Remembering the Old Songs:

Don't Let Your Deal Go Down

by Lyle Lofgren
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, December 1999)

When I first heard this song (recorded in 1925 by Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers), I assumed the chorus referred to Blackjack, since in non-casino games the dealer loses the deal if someone else hits blackjack. Later, someone suggested the game was Cooncan, because several other folksongs are about playing that game. A trip to Hoyle at the library, however, revealed that Cooncan is the Spanish game Conquian, a form of rummy. Your deal doesn't go down in Rummy, or, if it does, it doesn't matter.

According to Kinney Rorrer's excellent book, Rambling Blues -- The Life and Songs of Charlie Poole (available from Rorrer at 913 Vicar Road, Danville VA 24540), another North Carolina musician, having learned the song from a local black guitarist in 1911, taught the words to Poole, who already knew the tune. The African-American origin clue connected when I heard Peg Leg Howell's Skin Game Blues (Before the Blues, Vol. 2, Yazoo CD 2016):

You better let the deal go down,
For the skin game's comin' to a close ...

Hoyle never heard of the Skin Game, but I ran across it in Zora Neale Hurston's 1935 book, Mules and Men, republished in 1990 by Harper Perennial: it's called the Georgia Skin Game, and here's a condensed version of her description, as it was played in the Florida lumber camps:

"Any number of Pikers can play, but there are 2 Principals who deal. If the first one's deal "falls," the other Principal takes the deal. If he in turn falls, the deal goes back to the first Principal. The Principals draw the first 2 cards, while the pikers draw from the 3rd card on. A player can "scoop one in the rough": he can choose his card from anywhere in the deck. The dealer charges whatever he wants for the privilege of Scooping, and, since it's the scooping player's bet, the money is put in sight. The dealer then begins to turn the cards in the deck, and each player picks a card to bet on. The players then chant "turn 'em" and "let the deal go down" as the dealer turns the cards. If a card of the same value turns up as your card, you "fall." You then pick another unfallen card to bet on and the game continues until the entire deck is turned. There are lots of side bets placed also."

Those rules are mighty confusing, so instead of betting, maybe I'll watch the game a little longer to see how it's played. If I learn more about it, I'll let you know. Meanwhile, the best way to learn the syncopations (which are slightly different for each verse) is from the original, on County CD 3501, Charlie Poole, Vol. 1.

Don't Let Your Deal Go Down

Complete Lyrics:

Now, I've been all around this whole wide world,
I've been down to Memphis, Tennessee;
And it's any old place I hang my hat
Is home, sweet home to me.

Don't let your deal go down (x3)
'Fore my last gold dollar is gone.

Now, I left my little girl crying,
Standing in the door;
She throwed her arms around my neck,
Saying, "Honey, don't you go."

Now, I've been all around this whole wide world,
Done most everything;
I've played cards with the King and the Queen,
The ace, the eight, or the trey.

Now, where did you get them high-top shoes,
Dress you wear so fine?
I got my shoes from a railroad man,
And my dress from a driver in the mine.

Who's gonna shoe your pretty white feet;
Who's gonna glove your hand;
Who's gonna kiss your lily white cheeks;
Who's gonna be your man?

Now, Papa may shoe my pretty white feet;
Mama can glove my hand;
She can kiss my lily white cheeks
Till you come back again.


This is essentially a "floating lyrics" song (e.g. the last two verses are from The Lass of Roch Royal, Child #76, or one of its many relatives), making its history almost impossible to trace. There are few if any field collections, but it is found on a number of old recordings, most of them listed in the New Lost City Ramblers Songbook (now available as the Old Time String Band Songbook).

Return to the Remembering the Old Songs page.