The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
"Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor"

"Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor"

#166 / Jan. 6 Podcast

The great jazz innovator Jelly Roll Morton once told folklorist Alan Lomax that “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” was one of the earlier country blues to come rambling into the big city of New Orleans. Morton said it was being played in the Crescent City many years before he was born there in 1890.

As Jelly Roll further noted, "A pallet is something that — you get some quilts — in other words, it's a bed that's made on a floor without any four posters on 'em.”

The song was even known to be favorite of a famous jazz forefather. In an early printed reference n 1911, the tune was reported to be featured in the repertoire of New Orleans’ legendary cornetist Buddy Bolden.

It Was Everybody’s Song

But it wasn’t only in New Orleans; up in Memphis, Jelly Roll’s songwriting rival W.C. Handy must have heard it too.

That’s because Handy reappropriated big chunks of the same melody for his composition “Atlanta Blues,” first recorded in the Handy band's 1917 performance of "Sweet Child.” Nearly 40 years later, trumpeter Louis Armstrong put “Atlanta Blues” on disc in 1954.

Shoot, there must be hundreds — maybe thousands — of versions of this old tune. Search Google for "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor" and you'll find references to recordings by everyone from Gillian Welch and Sandy Denny to Doc Watson and Odetta.

The Flood got its particular version from a recording made in the early 1960s for Folkways by the late great Boston bluesmen Rolf Cahn and Eric Von Schmidt.

Tracing Some Roots

To look for an origin story for the song, you probably should start with a 1906 report in The Indianapolis Freeman, which referred to a performance of it by "The Texas Teaser, Bennie Jones.” Two years later, the song appeared in sheet music form as part of John William “Blind” Boone’s Southern Rag Medley No. One: Strains from the Alleys.

The lyrics also appeared in a 1911 article by folklorist Howard Odum, who transcribed them from a performance he said he heard in Mississippi a few years before that.

Early recordings of the song were made by Virginia Liston on OKeh in 1925 and Ethel Waters for Columbia in 1926, as well as by Mississippi John Hurt, who recorded it as “Ain’t No Tellin’” in 1928.

Meanwhile, back to Alan Lomax: Delta blues man Sam Chatmon once told the folklorist, “When I first started picking guitar, this was about the first or the second song I learned ... I was about 4 years old.” That would fix the year at 1900 and the place Bolton, Mississippi.

Our Take on the Tune

So, we’re talking old here. And the older we get, the more we bristle at that thing we used to say each new year. You know, that “out with the old, in with the new” business?

We’re surely glad no one ever applied that silly rule to this great old song. The tune might be 150 years old, but it still righteously rocks, as we testify here with swinging solos from everybody in the band!

By the Way…

This is one of the songs we have on tap to play when we’re back at Sal’s Italian Eatery and Speakeasy in Ashland. Ky., one week from tonight.

In other words, please mark it on your calendar. If you’re free next Friday night, Jan. 13, come to downtown Ashland to party with The Flood at the coolest new venue in the Tri-State Area. We play from 6 to 9.

We so love this place! Click here for our backstory on this establishment.

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The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
Each week The 1937 Flood, West Virginia's most eclectic string band, offers a free tune from a recent rehearsal, show or jam session. Music styles range from blues and jazz to folk, hokum, ballad and old-time. All the podcasts, dating back to 2008, are archived on our website; you and use the archive for free at: