Tune

Arkansas Traveler Tune Arkansas Traveler Tune (2760 KB)

No one knows for sure who wrote the Arkansas Traveler music. Possibly the tune appeared in the folk tradition before 1840, and the dialog presupposes knowledge of the tune – the Squatter knowing the first half, the Traveler knowing the first part and the "turn of the tune.” Several sources attribute the melody to Jose Tosso of Cincinnati, Ohio, a concert violinist and composer who was regularly called upon to play music for "backwoods" dance.

Sandy Faulkner, the Arkansas Traveler, and Mose Case, an albino African American guitarist and singer, arranged the music for themselves but probably did not compose the tune.

The first known publication of the sheet music in 1847 was "arranged by” William Cumming. (Interestingly it came from Tosso’s publisher who should have known if Tosso wrote it.) In Connecticut by around 1860, the Traveler was a barn dance, featuring a number of calls representing the travels of a peddler from Arkansas.

"The Arkansas Traveler” appeared in early recordings, both cylinder and disk, in the form of a humorous dialog. In 1902 the Len Spencer dialog version became the first song to sell one million records, according to one source. Then the tune itself became the first (or at least one of the first) "country music” songs ever to be recorded, by Eck Robertson and Henry Gilliland in June, 1922. This was among the first fifty recordings selected for the National Recording Registry, founded to preserve significant sound recordings in the United States. The Traveler has been recorded hundreds of times, in traditional, jazz and even symphonic arrangement, proving to be one of the most popular tunes in American history.

Monologue of the Arkansas Traveler by Len Spencer, Edison Records [1902]

Len Spencer (Feb 12, 1867 – Dec 15, 1914) was an elocutionist and recording artist whose performed speeches, skits, and songs. His most successful recording was the Arkansas Traveler, the most popular recording in America in 1902. Charles D’Almaine played the fiddle on the recording.

Monologue of the Arkansas Traveler by Len Spencer, Edison Records [1902]

  • Traveler – Why how do you do, boss? What might your name be?
  • Squatter (playing the verse of the Arkansas Traveler throughout the performance) – Hey, what made you think I was boss here?
  • T – Well, I just guessed it.
  • S – Well, guess what my name is. Haw, haw.
  • T – Well, how far is it to the next crossroads?
  • S – Well, you just follow your nose and you’ll come to it. Haw, haw.
  • T – Where does this road go to?
  • S – Why it don’t go anywhere. It says right where it is. Haw, haw.
  • T – Down the road I saw a horse with a broken leg. Now why don’t you kill it. People generally kill a horse with a broken leg.
  • S – Round here we generally kill a horse with a shotgun. Haw, haw.
  • T – you’re a pretty smart fellow, ain’t ya?
  • S – I ain’t half as smart as my brother Bill.
  • T – Who is your brother Bill?
  • S – Why my mother’s son, of course. Haw, haw.
  • T – Say, I noticed a hole I the roof of your house. Why don’t you get it fixed?
  • S – Because it’s been raining lately.
  • T – Why don’t you get it fixed when it’s not raining?
  • S – When it don’t rain, it don’t leak. Haw, haw.
  • T – For pity’s sake, play the rest of that tune, will you?
  • S – Now look here. I just reckon there’s no man living smart enough to do that.
  • T – Yes there is. I think I can if you let me…Ah, thank you. (Plays the chorus of the Arkansas Traveler.)
  • S – Well, by chowder stranger, you’re the smartest man alive, you be. Come right in. Come right in. You can have anything in my place. Come on in. Haw, haw.