Bards Bluegrass Fiddle Tunebook Supplement/Cotton Fields

"Cotton Fields" is a song written by blues musician Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly. It was also a #13 pop hit for The Highwaymen in 1961.

The song mentions that the fields are "down in Louisiana, just about a mile from Texarkana". This is geographically impossible, as Texarkana is about 30 miles north of the Louisiana border.[1] This song line suggestions the writer had the widely-held mistaken belief that Texarkana is partially in Louisiana. While the meaning of the name is clear – a portmanteau of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana, Texarkana is actually not on the Louisiana border, as surveyers were off by 30 miles. See Texarkana, History Section [2]

The Beach Boys versionEdit

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American rock band The Beach Boys covered "Cotton Fields" in 1968. It was released on their 1969 album 20/20 with Al Jardine on lead vocals. The song was recorded on November 18, 1968.

Dissatisfied with Brian Wilson's arrangement, Jardine later led the group to record a more country-rock style version. The remake was recorded on August 15, 1969, with Orville "Red" Rhodes on pedal steel guitar. Released as "Cottonfields", this remake, while not a hit in the U.S., was a Top 10 song around the world in the spring and summer of 1970. It was the group's last single for Capitol Records and the last released in mono.

While barely making a dent in the U.S. (#95 Record World, #103 Billboard) though promoted with an appearance on the network TV pop show Something Else, the song succeeded across the Atlantic, reaching number two in the UK's Melody Maker chart and listed as the tenth biggest seller of the year by the New Musical Express. Worldwide — outside North America — it virtually replicated the success of the group's "Do It Again" two years before. It was number 1 in Australia, South Africa, Sweden and Norway, number 2 in Denmark, number 3 in Ireland, similarly top 5 in Japan, Spain and Rhodesia; number 12 in Holland, number 13 in New Zealand and number 29 in Germany. Because of this popularity, it was placed on the international release of the group's Sunflower album.


  • Album: 20/20
  • Time: 2 minutes 21 seconds (album version), 3 minutes 05 seconds (single version)
  • Produced and Arranged by: Brian Wilson (album version)
  • Produced by: The Beach Boys
  • Arranged by: Al Jardine (single version)


Cover versionsEdit

Marching band arrangement as popularised by Kansas State University Marching Band and the Texas Tech University Marching Band by Joel Leach.

Spanish versionEdit

The melody of "Cotton Fields" is also used in the Mexican song "Cuando Yo Era Jovencito" by Los Apson and Ramón Ayala. The title is taken from the first line of "Cotton Fields"