In 1948, Tex Ritter released his cover of the recitation song “The Deck of Cards” that was popularized in the fields of both country and popular music. It then reached No. 10 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs.
“The Deck of Cards” was actually first released by T. Texas Tyler, and it became a hit in the United States, reaching No. 2 on the same chart that same year.
Playing Cards Now Came With Different Meanings
Written by T. Texas Tyler himself, “The Deck of Cards” relates the tale of a young American soldier who was arrested and charged with playing cards during a church service. The song is set during World War II, where a group of U.S. Army soldiers arrived and camped near the little town called Casino after a long hike during The North African war.
When Sunday morning came, some soldiers went to the church. However, while those with prayer books took them out, one man has only a deck of playing cards. He pulled them out and spread them in front of him. He was immediately spotted by a sergeant, who believed the soldier was playing cards in church and ordered him to put them away.
After the services, the soldier was then arrested and taken before the Provost Marshal to be judged. The Provost Marshal demanded an explanation, and the soldier said that he had been on a long march without a bible or a prayer book. He then explained the significance of each card.
For instance, he said the ace in the deck cards reminds him there is but one God, while the deuce tells him that the Bible is divided into two parts: the old and new testament. When he sees the King, he knows there’s one King of heaven, and that’s God the Almighty, while the Queen made him think of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He also described the other ten cards.
The young soldier ended the explanation with the statement, “So you see, Sir, my pack of cards serve me as a Bible, almanac, and prayer book.” The narrator of the song, on the other hand, closes the story by saying. “Friends, I know this story is true because I knew that soldier.”
Though Tyler wrote the spoken-word piece, the earliest known reference can be found in a book that belonged to Mary Bacon – a wife of a British farmer – dated April 20, 1762. The book was called Mary Bacon’s World, and it tells the story of the soldier in full. During the 19th-century, the folk story was later recorded in a British publication entitled “The Soldier’s Almanack, Bible and Prayer Book.”
“The Deck of Cards” was also covered by several artists, including Red Sovine in his 1967 album Phantom 309. Country music singer Bill Anderson also released his version in 1991. Since the United States was involved in the Gulf War at the time, the lyrics in Anderson’s version were modified to have the soldier’s story take place there instead of the original World War II setting.
Anyway, you can listen to Tex Ritter’s incredible cover of “The Deck of Cards” in the video below.