An in-depth examination of the music of the 78 era.
29 November, 2009
"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.