Jessie the CowYou can download a PDF of the mujsic as a guitar tab or in standard notation.
An mp3 of the latest version of the song can be found here.
BackgroundThis song existed in principle for several years before it existed in fact. We had a pair of identical Yamaha acoustic guitars which we never played, as we preferred electrics. However, one time when Mark had it in hand, I said, "Hey Mark, play me a country song," to which Mark strummed an open chord and sang in no particular manner, "Jessie was a cow". He may have mooed once or twice, but that was all. I made him do this 2 or 3 times and "Jessie the Cow" thus became our country song. Its only deficiency is that it did not exist!
Some time around 1990 or so, I decided to try to create an actual song to flesh out the idea. I recorded a quick demo of a boppy melody in instrumental. A second demo soon followed with some pitch-shifted vocals which had no particular theme other than that Jessie was, indeed, a cow and that there was something different about her.
At some point after that, inspiration must have hit. The only other recording I ever made was the "final" one, done in two takes with Mark singing. Here, finally, we see that Jessie is different because she gets sick of being a dairy cow and becomes a pirate terrorizing the Ocean of Grain in her ship, the Salt Lick City. I recall that Mark flubbed the lyrics in his first vocal take, and so we did another which went through to completion, singing over a multitrack of me playing the acoustic Yamaha.
The verses were interspersed with spoken-word passages intended to be two old-timers recalling the terror of the bovine scourge. I had jotted some notes for some groaner bits of humor, and as we did the recording, Mark ad-libbed. While he stepped on me quite badly at times, he was doing the unthinkable... he was being much funnier than I was! This only reversed itself at the very end when he broke my riff about "Just do what you do best... even if it means being a member of the dairy community" by drawling, "Does that include making cheese?" I landed on my feet, replying, "REAL cheese-- Not Velveeta!" Mark was taken aback and tried not to laugh, and the end result was that he burst out laughing like a little girl. It made the recording!
Shortly before Christmas 1992 or 1993, I made a children's book of the story with a few quickly-done watercolors, and 2 more verses. I printed a few copies for my nieces and nephew as Christmas gifts.
I am really proud of the melody of this song. It easily has the punch of many children's song classic, such as The Farmer in the Dell or Old McDonald, which it alludes to. If there is one thing I am not sure of, it is the sing/speak/sing/speak structure of the song. I simply did not have more melodic ideas for what to do over the portion that became the canvas for the spoken part.
LyricsThe lyrics for the book were longer than any I've recorded in song. The bold portions are from the book only, and the non-italic parts were spoken.
The farmer's in the dell!
The farmer's in the dell!
Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of milk!
Out in Nebraska in the Ocean of Grain
there's a pirate marauder out a-rovin' the range,
her plundering herd poised to scour the plains
stealing balers and tractors, and Jessie's her name.
Now old Jessie was a cow. (woo hoo! Down the plank you go!)
But not your normal kind of cow...
More kind of a bovine Bluebeard of some sort. (Listen up, children!)
She gathered a band to take 'em out on a cruise.
Took a dozen old dairy cows with nothing to lose.
She polished her plans with a liter of booze
and set sail on her voyage with her cud-thirsty crew.
Her favorite vessel was a brigantine sloop
with a cow-sized crow's nest and a cannon to shoot
at the pigs and the ponies and the hens in the coop...
all them little things that piss off cows.
Jessie didn't exactly fit the cow mold.
(No, I don't think so. She was kinda different than that, I thought.)
She'd been branded a brigand sort. (Quite a whiles ago, I thought.)
Bit of a Peril of the Plain.
She made old McDonald take a walk on the plank
then she sailed down Main Street and she emptied our bank.
She stole so much money that her ship nearly sank.
We just couldn't please her; man, that cow was a crank!
The cops and the farmers put a price on her head,
said they'd take her alive but they wanted her dead.
I couldn't believe it, no -- but that's what they said,
that they'd take her alive but they wanted her dead.
Jessie was a mite put off by this news.
She knew she was in the deep cow plop.
(She was in quite a bit of trouble, I thought.)
She wasn't overly eager to BUY the farm.
(... one last time!)
But Jessie was clever and she certainly learned
if a cow stayed a pirate she was gonna get burned
so she went back to milking and she never returned
to her ways as a pirate or the fame that she'd earned.
(That poor Jessie!)
Now there's a lesson in all this for ya...
Just do what ya do best, even if it means being a member of the dairy community.
(Does that includes makin' cheese?)
Real cheese.... not Velveeta.
Performance and FinishingI have only played this once at an open mike. It sucked. I am not really able to sing it well, and doing it while playing the guitar is harder yet. I'd love to see someone do it as a bluegrass number or in honky tonk piano format.