From Roger McGuinn's "The Folk Den Project" page:
"In November of 1995 I began a project for the preservation of the music I love, Folk Music. Each month I would record a song, print the lyrics and chords, add a personal note and put it on my web site, mcguinn.com. I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to learn the songs and to be able to sing them with their families and friends, so downloads were offered free of charge."
The lyrics, chords, and notes on each song can be found at the Folk Den Project website.
In 2005, Roger McGuinn released a 4xCD to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the FOLK DEN. The
compilation contains 100 favorites re-recorded in 24-bit 44.1 KHz
Stereo, and comes with detailed liner notes. The compilation is available at The Folk Den Project.
This song is actually made up of two traditional songs combined by Lead Belly. They are prison work songs used for flat weeding. 'Rattler' was the name generally given to the lead search dog on a prison farm.
The name 'Old Riley' comes up in at least one other prison song. The line 'Believe I'll do like Old Riley, Old Riley walked de Brazos' appears in 'Ain't No More Cane on the Brazos.' When an inmate tried to break out of prison, he would make his way up the river bed through the shallow water, to lose his scent to the blood hounds who were in hot pursuit. This was called 'walking the water.' Apparently Old Riley was one prisoner who got away.
Lyrics and chords available from Folk Den Project.
Old Riley by Roger McGuinn is licensed under a Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.