This article is from Soldiers Magazine June 1995.
Jodies: Songs on the Move
Story by Donna Miles
Photo by Spec. Corey A. Ealons
“Mi-se-ry, oh mi-se-ry, Look what the Army’s done to me…”
SFC Thomas Gills, a former basic training drill sergeant and current instructor at the Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson, S.C., loves a good cadence call.
“Jody calls,” or simply “jodies,” as those little songs soldiers often sing as they march or double-time in formation are called, are about as basic to soldiering as rifles and shower shoes.
“They’re a No. 1 factor in motivating soldiers,” said Gills, who hesitated only a New York second when asked to belt out his current favorite: “Drip-drop, drip-pe-ty-drip-drop; Sit-tin’ on a hill-top, raindrops on my head; My baby left me, she left me for dead…”
Silly as this and most other jodies might sound, SFC Anita Jordan, Fort Jackson’s drill sergeant of the year, agreed that there are few better ways to build motivation and esprit de corps.
“It’s the best way to keep both the privates and yourself motivated,” she said. “But it only works if you’ve got that rhythm and you let yourself get into it. If you’re just going through the motions, your soldiers are going to pick up on that right away.”
Ironically, the same Army that teaches soldiers how to do even the most basic things like shining boots and arranging hangers in a wall locker leaves them to their own devices when learning cadence calls. Jordan said you either have the knack or you don’t. The first time she called cadence to a formation, she was delighted to realize she had it. Her formula: “You’ve got to sing it like it’s bursting in your heart and you have to let it out.”
Jodies have been bursting in soldiers’ hearts for more than 50 years. As the story goes, a formation of exhausted troops was returning to its barracks at Fort Slocum, N.Y., in May 1944 when a rhythmic chant arose from the columns.
Pvt. Willie Duck-worth, a black soldier on detached service with Fort Slocum’s Provisional Training Center, sang out the first-ever rendition of “Sound-off,” “Sound-off; 1-2; Sound-off; 3-4; Count cadence; 1-2-3-4; 1-2 — 3-4.” Other soldiers in the formation joined in and their dragging feet picked up momentum.
At a time when black soldiers’ achievements were just being acknowledged by many in the Army, the “Duckworth Chant,” as Duckworth’s cadence came to be called, got notice. Col. Bernard Lentz, Fort Slocum’s commander, recognized it as a way to keep his soldiers in step while boosting unit pride and camaraderie.
Duckworth’s Chant built on a musical tradition that began just after the Revolutionary War. Back then, American marching troops took special pleasure in singing “Yankee Doodle” — the song the British had used to taunt them — back to the defeated Redcoats.
Through the years, other military marching songs arose. During the Civil War, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” sent blood pumping through Yankee and Rebel veins.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “Over There” and “The Caisson Song” were popular among marching troops. The official Army song, “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” even urges soldiers to “count off the cadence loud and strong.”
But Duckworth changed the whole way the Army looked — and continues to look — at cadence calls. Soon soldiers were making up their own cadences, personalizing them to include ditties about their own units and soldiers.
These spirited cadence calls teach soldiers about cohesion and team building, and pass on the history and traditions of the Army.
Nobody seems to know for sure when the Duckworth Chant became known as the jody call. In fact, nobody’s even sure who “Jody” is. In the many cadence calls that disparage Jody’s name, Jody is the guy back home, trying to court a soldier’s wife or girlfriend or sister. And as more women joined the ranks, Jody also came to represent the woman out to seduce a husband or boyfriend.
In either case, Jody is a civilian enjoying the comforts of home while the soldier sweats it out in the field or overseas. And soldiers love to console themselves by singing about Jody: “Ain’t no use in going home; Jody’s got your girl and gone. Ain’t no use in feeling blue; Jody’s got your sister, too. Ain’t no use in lookin’ back; Jody’s got your Cadillac…”
When soldiers aren’t singing about Jody, they love to sing about the trials and tribulations of Army life. Among the most popular ones is: “Momma, momma, can’t you see? Look what the Army’s done to me. … They took away my faded jeans; Now I’m wearing Army green. They took away my gin and rum; Now I’m up before the sun…”
Another jody that talks about the “good old” civilian days goes: “Whoa-whoa, whoa, whoa. … I used to have the high school queen; Now I’ve got my M-16. I used to drive a Chevrolet; Now I’m running every day…” Then there’s the one, “They say that in the Army, the pay is mighty fine. They give you a hundred dollars, and take back 99. Oh Lord, I want to go, but they won’t let me go, ho-o-o–ome.”
Drill instructors say that just about any jody is more motivational than the basic eight-count cadence call referred to in Field Manual 22-5. But some jodies celebrate soldiers’ pride about their service and accomplishments.
“C-130 rollin’ down the strip. Airborne daddy gonna take a little trip…” lauds the glory of the airborne. Another salutes those soldiers who take on the Army’s toughest challenges: “I wanna be an airborne ranger; I wanna live a life of danger…”
While many jodies have remained intact through the decades, some things have changed. Jodies have been altered to denounce whatever adversary the United States may be facing at the time: North Korea during the Korean War, the Viet Cong, the ayatollah.
And even more importantly, the vulgar and sexist language that made up many early jodies became a no-no after the mid-1980s. Gills agrees that off-color jodies can be more divisive than unifying. And while there’s no Army field manual that specifically forbids them, suggestive jodies have become an almost universal taboo.
The good news, Gills said, is that “those old, dirty cadences don’t have to be thrown away. They only have to be cleaned up” to reflect the values and way of life the Army promotes today.
He insists that that’s a major function of cadence calls. “In the short term, jodies help establish a sense of rhythm that gets soldiers in step and keeps them in step,” he said.
“But in the long term, they help indoctrinate soldiers into the Army way of life. They teach soldiers about cohesion and team building, and pass on the history and traditions of the Army.”
Today’s jodies — some uttered for almost 50 years and others cleaned-up versions of old favorites — continue to drive soldiers to achieve what some thought they never could.
Jordan said she’s seen it time and again: soldiers who say a jody pushed them forward when they felt ready to quit during a march or a formation run. Few jodies are as effective in that regard as the favorite: “One mile, no sweat. Two miles, better yet. Three miles, think about it. Four miles, thought about it. Five miles, feeling good like I should…”
“Jodies give you something to put your mind to,” Jordan said. “Something to distract you while you’re pushing yourself to reach new limits.”