The game of poker has evolved over the years, developing into two very different strands.
Firstly, we have the World Series of Poker and other high-level tournaments. They often feature on national television and have life-changing and attention-grabbing prizes. The shows have high production value, and the rooms you see on television are often packed with hundreds of players, all hoping to make their fortune.
Then there’s the online version of the game, legalized for real money in five states but played for free across other apps worldwide. Thanks to the Black Friday event of 2011, online poker’s reputation took a bit of a battering, but it’s on the rise again and likely to form a big part of the iGaming future.
Both are impressive growth areas, but they share one common factor; they have the roots deep in American culture. Whether courtesy of the 1997 poker boom or as far back as the Wild West, our country and poker share a cultural strand that runs right back through our history.
That is also reflected in some music across many genres. Rap, folk, punk, country and pop artists have all turned to poker as the subject for songs, be it something like Lady Gaga’s Poker Face through to these three underrated tunes.
Huck’s Tune – Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is a true great, both in terms of performing and writing. He was called the greatest songwriter of our time by none other than Johnny Cash, which is high praise indeed. Dylan wrote this poker-themed song for the film Lucky You, which starred Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore. The film is not notable; released in 1997, it was a poker film that disappeared into the abyss, whilst a year later, Rounders sparked a poker boom. Dylan uses a poker game as a metaphor for life, with one line, ‘the game’s gotten old, the deck’s gone cold, and I’m gonna have to put you down for a while,’ having an obvious meaning outside of poker.
Ace and Eights – Uncle Kracker
Uncle Kracker rose to fame as part of Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker Band but dropped his own album Double Wide at the tail end of the nineties. Follow Me was the pop single that led the album, but Aces and Eights was a gem tucked away as an album track. With a riff that was much like a Fun Lovin’ Criminals song, it was both catchy and worthy filler for a strong debut album. Aces and Eights relates to the poker hand known as the Dead Man’s Hand, the famed final hand of Wild Bill Hickok, killed during a poker game. Whilst holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights, John McCall reportedly shot Wild Bill in the back of the head. Kracker refers to Aces and Eight as the Dead Man’s Hand in the song.
The Gambler – Kenny Rogers
There’s nothing subtle about this Kenny Rogers track from the late seventies; it was written about poker, almost in its entirety, and continues to be cited poker-themed song to this day. There’s little ambiguity in the country legend’s lyrics; the protagonist is told that he has to know ‘when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em’, which does suggest a game of Texas Hold ’em, the most popular poker variant around the world. There’s plenty of metaphor for life as well, as the gambler imparting his advice breaks even at the end, suggesting he passes away on the train having shared his wisdom.