Johnny Booker


Songs about mules are almost a genre all their own like railroad songs or cowboy songs. This is an old song. Some versions came to us by way of minstrel shows but older variants can be found in England.

Cousin Emmy in her radio days circa 1940

Some versions, Cousin Emmy’s for example, have nothing to do with mules. This one which came to me from the New Lost City Ramblers is about nothing else.

Speaking of Cousin Emmy, Cynthia May Carver, be sure to see Pete Seeger’s ‘Rainbow Quest’ program with Cousin Emmy and the Stanley Brothers. It reveals Cousin Emmy as a virtuoso performer on the banjo, fiddle and the surgical glove. You can hear the glove piece on YouTube but you really should take in the whole show. You can get it from Amazon or Netflix. The DVD title gives Stanley Brothers and Doc Watson top billing and doesn't mention Cousin Emmy. She is at least half the show.


There was an old man and the went to school
And he made his livin’ by drivin’ a mule

That’s what Johnny Booker wouldn’t do, do, do
What Johnny Booker wouldn’t do
(repeat after each verse)

I drove him up to the foot of the hill
And I hollered to the mule and the mule stood still

I put my shoulder gainst the cart
I hollered to the mule but the mule wouldn’t start

I put my shoulder gainst the wheel
And down in the mud I set my heel

I drove him down to the black smith shop
I hollered to the mule and the mule he wouldn’t stop

I asked that fireman for to mend my yoke
He hopped to the bellows and he blowed out the smoke

Well he fixed my yoke and the mend my ring
And he never charged me nary a thing

Just then an old man come ridin by
He said young may your mule’s gonna die

Well if he dies I’ll tan his skin
And if the lives I’ll ride him again

I had an old mule and his name is Pete
And he walked on his head for ta save his feet.

I had an old mule and his name is Bill
I worked him in the holler and the died on the hill

I drove him to the river and I couldn’t get across
So I jumped on a bull frog I thought he was a hoss

Song sheet: 
C standard