Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Way Down The Old Plank Road" - Uncle Dave Macon


Set Three: Songs; Disc Two; Track Eight: "Way Down The Old Plank Road" performed by Uncle Dave Macon. "Vocal solo and banjo with guitar by Sam McGee." Recorded in New York on April 14, 1926. Original issue Vocalion B15321 (53).

David Harrison Macon, better known as Uncle Dave Macon or The Dixie Dewdrop, was born on October 7, 1870 in Smartt Station, Tennessee to Confederate Captain John Macon and Marsha Ramsey. In 1884, the family relocated to Nashville, Tennessee where Macon's parents ran the Old Broadway Hotel, a frequent stop for vaudeville and circus performers. In 1885, Macon learned to play the banjo from a circus comedian named Joel Davidson. In 1886, Macon's father was murdered outside the hotel. Macon's mother sold the hotel and moved the family to Readyville, Tennessee where she ran a stagecoach stop. Macon entertained passengers with his banjo on a home-made stage.

Macon married in 1889 and settled on a farm near Kittrell, Tennessee where he raised his family, which came to include six sons. Around 1900, Macon started his own business, a freight company called The Macon Midway Mule and Wagon Transportation Company which ran between Murfreesboro and Woodbury, Tennessee. Macon often sang and played banjo at stops along the way. In time, his sons joined the business, but competition from automobiles forced Macon to close down his business in 1920.

Macon began his professional musical career in 1921 when he played a local Methodist church benefit show. He was discovered by Marcus Loew in 1923 while performing for a group of Shriners in Nashville. Loew hired Macon to perform at a Loew's Theater in Alabama, which quickly lead to more bookings. At the age of 50, Macon embarked on a career as a touring entertainer.

On July 8, 1924, Macon cut his first records for Vocalion. The records proved popular, and Macon recorded prolifically into the late '30s. He also made recordings for Okeh and Bluebird. In 1925, Macon met guitarist Sam McGee who would become Macon's performing partner, and was also a member (along with brother Kirk McGee and Mazy Todd) of Macon's band The Fruit Jar Drinkers.

On December 26, 1925, Macon made his debut on the recently formed WSM radio station, soon to be home of the Grand Ole Oprey. Macon remained a regular presence on WSM and frequent guest on the Grand Ole Oprey for the next twenty-six years. In 1940, Macon appeared in the Republic Pictures film The Grand Ole Oprey, along with Oprey founder George D. Hay, Roy Acuff, and Macon's son Dorris, who was acting as Macon's accompanist at the time. The late 1940s found Macon touring with Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs, although Macon was not personally impressed with the new Bluegrass style.

Macon continued to perform regularly until March 1, 1952, when his health began to fail. He died on March 22, 1952 in Murfreesboro. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966 and his son, Dorris, along with Sam and Kirk McGee, continued to appear on the Grand Ole Oprey was the Fruit Jar Drinkers until the early '80s. A monument has been erected to Macon's memory, and Murfreesboro, Tennessee hosts "Uncle Dave Macon Days" each year, featuring contests of clogging, buck dancing, fiddling, singing, and banjo picking.

Macon is one of the oldest performers to be featured on the Anthology and is often cited as the link between old time folk and vaudeville music and modern country music.

"Way Down The Old Plank Road" is a song about life on a chain gang.


Hot dog, buddy let's go!

Rather be in Richmond in all the hail and rain,
Then for to be in Georgia, boys, wearing that ball and chain.

Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road.

Whoooo!

I went down to Mobile for to get on the gravel train.
Very next thing they heard of me, had on a ball and chain.

Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road.

Whoooooo!

Doney, oh dear Doney, what makes you treat me so?
Caused me to wear the ball and chain and now my ankles sore.

Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road.

Glory hallelujah, there!

Knoxville is a pretty place, Memphis is a beauty,
If you want to see them pretty girls, hop to Chattanoogie.

Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road.

Glory hallelujah, there!
Fare you well, I'm gone!

I'm going to build me a scaffold on the mountain high,
So I can see my Nora (?) girl as she goes riding by.

Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road.

Whooo!

My wife died a Friday night, Saturday she was buried,
Sunday was my courting day, Monday I got married.

Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road.

Kill yourself!

Eighteen pounds of meat a week, whiskey here to sell.
How can a young man stay at home, pretty girls look so well?

Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Won't get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road.

Whooooo!
Fare you well!


"Way Down The Old Plank Road" is a perfect introduction to the force of nature that was Uncle Dave Macon. Although in his 50s when he began his career as a professional performer, Macon performs with the verve and energy of a man half his age. Characteristic of Macon's style, along with his exuberant banjo picking, were shouts, asides and stomping feet. Indeed, Macon stands out as by far the greatest showman on the Anthology.

"Way Down The Old Plank Road" tells no story and only alludes to the chain gang (with references to "wearing the ball and chain") rather than being an explicit prisoner's lament (unlike several of the tracks which appeared earlier on this disc). Instead, Macon alternates references to the chain gang with unrelated floating verses. The fifth verse contains a similar lyric to that which opens Clarence Ashley's recording of "The Coo Coo Bird."

One of the best moments in this recording is Macon's cry of "Kill yourself!" following the humorous verse about the speaker's widowhood and rapid remarriage.

This is the first of two Uncle Dave Macon recordings in a row. Two more Uncle Dave Macon recordings appear on the "lost" fourth volume of the Anthology.

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Here's the Lost Mountain String Band performing a version of "Way Down The Old Plank Road."



Download and listen to Uncle Dave Macon - "Way Down The Old Plank Road"

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