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red wagon - cultural history

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Mike Holcombe

Apr 16, 2002, 3:58:17 PM4/16/02
A man was walking on the sidewalk and noticed up ahead that Little
Johnny was wearing a red fireman's hat and sitting in a red wagon. It
appeared that the wagon was being pulled slowly by a large Labrador
When he got closer to the lad, he noticed that Johnny had a rope tied
around the dog's testicles, which probably accounted for why the dog
was walking so gingerly. Smiling, he spoke to the little boy, "That's
really a nice fire engine you have there son. But I'll bet the dog
would pull you faster if you tied that rope around his neck."

"Yeah," Johnny replied, "but then I wouldn't have a siren."

Prior to this use Red Wagon was the subject of a :
1. children's song called "My Red Wagon"
2. a square dancing call: ".. coming home with a little red wagon"
3. bawdy New Orleans lyrics

When American Flyer began making its little red wagon in 1917 they
were inspired by at least one of the 3 above items.

When Don Raye (with Gene DePaul and Richard Jones) composed lyrics in
1940, their resulting "It's Your Red Wagon" was an original take
following in a well-established tradition. They were cleaning up and
appropriating some blues elements -- and probably some from country
music as well.

As noted by Diane E., there were established blues tunes already using
Red Wagon in several different senses, The Don Raye take was new, as
far as I know. He presented Red Wagon as a metaphor for the life
responsibilities (liabilities?) one must drag along.

I was familiar with the Rushing/Basie version recorded 12/47, and knew
that there were "up and coming" versions already out at that time:
1. Andrews Sisters on Decca
2. Jackie Paris Trio on MGM

I have not heard the swell lyrics of the Bob Wills version, and wonder
if Don Raye had a hand in preparing them. I will post the Basie
version unless someone beats me to it, and hope someone can post the
Wills version. -- Mike H.


Apr 20, 2002, 10:04:11 AM4/20/02
I don't know the Wills version, but in terms of western swing, Hank Penny and
His Radio Cowboys did "Won't You Ride in My Little Red Wagon" in 1940. It
features Boudleaux Bryant on fiddle.


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