Monday, November 1, 2010

"Governor Al Smith" - Uncle Dave Macon


Set Four: The "Lost" Volume; Disc Two; Track Six: "Governor Al Smith" performed by Uncle Dave Macon. Recorded in Chicago on July 26, 1928.

For biographical information on Uncle Dave Macon, see the entry on "Way Down The Old Plank Road."

Alfred Emmanuel Smith (December 30, 1873-October 4, 1944) was the four-time Governor of the State of New York who ran unsuccessfully for President of the United States in 1928. His opponent was Herbert Hoover, who had served as Secretary of Commerce in the Calvin Coolidge administration. In 1928, the United States was experiencing an unprecedented economic boom, for which the administrations of Coolidge and Harding had taken credit. This unprecedented boom was to end with the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which would lead to an equally unprecedented economic crisis. The nation's prosperity in 1928, coupled with anti-Catholic sentiments aimed at Smith, ensured that Hoover would defeat Smith in the general election. One of the planks in Smith's platform was the repeal of prohibition. Smith was succeeded as Governor of New York by future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

"Governor Al Smith" is a direct endorsement of Smith by Uncle Dave Macon, a remarkable thing considering that Smith was both a northerner and a Catholic.

Gettin' right now.

Al Smith nominated for president, darlin'.
Al Smith nominated for president, darlin'.
Al Smith nominated for president,
My vote to him I'm a-gonna present, darlin'.

Al Smith is a mighty fine man, darlin'.
Al Smith is a mighty fine man, darlin'.
Al Smith is a mighty fine man,
He wants to be president of our land, darlin'.

Hot dog! In Chicago, just from Tennessee, and here's what the people say:

Al Smith is a-gettin' on a boom, darlin'.
Al Smith is a-gettin' on a boom, darlin'.
Al Smith is a-gettin' on a boom, darlin.'
Al Smith is a-gettin' on a boom.
He don't favor the open saloon, darlin'.

Smith wants everything to be just right, darlin'.
Smith wants everything to be just right, darlin'.
Smith wants everything to be just right.
The law's gonna get you if you get tight, darlin'.

I'm gonna buy my little camphor gum, darlin'.
I'm gonna buy my little camphor gum, darlin'.
I'm gonna buy my little camphor gum,
For then I think I can buy a little rum, darlin'.

Moonshine's been here long enough, darlin'.
Moonshine's been here long enough, darlin'.
Moonshine's been here long enough,
Let's all vote right and get a-rid of this stuff, darlin'.

Many a good man's been poisoned to death, darlin'.
Many a good man's been poisoned to death, darlin.'
Many a good man's been poisoned to death,
And a-with real drink was never blessed, darlin'.

There's a-four dollar bills and a bottle of beer, darlin'.
Four dollar bills and a bottle of beer, darlin'.
Four dollar bills and a bottle of beer,
Wish to the lord my honey was here, darlin'.


Macon's performance of "Governor Al Smith," which likely recycles the melody of an old folk tune, is more subdued than the other tracks of his that have appeared on the Anthology. Even his characteristic opening remark seems relatively understated. As for Macon's endorsement of Smith, he seems primarily interested in Smith's desire to overturn prohibition. Six of the eight verses deal with alcohol. It is clear that, more than anything else, Macon wants a drink.

Is it too much to suppose that Harry Smith chose to include this track, in part, because it concerns a namesake of his?

"Governor Al Smith," which once again features the guitar of Sam McGee, is the type of song that Harry Smith would never have used on the original three-volume Anthology. While many of the songs on the original three volumes could be described as "topical," none of them describe a current event. Although things like the sinking of the Titanic or the assassination of William McKinley were relatively recent history to the artists on the Anthology - many of these events happening within the artist's lifetime - the two Uncle Dave Macon tracks presented on "Volume Four" represent something completely different. The previous selection, "The Wreck of the Tennessee Gravy Train," commented on a current event. But "Governor Al Smith" goes that track one further: It actually attempts to influence the outcome of a future event. That it was unsuccessful is unimportant. What is important is that the difference of these tracks further underlines the distinction of "Volume Four" from the first three volumes of the set. Once again, the music of "Volume Four" concerns itself with the present and future rather than the past.

Macon would refer to Al Smith's defeat in a later song titled "Nashville."

"Governor Al Smith" is the third of three topical songs in a row and the second of two songs by Uncle Dave Macon (as on the third volume, Uncle Dave's songs are sequenced back to back). It is also the second of four songs in a row that feature artists from the original three-volume Anthology.

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Here's some footage of Al Smith commenting on the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933.



Download and listen to Uncle Dave Macon - "Governor Al Smith"

1 comment:

  1. I've been teaching myself banjo lately, and I've been listening to this song quite a bit, as the banjo playing sounds incredibly complex. I'm experimenting with doing a banjo roll that includes not only just my index and middle finger, but adds my ring finger. So I'm swiping all three fingers across the strings in just the right order. In addition to the plucking with the thumb. Its starting to sound very good.
    I think the song has a rather subdued tone to it perhaps because of the fact that he's trying to make a serious point with it.

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