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Walter Brennan Reminisces Childhood Story in “Old Rivers’ Trunk” 

Walter Brennan + Old Rivers' Trunk
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Written by Cliff Crofford, Walter Brennan recorded the recitation song “Old Rivers’ Trunk” with such a heartfelt voice that it leaves an emotional impact on its listeners. The song was the 10th track to Brennan’s album Old Rivers and a continuation of the 1st track “Old Rivers.”

In “Old Rivers,” Brennan perfectly captures the story of a childhood friendship with a farmer as he narrates how Old Rivers cultivates crops in the middle of the day using a mule-drawn plow. The song’s release in 1962 set many records in the US Billboard Charts and became No. 3 in the Hot Country Singles, No. 5 in Hot 100, and No. 2 in Easy Listening.

Along with the backing vocals of The Johnny Mann Singers, some prominent personalities in music also covered Brennan’s recitation, including Jimmy Dean, Dave Dudley, and Red Sovine

The Tale of the Old Rivers

The song speaks of yearning and nostalgia as an escape from reality. There is a poignant tone in Brennan’s voice as he narrates the life of Old Rivers, a sharecropper with a mule called “Midnight” plowing up the fields, and a childhood friend who was always beside him. Old Rivers was born into poverty and would often talk about places he plans to visit, one of which is heaven. 

On the record “Old Rivers,” he said he wanted to climb up and walk through the mountains, saying: “Walk up there among them clouds. Where the cotton’s high, and the corn’s a-growing, and there ain’t no fields to grow.” Years later, the Old Rivers’ died while his friend was away.

To further expand the story, “Old Rivers’ Trunk” speaks of the details of the young boy visiting his friend’s place to buy his trunk for two dollars. When he looked into his belongings, he only found a tattered Bible. Brennan ended the song with the line, “He won’t have to work no more,” indicating that Old Rivers has gone to heaven after spending most of his life on manual labor. 

Listen as Walter Brennan makes a moving recitation of “Old Rivers’ Trunk.”

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