An in-depth examination of the music of the 78 era.
15 November, 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).
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...