No, not the song Blue Mule made famous by Old & In The Way. Different Blue Mule, that.
The Old Timey Blue Mule (aka, Old Blue Mule) is an Ozark tune and may have a heritage that extends as far back as the Civil War. I first heard Blue Mule on the Shades of Death Creek album (20213) by the New Bad Habits (Lynn “Chirps” Smith, Tim Foss, Dave Landreth & Andy Gribble). Until I did some research for TOTW, I thought the tune came from Bob Holt, the Missouri fiddler known for his lightning fast speed. As it turns out, Blue Mule was in the repertoire of several source players from Missouri and Arkansas including Cyril Stinnet, Troy Lee, and Glen Rickman. The Traditional Tune Archive mentions that Blue Mule was “a regionally popular tune formerly seldom heard in other parts of the country.” In the field recording made by Gordon McCann (1977), Mr. Rickman states that Blue Mule goes back to the Civil War and that there was both a “Union” version (2 parts) and a “Rebel” version (with a third part).
Bob Holt - I couldn't find a publicly available recording but you can preview Bob Holt''s version on iTunes. It's on the "Traditional Fiddle Music of the Ozarks, Vol. 1: Along the Eastern Crescent" album.
Hi Jack! Nice choice. I've learned some others of Cyril Stinnett's pieces, so thought I'd try his. It's the only Blue Mule I've heard so far where the B part goes a bit higher and sounds like Flop-Eared Mule.
In the book Ozarks Fiddle Music by Drew Beisswenger and Gordan McCann there's notation for Old Blue Mule from the playing of Glen Rickman (1901 - 1982). He played all his life and especially enjoyed playing at square dances. They say he went blind at the end of his life from decades of looking at fire boxes in steam engines where he was an engineer for 40 years. Regarding this tune, the authors state that "Rickman announced he would next play an additional part that one of his 'Rebel' cousins played, and in doing so he was perhaps indicating that his own way was the 'Union' version. His Civil War reference also suggests the tune is quite old. The A part resembles the popular song 'Skip to my Lou.'" The CD that comes with the book has the two tracks with Old Blue Mule.