Forty Drops of Rye


OUT OF SIGHT: THE RISE OF AFRICAN AMERICAN POPULAR MUSIC, 1889 – 1895 by Lynn Abbott, Doug Seroff (University Press of Mississippi, 2003)

“At least two commercial recordings of “40 Drops” were made during the 1920s and 1930s.  In 1928, it was recorded by Andrew and Jim Baxter, a black fiddle and guitar duo. Andrew Baxter fiddles through a roughed-out country interpretation of the essential theme, struggling through a muddy variation or two, while Jim Baxter posits a verbal elucidation of the song title: ‘Now this is the “Forty Drops”.  Forty Drops of what?  Forty drops of rye!…Who’s gonna carry me home when the dance is over?  ‘Cause I”m getting about full of this rye”.

The Baxters were seperated for the source of ’40 Drops’ by more than a generation, so the accuracy of their explanation of the ‘forty drops of what’ is open to question.  It more likely referred to morphene or laudanum, popular recreational drugs of the 1890s, typically dispensed in drops [a footnote explains that the typical medicinal dose of laudanum was 50 drops, as per a medical text of the time].

“40 Drops” was also recorded by the Stripling Brothers, a white fiddle and guitar duo, in 1936.  In this version the initial theme is more distinctly articulated, but like the Baxters, the Striplings don’t attempt to execute every movement of “40 Drops” as preserved in the 1898 published edition.
In its published form “40 Drops” is a charcteristic early rag.  In places it resembles a standard country string band tune, but there is also an unmistakeble something “oriental’ or pseudo-Turkish, such as reverberated from the 1893 Word’s Columbian Exposition Midway.

“Forty Drops” played by Andrew and Jim Baxter:



One Response to “Forty Drops of Rye”

  1. REED MARTIN Says:

    Thanks……… it………..

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