A FELLOW BY THE NAME OF DAN McGINNIS wrote the lyrics to take the piss out of his boss, George Mercier. Old George was engaged to Anna Tucker, and managed to land a job that McGinnis wanted. In spite, McGinnis wrote the lyrics, and tagged Jack Haggerty’s name on it, some think to make George wonder if there might have been a bit of a dalliance between Jack, who was the local heartthrob, and … [Read more...] about Jack Haggerty
Love Was The Cause Of My Sorrow: Traditional Folk Songs From The American River Valleys
The rivers were the lifelines of the early part of the nineteenth century. Explorers followed them into new regions, towns sprung up, life sprung up. Where you have people you have music.
People sang the songs they brought with them. Quite often those songs were learned across the ocean. Even if you learned over here, you might have still learned it from your grandma.
The rivers brought new songs to the towns that sprung up along its banks. It didn’t take long for the popular songs of the day to make their way to the people. You could buy the latest broadsheets in a small town along the banks of the Little Wabash River in southern Illinois before mid-century.
A lot of these songs are tragic, involving heartache and woe - two popular subject then as now. Perhaps the difference between then and now is fewer people die in the course of song today.
It has been said by some this isn’t folk music, but that’s poppycock. There are countless folk singers and folk bands out there whose only connection to the folk tradition is that it’s played partly on acoustic instruments. That’s not folk. Folk music is music of the people, people making music for each other. On whatever instruments are popular in the day.
Is an Irish traditional tune any less traditional for being played on a fiddle, a more modern instrument than the harp it was originally written for? Why would a Stratocaster in the 21st century be any different then? After all, it’s been over fifty years since Fairport Convention played their first gig.
Folk traditions grow over time. To wish music stood still in a specific period is to wish for a golden age, and those exist in hindsight. Except for those who live it.
Folk music is music of amateurs, albeit at times, highly talented ones. They played for each other when music and songs was something you did, not just consumed.
The vocals could be a bit more ragged than more proper music. After all, a fellow in his cups is more inclined to sing, and sing loudly.
That’s the spirit behind this. These songs were being sung in American’s river valleys around the middle of the nineteenth century, in a variety of styles. We’ve added a few more and put them out there to see if they still echo here.
IT'S A TRAGIC TALE ... telling of the death of one Timothy Merrick, who died on August 7, 1761 in Wilbraham, Massachusetts from the bite of a serpent. The town clerk recorded at the time, "Lieut Thomas Mirick's only Son dyed, August 7th, 1761, By the Bite of a Ratle Snake, Being 22 years, two months and three days old, and very nigh marridge." And that’s pretty much where the facts ends and the … [Read more...] about On Springfield Mountain
ON THE FRONTIER THERE WERE NO STANDUP COMEDIANS. They were forced to make each other laugh. When it comes to topics, we haven’t progressed much as this song shows. Variations exist of this song under a number of names, including In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree, The Burgler Man, My Little Girl, A Dandy For Nineteen Years Old and Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing. This one goes out to anyone … [Read more...] about Nineteen Years Old (The Virgin)
I Courted A Wee Girl is a heartbreaking tale, Scottish in origin though the Irish lay claim as well. The Brits made it popular as a broadside ballad. It's also known as “The False Bride,” "The Week Before Easter", "The False Hearted Lover", "The Forsaken Bridegroom" or "Love Is The Cause Of My Mourning" or "The False Nymph". I Courted A Wee Girl I courted a wee girl for many’s the long … [Read more...] about I Courted A Wee Girl (The False Bride)
HERE'S A NEWFOUNDLAND VERSION of a British murder ballad, which drifted its way all over North America, and found some success later on as a cowboy song. It found its way to us via an album titled Green Fields Of Illinois,” put out by the Campus Folksong Club of the University of Illinois in 1963. The album was a collection of folk songs sung by regular folks who hailed from southern Illinois, … [Read more...] about Fair Fannie Moore
Whiskey has a prominent place in the history of the frontier. There is of course the obvious reason. But one must not discount the economics. It takes a lot of grain to make whiskey, and a barrel of whiskey is easier and cheaper to transport than wagons full of grain. Whiskey You’re The Devil seems to have its source in a broadside ballad titled John and Moll, which dates from Ireland sometime … [Read more...] about Whiskey You’re The Devil
In rural Scotland, as well as Ireland and England, agents of the king would wander rural areas, looking for the poor, those who found themselves in trouble, or even the feeble minded to serve in the king’s wars. Some used strong arm tactics, others offered a glamorous life of a soldier, while the more disreputable ones just got the unfortunates drunk and shipped them off while they were passed … [Read more...] about Twa Recruiting Sergeants
One from the Paul Brady/Planxty songbook, the liner notes for Planxty’s version state that it was likely brought back to Ireland from soldiers fighting in the War of 1812, which is likely as it’s also listed as a traditional Creole song. The lyrics however must have gone through several revisions, as the train line which ran from New Orleans to Jackson, Mississippi didn’t open up till the 1860s, … [Read more...] about Lakes of Pontchartrain
OLD ENGLISH SONG SMASHED together with Dylan’s version. Not sure if Dylan actually wrote or compiled Girl of the North Country. Some things are just mysteries. Todd Lane and I sang it George and Tammy style, one mike. I’m sure in his mind as well, we were wearing rhinestones and cowboy hats. Scarborough Fair Are you going to Scarborough Fair, Parley, sage, rosemary and thyme, Remember … [Read more...] about (Are You Going To) Scarborough Fair
An old English song, an old American song. The song has haunted me since I was kid, falling in love with the melody. It was used extensively in the soundtrack to Scrooge, the good version with Alstair Sim. Our version is a bit different. Just what the hell did young William do to piss off Barbara Allen so? She obviously loved him … she dies out of guilt after all? It comes perilously close to … [Read more...] about Barbara Allen’s Cruelty
THE HISTORY OF THE OHIO RIVER VALLEY is of course, tied to rivers. Not just the Ohio, but a plethora of smaller rivers flow into it, bring with them the stories and songs of the regions the rivers meander through. The Ohio was the river that brought the songs to mass popularity. Shenandoah’s lyrics come from fur trappers working the Missouri River, and often incorporate references to the Native … [Read more...] about O’ Shenandoah
THIS IS THE ONE SONG with a direct connection to Carmi, Illinois’ bicentennial. Which was the reason we were recording folk songs to begin with. In the booklet for Carmi’s sesquicentennial, the author, J. Robert Smith referred to the song being sung in Carmi’s parlors, accompanied by the pump organ. The music was written by a black street musician by the name of Richard Milburn. The lyrics … [Read more...] about Listen To The Mockingbird