Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Peg and Awl" - The Carolina Tar Heels



Set One: Ballads; Disc One; Track Twelve: "Peg and Awl" performed by The Carolina Tar Heels. "Vocal duet with harmonica, banjo, guitar." Recorded in Atlanta on October 14, 1928. Original issue Victor V-4007A.

The Carolina Tar Heels were a North Carolina based performing and recording entity founded by banjo picker Doc Walsh and guitarist Gwen Foster. They were fairly unusual for a string band in that they never included a fiddle player in their ranks. Clarence Ashley, who plays guitar and sings lead on this track, performed with the group between 1928 and 1929. In 1928, Gwen Foster was replaced by the similarly named Garley Foster (no relation). The Tar Heels continued to record for Victor until 1932. After the groups dissolution, Walsh worked in poultry and auto parts while Foster went into carpentry. The release of the Anthology led to their rediscovery in 1961 when the group reunited without Ashley. The Tar Heels recorded an album for the Folk Legacy label in 1964 with Walsh's son rounding out the group.

Doc Walsh died in 1967 and Garley Foster died in 1968. See Clarence Ashley's entry under "The House Carpenter" for his biographical information.

"Peg and Awl" is a song about industrial unemployment. The narrator is a shoemaker who is run out of business by a machine that does his job in less time. This same theme resurfaces in the "John Henry" family of folk songs (including "Gonna Die With My Hammer In My Hand" which appears later on in the Anthology). The difference, of course, is that while John Henry famously died proving that he was the equal of the steam drill, the shoemaker in "Peg and Awl" simply surrenders.

In the days of eighteen and one
Peg and awl.
In the days of eighteen and one
Peg and awl.
In the days of eighteen and one
Peggin' shoes is all I done.
Hand me down my pegs, my pegs, my pegs, my awl.

In the days of eighteen and two
Peg and awl.
In the days of eighteen and two
Peg and awl.
In the days of eighteen and two
Peggin' shoes is all I do.
Hand me down my pegs, my pegs, my pegs, my awl.

In the days of eighteen and three
Peg and awl.
In the days of eighteen and three
Peg and awl.
In the days of eighteen and three
Peggin' shoes is all you'd see.
Hand me down my pegs, my pegs, my pegs, my awl.

In the days of eighteen and four
Peg and awl.
In the days of eighteen and four
Peg and awl.
In the days of eighteen and four
I said I'd peg them shoes no more.
Throw away my pegs, my pegs, my pegs, my awl.

They've invented a new machine
Peg and awl.
They've invented a new machine
Peg and awl.
They've invented a new machine
Prettiest little thing you ever seen.
Throw away my pegs, my pegs, my pegs, my awl.

Make one hundred pair to my one
Peg and awl.
Make one hundred pair to my one
Peg and awl.
Make one hundred pair to my one
Peggin' shoes it ain't no fun.
Throw away my pegs, my pegs, my pegs, my awl.

Some shoemaker...


"Peg and Awl" is a good example of the way folk songs often play fast and loose with the facts. The song's lyrics place this song in the early 19th century, during the period of the British Industrial Revolution. There certainly was a lot of sudden unemployment as a result of labor saving inventions during that period, as well as a good deal of resistance against such changes (see the Luddite movement during the 1810s). However, the fact is that shoes were made by hand until about 1845. One possibility is that "Peg and Awl" might have descended from an earlier song written in the early 1800s. During the 1840s and '50s, when cobblers were suddenly finding their livelihood threatened by - among other things - Elias Howe's invention of the sewing machine in 1846, some musician may have substituted shoe making for an earlier industry. Nevertheless, the song has survived in its present form since the mid-19th century, at least.

The "peg" and "awl" of the title refer to the tools of the cobbler's trade. The pegs were made of wood, were 3/4 of an inch long and about the width of a match. Pegging shoes was the fastest way to attach the sole and heel to the shoe. The awl was a sharp instrument used to make or widen holes in the shoe leather.

Here are a couple of very different interpretations of "Peg and Awl." The first is performed by Lew Dite on the five-string banjo.



The second is by Mike McCann, performing on the acoustic guitar.



Update: "Where Dead Voices Gather" is now a podcast! You can go here to listen to the first episode!


Download and listen to The Carolina Tar Heels - "Peg and Awl"

"A Lazy Farmer Boy" - Buster Carter and Preston Young



Set One: Ballads; Disc One; Track Eleven: "A Lazy Farmer Boy" performed by Buster Carter and Preston Young. "Vocal solo with violin and guitar." Recorded in New York on June 26, 1931. Original issue Columbia 15702D (15702D).

To begin with, banjo picker Buster Carter does not perform on this selection. He and guitarist Preston Young often performed with fiddler Posey Rorer, who accompanies Young here. Rorer appears as a side-man on no fewer than three selections on the Anthology. Apart from "A Lazy Farmer Boy," he also appears with Kelly Harrell on "My Name is John Johanna" and with brother-in-law Charlie Poole on "White House Blues." Preston Young was born in Martinsville, Virginia in 1907 and started out playing banjo, adding guitar and autoharp to his repertoire by the time he reached his teens. Following a meeting with banjoist Charlie Poole, Young started his own group with Buster Carter on second banjo and Posey Rorer on fiddle. The three traveled to New York in 1931 to cut ten sides for Columbia, including "A Lazy Farmer Boy," only a few of which were released. The records must not have sold well, because Young lost interest in recording after 1931, spending most of his life working. His later years were spent working in the sheet metal business. Although he performed occasionally, he never returned full-time to music. Interviewed in 1971 by Tony Russell for Old Time Music magazine, Young stated "You've got to either make music or work...you can't do both."

This recording marks the third of three songs in a row that feature the violin in combination with various instruments. On "A Lazy Farmer Boy," the fiddle is paired with a guitar, an instrument that makes its fifth appearance on the Anthology. The guitar is descended from the Roman cithara, a string instrument borrowed from the ancient Greeks and brought by the Romans to Hispania around 40 C.E. The 8th century conquest of the Iberian peninsula by the Moors brought the oud. Scholars believe that the influence of the oud and the cithara led to the evolution of what became the Moorish guitar (or guitarra moresca) and eventually to the Spanish vihuela. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the baroque guitar enjoyed considerable popularity in Spain, Italy and France, eventually leading to the modern acoustic guitar. The word "guitar" comes from the Spanish guitarra, which was adapted from the Andalusian Arabic world qitara, which in turn comes from the Latin cithara (from the Greek kithara, which comes from the Old Persian world sihtar. The Persian Tar means "string." Incidentally, the Northern Indian sitar evolved from the similarly named Persian instrument). The guitar came to the Americas with Spanish and French settlers.

"A Lazy Farmer Boy," also known as "The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn" and "Harm Link," is believed to date to the middle of the 19th century. Like "Willie Moore," "A Lazy Farmer Boy" is a song native to the United States.

Well, I'll sing a little song, but it ain't very long,
About a lazy farmer who wouldn't hoe his corn.
And why this was I never could tell,
For that young man was always well.
That young man was always well.

He planted his corn on June the last,
In July it was up to his eye.
In September there came a big frost
And all that young man's corn was lost.
All that young man's corn was lost.

He started to the field and he got there at last.
The grass and weeds was up to his chin.
The grass and weeds had grown so high,
It caused that poor man for to sigh.
Caused that poor man for to sigh.

Now his courtship had just begun,
Saying, "Young man have you hoed your corn?"
"I've tried, I've tried, I've tried in vain,
But I don't believe I'll raise one grain.
Don't believe I'll raise one grain."

"Why do you come to me to wed,
If you can't raise your own corn bread?
Single I am and will remain,
For a lazy man I won't maintain.
A lazy man I won't maintain."

He hung his head and walked away
Saying, "Kind Miss, you'll rue the day.
You'll rue the day that you was born,
For givin' me the devil 'cause I wouldn't hoe my corn.
Givin' me the devil 'cause I wouldn't hoe my corn."

Now his courtship was to an end,
On his way he then began,
Saying "Kind Miss, I'll have another girl
If I have to ramble this big wide world.
Have to ramble this big wide world."



"A Lazy Farmer Boy" is the last of four songs in a row to feature courtship. As in "Old Shoes and Leggins", "A Lazy Farmer Boy" tells a story of rejection. The titular farmer is rejected by his love because of his laziness. Since the song mentions grass and weeds, it can be assumed that the hoeing that the young man fails to do has to do with agitating the soil around the corn plants in order to remove weeds. Yet it isn't due to his lack of weeding that the young man loses his corn. The song states that by July the corn was "up to his eye," indicating that he was able to successfully plant and grow his crops. In the song, the loss of the young man's corn is attributed to a "big frost" that comes in September. What exactly does the young man's disinclination to hoe have to do with the loss of his crops?

The female character in this song differs from others who have appeared thus far on the Anthology. She is neither a shrew nor is she a victim. While some might argue that her dismissal of the young farmer is harsh, she is depicted as an independent woman who knows what she wants. She refuses to marry the farmer because she doesn't want support him. This is quite a change from the protagonist in "The Wagoner's Lad" who characterizes the lot of women as being "confined by their parents until they are wives / then slaves to their husbands the rest of their lives." This difference may reflect a change in the mores between the periods in which the two songs were composed.

A portion of the first line of the song was borrowed by Bob Dylan for his song "Man on the Street":

I'll sing you a song, ain't very long,
'Bout an old man who never done wrong.


Dylan recorded "Man on the Street" for his debut LP, but it was not released until 1993 when it surfaced on The Bootleg Series, vols. 1-3.

Here's a live version of "A Lazy Farmer Boy," performed as "The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn" by Allison Krauss and Union Station. This performance features an extended instrumental introduction by slide guitarist Jerry Douglas and lead vocals by guitarist Dan Tyminski (best known to many as George Clooney's singing voice in the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou). The original recording of this song appeared on Krauss's 2001 album, New Favorite.



Download and listen to Buster Carter and Preston Young - "A Lazy Farmer Boy"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Willie Moore" - Burnett and Rutherford


Set One: Ballads; Disc One; Track Ten: "Willie Moore" performed by Burnett and Rutherford. "Vocal solo with 5-string banjo and violin." Recorded in Atlanta on November 3, 1927. Original issue Columbia 15314D (W145086).

Richard Burnett (vocal and banjo) and Leonard Rutherford (fiddle) were both born in Monticello, Kentucky (Burnett in 1883, Rutherford around 1900). Burnett started playing music as a child, eventually learning to play banjo, guitar, fiddle and dulcimer. Blinded during a botched hold-up in 1907, Burnett turned to music professionally in order to support his wife and small child. In 1914 he began performing with teenage fiddler Rutherford. They made their first recordings in 1926. Burnett is sometimes credited with writing "Farewell Song," better known today as "Man of Constant Sorrow," although this is conjectural. Both men spent most of their lives performing in and around Monticello. Rutherford died in 1954 from complications connected to epilepsy. Burnett died in 1977.

All of the ballads featured thus far have had their origin in the British Isles. "Willie Moore" is the first track on the Anthology to originate in the United States. Burnett later recalled having learned the song from a printed broadside in his native Kentucky. According to Smith's liner notes, a Mr. Paul Wilson of Farmington, Aarkansas reported meeting a Rev. William Moore in Dallas, Texas, who claimed to be the inspiration for the song (reported in Vance Randolph's Ozark Folk Songs, published in four volumes between 1946 and 1950 by the State Historical Society of Missouri). Little else is known about the origin of the song.

The song tells a rather typical tragic tale of star-crossed lovers whose romance ends in death.

Willie Moore was a king, his age twenty-one,
He courted a damsels fair;
O, her eyes was as bright as the diamonds after night,
And wavy black was her hair.

He courted her both night and day,
'Til to marry they did agree;
But when he came to get her parents consent,
They said it could never be.

She threw herself in Willie Moore's arms,
As oftime had done before;
But little did he think when they parted that night,
Sweet Anna he would see no more.

It was about the tenth of May,
The time I remember well;
That very same night, her body disappeared
In a way no tongue could tell.

Sweet Annie was loved both far and near,
Had friends most all around;
And in a little brook before the cottage door,
The body of sweet Anna was found.

She was taken by her weeping friends,
And carried to her parent's room,
And there she was dressed in a shroud of snowy white,
And laid in a lonely tomb.

Her parents now are left alone,
One mourns while the other one weeps;
And in a grassy mound before the cottage door,
The body of sweet Anna still sleeps.

This song was composed in the flowery West
By a man you may never have seen;
O, I tell you his name, but 'tis not in full,
His initials are J.R.D.


Like "Old Shoes and Leggins" and "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O," "Willie Moore" is a story of courtship. Unlike the previous two songs, however, "Willie Moore" is a tragic tale of heartbreak and suicide. Sweet Anna takes her own life when her parents refuse to let her marry Willie Moore. Curiously, although the song is titled "Willie Moore" and despite his description as a "king" in the first verse, the song really isn't about him at all. Some published versions of the song include a verse missing from Burnett and Rutherford's version. It reads as follows:

Willie Moore never spoke that anyone heard,
And at length from his friends did part,
And the last heard from him, he'd gone to Montreal,
Where he died of a broken heart.


When Paul Wilson reported having met the historical Willie Moore, Moore reportedly stated that "I didn't go to Montreal and die, though, like the song says, I just went to East Texas an' took up preachin' the word."

One of the most curious details of this song is the final verse which gives the initials of the ballad's composer. According to some sources, the initials are "J.R.G." rather than "J.R.D." What the initials stand for, of course, is unknown.

Burnett and Rutherford's recording is particularly notable for the combination of banjo and fiddle, the first time these two instruments have been heard as a duo on the Anthology. Rutherford's performance is particularly excellent, lending the song a pathos lacking in Burnett's declamatory vocals. See the entry for "Old Shoes and Leggins" for more on the fiddle. See the entries for "The House Carpenter" and "The Butcher's Boy" for more on the banjo. This is the second of three songs in a row to feature the fiddle in combination with other instruments. It will not be until "Ommie Wise" that the violin is heard as a solo instrument.

A wonderful version of "Willie Moore" was performed on Elvis Costello's television program, Spectacle, performed by Rufus Wainright and his mother, the late Kate McGarrigle, with Costello and Bill Frisell joining in on guitar.



Here is a version of "Willie Moore" performed on a five-string banjo by Roger McGuinn. His version includes the verse relating how Willie Moore died in Montreal, as well as a verse in which Annie is given a chance to speak for herself. He omits the final verse, however.



Download and listen to Burnett and Rutherford - "Willie Moore"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Old Shoes and Leggins" - Uncle Eck Dunford



Set One: Ballads; Disc One; Track Nine: "Old Shoes and Leggins" performed by Uncle Eck Dunford. "Vocal solo with harmonica, violin, guitar, banjo, autoharp." Recorded in Bristol, TN on October 31, 1928. Original issue Victor V-400608.

Born Alex Dunford in Carroll County, West Virginia in 1878, Uncle Eck Dunford has the distinction of being the first fiddle player to appear on the Anthology. He recorded mainly as a sideman, often with Ernest "Pop" Stoneman, who plays harmonica on this recording (and who appears on the Anthology performing "The Mountaineers Courtship" and "The Spanish Merchant's Daughter"), although he did record occasionally under his own name. It was as a member of Stoneman's Dixie Mountaineers that Dunford recorded at the historic Bristol Sessions in 1927 (a little over a year before "Old Shoes and Leggins" was recorded), where both Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family (who will appear on the Anthology performing "John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man" and several other songs) were first recorded. Dunford was known as a "local character" around Galax, Virgina where he settled, often performing as a member of the Galax based string band, the Bogtrotters. He was reknowned for his vast repository of songs, his unusual tunings, and his eccentric mode of dress (he always appeared in an overcoat and overshoes, even in the heat of summer. In winter, he added pink earmuffs to his ensemble). He died in 1953.

The term "fiddle" can refer to a number of stringed instruments, but in Dunford's case it refers specifically to the violin. The ancestor of all bowed string instruments is usually considered to be the Ravanahatha, an instrument that first appeared in India around 3000 BCE. The technology traveled to China, and then through Central Asia to Europe, where it eventually led to the Byzantine lira. The lira then traveled to Western Europe, leading to the development of the medieval fiddle (the terms lira and fiddle being used interchangeably by 11th and 12th century writers). The medieval fiddle is the ancestor of the modern violin and other members of the violin family.

The violin traveled to the New World with British, French, Dutch, and Spanish settlers and was integrated into the various musical folk traditions. The style of fiddling practiced by Dunford and others in the South-eastern United States derives primarily from British and Irish forms.

There is some disagreement about the precise nature of the personnel on this recording. In Smith's booklet, he reproduces the original label copy, which states that "Old Shoes and Leggins" is a "vocal solo with harmonica, violin, guitar, banjo, autoharp." However, the records kept by the record company, and reproduced in the 1997 reissue of the Anthology, give the personnel as follows: Uncle Eck Dunford, vocal and fiddle; Ernest Stoneman, harmonica; Hattie Stoneman, mandolin; Bolen Frost, banjo." Listening to the song, it does seem that there is a guitar audible. It is possible that Stoneman is playing the guitar with his harmonica in a rack around his neck. If Stoneman's wife, Hattie, is indeed playing the mandolin, it would seem that whoever wrote the copy on the original record label mistook the sound of the mandolin for an autoharp.

"Old Shoes and Leggins" first recorded appearance comes from Scotland in the early 1700s. It remains popular in the British oral tradition, often appearing as "An Old Man Came O'er The Lea" or "With His Grey Beard Newly Shaven." Some observers contend that what Dunford is singing is "with his overshoes on and his leggin's." It is possible. Dunford, who was fifty when the song was recorded, sounds much older, probably due to a lack of teeth. Nevertheless, when I listen to the song, I hear the words "with his old shoes on" rather than "overshoes on." You'll have to listen for yourself and decide.

The song tells the simple story of an old man who comes to court a young woman. His bizarre behavior eventually causes her to reject him.

A man that was old come a-courtin' one day
And the girls wouldn't have him;
He come down the lane on a walkin' cane,
With his old shoes on and his leggin's.

My mother, she told me to give him a chair,
For the girls wouldn't have him;
I gave him a chair and he looked mighty queer,
With his old shoes on and his leggin's.

My mother she told me to hang up his hat,
For the girls wouldn't have him.
I hung up his hat and he kicked at the cat,
With his old shoes on and his leggin's.

My mother she told me to give him some meat,
For the girls wouldn't have him.
I gave him some meat and oh, how he did eat,
With his old shoes on and his leggin's.

My mother she told me to give him the hoe,
For the girls wouldn't have him.
I gave him the hoe and he jumped Jim Crow,
With his old shoes on and his leggin's.

My mother she told me to give him a saw,
For the girls wouldn't have him.
I gave him a saw and he played "Rye Straw,"
With his old shoes on and his leggin's.

My mother she told me to put him to bed,
For the girls wouldn't have him.
I put him to bed and he stood on his head,
With his old shoes on and his leggin's.

My mother she told me to send him away
For the girls wouldn't have him.
I sent him away and he left us to stay
With his old shoes on and his leggin's.


Like "The Wagoner's Lad", "Old Shoes and Leggins" is sung from the point of view of a female protagonist. It is paired with "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O" as both songs deal with courtship. While the frog in the previous song is accepted, however, the old man in this song is eventually sent away. Another reason this song is interesting is the fact that it makes reference to other popular songs and dances. When given the saw, the old man plays "Rye Straw," a well-known fiddle tune. Similarly, when given the hoe, the old man "jump[s] Jim Crow," a reference to the 1828 song and dance routine popularized by blackface performer Daddy Rice. These references solidly ground this version of the song in the American tradition, distinguishing it from its British ancestry.

One detail in the performance of this song that I particularly enjoy, by the way, is the way Dunford pronounces the word "queer" as "quare" in order to rhyme it with "chair."

"Old Shoes and Leggins" has not been recorded many times over the years, and no video was available as the time of this writing. If I find any, I will post it, however.

Here are a couple of videos I've found that illustrate the songs referenced in "Old Shoes and Leggins." The first is a version of "Rye Straw." This is an excellent example of clawhammer banjo picking played by 17-year-old Josh Turner on a fretless, gut-strung (rather than steel-strung) banjo. There are a few little fluffs, but given the age of the performer, this is a remarkable performance...



The second video is a version of "Jump Jim Crow" performed on five-string banjo by Sule Greg Wilson.



Finally, here's a video of fiddler Barry Hall performing a tune on the vielle, a variation of the medieval fiddle referenced above.



Download and listen to Uncle Eck Dunford - "Old Shoes and Leggins"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O" - "Chubby" Parker and His Old Time Banjo


Set One: Ballads; Disc One; Track Eight: "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O" performed by "Chubby" Parker and His Old Time Banjo. "Vocal solo with 5-string banjo and whistling." Recorded in New York on August 13, 1928. Original issue Columbia 15296D (W146878).

Little biographical information exists on Chubby Parker. We don't even know his real first name. He is said to be from Kentucky. During the '20s, however, Parker was a popular figure thanks to his appearances on "the National Barn Dance" radio program, broadcast on WLS out of Chicago. If his other Columbia recordings are any indication, Parker specialized in good-natured rural hokum. His biggest hit was titled "Nickety Nackety Now Now Now."

"King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O" is a variation of "Frog Went A-Courting" or "Froggie Went A-Courtin'." Folklorist Steve Roud of Maresfield, East Sussex includes 640 variations of this song in his index as Roud 16. The earliest recorded appearance of this song is in Wedderburn's Complaynt of Scotland (1548) under the name "The frog came to the myl dur." While many texts of this ballad exist (including a 1580 version cited by Smith in his liner notes), the earliest version with musical notation dates to 1611. According to some sources, the song was originally a satire of Fran├žois, the Duke of Anjou's wooing of Elizabeth I of England.

The song tells the story of a frog who courts a mouse, but first must overcome her other suitors.

Frog went a courtin' and he did ride.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.
With a sword and a pistol by his side.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.

Ki-mo-ke-mo ki-mo-ke.
Way down yonder in a hollow tree.
An owl and a bat and a bumble bee.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.

He rode ’til he came to Miss Mouse’s door.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.
And there he knelt upon the floor.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.

Ki-mo-ke-mo ki-mo-ke.
Way down yonder in a hollow tree.
An owl and a bat and a bumble bee.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.

He took Miss Mouse upon his knee.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.
And he said little mouse will you marry me.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.

Ki-mo-ke-mo ki-mo-ke.
Way down yonder in a hollow tree.
An owl and a bat and a bumble bee.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.

Miss Mouse had suitors three or four.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.
And there they came right in the door.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.

Ki-mo-ke-mo ki-mo-ke.
Way down yonder in a hollow tree.
An owl and a bat and a bumble bee.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.

They grabbed Mr. Frog and began to fight.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.
In the hollow tree 'twas a terrible night.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.

Ki-mo-ke-mo ki-mo-ke.
Way down yonder in a hollow tree.
An owl and a bat and a bumble bee.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.

Mr. Frog hurled the suitors to the floor.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.
With the sword and the pistol he killed all four.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.

Ki-mo-ke-mo ki-mo-ke.
Way down yonder in a hollow tree.
An owl and a bat and a bumble bee.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.

They went to the parson the very next day.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.
And left on their honeymoon right away.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.

Ki-mo-ke-mo ki-mo-ke.
Way down yonder in a hollow tree.
An owl and a bat and a bumble bee.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.

Now they live far off in a hollow tree.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.
And they now have wealth and children three.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o

Ki-mo-ke-mo ki-mo-ke.
Way down yonder in a hollow tree.
An owl and a bat and a bumble bee.
King kong kitchie kitchie ki-me-o.


In his liner notes for the "Ballads" section of the Anthology, Smith writes a short summary of each song. One of the most famous is the humorous summary Smith wrote for this song: "Zoologic miscegeny achieved in mouse frog nuptuals , relatives approve." While funny, the summary Smith writes does not refer specifically to this version of the song. No mention is ever made of their relatives approving of the marriage. In other versions of the song, however, the following line appears:

Their friends and relations gave their consent
And the weasel wrote the publishment.


Clearly, Smith decided that he would have his joke even if this line (or one like it) didn't appear in this version of the song.

This is the second song on the Anthology, after "Old Lady and the Devil," to feature a nonsense verse.

Parker sings the song in a high, almost plaintive voice. His banjo picking is good, but not spectacular. It's far from a virtuoso performance, yet it works because it's fun. When I first heard the Anthology, this was one of the first songs I committed to memory. I sang "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O" to my then infant nephew and have since sung it to my daughter. It endures because it is a fun song to sing.

It is interesting that the song maintains its innocence and its childlike nature in spite of the violence of the fifth and sixth verses. That may be because of the "cartoonish" nature of that violence. As in a typical Road Runner or Bugs Bunny cartoon, there are no consequences for the killing of Miss Mouse's suitors. Of course, the battle between the frog and the suitors calls to mind the end of The Odyssey .

See the entries on "The House Carpenter" and "The Butcher's Boy" for more on the banjo.

Here's a performance of "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O" by a ukulele player named Todd (he is accompanied by an off-screen banjo).




Download and listen to Chubby Parker - "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O"

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"The Wagoner's Lad (Loving Nancy)" - Buell Kazee



Set One: Ballads; Disc One; Track Seven: "The Wagoner's Lad (Loving Nancy)" performed by Buell Kazee. "Vocal solo with 5-string banjo." Recorded in New York on January 18, 1928. Original issue Brunswick 213B (064).

See "The Butcher's Boy (The Railroad Boy)" for biographical information on Buell Kazee.

Recorded two days after "The Butcher's Boy (The Railroad Boy)" and released on the B-side of the same disc, "The Wagoner's Lad (Loving Nancy)" is not a ballad in the strictest sense. According to Smith's liner notes, the song is "of the type classified by H.M. Belden as folk-lyrics." Here, Smith cites Henry Marvin Belden (1865-1954), an English professor who compiled a definitive study of ballads found in the state of Missouri, where he taught beginning in 1895. Published in 1940, Ballads and songs collected by the Missouri folk-lore society includes many songs that Smith included in his Anthology, including "The Wagoner's Lad."

The lyrics of "The Wagoner's Lad" contain many "floating" word-clusters, some of which will be heard in other selections on the Anthology, including "The Coo Coo Bird," "East Virginia" (also performed by Kazee), "Sugar Baby," and "Country Blues." Like "The Wagoner's Lad,' all of these songs have five-string banjo accompaniment. According to Smith's liner notes, this "suggests that this type of compositional compounding developed between 1850-1875."

While not technically a ballad, "The Wagoner's Lad" approaches the ballad form through the unity of its narrative. It tells the story of a girl whose parents disapprove of her love for a poor boy. It is sometimes recorded under the titles "Loving Nancy" and "My Horses Ain't Hungry."

The heart is the fortune of all womankind.
They're always controlled, they're always confined.
Controlled by their parents until they are wives,
Then slaves to their husbands the rest of their lives.

I've been a poor girl, my fortune is sad.
I've always been courted by the wagoner's lad.
He courted me daily, by night and by day,
And now he is loaded and going away.

"Your parents don't like me because I am poor.
They say I'm not worthy of entering your door.
I work for my living, my money's my own,
And if they don't like me they can leave me alone."

"Your horses are hungry, go feed them some hay.
Come sit down here by me as long as you may."
"My horses ain't hungry, they won't eat your hay.
So fare you well darling, I'll be on the way."

"Your wagon needs greasing, your whip is to mend.
Come here down beside me as long as you can."
"My wagon is greasy, my whip's in my hand.
So fare you well darling, no longer to stand."


"The Wagoner's Lad" is unique among the selections on the Anthology up until this point in that it is the first to be sung from a woman's point of view. Moreover, Smith pairs this song with "The Butcher's Boy (The Railroad Boy)" because these two songs are the first on the Anthology to depict women in a sympathetic light. The women in these two songs are victims, unlike the murderesses of "Henry Lee" and "Fatal Flower Garden," the faithless women of "The House Carpenter" and "Drunkard's Special," and the shrewish wife of "Old Lady and the Devil." This more sympathetic view of women and their lot is reflected in the first line on the song. Kazee sings the first line as "the heart is the fortune of all womankind." This differs significantly from other published versions of the song, which render the line "Oh hard is the fortune of all womenkind."

The girl in this song's fortune is, indeed, hard. Her parents forbid her to marry the wagoner's lad of the song's title. Despite this, she tries her best to detain him. For all of her trying, however, he refuses to stay. While her fate is not as tragic as the female protagonist in "The Butcher's Boy," there is still a note of tragedy in her tale. She is not free to make her own decisions, nor is her lover willing to defy her parent's wishes. She is literally stuck in the middle between an irresistible force and an immovable object.

Here's a lovely unaccompanied version of "The Wagoner's Lad" performed by Sarah McQuaid at the Old Brewery in Scotland on February 8, 2008...



Download and listen to Buell Kazee - "The Wagoner's Lad (Loving Nancy)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"The Butcher's Boy (The Railroad Boy)" - Buell Kazee



Set One: Ballads; Disc One; Track Six: "The Butcher's Boy (The Railroad Boy)" performed by Buell Kazee. "Vocal solo with 5-string banjo." Recorded in New York on January 16, 1928. Original issue Brunswick 213A (032).

Buell Kazee was born in Burton's Fork, Kentucky in 1900. Unlike most of the musicians whose recordings were included in the Anthology, Kazee had a formal education. He graduated high school and studied English, Greek, and Latin at Georgetown University. He also received formal musical instruction, which is evident in his precise clawhammer style on the banjo (see the entry on "The House Carpenter" for more information on the origin of the banjo).

"Clawhammer" picking is distinguished from other traditional finger-picking styles (such as the "Scruggs" style) in that it is primarily a down-picking style. The hand is formed in the shape of a claw with the strumming finger kept fairly stiff. The strings are stuck my the movement of the wrist or elbow. "In its most common form on the banjo, only the thumb and middle or index finger are used and the finger always downpicks, hitting the string with the back of the fingernail or a pick." (Wikipedia)

Kazee began recording for Brunswick in 1927, eventually recording 58 songs for the label over the next two years, including this version of "The Butcher's Boy." He ceased recording during the Depression, instead devoting himself to the ministry. The release of the Anthology in 1952 led to his eventual rediscovery and a second career in the late '50s and '60s. He recorded Buell Kazee Sings and Plays for Folkways in 1958. During the '60s, he made numerous appearances at folk festivals (including the Newport Folk Festival), often in the company of fellow Anthology artists like Clarence Ashley and Dock Boggs. In 1975, Kazee was recorded by folklorist Art Rosenbaum. A recording of Kazee performing an instrumental version of "Big Foot Feller" can be heard on the first volume of The Art of Field Recording. He died in 1976.

"The Butcher's Boy" is the first ballad to appear on this set not cataloged by Child. According Smith's notes, the song is an amalgam of "The Cruel Father" and "There Is An Alehouse in Yonder Town." Both songs date to 18th century Britain, but their combination into a single song seems to be a product of America. The song is typically known as a "Broadside ballad." Broadside ballads were popular songs printed on large sheets of paper, folded into pamphlets, and sold by street vendors. The earliest Broadsides did not feature musical notation, but often stated that the song could be sung to another popular tune. Since many early Broadsides were printed using Black Letter type, they are sometimes referred to as "Black Letter Ballads."

"The Butcher's Boy" is also the first ballad on the Anthology cataloged by George Malcolm Laws (b. 1919). Laws is the author of American Balladry from British Broadsides published in 1957. He cataloged a wide range of songs, including songs excluded by Child and those discovered after Child's death. Laws' system is a coded cataloging system which gives each selection a letter and a number. The letters separate the songs by category. A brief example follows:

* J War ballads
* K Ballads of sailors and the sea
* L Ballads of crime and criminals
* M Ballads of family opposition to lovers
* N Ballads of lovers' disguises and tricks
* O Ballads of faithful lovers
* P Unfaithful lovers
* Q Humorous and miscellaneous

The letters A through H indicate ballads that have their origin in America, while J through Q indicate ballads taken from British Broadsides. "The Butcher's Boy" is Laws P24.

"The Butcher's Boy" tells the tragic tale of a young girl who commits suicide after being jilted by her lover. Her father finds her dead body, along with a note dictating her final wishes.


She went upstairs to make her bed,
And not one word to her mother said.
Her mother she went upstairs too,
Says "Daughter, dear daughter, what troubles you?"

"Oh mother, oh mother, I cannot tell,
That Railroad Boy I love so well.
He's courted me my life away,
and now at home he will not stay."

"There is a place in London town,
Where that Railroad Boy goes and sits down.
He takes that strange girl on his knee
And he tells to her what he won’t tell me."

Her father he came in from work
And says, "Where’s daughter? She seems so hurt."
He went upstairs to give her hope
But found her hanging on a rope.

He took his knife and cut her down,
And in her bosom these words he found:

"Go dig my grave both wide and deep.
Place a marble slab at my head and feet.
And over my coffin place a snow white dove
To warn this world that I died for love."


Unlike many of the other ballads on this set, Kazee sings in a highly sentimental style, underlining the tragic nature of the song. Note that while the song is titled "The Butcher's Boy," Kazee refers to the unnamed girl's lover as the "Railroad Boy." On the 1958 Folkways LP, Buell Kazee Sings and Plays, Kazee explains this in the spoken introduction to "The Butcher's Boy":

"The Butcher's Boy," of course, is the original ballad in England and that's the title that is known among people who deal in folk songs a good deal. But in this country, especially in the Kentucky mountains, it became "The Railroad Boy." Railroads, when the railroads began to go up the valley - the Sandy Valley - and east Virgina boarder and all that, became quite a romantic thing to the mountaineer's mind, y'know. They got to singing "railroad," and for instance in that song you have "there is a place in London town where the Butcher's Boy goes and sits down." Well, they sang it, "there is a place in Lebanon town where the Railroad Boy goes and sits down." Well, Lebanon is down here in Kentucky and happens to be a railroad junction, a place where two roads come together, a division is, you see. Well, that probably was known to somebody who sang the song and he got it in there. Well, it had such an influence on me, I sang it all my life as "railroad boy," and I heard my older sister sing that. And when I got to New York to record it, I knew we were going to record "The Butcher's Boy" and we wanted to record "The Butcher's Boy" because that was the way it was known in England, and that's the way its known in America a lot. But in spite of all I could do, even though we called it "The Butcher's Boy," when I got to the verse where it was supposed to be, I called it "the Railroad Boy." (Laughs)

The trope of the dead or dying dictating their last wishes (particularly their burial arrangements) was last heard on this set in "Fatal Flower Garden."

The other side of the Brunswick release of "The Butcher's Boy (The Railroad Boy)" was "The Wagoner's Lad (Loving Nancy)" which appears as the next selection on the Anthology.

I should note that the Anthology has inspired several tribute albums, including the recent Harry Smith Project. This set features a selection of highlights from several all-star concerts at which notable artists (Lou Reed, Beck, Steve Earl, etc.) perform songs from the Anthology. Particularly notable is Elvis Costello's performance of "The Butcher's Boy."



Download and listen to Buell Kazee - The Butcher's Boy (The Railroad Boy)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Old Lady and the Devil" - Bill and Belle Reed



Set One: Ballads; Disc One; Track Five: "Old Lady and the Devil" performed by Bill and Belle Reed. "Vocal solo with guitar." Recorded in Johnson City, TN on October 17, 1928. Original issue Columbia 15336D (W147211).

Another mystery. Bill and Belle Reed made just three recordings at their sole recording session in Johnson City, Tennessee during the fall of 1928. Almost nothing else is known of them. Some scholars theorize that they came from Virgina or Kentucky. Much more is known of the October, 1928 session at which they recorded. The session was supervised by Frank Buckley Walker, who headed Columbia Records' "hillbilly" division. Like Ralph Peer at Victor, Walker was an early proponent of major record companies doing "field recordings," rather than bringing talent back to major cities to record. The Johnson City sessions captured a number of talented artists who might otherwise have never had the opportunity to record, such as the Shell Creek Quartet, the Grant Brothers, the Roane County Ramblers, Renus Rich and Charles Bradshaw, Clarence Greene, the Wise Brothers, Ira Yates, Uncle Nick Decker, the Proximity String Quartet, Hardin and Grindstaff, the Greensboro Boys Quartet, Richard Harold, Charlie Bowman and His Brothers, the Bowman Sisters, the Hodges Brothers, the Hodges Quartet, Bailey Briscoe, Robert Hoke and Vernal Vest, McVay and Johnson, Earl Shipley and Roy Harper, George Roark, the Ed Helton Singers, the Garland Brothers and Grindstaff, Dewey Golden and His Kentucky Buzzards, the Holiness Singers, Frank Shelton and the McCartt Brothers/Patterson.

A follow up to this session held in Johnson City in 1929 yielded Clarence Ashley's recording of "The Coo Coo Bird," which appears later on this set.

Since both Bill and Belle Reed are credited, it can be assumed that both performed on this recording. Bill sings, which implies (since only one guitar is audible) that Belle played guitar. Belle Reed is often confused with Ola Belle Reed who made several later recordings.

"Old Lady and the Devil" is a version of Child 278, "The Farmer's Curst Wife," two versions of which were cataloged by Child. Like "Drunkard's Special," "Old Lady and the Devil" is a comic piece which tells the story of a farmer's wife who is abducted by Satan with humorous consequences.

There was an old man lived at the foot of the hill, if he ain't moved way he's a living there still. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

He hitched up his hogs(!) and went out to plow, and how he got around we never knew how. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

Old Devil come to him in the field one day, saying one or your family I'm a gonna take a away. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

Take her home take her home with the joy of my heart. I hope by Golly, you'll never part. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

Old Devil got her all up on his back. He looked like a peddler with a hump on this back. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

Old Devil got to the forks of the road. He said, old lady you're a hell of a load. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

Old Devil got to the gates of hell, said punch the fire up we'll scorch her well. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

Out come a little devil a dragging a chain, she picked up a hatchet and split out his brain. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

Out come a little devil skating on a wall, said take her back daddy she's a murdering us all. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

Little devil was a-peeping out the crack said take her home daddy, don't you bring he back. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

The old man was peeping out the crack he seen the old Devil come wagging her back. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

The old man lay sick in the bed. She upped with a butter stick and paddled his head. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

Old lady went whistlin' over the hill, said the Devil won't have me and I don't know who will. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

Now you see what a woman can do. She can out do the Devil and the old man too. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

Old lady went whistlin' over the hill, said the Devil won't have me and I don't know who will. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

The old man was peeping out the crack he seen the old Devil come wagging her back. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

The old man lay sick in the bed. She upped with a butter stick and paddled his head. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.

Now you see what a woman can do. She can out do the Devil and the old man too. Singing Faaa-diddle-diddle-a-Faaa-diddle-a-diddle-a-daaay.


The henpecked husband of this story gives his shrewish wife to the Devil, who arbitrarily shows up to abduct a member of the household. The Devil quickly discovers that the Old Woman is too much for him to handle, and he returns her to her chagrined husband. There are several images in this version of the song that I quite like: The "little devils" who bear the brunt of the Old Woman's rage; the fact that both the the Old Man and the little devils are depicted as "peeping"; I also enjoy the fact that Reed keeps singing the song for several verses after the story has been told. This makes the story almost incidental to the performance. As in many other performances by poor whites during this period, the signing style is unemotional to the point where you begin to question whether the singer had ever given any thought to the words he sings. Belle Reed's guitar playing is rough and primitive, which makes this performance even more enjoyable.

"Old Lady and the Devil", along with "Drunkard's Special", is the second of two comic songs in a row. Both songs feature put-upon husbands with cruel or misbehaving wives. Both songs depict the wives getting the better of their husbands, despite the husbands' best efforts to the contrary. As much as Smith enjoyed placing songs with similar themes side by side, he also juxtaposed songs with contrasting themes. Following this two-song break, Smith returns to tragedy with the next selection, "The Butcher's Boy."

Looking around online, I found this excellent performance of "Old Lady and the Devil" performed on a Gold Tone MM150 long neck banjo. The performer is only identified as mrpedersen9. Whoever he is, he's wonderful and I wanted to share his performance...



Quick personal note: As I listened to this song again today (a song I've listened to literally hundreds of times), I began to realize that the story seemed more than a bit familiar to me. It hit me that I had read a children's book on this very subject as a kid. Searching a bit online, I found the book: It's called Even the Devil is Afraid of a Shrew. It was "retold by Valerie Stalder, adapted by Ray Broekel and illustrated by Richard Brown. Published 1972 by Addison-Wesley." An illustration from the book can be seen here.

Download and listen to Bill and Belle Reed - Old Lady and the Devil

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Drunkard's Special" - Coley Jones



Set One: Ballads; Disc One; Track Four: "Drunkard's Special" performed by Coley Jones. "Vocal solo with guitar." Recorded in Dallas on December 6, 1929. Original issue Columbia 14489D (W149558).

Who was Coley Jones? Very little is known. No birth or death date has surfaced. Yet he made seventeen recordings for Columbia Records between 1927 and 1929, both as a solo act and as a member of the Dallas String Band. We do know, however, that Jones, like the other members of the Dallas String Band, was African American and that he got his start in minstrel shows. Jones has the distinction of being the first African American musician to appear on the Anthology, although Smith makes no mention of this anywhere in his notes (indeed, Smith was careful to never identify any artist on the Anthology by race). Jones and the Dallas String Band can be heard on the Old Hat collection Good For What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows, 1926-1937 performing "The Hokum Blues," including a spoken introduction in which Jones tells a joke about losing his voice in jail ("I was always behind a few bars and couldn't get a key.")

By the sound of his voice, we can infer that Jones was fairly advanced in years when he made this recording. Still, his performance is buoyant and full of good humor, likely an echo of his performing style in the minstrel and medicine shows.

"Drunkard's Special" is a version of Child 274, "Our Goodman," a bawdy tale of cuckoldry.

First night when I went home
Drunk as I could be,
There's another mule in the stable
Where my mule oughta be.

Come here, honey.

Explain yourself to me.
How come another mule in the stable
Where my mule oughta be.

"O crazy, O silly
Can't you plainly see?
That's nothing but a milk cow
Where your mule oughta be."

I've traveled this world over
Million times or more.
Saddle on a milk cow's back
I've never seen before.

Second night when I got home
Drunk as I could be,
There's another coat on the coat rack
Where my coat oughta be.

Come here, honey.

Explain this thing to me.
How come another coat on the coat rack
where my coat oughta be?

"O crazy, O silly,
Can't you plainly see?
Nothing but a bed quilt
Where your coat oughta be."

I've traveled this world over
Million times or more.
Pockets in a bed quilt
I've never seen before.

Third night when I went home
Drunk as I could be,
There's another head on the pillow
Where my head oughta be.

Come here, honey. C'mere.

Explain this thing to me.
How come another head on the pillow
Where my head oughta be?

"O crazy, O silly,
Can't you plainly see?
That's nothing but a cabbage head
That your grandma sent to me."

I've traveled this world over,
Million times or more.
Hair on a cabbage head
I've never seen before.


"Our Goodman" is sometimes known as "The Merry Cuckold and His Kind Wife" and "Three Nights Drunk." (See volume one of Art Rosenbaum's The Art of Field Recording for a version sung by Rosenbaum's father, learned on the streets of Paterson, New Jersey.) In his notes, Smith says that "the song is also found in other parts of Europe, the Gaelic, Flemish, French and German forms probably deriving from the English and the Scandinavian and Magyar from the German." Unlike the first three selections in the "Ballads" set, "Drunkard's Special" is a comic piece. It acts as a form of comic relief after the rather heavy subject matter of "Henry Lee," "Fatal Flower Garden," and "The House Carpenter." Smith pairs "Drunkard's Special" with "Old Lady and the Devil," another comic piece that bears a punchline.

Here's a funny performance of "Drunkard's Special" featuring some very hot steel guitar by Brooklyn's the Wiyos. Check out the Monty Python overtones in the string bassist's performance as the unfaithful wife...



Download and listen to Coley Jones - "Drunkard's Special"

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"The House Carpenter" - Clarence Ashley



Set One: Ballads; Disc One; Track Three: "The House Carpenter" performed by Clarence Ashley. "Vocal solo with 5-string banjo." Recorded in Atlanta on April 14, 1930. Original issue Columbia 15654D (W194982).

Born Clarence Earl McCurry in Bristol, Tennessee in 1895, Ashley (his mother's maiden name) was a veteran of the medicine shows that criss-crossed the American landscape in the late 19th and early 20th century. He began his recording career in the late '20s as a member of the Blue Ridge Mountain Entertainers and later as a member of the Carolina Tar Heels (the Tar Heels will be heard later in this set performing "Peg and Awl"). He first recorded under his own name in 1929 (a session that yielded "The Coo Coo Bird," heard on volume three ("Songs") of this set). A hand injury sidelined Ashley's recording and performing career during the 1940s, forcing him into manual labor and farming as a means of support. The release of the Anthology in the early '50s eventually led to his rediscovery and a second career recording and performing at colleges, festivals and nightclubs. Ashley can be seen sharing the stage with a young Bob Dylan in footage of Dylan's 1963 Newport Folk Festival appearance taken by Murray Lerner. He died in 1967. Among his other accomplishment, Ashley is commonly cited as having made the very first recording of "The House of the Rising Sun" in 1933 and with popularizing the hymn "Amazing Grace" during his rediscovery in the '60s.

"The House Carpenter" is a version of Child 243, "James Harris (The Daemon Lover)," a cautionary tale in which the ghost of a dead sailor revenges himself on his unfaithful lover.

Well met, well met said an old true love.
Well met, well met said he.
I'm just returning from the salt salt sea and it's all for the love of thee.

Come in, come in my old true love,
And have a seat with me.
It's been three-fourths of a long long year since together we have been.

Well, I can't come in or I can't sit down,
For I haven't but a moment's time.
They say you're married to a house carpenter and your heart will never be mine.

Now it's I coulda married a king's daughter, dear.
I'm sure she'da married me.
But I've forsaken her crowns of gold and it's all for the love of thee.

Now will you forsaken your house carpenter
And go along with me?
I'll take you where the grass grows green on the banks of the deep blue sea.

She picked up here little babe
And kisses gave him three.
Says stay right here my little darling babe and keep your papa company.

Well they hadn't been on ship but about two weeks
I'm sure it wasn't three.
When his true love began to weep and mourn and she weeped most bitterly.

Says are you a-weepin' for my silver or my gold?
Says are you weeping for my store?
Are you weeping for that house carpenter whose face you'll never see any more?

No it's I'm not a-weepin' for your silver or your gold
Or neither for your store.
I am weeping for my darling little babe whose face I'll never see any more.

Well they hadn't been on ship but about three weeks
I'm sure it wasn't four.
'Til they sprung a leak in the bottom of the ship and they sunk a-for to rise no more.


While Ashley's high voice and emotionless reading, together with his clawhammer banjo style, serve to create an eerie atmosphere in his recording of "The House Carpenter," the lyrics make no mention of ghosts. Indeed, in his liner notes Smith mentions that the "supernatural theme" in "The House Carpenter" has "disappeared almost completely in America."

When Bob Dylan recorded his version (simply titled "House Carpenter") for inclusion on his debut album (unissued until the 1993 release of The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3), he included a spoken introduction which made the supernatural theme explicit:

This is the story of a ghost come back from out at sea. Come to take his bride away from a house carpenter.


Dylan's version also includes two stanzas which are at least similar to some of the variations of "James Harris (The Daemon Lover)" cataloged by Child, again making the supernatural theme plain to the listener.

"Oh, what are those hills yonder, my love?
They look as white as snow."
"Those are the hills of heaven, my love,
That you and I'll never know."

"Oh, what are those hills yonder, my love?
They look as dark as night."
"Those are the hills of hell-fire, my love,
Where you and I will unite."


Absent these lines, the American version of "The House Carpenter" is merely a tragic tale of doomed love rather than a haunting story of revenge. One question that remains unanswered is this: Why has the ballad's title shifted from that of the ghost/lover (James Harris in most of Child's versions, unnamed in Ashley's recording) to the occupation of the husband, a character who never appears in this version of the ballad?

Good as Justice and Nelstone's Hawaiians were, Ashley's performance is the first truly great performance on the Anthology. Being a professional entertainer, Ashley brings a level of excellence to his music heretofore unheard on this set. It would not be the last time, however...

"The House Carpenter" marks the first appearance of the banjo on the Anthology. The banjo was developed by African slaves who fashioned gourd-bodied instruments similar to ones used in Africa. One of the most likely direct ancestors of the modern banjo is the akonting, found in Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau in West Africa. The name "banjo" is believed to be derived from the Kimbundu word mbanza, which may have referred to the bamboo stick used for the instrument's neck. Early observers transcribed the name of the instrument as bangie, banza, banjer and banjar.

While the banjo was originally associated with African-Americans, it soon found its way into the hands of American whites, originally through blackface minstrelsy, which was the first American mass entertainment. Through minstrelsy, the banjo was introduced to Britain where it became hugely popular. Minstrelsy eventually fed the various streams and tributaries of American music, contributing equally to the development of ragtime, jazz, blues and country music. That an instrument invented by African slaves eventually found its way into the hands of a white musician performing a version of an Anglo-Celtic folk song is therefore not surprising. Eventually, both the fiddle and the banjo (which had strong African American roots) became virtually the exclusive province of country and bluegrass.

Here's a cool version of "The House Carpenter" performed by the British folk-rock band Pentangle during a 1970 appearance on the BBC. Interesting use of both banjo and sitar (another gourd-bodied resonating instrument)!



Download and listen to Clarence Ashley - "The House Carpenter"