(To learn how to play Whoa Mule, watch the video at bottom of this page.)
Whoa Mule is a traditional folk song. When it was written is uncertain, but it’s credited to traveling minstrels of the 19th century. The earliest specific mention of Whoa Mule I’ve found is 2 different versions given to Josiah H. Combs in 1902 by Cullie Williams. (As documented in the book: Folk-Songs of the Southern United States.)
Part of the folk song tradition is the addition or subtraction of words and verses depending on the musician. I’ve heard a number of variations, but my favorite are the verses from Andy Griffith. His rendition is widely known as ‘Flop Eared Mule’. If you look around on Youtube, you can find Andy singing and playing the song. It was in an older episode from back when he was dating Ellie, the pharmacist’s niece. Here’s the lyrics: Flop Eared Mule and other Andy Griffith Songs
Mostly it’s nonsense and silliness, but played fast and sung with great enthusiasm. Some of the verses are downright insulting, if you bother to think about them. The first verse he sings “wish that gal was mine.” The next verse talks about his wife, so either we entirely skipped the courtship, or he was wishing for something he shouldn’t have been. Or maybe it was just a good song and he couldn’t stop playing it… that happens to me sometimes. I’ll drive everybody crazy getting stuck on a single song.
The last verse describes someone whose face is like a coffee pot, nose is like a spout, and mouth is like a fireplace with all the ashes out. Man… not exactly flattering imagery. Kind of makes me wonder – whoever wrote that verse, what were they thinking about when they wrote that?
All along, the chorus says he’s got no time for kissing because his mule ran away. The final chorus line is “Tie a knot in that old mule’s tail before he runs away.” What a messed up song – no sense at all! Even so, Whoa Mule is such a fun tune, it’s hard not to like. Maybe we’re better off enjoying the melody and not thinking too much about the lyrics.
That certainly works for me. Tried several combinations and styles, and just didn’t care much for them. Wasn’t sure if this song could even sound decent on a piano. It didn’t even come close to sounding right. Until I just shrugged my shoulders and started having fun with it. Most of the time I have to tone myself down a bit. Whoa Mule was all kinds of fun.