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Its melody is simple and the harmony little developed.Nevertheless, contemporary critics found the song more pleasant than previous minstrel fare.The refrain is syncopated in a way that had only previously been used in the minstrel song "Old Zip Coon". " generates a forward momentum and is answered by instruments in one example of the song's black-influenced call and response.
The chorus, "You're too late to get your supper" is a kindhearted taunt to a man who often arrived after dark, forcing his hosts to scrape up a meal for him.
Today it is a bluegrass and country music standard. In exaggerated Black Vernacular English, the lyrics tell of Dan Tucker's exploits in a strange town, where he fights, gets drunk, overeats, and breaks other social taboos.
Minstrel troupes freely added and removed verses, and folk singers have since added hundreds more. The song falls into the idiom of previous minstrel music, relying on rhythm and text declamation as its primary motivation.
The blackface troupe the Virginia Minstrels popularized "Old Dan Tucker" in 1843, and it quickly became a minstrel hit, behind only "Miss Lucy Long" and "Mary Blane" in popularity during the antebellum period.
"Old Dan Tucker" entered the folk vernacular around the same time. The first sheet music edition of "Old Dan Tucker", published in 1843, is a song of boasts and nonsense in the vein of previous minstrel hits such as "Jump Jim Crow" and "Gumbo Chaff".