A DROP OF NELSON’S BLOOD WOULN’T DO US ANY HARM
This is another chantey that
originated as an African-American spiritual. It was often used
as a "stamp-and-go" or a "walk away" chantey, meaning the
sailors would hold on to the line and walk with it, creating a
steady pull. This was used on the ship's braces, which swing
the yards around. It was also used at the Downtown Pumps, the
giant flywheels which resemble the wheels of a chariot. The
song was also popular on shore, and has been used as a
Salvation Army hymn and a "pep song" at baseball games. You
can hear this song performed at Roll
The Old Chariot or at the link below.
Roll the Old Chariot Along [video] Roll the Old Chariot Along [lyrics and chords]
HIS EDUCATION WAS ON THE ROAD
song goes out to our good member in Nashville, John A. Lomax
III. In 2017, John III, his sister Anna and his son John
Nova Lomax worked with the University of Texas Press to bring
out a new edition of John Avery Lomax, Sr.’s book, Adventures
of a Ballad Hunter, chronicling
his decades-long quest to find and record literally thousands
of our ballads, blues, cowboy songs, and folk music of all
types. It is an important book and a very enjoyable
read. John Lomax, Jr, together with his brother Alan,
were founders of the Houston Folklore Society in 1950.
So this song waited too long to get written, but here it
is and I hope you all like it.
SONGS COULD TRAVEL FREE
Davis’s Scots-Irish family did come from Northern Ireland
(County Antrim) in the mid-eighteenth century, just as her
song says. “Big Robert” Barnhill ultimately settled
his family in North Carolina and served in the Revolutionary
War, along with sons, James and John. His descendants
emigrated west and settled in the piney woods of East Texas.
Carolyn’s childhood visits to her grandmother
(Remember Minnie? Maybe we’ll see her in a later
issue) frequently included drives out to Ebenezer Cemetery
in Camp County, Texas, where she listened to stories about
the ancestors laid to rest there. This is not the only song
that has resulted from Carolyn’s extensive genealogical
research, but it is definitely one of the best among a
number of very good ones. You can hear Carolyn perform
this song at Jigs and Reels by C.
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 CROWN?
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 HIELANDS
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
or at the link below. I have
Americanized some of the dialect, but not all. Capo at the second
fret and play in C as indicated and you will be in tune with
the recording. Thanks
to Cehlena Solus of Wylde Meade for digging this one up.
DID YOU TRY TO
ABSCOND WITH A BEAUTIFUL BLONDE?
SHE CHURNED THE BUTTER IN DAD’S OLD BOOTThis one was always a standard to do for kids – young or old. I learned it from Pete Seeger’s record, How to Play the Five String Banjo, published around 1961. I wonder how many kids today would know what a churn was, or a dasher. Or butter, for that matter. You can hear how Pete did the song with audience participation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TIYfCTAqP8, or at the link below.
THE ANGELS 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
or at the link below.
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]
ONE CHORD WOODY
presents a real dilemma between authenticity and art. As you can see
Woody performed it playing a D major chord throughout the
song. And the
purity and earnestness of the song certainly comes out when
it is done that way. But
to my musical taste, the melody cries out for a minor chord
at the beginning, and the dramatic change to the relative
major in the second line, as in this fine rendition from
1965 by Tracy Newman
take your pick. That’s
why they call it folk music.
I have notated the chords the way Tracy plays it. You can play it as
she does in the A minor chord shape and capo anywhere from
open up to V or so to fit your vocal range.
‘TIS NATURE’S NEED; ‘TIS GOD’S DECREE
leaders of the Abolitionist movement set up anti-slavery
singing circles and wrote special songs for them, generally
set to the tune of old hymns. The best of them was this
“Abolitionists Hymn” set to the familiar “Old Hundredth.”,
which was published in the Genevan Psalter in 1551. John Pierpont
wrote the lyrics as a poem in 1842. If you have ever
accompanied a hymn singalong, you will know that many hymn
tunes change chords just about every beat. This one is no
exception, so don’t take it too fast. I have simplified
the chords somewhat from the nice rendition by Stephen
Griffith that can be found at the link below.
YER ILL-SPUN YARN
This old Scottish song has an
interesting prescription for the young man whose girl is
in a family way: Enlist
and see the world. If
you don’t care for the dialect, it is perfectly
appropriate to sing the conventional English words. Most are easy to
figure out. “Owsen
wis tae rin” means
“Oxen was to run”. A
bairn is, or course, a baby.
You can hear this song performed by The Corries
at the link below.
IT AIN’T NO
THAT I’VE EVER BEEN HURT IN MY LIFE
Brothers were an American country music duo composed of
brothers Ira Lonnie Loudermilk (1924–1965) and Charlie Elzer
Loudermilk (1927–2011), better known as Ira and Charlie
Louvin. They helped popularize close harmony, and could be
considered direct forerunners of duos like The everly
Brothers.. The brothers are cousins to John D. Loudermilk, a
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member. You can hear a
lovely rendition of this sing by Jim and Jesse at the link
When I Stop Dreaming [video] When I Stop Dreaming [lyrics and chords]
STILL AN ODE TO JOY
March 9 Second Saturday artist Steve Fisher
has graciously given us permission to publish this lovely
and wistful song from his new 2-CD release, Growin’ Roses. Old-time
Kerrverts will remember him winning New Folk in 1990, and
his presence around the late-night campfires (and he’s
there still). You
can hear this song on Steve’s new CD, or at the link below.
he carried the idea for this song and his memories of Mr.
Zeidman around for many years before he finally wrote it. The newspaper
article that you can find here: open_the_article
tells the story
better than I could. He
uses a very original chord progression in the song, but just
about all the chords are quite accessible. For the A9 chord in line
2, just fret the third and fourth strings both at the second
fret, and that will work fine in this song. This song is on
Pierce’s new CD, Father’s Son,
just released in January of this year, or you can listen to
it by using the link below to view Pierce and David Webb
performance of the song. To
play along with the recording, capo at the first fret and
refer to the lyrics and chord sheet linked below.
Mr. Zeidman [video] Mr. Zeidman [lyrics & chords]
TO MAKE THE WOUNDED WHOLE
no balm in Gilead? Is
there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my
fine old African-American spiritual uses these words from
Jeremiah 8:22 to also allude to faith in the healing and
redemptive power of Jesus.
You can hear a lovely rendition of the song on the
Audio Archive at the link below. I have transcribed
it in the same key as the recording.
Balm in Gilead [audio] Balm in Gilead [lyrics & chords]