MR. COTTON EYED JOE


Al Dean (born Albert Dean Callaway) was known as Mr. Cotton Eyed Joe.  He died in 2016 at the age of 85.

Early days

Al Dean grew up deep in South Texas near the small town of Freer where most people called him Dean.  He started  his country western band, Al Dean and the All Stars, but kept his day job with an oil field supply company for several more years.  The group played for dances all over South Texas and beyond in dance halls and honky-tonks great and small.

At the request of a man who asked if he knew “Cotton Eyed-Joe,” he and his band started playing it at dances.  In 1967 he recorded it as a single on KIK-R Records.  From then on it became his and the band’s signature song even though several other artists have recorded it.  The dance was sort of precursor to the line dancing of today with a skip, kick and a whoop.  The song was featured in the “Urban Cowboy” mechanical bull scene. which premiered June 5, 1980 in Houston, Texas.  Their Galen said his parents attended the premier.

A writer of one of his obituaries described it this way:

…Dean began recording in the late 1950’s including some rockabilly singles.

In 1967, he hit paydirt with an old fiddle tune titled “Cotton Eyed Joe” for KIKR Records. The song dated back many generations and had been recorded in 1941 by both Adolph Hofner and Bob Wills.

“It was a song that I heard as a kid,” Al said. “No one had ever heard of the song. It had died. I had a cowboy from South Texas come up to me and ask if I knew ‘Cotton Eyed Joe.’ I said I did, but I had not sung it in years. We sat down and taught the guys in my band, note for note, how I remembered the ‘Cotton Eyed Joe.’”

The “Cotton Eyed Joe” inspired a new round dance polka for couples. This dance was adapted into a simplified version as a nonpartner waist-hold, spoke line routine. Heel and toe polka steps were replaced with a cross-lift followed by a kick with two-steps. The lift and kick are sometimes accompanied by shouts of “whoops, whoops,” or the barn yard term “bull shit”, mimicking the act of kicking off barnyard muck. .

“This guy found a girl to dance with every time that we would play ‘Cotton Eyed Joe,'” Dean recalled. “He started kicking around on the dance floor and the poor girl walked off in the middle of the dance. Every time we had a show he would ask us to play the song and he would drag a poor girl out on the dance floor and every time she would walk off. It started to spread from there and now everyone does the ‘Cotton Eyed Joe.'”

The song would become a standard in bars, clubs and dance halls all over the United States and make Al Dean and the Allstars a much sought after commodity on the music circuit.

Eventually it became a family affair with wife, Maxine, and sons, Galen and Gary joining the band.  In the early days, Maxine’s two brothers, Julius Ray Whitley and Albert Whitley were part of the band.  In South Texas if you needed something to do on a Saturday night, you would ask, “Where is Dean playing?”

Maxine played drums.  In this early photo her brothers, Albert Whitley and Julius Ray Whitley were to the right of Al Dean.

In this later photo sons have joined their parents.  Left to right, Gary Callaway, Al Dean and Galen Callaway.

The South Texas Music Walk of Fame honors music and music professionals with local ties.  On June 3, 2017 he and his band, Al Dean and the All Stars,  were inducted into the South Texas Music Walk of Fame along with five other inductees in Corpus Christi, Texas.  The other were:  Chris Perez, the Texas Jazz Festival, Andrew Moore, Beto y Los Fairlanes and Wanda Gregory.  Past inductees include Kris Kristofferson (from Brownsville, Texas),  George Strait and Selena.  

Marker at Water Street Market

The ribbon cutting begins!

Son Gary Callaway cutting the ribbon on the star assisted by former band member, Allen Pollard.  In back from left to right, Maxine, Rick Maguglin, former band member, and son Galen Callaway

His career spanned over fifty years as he continued to perform into his eighties; his last professional appearance was in June of 2016.  He died in October of that year.   A portion of State Highway 16 north of his hometown of Freer will be dedicated as “Al Dean Memorial Highway.”  Over the years about forty musicians were part of the All Stars.  This star was for Al Dean and all the All Stars who ever played in the band.

Al Dean in his later years.  Left to right Al Dean, Maxine, sons Galen and Gary Callaway

He was my first cousin.