First recorded by James “Iron Head” Baker (1933).
Also recorded by Lead Belly (1939), Starstruck (1975).
Hit version by Ram Jam (US #18/UK #7/AUS #3 1977).
From American Songwriter: “According to reports, the song was first formally recorded in 1933 by U.S. musicologists John and Alan Lomax. It was performed a cappella by convict James ‘Iron Head’ Baker and a group of prisoners at Central State Farm, in Sugar Land, Texas. At the time, Baker was 63 years old.
“Lead Belly, who had a strong relationship with the Lomaxes, recorded a version in 1939 in New York for the Musicraft Records label. Musicraft released that recording that year as part of a five-disc album, Negro Sinful Songs sung by Lead Belly. Lead Belly’s version was also recorded a cappella, with handclaps. Later versions, though, utilized guitar accompaniment. In 1964, for example, Odetta recorded a version with musical instruments.