Jimmy Driftwood

Jimmy Driftwood, an Arkansas teacher, wrote the song "Battle of New Orleans."

 

Sixty years ago this month, Johnny Horton’s song “The Battle of New Orleans” began its improbable trek to the top of the Billboard pop music charts. The opening lines — for which we apologize in advance for getting stuck in your head — set the scene for the tale to follow: "In 1814 we took a little trip, along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip’ / We took a little bacon and we took a little beans, and we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans."

The song’s melody is based on the traditional fiddle tune “The Eighth of January,” which also was the date of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

In the 1930s, songwriter Jimmy Driftwood set his “Battle of New Orleans” song to that melody. Driftwood was an Arkansas teacher who said he often wrote songs to help teach his students history. He recorded a version of the song in 1957, but it was Johnny Horton’s version that became a hit.

In April 1959, Horton’s recording entered Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, where it spent six weeks at No. 1. It eventually was ranked the No. 1 song in the U.S. for the year. Horton won Grammy awards for Song of the Year and Best Country and Western Performance.

In November 1960, Horton, 35, was killed after a head-on car collision with a drunk driver in Texas while en route to Shreveport. Driftwood died in 1998.