In April 1962, Walter Brennan recorded Old Rivers which had no trouble ranking in the top ten. Played today, this baby boomer favorite is still a darling. But how and why? What is so enticing about it?

To get the answers, let’s have another good listen to it. From the man who needs no introduction, here’s that talking song that drove a bunch to get weepy.

Did the last line get you? That’s the Walter Brennan effect.

The Walter Brennan Effect

He’s the only one among “The Real McCoys” to bag not just one but three Oscar awards. Each of his performance, be it on TV or movies was memorable. His characters were well played out as they are, but not without Walter Brennan’s authentic touch. This unique acting trait led to the immortalization of “Old River’s” story.

And here’s a trivia, did you know that the opportunity to record “Old Rivers” was first given to Eddy Arnold and Johnny Cash? Both men passed it up so, in came Walter Brennan who was more than a perfect fit for Old Rivers. He may not be the polished kind of a singer, but he’s a rarity in that crowd. While many could pull off a chant, Brennan’s version would sound the most natural.

The Folkish and Down-Home Feel

It’s one of those Appalachian pieces that can pull the heartstrings. Well, at least for those who have been raised or may have had exposure to that culture. And, what’s there to apologize for? Even if you’re a man hardened by tough work, there’s nothing shameful about feeling moved by Old Rivers tale. Be proud of this and your values.

Old Rivers Himself 

He’s an old man’s tale yet so richly wrapped with wisdom. He’s not one of those complicated men and sees reality with a simple understanding. Without the need to go preachy, he modeled the value of hard work and perseverance. Thus, capturing the interest of a lad to tag along. Besides these, there are more pointers to note from Old Rivers‘ character:

Coming to Terms with One’s Mortality

Our old, mule farmer tried to live his life to the fullest. While he despises nothing of his present state, he knew that his plodding on earth would soon come to an end. Hence, he did not have grandiose dreams for himself as he’s fully aware that his days were already numbered.

Earthly Description of the Eternal

Finite beings that we are, there’s no way we could accurately describe what’s waiting for us in the afterlife. For Old Rivers, he used the terms of a mountain man and a farmer in his description of the great beyond. That crude picture he imagined made the whole narration delightful. Instead of streets of gold and white mansions, he saw a farmer’s heaven. His idea of prosperity is the land’s generosity to produce crops even without his help organically. Much like his earthly home minus the back-breaking toil.

Got a different take on Walter Brennan’s song? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section. 

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