Ragged But Right

Lyrics: Traditional (arr George Jones)
Music: Traditional (arr George Jones)

Played by the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band. Thanks to Graham Wardle for help checking the lyrics.

Folks, I'm here to tell you that I'm ragged but I'm right
I'm a thief and a gambler, and I stay up late at night
Gonna have a steak three times a day for my board
More than any loafer in this big town can afford

A big electric fan to keep me cool while I sleep
A little baby boy plays around daddy's feet
I'm a ramblin' gambler and I leave every night
People, I tell you I'm ragged but I'm right

People, I'm here to tell you that I'm ragged but I'm right
I'm a thief and a gambler, and I stay up late at night
Gonna have a steak three times a day for my board
More than any loafer in this big town can afford

A big electric fan to keep me cool while I sleep
A little baby girl plays around daddy's feet
I'm a ramblin' gambler and I leave every night
People I tell you I'm ragged but I'm right
Jerry Garcia Recordings
     Date Album Recorded By
     21 Oct 1987 Ragged But Right Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band
     31 Oct 1987 Pure Jerry: Lunt-Fontanne Jerry Garcia Band

Roots/Recording History

This was originally recorded in the early 1900s, by Riley Pucket among others. George Jones subsequently partially rewrote and shortened it, and his version has been covered by many others. The earlier versions go under the title "Ragged But Right", but George Jones's version is often titled "I'm Ragged But I'm Right"

Jerry Garcia follows the George Jones version, but sings only one of the verses. George Jones himself recorded a number of variants, but this is typical:
Well I've come here to tell you folks, I'm ragged but I'm right
I'm a tramp and a gambler, I stay out late at night
But a porterhouse steak three times a day for my board
That's more than any loafer in this big town can afford

Well, I got a electric fan to keep me cool when I sleep
A little baby boy playing round at my feet
I'm a rambler and a gambler, I've led a dirty life
Well I tell you folks, I'm ragged but I'm right

Well when I got married, I knew I'd settle down
And build a little love nest right here in my hometown
Now I've got a family, one that I'm proud of
I know that we'll be happy cause they're the ones I love

Got a big electric fan to keep me cool when I sleep
A little baby boy playing round daddy's feet
I'm a rambler and a gambler, I've led a dirty life
Well I tell you folks, I'm ragged but I'm right

I'm a rambler and a gambler, I've led a dirty life
But I tell you folks, I'm ragged but I'm right
Earlier version have additional verses that were dropped by George Jones:
I hopped on a freight train in North Caroline
Rode down to Atlanta and bought me some 'shine
Went into a card game with 39 cents
Came out with enough for another month's rent

Well you may think I'm bragging but don't get me wrong
I can't run for office while I'm singing this song
I'm a thief and a gambler and I'm drunk every night
I tell you boys I'm ragged but right

I left a pretty little gal layin' there on the floor
Gave her all my love, and who could ask me for more?
Gave her my last quarter just to buy her a drink
Showed her to the door, and then what do you think?

I said, "Go home to your mother, and tell her for me
I'm hittin' the road just 'cause I want to be free
'Cause I'm a ramblin' man, a gamblin' man, and Lord am I tight
I just called up to tell you that I'm ragged but right
These versions also show how later versions have toned down the original lyrics - for example the line "A little baby boy playing round Daddy's feet" seems originally to have been "I've got pretty little girls layin' 'round at my feet.

Winifred has this about the background to the song:
The song Ragged But Right, is a song that came out of the 1900's. It was originally a blues tune. As a child growing up, on the way to the mountains my father and mother would always sing. And we would sing songs like these, all in harmony. My father had originally heard the song when he was a kid, while working as an assistant chef at a resort. I still can't find the name of the original author, but I do know that George Jones has recorded the song and even re-written the words a bit. In it's original version it was a bit racist, so it has been slightly modified to simply be tongue-in-cheek. Musically my version of it is really the traditional version/style.
Winifred's lyrics (modified also to be from the women's perspective) are
I got an electric fan to keep me cool while I eat
A big handsome man to keep me warm while I sleep
I ought to be serving steak three times a day for my boy
More than any ordinary girl can afford

Let's take a fifteen minute intermission in the V8
I'd like to stay out later but I never [lay date]
My mother has always been gone with the wind
So let's [breeze her] tonight
Just got up to tell you that you're ragged but right

We may be top [skin babies boys] but what do you care?
We got the fancy [chances] and the do-or-die air
We got the hips that sank the ships
And even friends in Peru
And if you like Napoleon, it's your Waterloo

A great big handsome man just left me flat on the floor
I loved him all my life, he couldn't ask me for more
He took my last dollar just to buy him a drink
And now he took me to the door and what do you think?

He said, run along home and kiss your mother for me
I'm hitting the road because I want to be free
You're just a friendly woman, a gamblin' man
And you're drunk every night
I just called to up tell you that you're ragged but right
I just called to up tell you that you're ragged but right
I just called to up tell you that you're ragged but right
After I had put Winifred's lyrics here, I got an email about another early version:
I had no idea the Dead did a version of this song. How interesting! I first learned this song as a teenager, having been taught it by my 80+ year old neighbor. I have to say though, the lyrics she gave me were even more "women-perspective" oriented than the Winifred lyrics on your site. The way my neighbor sang it, it sounded like a ragtime tune, and the variations were (I swear, I couldn't even make this up-- this is how she said the song went back in her day!):
Just called up to tell you that I'm ragged but right
A gamblin' woman ramblin' woman, drunk every night
I fix a porterhouse steak every night for my boy
That's more than an ordinary whore can afford

...
[blues-y almost burlesque ending]
I'm just a gamblin' woman, ramblin' woman
And boy am I tight
Just called up to tell you that I'm ragged but right
Turn over Mabel
It's better on the other side
As you can see, she had quite a bit of spunk to her. Imagine singing that in the 1930s... Unfortunately, she's since passed away, and I can't find the artist that recorded this version.

Deanna
I subsequently got another email about this song:
My father taught it to us when we were little. And, I know he was taught it when he was young. We all used to sing it (and others like it) on car trips - having no idea what it was talking about. I remember my 4, or so, year-old little sister chiming in at the end "Don't overdo it. We overdid it last night." And, my mother laughed so hard she had tears in her eyes. So, I knew something was special about that song.

Here is that unexpurgated version:
I just called up to tell you that Iím ragged but right
Iím a thief and a gambliní woman, drunk every night
I get a a Porterhouse steak three times a day for my board
Thatís more than any self-respecting gal can afford

I got a big electric fan to keep me cool while I sleep
A great big handsome man to play around at my feet
Iím just a rambliní woman, a gambliní woman, and, gee, but Iím tight
I just called up to tell you that Iím ragged but right

We may be brown-skinned lassies, boys, but what do we care
We got those classy chassis and that do-or-die air
We got the hips that sank the ships in England, France and Peru
And, if you like Napoleon, itís your Waterloo

I'll take a fifteen minute intermission in your V8
Iíd like to linger longer but I got a late date
My motto has always been, ďGone with the windĒ
So, letís just breeze it tonight
I just called up to tell you that Iím ragged but right

I had a loviní man, he kept me flat on the floor
I gave him all my loviní, how could he ask for more?
I gave him two bits for to buy him some drink
He got drunk, and, what do you think

He said, ďGo home to your mother, gal, and, tell her for me
Iím hittiní the road because I wanna be free
Youíre just a rambliní woman, a gambliní woman
And, gee, but youíre tightĒ
I just called up to say, ďIím ragged, but rightĒ

Donít overdo it, we overdid it last night
Dorothea