Curly Price: “Old Green River”

Thousands of times my dad sang “Old Green River” to us kids, popping the “cork” with his thumb inside his cheek, to our giddy delight. But this is the only recording, sung at my wedding in 1993, with me tunelessly singing along. One of those “caught on video” moments. During my radio days, I turned it into a two-minute piece.

About the song:

  • Music by Joe Cooper. Lyrics by Bert Kalmar (who also wrote “Three Little Words,” “Who’s Sorry Now,” and “I Wanna Be Loved By You”).
  • Published in 1915, for the Broadway Musical Revue “Maid in America.”
  • Recorded in the 1940s on 78 by Johnny Mercer and the Crew Chiefs (an all-GI vocal group). Here’s his version on YouTube.
  • Green River was a brand of whiskey.
  • The published words are below.

VERSE 1
Half past four, Dan McGraw
Came sneaking to his wifey’s door.
She’d been waiting up all night,
Waiting for him to go to bed.
Danny smiled, like a child
But his wifey grew very wild.
“Where have you been all night long,” she cried.
And this is what Danny replied:
CHORUS
I’ve been floating down the old green river on the good ship Rock and Rye.
But I floated too far
I got stuck on a bar,
I was out there alone wishing that I was home —
The ship got wrecked with the captain and crew
And there was only one thing left to do —
So I had to drink the whole green river dry to get back home to you.
VERSE 2
Danny’s frau raised a row,
Said, “I’ll go home to mother now.”
Danny said, “That’s some idea;
Better than bringing mother here.”
At the door, there she saw
Her pa and ma and sev’ral more.
Dad was explaining when he came in
Telling ma where he had been.
CHORUS
I’ve been floating down the old green river on the good ship Rock and Rye.
But I floated too far
I got stuck on a bar,
I was tied to the mast while the schooners went past —
The ship got wrecked with the captain and crew
And there was only one thing left to do —
So I had to drink the whole green river dry to get back home to you.

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