As far as song mysteries go, it doesn’t hold a candle to the one that’s still outstanding about the origins of “Zombie Jamboree,” but it finally clicked in my head that some guy called Mose was getting a lot of attention in songs. There was “Mysterious Mose,” “Old Man Mose,” and even the sequel to “Old Man Mose” called “Old Man Mose Ain’t Dead.” Was it the same guy? Why were people peeking in his windows and getting freaked out by him all the time? Did anyone even bother to knock and check on him?
Now, because we hate those articles that just ramble on for miles before they tell you what the shot is, we were able to find out who Mose is before we even found out who wrote all the songs and what damn order they were released in. But from what we can tell, at least the “Old Man Mose” songs (the first one written by Louis Armstrong) was playing off a character in Li’l Abner called Old Man Mose.
He lived in a cave, was supposedly very wise, and had a literal bucket on hand for him to kick when the time came. The straight answer came from The Classic Horror Film Board. Obviously, Armstrong and company were just using the name (and sometimes the basic idea) and running with it, because Mose in the comic strip has no house or windows and wouldn’t be going around trying to creep you out.
From what I can tell, the timeline goes like this: in 1930, there was a Betty Boop short called “Mysterious Mose.” It used a version of the song. Be forewarned: this early Betty design is perhaps the most frightening thing of all.
This was not the first version of the song, though. Wikipedia (which is always right) seems to credit it to Harry Reser and his Radio All-Star Novelty Orchestra. Second Hand Songs, on the other hand, credits it to Warner’s Seven Aces. Regardless, this cannot be the same Mose as in Li’l Abner because this is 1930 and even though I’m not sure when the character first appeared, the comic strip itself didn’t even start until 1934.
“Old Man Mose” shows up recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1935. So that fits the timeline. And then there’s a puzzling sequel song used in the theatrical short, One For the Book in 1940. Apparently Betty Hutton (playing Cinderella) falls into a Haunted House book and encounters an “Old Man Mose” then proceeds to tell everyone that rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated.
So while Mysterious Mose could be anybody, Old Man Mose in the song is just a weird old guy who apparently is wearing a cheap Spirit Halloween-purchased monk robe and hangs out in a spooky book.
Louis Armstrong did not write the sequel song, although I would love to have seen a songwriting fight lasting decades where each song tries to convince the listener that Old Man Mose is either dead or alive and all the other songs are full of crap.