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The Secret History of Texas Music

“Tom Moore’s Farm” (1930’s)

Written by: Yank Thornton, Mance Lipscomb Recorded by: Mance Lipscomb

Tom Moore was a notorious twentieth-century plantation owner along the Brazos River, near Navasota, who ran his land and the mostly African American sharecroppers on it as if it were the nineteenth century instead. In the mid-thirties, a young sharecropper named Yank Thornton, fed up with Moore’s brutal methods—making the laborers toil for long hours in the sun, keeping them in line with threats and violence—began writing verses about him and singing them at local dances: “Standing on the levee with his spurs in his horse’s flank, whip in his hand watching his boys from bank to bank.”

Thornton sang unaccompanied, though a guitarist named Mance Lipscomb—who was a sharecropper on a farm next to Moore’s plantation—helped him shape the verses into an actual song. Lipscomb began playing “Tom Moore’s Farm” too, and his version soon became popular at black gatherings. In 1949 Lightnin’ Hopkins recorded the song, changing the title to “Tim Moore’s Farm” because he was worried about reprisals. His recording went to number thirteen on Billboard’s Most Played Juke Box Race Records. Eleven years later Lipscomb himself recorded it, but he too was nervous about retaliation, so he released the song anonymously. “If he knew I put out a song like that,” he told historian Mack McCormick, “I couldn’t live here no more. I wouldn’t live six months if he knowed that. He got people out there come out here set this house on fire.” In fact, Moore knew all about the song, which, over the course of its life, has existed in at least six versions, by McCormick’s count. “Tom Moore’s Farm” survives today, long after the farm itself was broken up and its subject and writers died.

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