There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight was a great favorite during the Spanish-American War in 1898, although it had actually been written twelve years earlier by Theodore Metz, band leader of the McIntyre and Heath Minstrels. Metz was inspired to write it when he saw a group of children putting out a fire in Old Town, Louisiana.
The McIntyre and Heath Minstrels used it as a march for their street parades but it did not catch on until Joe Hayden wrote some appropriate words for it and Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders adopted it as their personal anthem in Cuba. Jelly Roll Morton recalls it as one of the favorites of the little string groups in New Orleans which played at parties. It came into recorded jazz when Bessie Smith sang it on Mar. 2, 1927, backed by musicians who were in Fletcher Henderson’s band.
That is one version of the origins of the song. An alternative suggestion is that Metz first heard the tune played in about 1893 at a brothel known as the Castle, in St Louis, Missouri, where it was one of the songs performed by the entertainer known as Mama Lou.
Another version is that Metz and his Minstrels were in Hot Springs, SD, where Joe Hayden worked at the Evans Hotel. Hayden had the song from his younger days in New Orleans, and he and Metz sat down and wrote the first version of the tune for a re-dedication ceremony for the local Chautauqua Park and Entertainment Center. Regardless, the original lyrics (written in black dialect now considered offensive) have nothing to do with the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Those parody lyrics were added sometime later, those lyrics are now better known than the original.
(Cow and lamp not included. Alijam Music is not responsible for any fires that may be associated with the playing and singing of this piece of music.)
Key: C major
Mood: happy (which is weird considering the fire lyrics)
Pedagogy: syncopation, ragtime left hand patterns, repeats