HOW THE JOHN B. SAILS
The Bahamian folk song originally published as “The John B. Sails” is known to most of us as the “Sloop John B”. It has been recorded by numerous artist. The Kingston Trio and The Beach Boys have recordings that are well known to many of us. The accompaniment is performed in a Calypso beat ( - - - _ _ -), a syncopated rhythm. Here is a link to a recording that may be close to the original style of its performance:
The John B. Sails [video] The John B. Sails [lyrics and chords]
DOWNTOWN TO THE RACES
I learned this song from a
Norman Blake album, Live
at McCabe’s, and
the greatest thing about it is definitely Norman’s
flatpicking. But the song is also a lot of fun
to sing. You can hear Norman picking and singing
it at the link below.
might be considered unusual to start the new year with a
song about zombies, but this one has special significance
for me. In
about 1959, when my Dad brought home our first Hi-Fi
record player – a little RCA in a blonde cabinet on
spindly legs, the first two LP albums he bought were The
Kingston Trio at the Hungry I and Harry
Belafonte at Carnegie Hall. I was hooked
from that point on. I
wanted to do nothing but play folk music for the rest of
my life. Zombie
Jamboree was one of the more notable songs on
the Kingston Trio’s album.
Dave Guard tells about this song in the
introduction to their rendition, which you can hear at the
TEXAS IS CALLIN’ ME
Blair Powell was a close friend and mentor of our November Second Saturday artist Steve Fisher. Blair asked that Steve sing at his memorial service, which took place in Kerrville at the festival. Steve wrote more than one song for Blair, because he said that just one song was not enough of an homage. You can hear Steve perform this song at MEMORIAL DAY , on his CD, Count Me In or at the link below
song this month comes from the timely pen of our editor, Cehlena
Solus, and is published here with her permission.
This song’s back story is pretty self-evident. One
of the things I like about it is the uncommon way it begins on
the IV chord. Many Celtic songs do that – not
surprising, considering that Cehlena is the leader of a Celtic
band called Wylde
can hear this song performed at the link below.
of Canada’s most iconic folk songs, the song recounts his
experience while he was visiting Northern Ontario with an
Ontario Hydro survey party to study the feasibility of a dam
on the Little Abitibi River, which flows north towards James
Bay. You can hear this song performed by the author at
the link below.
WHERE WERE YOU
LAST FRIDAY NIGHT
are many versions and verses of this song. This is how
Tony Rice recorded it fairly early in his career. You
also get to hear some of Tony’s unparalleled flat-picking.
This was back when his playing was still fairly
traditional, which is my favorite era of his work. You
can hear the song at the link below.
DID THE HOT DOGS
The things in this song are true, except
for the ones that I made up. Mostly true. The
streetcar ran down Colonial Ave. in South Dallas right by
Grandpa’s house. You can hear this song performed by Across the Water at the link below.
Grandpa, Do You Wonder [audio] Grandpa, Do you Wonder [lyrics and chords]
MY FEET THEY ARE
historical setting of this ballad is most likely either the War
of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714)
or the Seven
Years War (1756-1763).
High Germany refers to the mountainous, Alpine southern
part of Germany. Cecil Sharp collected a version of this
song in 1906, and it was actually recorded on phonograph by
Percy Grainger in 1908. You can hear the great English
folksinger Martin Carthy perform this song at the link below.
High Germany [video] High Germany [lyrics & chords]
Otto P. Kelland wrote
this song in 1947. Kelland was a prison warden at
St. John’s Penitentiary in Newfoundland when he decided to
set to music a conversation he once had with a sea captain
about a sailor longing for his southeastern Newfoundland
home. You can listen to Stan Rogers perform the song
here at the link below.
Let Me Fish off Cape St. Mary's [video] Let Me Fish off Cape St. Mary's [lyrics & chords]
WITH HEARTS UNDAUNTED AND COURAGE TRUE
song about cold weather seemed to be in order. This
traditional ballad about Lord John Franklin’s ill-fated
expedition in 1845 to find a Northwest Passage around the pole
is one of my favorites. There were a great many
recordings on Youtube to choose from – some by big “names”
like Sinead O’Connor and Pentangle. I liked this version
by Andy Toman, which you can hear at the link below. As
with all traditional songs, you will find somewhat different
words with different versions.
THEY ATE OF OUR MEAT
February 13, 1692, an estimated 30 members and associates of
Clan MacDonald of Glen Coe were killed by government forces
for failing to pledge allegiance to the new monarchs, William
III of Scotland and Mary II. The MacDonalds were
Jacobites, participating in an uprising to restore James II to
the throne. The government of William III sought to make
a brutal example of them for all the Jacobites. This
tactic worked; the uprising in the Highlands ended with the
massacre of Glen Coe. You can hear a nice version of
this song by The Corries at youTube
or at the link below.
Massacre of Glencoe [video] Massacre of Glencoe [lyrics and chords]
Our January issue actually
comes out closer to Christmas than the December one, so here
goes with my favorite Christmas carol. Christina Rosetti
composed it as a poem in 1872, then the noted English composer
Gustav Holst set it to music in 1906. It makes a lovely
vocal piece with acoustic guitar. You can hear a
beautiful version of this song by Dan Fogelberg at In
The Bleak Mid Winter.
song by our Editor, Cehlena Solus, “…really came from
staring out the window,” she says. “Seeing the
wind blow through the trees on the walks I take daily
with the dogs along the bayou.” “Music is all
around us in nature if we just take a moment and
listen.” You can hear this song at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gEIz2FBKpo
or at the link below.
Stepin' Into Color [video] Stepin' Into Color [lyrics and chords]
I CLIMBED THE WALLS THE ROMANS LEFT BEHIND
Jack Williams has
graciously given us permission to print this song from
his fine album, Walkin’
Dreams. He wrote it
on one of his several tours performing in England.
Jack tells us that the brothers mentioned in verse
four were actually his ancestors – sixteen generations
Dreams is still
available through Jack’s website: http://www.jackwilliamsmusic.com/discography.html.
ONE KIND FAVOR
I was listening to Lightnin’
Hopkins sing this on 33rpm vinyl before I ever heard
him do it at the Will Rice commons in Houston in 1962.
But this song goes way back before that.
It was recorded (and some say written) by Blind
Lemon Jefferson in 1927. The list of people who
have recorded it since goes on forever, as does the
number of different ways to treat the song.
Listening to different versions on Youtube was
so interesting that I have provided two versions for
contrast. First, a modern ensemble arrangement
by Del McCoury and Friends where they treat it almost
like a spiritual.
One Kind Favor - Del McCoury One Kind Favor - Blind Lemon Jefferson One Kind Favor [lyrics & chords]
ON THE LEFT
FOOT, PEG FOOT
I got chills the first time I heard this song in about 1959. It must have been The Weavers’ version, because I don’t know if anyone else had recorded it yet. The song was first published in 1928 by the Texas Folklore Society. The A major IV chord at the beginning of the chorus gives the song a very interesting Dorian mode flavor. The Weavers are actually performing it in E flat minor, so to play along with them you could tune down a half step, or transpose it to D minor and capo up one. The drinking gourd is, of course, the Big Dipper constellation in which two of its stars point to Polaris, the north star. Pete Seeger tells more of the story of the song in the intro to their recording, which you can hear at the link below.
BRING ALL MY
Dance Around My Atom Fire [video] Dance Around My Atom Fire [lyrics and chords]
WHO WILL WEAR THE ROBE AND
A lot of us may think of Valley to Pray as a folk song. In fact it was written by the great gospel composer Albert E. Brumley (1905-1977), who also composed I’ll Fly Away, Turn Your Radio On, and many other gospel classics. The song is also widely known as Down in the River to Pray, as recorded by Allison Krauss and many others. To me, it is Valley to Pray because that is the version I first heard by Arlo Guthrie 50 years ago. The song has been recorded by a great many people, perhaps least notably by Across the Water on their a cappella CD, No Strings Attached, so that is the version I have transcribed here, and that you can hear at the link below.
I WILL PAWN
YOU THIS HEART IN MY BOSOM
haven’t had a Carter Family song in this space for quite a
while. Here is one that A. P. Carter wrote in 1933
and recorded for RCA Victor. They recorded the
song in B-flat, which means it was probably played in G
shape with the capo on the third fret. So I have
transcribed it in G, and you can capo wherever it is
comfortable for you to sing it. You can listen to
the Carter Family’s original version of this song at the
GOLD WATCH AND CHAIN [video] GOLD WATCH AND CHAIN [lyrics & chords]
WE LEARNED TO MAKE MUSIC OUR OWN
of absent friends in this time of isolation, I reached out
to my old band mate Steve Goodchild, and he gave us his
permission to publish this song of his – also about an
absent friend. This
song was recorded by Across the Water, but
also more recently by Steve on his excellent solo CD, Nooks
You can hear Steve’s rendition at the link below.
WILL YE GANG TO THE
a while since we had a good old Child ballad in this space,
so here’s a pretty one to learn. Like most songs
this old, there are many variants out there, especially of
the lyrics on this one.
You can hear this version performed by The
DID YOU TRY TO
ABSCOND WITH A BEAUTIFUL BLONDE?
CHURNED THE BUTTER IN DAD’S OLD BOOT
SING A LULLABY
Bedford returns to Second Saturday January 11 (see Page 1). Ben can bring
history and literature alive with his songwriting, and this
song from his excellent CD, Lincoln’s Man, is a
fine example. The
last verse, with its interwoven references to Jack London’s
works, is a songwriting tour de force. I’ve transposed it
to a lower key for easier singing. You can access a video of
Ben Bedford singing this at the link below.
song was first performed as part of a play by Brendan Behan,
who is credited with composing it. Learning that came
as a surprise to me, because when I first heard it performed
by Ian and Sylvia in the early 60’s it sure sounded like an
old folk song. It
is based on Behan’s personal experience at Mountjoy Prison,
where he was confined at one time. You can hear this
song at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRL7pEMMIbU, or
at the link below.
HOW CAN A
YOUNG MAN STAY AT HOME
is a great jamming tune, and the verses can go on
of the dozens of verses to “Shady Grove” will fit, among
can hear a nice rendition of this song by the Dublin
group We Banjo 3 at
Down The River Uncle Joe [video] Down The River Uncle Joe [lyrics and chords]
BEND DOWN THE TALLEST TREE
not Christmas yet, but not too early to start learning a carol
or two. This song
has the rare distinction of being both a Child ballad https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_Ballads and
a Christmas carol. It
dates back to at least the 15th century, where it
is known to have been sung at the Feast of Corpus Christi https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpus_Christi_(feast). This is the version I
learned from a 1961 Joan Baez record (Yes, a vinyl record. I still have it). The chords are
slightly different from some other versions, but I love her
treatment of it, which you can hear at the link below.
ALL THE LADS HAVE
GOT THE SACK
Valley in South Wales has been synonymous with coal mining
since the mid-nineteenth century, and the fortunes of the
region and its people have always paralleled those of the
coal industry. Pete
Seeger’s song “The Bells of Rhymney” based on the poem by
Welsh poet Idris Davies mentions “the black bells of
Rhondda” – black from the coal dust. This song was
written by Frank Hennessey during a miners’ strike. The reference to
“Roben’s axe” refers to Alfred Robens, who was Chairman of
the National Coal Board from 1961 to 1971. You can hear this
song performed by The New Barleycorn
at the link below.
all the Welsh names in the last verse don’t roll easily off
your tongue, it would probably not violate the folk process
to substitute Anglicized Welsh names like Morgan, Davis,
Farewell to the Rhondda [video] Farewell to the Rhondda [lyrics and chords]