicts he talked to considered Rattler a sort of super-dog, capable of things most other dogs could not do. This does little to clarify matters, since these versions could easily be worn down from a version which did feature long hot summer days. - RBW
I think the field collections from Platt and Baker, Cotten, and the group of prisoners in Texas suggest that the song definitely comes from tradition. -PJS
Last updated in version 4.2
File: CNFM104

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