American SongsThis is a featured page

Many American Songs, of course, originated in the old world, and some have even been better preserved than in their countries of origin, particularly in isolated areas like the Appalachians.

Many great songs came out of the dark period of the slavery days, and some of the best American folk music comes from black singers, including the tradition of the blues. There is an excellent movie you can see about prison work songs (by Pete Seeger).

In this section I list some of my favourite American Songs in alphabetical order, with links to lyrics and performances.

Note: I have included songs from Newfoundland here until I have organised a separate page for them. After all, it is part of North America.


This is a trilogy of songs from the American slavery days. It begins with Oh Freedom, followed by Motherless Child and ending with No More Auction Block.


Acres of Clams (Francis D. Henry)


Also known as Old Settler's Song or Lay of the Old Settler, this song was written around 1874 to the tune of the Irish song Rosin the Beau.

Apparently it was considered to be Washington's state song until it was decided the lyrics were too undignified.

Here is a video of my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Across the Western Ocean


This traditional song of the sea is also known as Amelia and is closely related to the shanty, Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her. It also seems to be related to All For Me Grog.

I first heard this song sung by Ed McCurdy and it is his version I have in mind when I sing my rendition. Here are the lyrics.


Ain't Gonna Rain No Mo'


This African-American song is believed to go back to the days of slavery, though it could well be a celebration of emancipation. This version was collected by Alan Lomax and Leadbelly in 1939. The song has been given new lyrics many times, the best known being Wendell Hall's 1923 version, which has become a popular campfire song for Scouts and Guides.

A very different version recorded by The Two Gilberts on an old 78 disc can be heard here.

You can hear my rendition and read the lyrics. You can also see a live performance together with Skip to my Lou at a session of The Hong Kong Folk Society at The Canny Man in Wanchai. Five years later I recorded these two songs with my six-year-old grandson, Axel. Here is our video.


All God's Critters Got a Place in the Choir (Bill Staines)


This song was written by Boston folksinger, Bill Staines, who also published it as a children's book with the title All God's Critters. The first recording was by Bill Staines on his album, The Whistle of the Jay (1979).

The best known rendition is a recording by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, who sing "Creatures" rather than "Critters."

Here is Bill Staines himself singing it. Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

And here is an interesting parody written by Donald A. Duncan and Sara Freed called All God's Critters Got a Place in the Fire. This song is not suitable for vegetarians. Here are the lyrics.


All the Pretty Little Horses


This lullaby is also a gentle protest song. It originated in the days of slavery and deals with a typical situation where a female slave would have to nurse her master's children, while being forced to neglect her own baby, the "poor little lambie" at the mercy of the bees and the butterflies. One of the best recordings, and possibly the first, is that of the incomparable Odetta.

Here is Bill Richards singing the song to his new-born son.

You can hear my performance and read the lyrics.


Almost Done


Also known as On a Monday and Take These Stripes (From Around my Shoulder), this song was first recorded by Lead Belly. You can hear a video of him singing the song here and as the third part of an a capella trilogy of chain gang songs, along with Looky Looky Yonder and Black Betty.

A "yellow" girl was a common term for a prostitute, generally of mixed race.

Notable recordings of the song are by The Weavers, Ry Cooder, Johnny Cash and Lew Dite.

My cover of this trilogy is here, and here are the lyrics.


American Land (Bruce Springsteen)


This song about immigration was inspired by the song He Lies in the American Land, which began as a poem by Andrew Kovaly, a Slovakian immigrant steelworker. It was sung by Pete Seeger, who translated it and set it to music. Springsteen wrote new lyrics, keeping only the first verse of the original, and added it as a bonus track to the special edition release of his album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, which consists mainly of his interpretations of Pete Seeger songs.

Here is the original poem:

He Lies in the American Land (Andrew Kovaly)

Ah, my God! What is this land of America?
So many people traveling there
I will go too, for I am still young
God, the Lord will grant me good luck there

You, my wife, stay here 'til you hear from me
When you get my letter, put everything in order
Mount a raven-black steed, a horse like the wind
Fly across the ocean to join me here

Ah, but when she arrived in this strange land
Here in McKeesport, this valley of fire
Only his grave, his blood, his blood did she find
Over it bitterly she cried

Ah, ah, ah, my husband, what have you done to this family of yours?
What can you say to these children, these children you've orphaned?
Tell them, my wife, not to wait, not to wait, not to wait for me
Tell them I lie here, in the American land.

Here is Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band performing in Dublin.

Here is my attempt at the song and here are the lyrics.


Anathea


This song, made popular by Judy Collins, is obviously closely related to Child 95 (The Maid Freed From the Gallows). According to her, the words are by Neil Roth and music by Lydia Wood, but the consensus appears to be that it was originally a Hungarian folk song, collected by Bela Bartok, and translated into English by A. L. Lloyd.

Dylan retold this story in Seven Curses.

Here is my video of Anathea. Here are the lyrics.


The Apple-Knocker's Lament (Harry McClintock)


See The Big Rock Candy Mountain, below.


Aura Lea (Lyrics - W. W. Fosdick, Music George R. Poulton)


This minstrel song from the American Civil War was published in 1861. It was rewritten as a parody (Army Blue) for the West Point class of 1865.

The tune was used a couple of centuries later by Ken Darby, who wrote Love Me Tender, which was popularised by Elvis Presley.

The lyrics of both these songs are not really worthy of the lovely tune - but if you combine them you get "Love me tender, love me sweet, love me Aura Lee!"

Here is my performance, and here are the lyrics.


Bald-Headed Woman


A traditional African-American chain gang song. I first heard this sung by Odetta on her 1963 album, My Eyes Have Seen.

The Who also recorded the song as the B-side of their single, I Can't Explain, in 1965.


This song was a big hit for a Swedish group - Hep Stars. You can see a short clip of this here on YouTube. And here is a video of The Who performing the song in 1966.

Here is my performance. The lyrics are here.


The Ballad of Davy Crockett (Tom Blackburn and George Bruns)


David Crockett (1786 – 1836) was a 19th-century American frontiersman, soldier and politician. He grew up in East Tennessee, where he gained a reputation for hunting and storytelling. After being made a colonel in the militia, he was elected to the Tennessee state legislature in 1821 and then to the U.S. Congress in 1826. His vehement opposition to many of President Andrew Jackson's policies, especially the Indian Removal Act, led to his defeat in the 1830 elections. He won again in 1832, but narrowly lost in 1834, prompting his angry departure to Texas soon after. In early 1836, Crockett took part in the Texas Revolution and was killed at the Battle of the Alamo. His exploits were popularized by stage plays and he was credited with acts of mythical proportion, which led to television and movie portrayals, and he became one of the best-known American folk heroes.

This song was written by Tom Blackburn and George Bruns. It was introduced on the television miniseries Davy Crockett in 1954 on the Disneyland program. The song was originally sung by the Wellingtons. The first album version was recorded by Bill Hayes, followed by versions by Fess Parker, who played the character of Davy Crockett in the television show, and Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955). All three versions made the Billboard charts in 1955.

Here is my rendition of the song, with assistance from my five-year-old grandson, Axel. The song is even longer than the version we sang, as you can see from the lyrics here.

The Ballad of Rodger Young (Frank Loesser)


This American military song was written and first performed during World War 2 in March 1945, as a tribute to Army Private Rodger Wilton Young who died while attacking a Japanese machine-gun nest on 31 July 1943. It is largely based on the citation for Young's posthumous Medal of Honor.

Loesser wrote the song while enlisted as a private in the Army's Radio Production Unit, which was staffed with top Hollywood talent and its own orchestra. The unit was charged with producing two radio recruiting shows a day. Loesser's job was to edit song sheets and write songs encouraging recruitment. In order to write a song about a Medal of Honor recipient, he searched a list of awardees for a name that would scan. Rejecting many "wonderfully unwieldy melting-pot names", Loesser found Rodger Young, "the perfect WASP name" at the end of the list. When the Army mounted a publicity campaign for the song, Loesser decided it would not go down well to admit Rodger Young was chosen simply because his name scanned well. so he told a fictitious story about how he a noted harmonica player, Larry Adler, had informed him of Young's musical experience.

The song was first broadcast in early 1945, sung with simple guitar accompaniment by Earl Wrightson. The fact that it was considered unlikely to be a hit is indicated by the fact that Burl Ives Ives recorded it as the B-side of his popular single, The Foggy, Foggy Dew. World War II historian, Paul Fussell, wrote that it "proved too embarrassing for either the troops or the more intelligent home folks to take to their hearts." However it became more popular when Life Magazine devoted seven pages of its March 5, 1945 issue to the story of Rodger Young and the song, including a reproduction of the sheet music. The Army then created the Combat Infantry Band for the specific purpose of playing the song.Further interest in the song was stirred up when Young's body was returned to the U.S. for burial in 1949, with many recordings made by various singers that year, including Burl Ives, Nelson Eddy and John Charles Thomas. Army bandsman, Frank F. Mathias, said it had become "the best loved theme" for American infantrymen.

Although the song is written in the style of a folk song it is unusual for the genre in unapologetically glorifying the military. Loesser himself said his aim was to give the folks at home "hope without facts; glory without blood. You give them a legend with the rough edges neatly trimmed." However, despite its militarism, the lyrics have been praised for their detachment and lack of sentimentality.

I first heard this song sung by Burl Ives on his Coronation Concert album, one of the first LPs I heard as a child. I remember writing down the words and learning the song, but forgot about it until recently when Tony (threelegsoman) sang it on his YouTube channel.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Banana Boat Song


This calypso song is originally from Trinidad. It was a banana-wharf song sung by carriers who would work through the night loading the ships with bananas. It was first recorded in England in1952 by Trinidadian singer Edric Connor under the name Day Dah Light (Banana Loaders Song), and then by Luise Bennett in 1954. In 1956 it was recorded by Caribbean-American singer Harry Belafonte, under the name Day-O, with lyrics by Irving Burgie and William Attaway, and, independently, by American folk-group, The Tarriers, based on a version by Bob Gibson, who had traveled to Jamaica. Their version, called The Banana Boat Song, is actually a medley with another Jamaican folksong: Hill and Gully Rider. Both versions were big hits. Shirley Bassey recorded it in 1957, based on the Tarriers version, but most recordings since are pretty much covers of the Belafonte rendition.

Here is a popular parody sung by George Bush and Colin Powell.

Here it is played and sung by members of the Hong Kong Folk Society. This was our final song of the night, about the time the neighbours started complaining. Possibly not a good choice for 2:30 in the morning.

Here are the lyrics.


Banks of Marble (Les Rice)


I first heard this song sung by The Weavers. Pete Seeger, who also recorded it as a solo, wrote in one of his songbooks that Rice "farms across the Hudson from me, near Newburgh [Orange County, New York]. Like most small farmers, he was getting intolerably squeezed by the big companies which sold him all his fertiliser, insecticide and equipment, and the big companies that dictated to him the prices he would get for his produce. Out of that squeeze came this song." A song that is still as relevant as ever.

Here is my rendition of the song, and here are the lyrics.


Banks of the Ohio


This murder ballad goes back to the 19th Century, and is possibly a variant of Pretty Polly in which the murderer is also called Willie. It has been recorded many times, some notable recordings being by The Carter Family, Johnny Cash, the Irish group, The Wolfe Tones, bluegrass legends, Bill Monroe and Doc Watson, Joan Baez (the version I first heard) and Olivia Newton John, who had a big hit with it in1971.

There are some good renditions on YouTube, such as this by Lew Dite on autoharp and this one by Rington1 (Alex).

Here is my video of the song. The lyrics are here.


Barnacle Bill the Sailor


An American bawdy ballad, originally titled Abraham Brown. It is also known as Ballochy (or Bollocky) Bill. Most versions are suitable for adults only, but the lyrics I sing are pretty innocuous.

The earliest known recording was by Frank Luther in 1928.


Oscar Brand sang an Air Force version called Barnacle Bill the Pilot on his 1956 album, The Wild Blue Yonder.

Here is my performance, and here is my rendition of the Air Force version.

Here are the lyrics.


Here is an early Fleischer cartoon (1930) based on this song. It stars Bimbo and features the character who would soon become Betty Boop.


Battle Hymn of the Republic (Julia Ward Howe)


This popular tune was written around 1855 by William Steffe. The song itself began as a gospel song called Canaan's Happy Shore or Brothers, Will You Meet Me? but as the tune became known around the US it was set to many different lyrics. The most popular of these was a song called John Brown's Body, written by Thomas Bishop, a soldier from Vermont in the Massachusetts Infantry, in about 1860. The original words were apparently not about John Brown, the abolitionist, but referred to a soldier of the same name in the regiment.

Julia Ward Howe and her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, were active leaders in anti-slavery politics and strong supporters of the Union. By the time she heard the song during a public review of the troops in Washington, the words had changed to refer to John Brown, the famed abolitionist. The Reverend James Clarke, who was with her at the review, suggested to Howe that she write new words for the song. At her hotel in Washington on the night of November 18, 1861, Howe awoke before sunrise with the words of the song in her mind wrote out the verses of the Battle Hymn of the Republic in the darkness before she had a chance to forget them. She retained the original chorus of John Brown's Body.

The song was first published on the front page of The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862, except for the sixth verse, which is often left out. It was also published as a broadside in 1863 by the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments in Philadelphia.

Though the song is often considered a hymn and has found its way into many church hymnals, there are some who find the song blasphemous. There is an interesting article here arguing that it "should not be on the lips of any Christian – Yankee or Southerner. It is partisan political paean to bogus history and faulty theology."

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Battle Hymn of the Republic (Brought Down to Date) (Mark Twain)This is a featured page


Also known as Battle Hymn of the Republic Updated. Mark Twain wrote this parody of Julia Ward Howe's Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1901, as a comment on American Imperialism, in the wake of the Philippine-American War. He noted, with reference to the penultimate stanza, "In Manila the Government has placed a certain industry under the protection of our flag."

Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was outraged that the United States was entering the international struggle for markets by invading the Philippines in the name of ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’ and ‘humanitarianism’. Of course, things are different now, aren't they?

The song has been recorded by The Chad Mitchell Trio, but without the verse about prostitution.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Beware, O Take Care


I first heard this old time song from Mike Seeger's New Lost City Ramblers.

Here is my performance. Warning - my fiddle playing is even worse than my guitar playing!

Here are the lyrics.


The Big Rock Candy Mountain (Harry McClintock)


This song is a turn of the century hobo ballad possibly inspired by a broadside ballad called An Invitation to Lubberland, first printed in 1685. It is generally attributed to Harry McClintock (8 October 1882 - 24 April 1957), though he failed in a lawsuit when he attempted to enforce copyright.

The song was first recorded by Harry McClintock (also known as Haywire Mac) in 1928, but reached a larger audience when released by Burl Ives in 1949. A version by Dorsey Burnette (1960) became a big hit, and there has been a recent revival when the McClintock version was used in the movie, O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)

McClintock first sang the song as a street busker in 1897. The song originally described a child being recruited into hobo life by tales of a "big rock candy mountain". Such recruitment actually occurred, with hobos enchanting children with tales of adventure to lead them astray.

In proof of his authorship of the song, McClintock published the original words, the last stanza of which was:
The punk rolled up his big blue eyes

And said to the jocker, "Sandy,

I've hiked and hiked and wandered too,

But I ain't seen any candy.

I've hiked and hiked till my feet are sore

And I'll be damned if I hike any more

To be buggered sore like a hobo's wh*re

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.


The song was cleaned up considerably before McClintock recorded it, and it has since been sanitised further to make it a children's song, with all references to cigarette trees, streams of alcohol and lakes of gin and whiskey eliminated.

A variation of the song, under the title, The Appleknocker's Lament, was collected in 1927 by the Library of Congress. The lyrics are here and here is my video of this version.

And here my "Burl Ives style" rendition of The Big Rock Candy Mountain. The lyrics are here.


Bill Bailey (Hughie Cannon)


Originally titled Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home?, this popular song was published in 1902. It is also known as Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey? The lyrics and melody were written by Hughie Cannon (1877–1912), an American songwriter and pianist. It is still a standard with Jazz bands.

It was a #1 hit for Arthur Collins in 1902. In Britain, the Edwardian music hall star, Victoria Monks (1884 - 1927), popularised the song in 1905. Other artists who have covered it include Lois Armstrong, Patsy Cline, Bobby Darin, Aretha Franklin, Brenda Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Durante, Sam Cooke and Della Reese (1961).

The song is usually performed in a shortened version, consisting of just the chorus, but Matthew Vaughan and I sang the full version, as one of the ten songs we recorded in Bangkok on March 11th, 2013.

Here is our video of the song, and here are the lyrics.

Billy Boy


I first heard this sung by Burl Ives. It is the American version of the English song My Boy Willie.

Apparently Francis James Child considered it was related to Lord Randall. (Child 12) If so, it must also be a distant relative of Dylan's Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall!

Here is my video of the song, and here are the lyrics.



Black Betty


The origins of this song are lost in the mists of time, and "black betty" has been variously interpreted as an 18th Century flint-lock rifle, a bottle of whiskey (originating in the border area of England and Scotland), a prostitute, a whip and a prison wagon. It was also the name with which members of the Ringwood Folk Club christened my old black guitar.

This song was first recorded for the Library of Congress by John and Alan Lomax in 1933, sung by prisoners, including one known as James Baker, or Iron Head. Th
e song also came up in later field recordings and it was recorded commercially by Lead Belly in 1939 as the second part of an a capella trilogy of chain gang songs, along with Looky Looky Yonder and Almost Done (Yellow Woman's Doorbells).

The song was recorded in 1964 by Odetta, with Looky Looky Yonder, and by Harry Belafonte and Koerner, Ray and Glover in the same year. Since then the song has been given new life as a rock song. In 1976 it was recorded by Starstruck, a rock band, but did not take off until the following year, when it was recorded by Ram Jam, which included Bill Bartlett, one of the original Starstruck members. It became a big hit, but several Civil Rights groups organised boycotts of the song because they felt it was insulting to African American women.

Since then it has been recorded by Nick Cave (1986), Sheryl Crow, Tom Jones (2002) and Meat Loaf (2006). In 2004, the Australian band, Spiderbait, had a big hit with their cover of the song.

Here is my rendition of Leadbelly's trilogy, and here are the lyrics.



Black Bottom Blues


This song has been frequently recorded, using either the title Black Bottom Blues or Deep Elem Blues. Or "Elum", "Ellum" or "Elm"!

The first recording was made by The Georgia Crackers, in 1927, with the title Georgia Black Bottom. This group included the Cofer Brothers, who were the source for the Brandy Snifters' recording.

The more popular title, Deep Elem Blues, comes from the Attlesey Brothers, who recorded Deep Elm Blues in 1933. By 1935 they were calling themselves the Shelton Brothers, and released three different versions of Deep Elem Blues.

"Black Bottom" refers to the black ghetto found in every city, including Nashville. "Deep Elem" refers more specifically to Elm Street in Dallas, which for many years was the centre of that city's red light district.

Some other notable recordings are by Joe Evans, who recorded Down in Black Bottom in 1931, Brandy Snifters, Jerry Lee Lewis (1957), Mary McCoy and the Cyclones and Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead.

The chorus sometimes consists of one line, and sometimes the line is repeated.

This song was requested by MrHardPressed. You can hear my rendition here, and here are the lyrics.

Blind Fiddler


This song dates back to at least 1923, when the first field recording seems to have been made, though Pete Seeger believed it went back to 1850. It was originally about a blacksmith who lost his eyesight at a time when there were no social safety nets for victims of industrial accidents. It may have been based on an earlier song called The Rebel Soldier.

It has been recorded by Joe Hickerson, Stephen Stills, Hoyt Axton and Pete Seeger among others.

Eric Andersen was one of several singer-songwriters invited by the Highlander Folk Center to go to the Appalachian mountains to learn about the plight of the miners and to write songs about the situation. Tom Paxton was another who attended and wrote a song.

Andersen rewrote the traditional song of the blind fiddler as a song about the victim of a mining accident. It was recorded on his 1966 album Bout Changes and Things.

Here is my video of the mining version of the song. And here are the lyrics.


Blow Ye Winds In the Morning


This whaling shanty tells of the harsh lives of those who took to sea to hunt the great whales, whose oil (boiled down at sea from the whale's blubber) lit the street lamps and households of much of early America until the plentiful and more cheaply acquired petroleum of Pennsylvania supplanted it in the 1830s and brought the whaling days of Nantucket, New Bedford, and Mystic to an end.

Alan Lomax considered this song a fo'c'sle chantey, one used to accompany ordinary sailors' tasks as opposed to the slower capstan chanteys like Haul Away that were used for back breaking tasks like weighing anchor and hoisting sails. He also dates the original air to the Elizabethan era in the 1500s, so the tune was already old by time the American whalers got hold of it in the mid-1700s.

This is one of ten songs I recorded with Matthew Vaughan in Bangkok on March 11th, 2013.

Here is our video of the song, and here are the lyrics.


The Blue-Tail Fly


The Blue Tail Fly or Jimmy Crack Corn, has been around since the 1840s. It was popular as a blackface minstrel song, though it may have originated from the African-American tradition. Though the slave-narrator seems to mourn the death of his master, it has been suggested that he was deliberately negligent in his duty of keeping the dangerous blue-tail fly away from the horse. This is apparently more obvious in other versions of the song.

There are many theories about the meaning of the phrase "Jimmy crack corn", the most likely being that it refers to drinking corn whiskey.

I first heard this sung by Burl Ives. It has also been recorded by Pete Seeger and Big Bill Broonzy. And, not forgetting YouTube's songster, Lew Dite.

Here is my performance. The lyrics are here.


Boll Weevil


A song about a little insect that migrated into the U.S. from Mexico in the late 1920s and destroyed the cotton bolls in the Southern states by the 1920s causing a lot of misery for cotton farmers.There were many songs about it by blues musicians from the 1920s to 40s, but this is the best known, due to Alan Lomax's recording of Lead Belly singing it in 1934.

Forerunners of Lead Belly's version include a song by Charley Patton called Mississippi Bo Weavil Blues, recorded in 1929 which has the lyrics describing the first time and "the next time" the narrator saw the boll weevil and referring to the weevil's family and home. Ma Rainey (1923) and Bessie Smith (1924) recorded Bo-Weavil Blues, but it was quite a different song. Jaybird Coleman's version from the late 1920s, and Blind Willie McTell's from the 1930s, both include a dialogue between the boll weevil and a farmer as in Lead Belly's song.

An adaptation by Brook Benton in 1961 reached #2 on the pop charts. Other artists who have recorded it include Woody Guthrie (1940), Tex Ritter (1941), Burl Ives (1956), The Weavers (1957), Rambling Jack Elliott (1958), Odetta (1963), Harry Belafonte (1968), Pete Seeger (1970), Dave Van Ronk (1996), The Wiggles (2008) and, one of my favourites, Josh White.

Here is an a capella version by Sid Selvidge.


Here is my performance of the song. And here are the lyrics.


Bought Me a Cat


This song is probably of English or Scottish origin, though it is also known in many European countries. It has been well preserved in the United States, after being largely forgotten in the old country. It is known by many names, including I Had a Little c0ck and He Pleased Me, I Haed a Hennie, I Went to Market, Bought a Cow, The Farmyard Song and The Barnyard Song. In Thomas W. Talley's 1922 book Negro Folk Rhymes it is called Bought Me a Wife.

It was collected from Emma Dusenbury of Arkansas by Sidney Robertson for the Library of Congress. Mike and Peggy Seeger sang it on American Folk Songs for Children (1987). There is a well-known recording by Sam Hinton on the Vanguard album Newport Folk Festival 1963.

Here is my recording and here are the lyrics.


Brown Skin Girl (King Radio)


This song was written by Trinidadian calypso singer, King Radio in 1946, and is a comment on the tendency of American servicemen in Trinidad during World War II to father babies and then abandon the children and their mothers when they returned to the United States.

It was popularised by Caribbean-American singer Harry Belafonte in his album, Calypso (1956). Jazz versions have been recorded by Sonny Rollins and Roy Haynes.

My rendition of the song can be seen here
, and the lyrics are here.

Buffalo Boy


This song had its origins in England in 1629 as Nicol o Cod. J. O. Halliwell-Phillips in The Nursery Rhymes of England (1846), gives another version, without a title, which begins When shall we be married, / My dear Nicholas Wood? It is also known as The Country Courtship, Mountaineer's Courtship, The Courtin' Song and When Shall We Get Married?

Theodore Bikel, who sang the song on his album, Bravo Bikel!, suggested that the theme is clearly related to songs like Soldier, Soldier, Will You Marry Me?
It was recorded by Mr. & Mrs. Ernest V. Stoneman in 1927 and by The Hillbillies the same year as The Mountaineer's Courtship.
Here is an excellent rendition of the song, somewhat similar to the Weavers version, which is the one I first heard.

Here is my rendition - a duet with my sister, Annette.

And here are the lyrics.

Buffalo Gals


This song was published as Lubly Fan in 1844 by the blackface minstrel John Hodges, who performed as "Cool White". However it it was probably a traditional song, well-known before it was written down and published. It was popular in minstrel shows throughout the United States, and the lyrics were changed depending on where it was sung to suit the local audience, so it might be performed as New York Gals or Charleston Gals. The best-known version refers to Buffalo, New York.

In his Collection of North Carolina Folklore, Frank Brown suggests it was inspired by an English singing game, Pray, Pretty Miss and that the tune is based on an old German music hall song, Im Grunewald, Im Grunewald ist Holzauktion.

A version of the song called Dance With Dolly was a hit in the USA in 1944.

Here is my performance of the song, and here are the lyrics.



Bury Me Beneath the Willow


This bluegrass standard has been recorded many times. Some examples are The Carter Family, The Weavers, Woody Guthrie, Almeda Riddle, Jean Ritchie, The Brothers Four, The Kingston Trio, Alison Krauss, The Monroe Brothers, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harries, & Linda Ronstadt.

Here is my video of the song, and here are the lyrics.


Bury Me Not On the Lone Prairie


Also known as The Cowboy's Lament, The Dying Cowboy and Bury Me Out on the Lone Prairie, this ballad must be the best known of all cowboy songs. It began as a sailor's song called The Sailor's Grave or The Ocean-Burial with the opening line, "O bury me not in the deep, deep sea." The cowboy lyrics go back to the 1800s, but were set to a different tune from the one commonly used now, which first appeared in print in 1932, though the lyrics that came with it had the opposite request - "Bury me out on the lone prairie."

The song has been recorded by many artists, including Johnny Cash, Burl Ives, Jimmie Rodgers,Tex Ritter, Sarah Harmer and Sons of the Pioneers.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.


Camptown Races (Stephen Foster)


Stephen Collins Foster was born in 1826 in Lawrenceville, east of Pittsburgh, the ninth child of the family. He was a great pioneer of American music. His aim was to write music that would be widely understood by the common people. He wanted to transform the black-face minstrel songs, extremely popular at that time, by making them more tasteful and compassionate rather than mocking the slaves as these songs tended to do.

His first big hit was Oh, Susanna, but he made little money out of it as it was widely pirated by music publishers. Some of his other popular songs, all written in the 1850s, were Old Folks at Home, My Old Kentucky Home, Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair and Hard Times Come Again No More. He died in 1864, one of his most popular songs, Beautiful Dreamer, being published posthumously.


This song, written in 1850, is typical of the humorous black-face minstrel songs popular at that time. The original title of the song was Gwine to Run All Night, and it is also sometimes referred to as Camptown Ladies.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.

And here is a short version of the song, with Sue Papper on melodeon.


Can the Circle Be Unbroken? (Ada Habershon, Charles Gabriel, A.P. Carter)


This well-known country gospel song about the death, funeral, and mourning of the narrator's mother was popularised by the singing of The Carter Family.

The chorus comes from the hymn Will the Circle Be Unbroken? which was written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon, with words by Charles Gabriel. The version recorded by the Carter family in 1935 is generally attributed to A. P. Carter though it is probably based on an earlier recording by Frank Welling & John McGhee (1930).

The Carter Family version has been covered by many artists, including The Staple Singers, John Fahey, Roy Acuff, Joan Baez, The Chieftains, John Lee Hooker, Bill Monroe, Bernice Reagon, Pentangle, Arlo Guthrie, Willie Nelson, Jeff Buckley, Johnny Cash and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. However, most cover versions of the song revert to the original title on which this song was based - Will the Circle be Unbroken?.

Here is my rendition of the song, and you can also hear it sung live by Sampson Chan at a session of The Hong Kong Folk Society at The Canny Man in Wanchai. And here is a great version from a banjo workshop we attended at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, 2010.

Here are the lyrics.

Careless Love


This very popular song comes in many versions with a variety of lyrics, including stock phrases which can be found in several songs. It is often performed as a blues or jazz song. It was especially popular at the beginning of the 20th century when it was a standard of the Buddy Bolden band in New Orleans.

It has been recorded countless times, but some of the more notable versions include those by Bessie Smith, Pete Seeger, Lonnie Johnson (1928), Blind Boy Fuller (1937), Leadbelly, Odetta, Big Joe Turner, Lightnin' Hopkins, Fats Domino (1951), Elvis Presley, Big Bill Broonzy (1956), Jean Ritchie, Louis Armstrong, Josh White, Dave Van Ronk, Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, Ray Charles, Bill Monroe, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash and Madeline Peyroux.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Carry Me Back to Old Virginny (James Bland)


James Bland (1854 - 1911) was an African American minstrel who wrote over 700 songs. He wrote this song in 1878, soon after the American Civil War, when many of the newly freed slaves were struggling to find work. The song has become controversial in this more politically correct age. In a slightly modified form (using "Virginia" instead of "Virginny") it was Virginia's state song from 1940 until 1997, when it was abandoned as the lyrics were considered offensive to African Americans.

Though Bland himself was well educated, he wrote this song from the perspective of an apparently nostalgic former slave, who seems to yearn for the good old days of slavery. It has been argued that the lyrics should not be taken literally and that the song articulates and perhaps satirizes the sense of betrayal and abandonment felt by white Southerners after Emancipation. Like a lot of minstrel songs of the time it expressed the feelings some whites attributed to the freed slaves. Others have argued the song is more about the difficulties facing free blacks in the supposedly non-discriminatory North which could make slavery seem an ironically appealing alternative. For many, their old 'masters' were the only family that they ever knew.

The song has been extensively covered, some of the most notable being by Alma Gluck (1916), Ray Charles, Frankie Laine, Virginia O'Brien and Jerry Lee Lewis (1963).

Here is my rendition of the song and here are the lyrics.


Charlie on the MTA (Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes)


The MTA (now MBTA) is the underground rail system in Boston. In the 1940s it had a very complex fare schedule, because when the fare increased the difference was collected as an "exit fare", rather than adjusting all the turnstiles to charge the new fare. Walter A. O'Brien, a Progressive Party candidate for mayor of Boston, fought the fare increases as a major part of his election platform. Seven songs were written for O'Brien's campaign in 1949, each dealing with one of his election policies, this one by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes, a member of The Almanac Singers, along with Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Recordings were made of the songs, to be broadcast from a sound truck drive around Boston, resulting in O'Brien being fined $10 for disturbing the peace. He also lost the election.

The melody came from a song called The Ship That Never Returned (1865), by Henry Clay Work (1865), who was best known for his song My Grandfather's Clock. A better known song that used the same melody is The Wreck of Old #97.

Will Holt recorded the song for Coral Records after he heard a former member of O'Brien's team perform it in a San Francisco coffee house. The record company hastily withdrew the recording when they were attacked by Boston conservatives for making a hero out of someone who was considered a Communist, this being the 1950s when McCarthy was conducting his witch hunt.

In 1959, The Kingston Trio recorded the song, but changed Walter's name to George to avoid the problems of Holt's recording. They also changed some of the lyrics.

For my rendition I used the original (pre-Kingston Trio) lyrics.


Chased Old Satan (Through the Door)


An Old Time string band classic from The Woodie Brothers. The original recording was in 1931, with Ephraim Woodie on guitar and Lawton Woodie on harmonica.

Ash cakes were baked by wrapping dough in cloth, placing them in a corner of the fireplace, and covering them with ashes and coals. They were supposed to have a delicious flavor when baked that way, but it was difficult to control the heat, or keep the bread clean.

You can hear the song played here by the Downtrodden String Band.

Here is my rendition and the lyrics are here.



The Chivalrous Man-eating Shark (Wallace Irwin)


This song was written by Wallace Irwin and originally printed in a collection of nautical tunes Nautical Lays of a Landsman in 1904. It was sung by Burl Ives on his 10-inch LP, Folk Songs About the Fair Sex (1956), which is also where I first heard Barbara Allen. The actual title was The Woman and the Chivalrous Shark.

You can watch my performance and the lyrics are here.

I also sang this song at Jenni Gruner's family reunion on a farm in Ontario. You can see the performance here.


Christians at War (John F. Kendrick)


From its beginning in 1905 to the USA’s entry into World War I in 1917, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) became one of the most active labor unions in the country, due to the widespread appeal of it’s goal to overthrow capitalism and form “one big union” of all workers. The IWW realised that appealing to workers with music was more powerful than any other form of propaganda. The union’s songbook, Songs of the Workers (also known as The Little Red Songbook) originated in the Spokane, Washington, branch of the IWW.

The IWW’s use of music and song developed came partly from the union’s rivalry with organized religion. Although they believed religion was just a tactic of the bosses to distract workers’ attention away from the evils of capitalism by promising “pie in the sky”, they recognized the appeal of religion, especially as promoted by organizations like the Salvation Army. In an attempt to beat the Salvation Army at its own game, when a Salvation Army band met in public to sing and play music, Wobblies would often turn up and sing their own lyrics to the band’s tunes.

During the First World War the IWW's ridiculed the war effort in parodies that pointed out the hypocrisy of the USA claiming to have God on their side while fighting against another Christian country. This song, written by John F. Kendrick P and first published in the 9th edition (the Joe Hill Memorial edition) of the Industrial Worker Little Red Songbook in March, 1916, is one of the best known examples. It is a parody of the popular Christian hymn, Onward, Christian Soldiers.

My rendition is here and here are the lyrics.

This song has been put on "The Art of Peace" website.


Cindy


This popular folks song, according to Alan Lomax, originated in North Carolina. One of the earliest versions was a plantation song called Cindy Ann though the version known today was written by
Benjamin Weisman, Dolores Fuller and Fred Wise, using the name Cindy, Cindy. It has been recorded by many artists, including Pete Seeger and Buffy Sainte-Marie, Johnny Cash and Nick Cave, Elvis Presley, and The Kingston Trio. It was featured in the movie Rio Bravo, sung by Ricky Nelson, Dean Martin and Walter Brennan.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


The City of New Orleans (Steve Goodman)


This song was written by Steve Goodman and recorded for his self-titled album in 1971. It describes a nostalgic train ride from Chicago to New Orleans via the Illinois Central Railroad. Goodman got the idea while traveling on the train to visit his wife's family. He performed the song for Arlo Guthrie in a bar in Chicago and Guthrie added it to his repertoire. Guthrie included it on his 1972 album, Hobo's Lullaby and it became a hit for him. It has also been covered by Willie Nelson, John Denver, Johnny Cash, Judy Collins and Hank Snow among many others.

Here is my cover and here are the lyrics.

Clementine


A well-known American song about the drowning of a miner's daughter. the earliest known version is Down By the River Lived a Maiden (1863), by H. S. Thompson, though there is no mention of the miner, and it has a different tune. The first version with the popularly known tune is Oh My Darling Clementine, attributed to Percy Montrose in 1884. The verse about kissing her little sister, often supposed to be a relatively recent addition, did actually appear in print as early as 1897. Presumably it was left out of many collections because Clementine was popular as a children's or scout campfire song. There have been many parodies of the song, one of the best being Tom Lehrer's version.

It has been recorded by Pete Seeger, among others.

Here is my rendition of the song. The lyrics are here.

Lew Dite and I sang this song together for our forthcoming CD, and he used the song on the sound track of this video about our experience on "The Maid of the Mist" at Niagara Falls.


Cold Missouri Waters (James Keelaghan)


This song, by Canadian singer-songwriter, James Keelaghan, is about a disastrous fire that occured in Mann Gulch, Montana in 1949.

Fourteen firefighters and a forest ranger jumped into what was thought to be an easy fire to put out. Unexpectedly, the fire surrounded them. When the crew chief, Robert Wagner Dodge, realized the danger they were in, he started an escape fire and ordered the men to lie down in the burnt area. According to Dodge, he had not heard of this technique before, and had just got a sudden inspiration that this would work, though it was well-known to the plains Indians, and had been included in nineteenth century fictional stories.

Unfortunately the message did not get to the crew. Whether they didn't hear him, didn't understand his instructions or didn't believe it would work, they chose to climb the ridge of Mann Gulf, knowing that fires spread more slowly on the ridges. Dodge later claimed that he heard someone say, "The hell with that; I'm getting out of here". All but two were killed - Dodge himself and a new recruit. He died five years later of Hodgkins disease.

The story of the song is told from the point of view of Dodge, on his death bed. As crew chief, he was considered responsible for the men's death, but here he gives his own version of what happened.

This video tribute to the men who died at Mann Gulch uses the song, but doesn't say who is singing it!

Here is my performance of the song. And here are the lyrics.


Columbus Stockade


This song from the Southern States of America often goes by the name of Columbus Stockade Blues. It is a variation on a song known as Dear Companion or Fond Affection and probably has its roots in a Scottish song called Go and Leave Me (If You Wish It).

Other variations in American folksong collections include Broken Vows, The Broken Heart, Thou Hast Learned To Love Another, When the Cold, Cold Clay Is Laid Around Me, If You Ever Learn To Love Me, Lay Me Where the Sweet Flowers Blossom, Fair Young Lover, Pretty Little Girls Are Made To Marry, Many Times With You I've Wandered, Bye and Bye You Will Forget Me (about 1884), Broken Hearted Lover, We Have Met & We Have Parted (about 1870), Thou Hast Learned To Love Another (about 1849), Little Darling Pal of Mine and many more.

The Columbus stockade building in Georgia was used as a police headquarters at the turn of the century, and is still used as a jail. In 1927, Tom Darby and Jimmie Tarlton traveled to Atlanta to record what presumably was the first version of this traditional song that actually refers to Columbus Stockade - Stockade Blues. Since then it has been recorded by many artists, including Willie Nelson, Doc Watson, Marty Robbins, Elvis Presley, Leon Russell and Arlo Guthrie.

I first heard this song sung by Woody Guthrie with Cisco Houston and Sonny Terry, so it is his version I know and sing.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies


This is one of those songs that are made up mostly of "floating" verses that attach themselves several different songs. Also known as Little Sparrow, it is probably related to Waley Waley / The Water is Wide (Child 204), which goes back at least to the eighteenth century. Several versions have been found in America, including 18 versions collected by Sharp between 1916 and 1918, and published in his English Folk-Songs from the Southern Appalachians. Some versions seem to be variations of songs that tell a "Romeo and Juliet" story, such as Silver Dagger and The Silk Merchant's Daughter. Another related song is Roscoe Holcomb's Willow Tree.

It has been recorded by many folk singers, including Jean and Edna Ritchie (1950), The Carter Family, Joan Baez, Terrea Lee, The Kingston Trio, Liam Clancy, Jackson Browne (1975) and Peter, Paul and Mary.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Come Away Melinda (Fred Hellerman)


This antiwar ballad was written and sung by Fred Hellerman of The Weavers. Here is an anti-war video which uses Hellerman's original performance as the sound track.

Among those who have covered it are Harry Belafonte, Judy Collins, The Mamas and the Papas, Kenny Rankin, Tim Rose, Bobbie Gentry, Uriah Heep and UFO.

I sang this song in my only Television appearance, when I was 18. You can hear a sound recording of it at the end of my performance of the song.

The lyrics are here.


Come Back Liza (Burgess, Attaway)


The song is on Belafonte's classic 1956 Calypso album and also on the first Carnegie Hall concert. It is credited to Lord Burgess and Bill Attaway, who were also credited with several songs on Calypso including Day-O (Banana Boat Song) and Jamaica Farewell. I remember learning this at school when I was a child.

Here is my video of this song, and here are the lyrics.


Coming Round the Mountain


See She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain below.


Cool Water (Bob Nolan)


Written in 1936, this song is about a man crossing a desert with his mule, Dan.

The best-known recording was by Vaughn Monroe and The Sons of the Pioneers in 1948. It was on the Billboard magazine chart for 13 weeks that year. Other recordings are by Hank Williams (1948/9?), Hank Snow, Frankie Laine (1955), Fleetwood Mac (1982), Marty Robbins (1959), Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Slim Whitman, Burl Ives, Eddy Arnold, Leo Kottke and Joni Mitchell, with different lyrics (1988). Bob Dylan and The Band also recorded it for the Basement Tapes sessions, but it is only available on bootleg. And here it is, done by The Muppets.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.


Copper Kettle (Albert Frank Beddoe)This is a featured page


This song, made popular by Joan Baez, is often thought to be a traditional folk song, but A. F. Beddoe claimed to have written it in 1953 as part of a folk opera, Go Lightly, Stranger.

The line "We ain't paid no whiskey tax since 1792" refers to an unpopular levy imposed in 1791 by the new U.S. Federal Government, which provoked the Whiskey Rebellion and lasted only until 1803.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Cotton Fields


This song was written by Leadbelly in 1940 and recorded in Angola, Louisiana, where he served time (and where there are many cotton fields). It has been covered by many singers, including Bill Monroe, The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group (1957), Harry Belafonte (1958), The Lighttown Skiffle Group (1960), The Highwaymen (1961), (Here is a later version by The Highwaymen), Johnny Cash, Buck Owens (1963), Odetta (1963), The Robert DeCormier Singers, The Beach Boys (1969), Teresa Brewer, (Muppet Show version), Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969) and Buckwheat Zydeco.

Here is my performance of the song and here are the lyrics.


Cotton Mill Colic (Dave McCarn)


Dave McCarn wrote this song about the often grim situation of the millhands in 1926. Released on record in August 1930, it was soon being sung by striking Piedmont mill workers. It was collected by Alan Lomax in 1939 and appeared in Folksongs of North America and Our Singing Country. It has been recorded by several artists including Lester Pete Bivins, The Blue Sky Boys and both Pete & Mike Seeger.

Lew Dite sang this song at our first meeting in July 2010, down by Black Lake near Montreal. Here are the lyrics.


Crawdad


This song from the Southern States of the U.S. grew out of African-American blues combined with white American children's play songs. There are a number of variations, such as This Morning, This Evening, So Soon, Sweet Thing, How Many Biscuits Can You Eat? and What Ya Gonna Do?, as sung by Josh White, for example.

Apparently, among the earliest singers of this song were the workers building levees along the Mississippi to prevent flooding.

Here is a performance by Porter Wagoner in the 1960s, and one by Jerry Lee Lewis.


The first known publication was in 1874 under the name Baby Mine.

Here is my performance of the song and here's one I did with Matthew Vaughan in Bangkok.

Here it is sung by Katrina Rodeheaver and Camille Lacey, who were participants in Cantus Salisburgensis festival. They sang this and Rocky Top at our closing ceremony at Salzburg Fortress on 6th July 2014.

Here are the lyrics.

Danville Girl


This classic American hobo song has appeared in many different versions. The earliest known recording is by George Reneau in 1925 under the title Ten Thousand Miles Away From Home. Other titles used have been A Wild and Reckless Hobo, The Railroad Bum, Good Morning Mister Railroad Man and Waiting For a Train. Some of the others to record it are Vernon Dalhart (1925),
Dock Boggs (1927), Jimmie Rodgers (1928), Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston, Pete Seeger, Johnny Cash and The New Lost City Ramblers.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Dark as a Dungeon (Merle Travis)


This song about the deadly lure of the coal mines was written by Merle Travis, whose father and brothers were all coal miners in Kentucky where he grew up.

Merle Travis himself remembers his oldest brother, Taylor washing up in a galvanized tub in the middle of the floor after coming home from the mines: "When I'd watch him wash the black coal dust from a little rose tattoo on his arm I longed for the day when I could work in the mine and have a tattoo... He practically broke every rib in his body in a mine accident and it changed his whole life..."

Travis first recorded the song in 1946.It was later popularised by Johnny Cash when he first sang it in his Folsom Prison concert. It has been covered by many other singers, including Dolly Parton, Harry Belafonte, Bob DeCormier, Pete Seeger, John Greenway, Cisco Houston, Jim Kweskin (1971), Rose Maddox (1976), The Weavers, The Wolfe Tones (1965), Glenn Yarbrough, Joan Baez (in 1964 and with Bob Dylan in their 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue concerts) and Patrick Sky (1985). The band, Wall of Voodoo, did a punk version in 1985.

Here's a performance by Ryan's Fancy and a nice one from a YouTuber who calls himself Fret Killer.

Here is my performance of this song and the lyrics are here.


Darling Corey


Also known as Darling Cora, Little Lulie and The Gambling Man, this well-known folk song about a banjo-picking, moonshine-making mountain woman was first recorded in 1927 by Clarence Gill (under the name Little Corey). A version was collected by Cecil Sharp as early as 1917, but it probably dates from the late nineteenth century.

Buell Kazee and B. F. Shelton both recorded it later the same year. Other early recordings were by Jack Wallin, Roscoe Holcomb, The Monroe Brothers (1936), and Pete Seeger. Burl Ives included it on his debut album in 1941, at a much slower pace than it is usually done.

It probably dates from the late 19th century and is clearly related to the songs Country Blues (Hustling Gamblers), East Virginia Blues and Little Maggie (see below), which were generally sung either as white blues ballads or bluegrass tunes.

I first heard it sung by The Weavers. Here is a performance by Mike Seeger, another by Lou Reid, and an unusual a cappella version by Debra Cowan.

Here is my performance of the song, and here are the lyrics.

Days of Forty-Nine


A song from the California gold rush of 1849. The protagonist remembers the various characters he met "in the days of old when we dug up the gold."

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Deep Blue Sea


This could be of English origin, possibly a fragment of an older ballad. Pete Seeger suggested it has also been influenced by West Indian musical traditions.

It is a good song for group singing. Here is a video of Grizzly Bear singing it on the beach.

Here is my rendition. Here are the lyrics.

Deep Elem Blues


See Black Bottom Blues.


Delaware (Irving Gordon)


This song, by Irving Gordon, was published in 1959. It is made up of puns referring to fifteen states of the United States. Apparently he was inspired to write this after the success of his song, Mister and Mississippi, which made use of a pun on the state of Mississippi.

Perry Como recorded it on December 28, 1959, and it reached Number 22 on the Billboard charts in March 1960. It did even better in the UK where it reached Number 3 in the charts.

My cover is here and here are the lyrics.


Delia's Gone


There are many versions of this song, which is based on the story of Delia Green, a 14-year-old African-American who was shot and killed by 15-year-old Mose Houston on Christmas Eve, 1900, in the Yamacraw neighborhood of Savannah. According to the newspapers, Houston had been involved in a sexual relationship with Green for several months. The shooting took place at the home of Willie West, who chased down Houston after the shooting and turned him over to the city police.

Although Houston reportedly had confessed to the murder at the time of his arrest, at his trial he claimed the shooting was accidental. Other witnesses, however, testified that Houston had become angry after Green called him "a son of a bltch." He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, on the jury's recommendation of mercy. After serving more than twelve years, he was paroled by Governor John M. Slaton in 1913. He is believed to have died in New York City in 1927 after other brushes with the law.

There are two well-known songs inspired by this murder. This one is usually attributed to calypso singer, Blake Alphonso Higgs, also known as "Blind Blake". It has been covered by The Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger, Josh White and Johnny Cash.

The other song, simply known as Delia is generally attributed to Blind Willie McTell. Singers who have covered it are Bob Dylan, David Bromberg and Rev. Gary Davis.

Here is my rendition of Delia's Gone and here are the lyrics.

Devilish Mary


I know little about this song. I learnt it as a child from Burl Ives10" LP, Folk Songs About the Fair Sex (1953). It may well be of English origin, given the reference to London Town, but I have not come across any English recordings of it.

Here is my video of the song, and here are the lyrics.


The first upload of this video has been removed from YouTube due to corrupted file. For details of views and comments, see the Archives page.

Diamond Joe


See The State of Arkansas.


Digging My Potatoes


This old blues standard was recorded by many artists, notably Lead Belly and Lonnie Donegan. Others include Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Slim and Lew Dite. It is full of the sexual innuendos typical of the blues, and apparently Donegan's version was banned by the BBC.

My rendition is here and here are the lyrics.


Dink's Blues


This song was collected by John A. Lomax. In his book, Adventures Of A Ballad Hunter (1947), he tells of how he got the song from the woman called Dink at a negro levee-builders' camp on the Brazos River in 1908. The men were skilled workers from the Missisippi River Delta. Dink was one of several women shipped in from Memphis along with the mules in order to keep them happy. Lomax was able to collect muleskinners' shouts and hollers, but he wanted more.

"But Dink, reputedly the best singer in the camp, would give me no songs. 'Today ain't my singin' day,' she would reply to my urging. Finally, a bottle of gin, bought at a nearby plantation commissary, loosed her muse. The bottle of liquor soon disappeared. She sang, as she scrubbed her man's dirty clothes, the pathetic story of a woman deserted by her lover when she needs him most - a very old story. Dink ended the refrain with a subdued cry of despair and longing - the sobbing of a woman deserted by her man."

Also known as Dink's Song it has been sung by many artists including Pete Seeger, Dave van Ronk, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley, and The Big Three (with Mama Cass). Carolyn Hester, Leon Bibb, The Limeliters and Odetta. I first heard it sung by white blues singer, Barbara Dane, and it is her version I have in mind when I sing it. Some male singers change the words in order to sing it from a man's point of view, but to me this is a distortion of the song. If you are not comfortable hearing a man sing this very female song, just imagine this missing first verse: "As I went out one morning to buy a bottle of booze / I overheard a lady singing this mournful blues." It's a common enough technique, as I've discussed in the introduction to Lolly Too Dum.

Here's a version performed by the Furnace Mountain Band.

Here is
my performance, and here are the lyrics.


Discrimination Blues (Big Bill Broonzy)


Big Bill Broonzy wrote this song during the second world war, at a time when many African-American soldiers were fighting against fascism and racism alongside their white brothers. Meanwhile back home black Americans were still being treated as second-class citizens.

The song is also known as Black, Brown and White or Git Back Blues.

Here is my performance of this song. Here are the lyrics.



Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor On the Bedpost Over Night
(Marty Bloom / Ernest Breuer / Billy Rose)


This song was originally called Does The Spearmint Lose its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight? It was first released by The Happiness Boys, Ernie Hare & Billy Jones in 1924.

Lonnie Donegan had a big hit when he covered it in 1961, both in the UK and the USA. The title had to be changed in the UK, because "Spearmint" is a registered trade mark, which meant the song could not be played on the BBC, which was strictly non-commercial. Donegan's cover was recorded live at the New Theatre Oxford in December 1958 and then released as a single. The grammatical error in Donegan's title - an apostrophe in "it's" -appeared In both the UK and US releases.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Donna Donna (Aaron Zeitlin - lyrics, Sholom Secunda - music)


Originally Dana Dana this song was written in Yiddish for the musical play Esterke (1940-1941) during the Nazi era. It was banned in South Korea as a communist song.

The song is subject to various interpretations but the calf is generally believed to represent a Jew being taken to one of the German concentration camps by the farmer, representing the Nazis. The swallow at first may represent those who are not being subjected to persecution, but by the end of the song it represents the free spirit of the Jew which remains free whatever is suffered by the physical body.

Secunda translated the song into English, but it did not become popular until it was translated as Donna Donna in 1956 by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz. It really took off when Joan Baez sang it in 1960.

Other recordings include Donovan (1965), The Chad Mitchell Trio and Theodore Bikel.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


My video of this song has been posted on a site called Voices in Wartime.


Don't Jump Off the Roof, Dad (Cy Coben)


This song, composed by American songwriter, Cy Coben, in 1960, was first recorded by Homer and Jethro. It was also a big hit for Tommy Cooper in England (1961). His performance was actually the B-side of a song called How Come There's No Dog Day?, one of only two recordings he made.

Garrison Keillor wrote new lyrics for the song in 2000.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.


Down in the Valley


There are a number of versions of this traditional folk song, two good well-known variations being Birmingham Jail, and Connemara Cradle Song. There is a shorter version that is widely sung, but this is the one used by the Scouts and Guides for campfire singalongs.

Here is my video of the song, and here are the lyrics.



Down in the Valley to Pray


Also known as Down to the River to Pray, The Good Old Way and Come, Let us All Go Down, this song goes back to the days of slavery, and was later popularised by The Jubilee Singers.

Other performers who have recorded it include Lead Belly, Sarah Ogan Gunning (1974), Doc Watson and Arlo Guthrie. The song had a big revival when Alison Krauss's recording was used in the soundtrack of the movie, O, Brother Where Art Thou?

Here is my attempt at the song, with my sister Annette, her husband, Richard, and my wife, Yoong.

The lyrics are here.


Down on Penny's Farm


This song about the problems of sharecroppers was the inspiration for two of Dylan's songs - Hard Times in New York Town and Maggie's Farm.

One of the earliest recordings of this song was by the Bently Boys in 1929, which was included on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music (Folkways Records, 1952). It is believed to have originated from an earlier song called Hard Times. It has also been recorded by Pete Seeger and Natalie Merchant.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.



Drill Ye Tarriers


This song about railway workers was sung by a Thomas Casey, according to sheet music published in 1888, though it probably goes back to earlier days of railroad construction. The word "tarriers" may mean "terriers" - people who dig in the earth. There is also a Newfoundland version called Drill ye Heroes, Drill.

Here is Lew Dite singing it.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.



Duncan and Brady


A song from the African-American tradition. The best known version, which this is based on, was recorded twice by Lead Belly in 1947, once with guitar and once a capella. There was an earlier recording in 1929 (Wilmer Watts) and one by Blind Jesse Harris in 1937. Many have recorded it since then, including Koerner, Ray and Glover, who did a number of Lead Belly covers, Judy Henske, Dave van Ronk, Tom Rush and Bob Dylan.

It is believed to be based on an actual incident in St Louis in 1893. A "grocery" was not just a shop, but something like a saloon, where women could also get a drink as they could claim they were just there for the groceries.

Some versions begin with "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", which might seem a bit strange, until you realise it is the star worn by Brady, the Sheriff. One example of this is Jim Page's version, which you can hear on YouTube.

My rendition is here, and the lyrics are here.

The Dying Hobo


There is a strong tradition of songs that relate the last words and wishes of someone dying, from Streets of Laredo to Tie Me Kangaroo Down. There are dying doctors, dying aviators and dying miners. This one is a hobo song, with obvious links to Big Rock Candy Mountain, and we know that in this case the dying wishes will not be respected, as the hobo's friend makes off with the dead man's hat and coat as soon as he has departed.

The song is said to be a hobo parody of "Bingen On The Rhine" an English ballad from the mid-nineteenth century, with lyrics by Carolyn Lady Maxwell.

Some early recordings are by Arthur Fields (1923), Kelly Harrell (1926) and Travis B Hale. It has also been recorded by Doc Watson.

This song was requested by nyctotheory.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

East Virginia


This beautiful love song has been recorded many times. One of the earliest versions I have heard is by Buell Kazee in 1927, though the Carter Family's version would have been around the same time. Others are by Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Sandy Denny, The Weavers, The Brothers Four, Bob Fuller, The Stanley Brothers, The Grateful Dead, LewDite and The Monkees.

Here is a bluegrass version by a group called 2nd Generation.

I have put up two versions of this song on YouTube. The first performance is based on the singing of Joan Baez. This one is a more traditional version. Here are the lyrics.



Erie Canal (Thomas Allen)


Also known as Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal, Low Bridge, Everybody Down, The Erie Canal Song, Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal, and Mule Named Sal, this song was written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen after engine power took over from mule power on the Erie Canal, so the barges could go more than fifteen miles in a day. Between 1825 and 1880 the mule barges were responsible for the growth of towns such as Utica, Rome, Syracus, Rochester and Buffalo.

The song refers to travelers who would typically ride on top of the boats, and who would need to get down to allow safe passage under the low bridges. Although written as a Tin Pan Alley song it has become part of the folk repertoire. Artists who have recorded it include Glenn Yarborough, Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio and Bruce Springsteen.

Here is my video of the song and here are the lyrics.


The E-ri-e Was Rising


Another song about the Erie Canal. Little is known about its origins but it was published in Best Loved American Folk Songs, by John and Alan Lomax (1947).

It was popularised by The Weavers.

Here is my video of the song and here are the lyrics.


Every Night When the Sun Goes In


This song was collected by Cecil Sharp from a Mrs. Effie Mitchell of Burnsville, North Carolina, in 1918 and included in his English Folk Songs in the Appalachian Mountains. I first heard it sung by The Weavers - actually as a solo by Ronnie Gilbert. The theme of the young man losing interest when his girl becomes pregnant is a bit of a folk song cliche, and this song shares verses with a number of other similar songs.

Here is my rendition. If anyone is uncomfortable with a male singing from a female point of view, just imagine you missed the first verse where the guy says he was out walking one fine morning and overheard a poor girl making this complaint. And here are the lyrics.


Evil Hearted Man Blues (Josh White)


This very macho song was written by one of the great African-American folk and blues singers, Josh White.

Here is my video of the song and here are the lyrics.


Fod


I first heard this children's nonsense song sung by my YouTube friend, Tony (threelegsoman). You can hear his rendition here. It appears to be a variation on "Springfield Mountain", also known as "Rattlesnake Mountain" or "The Pesky Sarpent".

The only known early recording is this one by Henry King, a 48-year-old Oklahama emigrant to California via Missouri. It was collected by C. Todd and R. Sonkin in 1941 and possibly originated as a blackface minstrel song. King introduces it as a very old song that he used to sing as a child.

It is unusual in that the main chorus is one spoken word, "Fod", which is to be shouted out by the audience of children.

Here is my rendition of the song (coming) and here are the lyrics.

Follow the Drinking Gourd


This song actually has its own website: Follow the Drinking Gourd: A Cultural History. This fascinating and scholarly site gives detailed information about the background to the song and raises questions about the authenticity of the story it tells. Here is the Introduction:

The American folksong Follow the Drinking Gourd was first published in 1928. The Drinking Gourd song was supposedly used by an Underground Railroad operative to encode escape instructions and a map. These directions then enabled fleeing slaves to make their way north from Mobile, Alabama to the Ohio River and freedom. Taken at face value, the "drinking gourd" refers to the hollowed out gourd used by slaves (and other rural Americans) as a water dipper. But here it is used as a code name for the Big Dipper star formation, which points to Polaris, the Pole Star, and North.

In the ensuing 80 years, the Drinking Gourd played an important role in the Civil Rights and folk revival movements of the 1950s and 1960s, and in contemporary elementary school education. Much of the Drinking Gourd's enduring appeal derives from its perceived status as a unique, historical remnant harkening back to the pre-Civil War South – no other such map songs survive. But re-examining the Drinking Gourd song as history rather than folklore raises many questions. And the Drinking Gourd as it appears in roughly 200 recordings, dozens of songbooks, several award-winning children's books and many other places is surely not "traditional." The signature line in the chorus, "for the old man is awaitin' for to carry you to freedom," could not possibly have been sung by escaping slaves, because it was written by Lee Hays eighty years after the end of the Civil War.


My video is here and here are the lyrics.


Four Nights Drunk (Child 274)


This is an American version of the old Child ballad,Our Goodman. I first heard it sung by The Weavers. The song is also popular in Ireland, where it is known as Seven Drunken Nights, the best known recording being that of the Dubliners. Another version was performed by Steeleye Span.

Here is my performance of this song. Here are the lyrics.


Frankie and Johnny


The origins of this song, also known as Frankie and Albert, are unclear. It has been suggested that it was inspired by an incident in 1899 in St Louis. Missouri, when a 22-year-old mulatto dancer, Frankie, murdered her 17-year-old black lover, Al Britt, who was two-timing her with a woman named Alice Pryor.

The melody normally used today is thought to have been written by Nat D. Ayer and first published in 1912 as the chorus to a song called You're My Baby.

The first published version of lyrics similar to those known today was in 1925 in On the Trail of Negro Folksongs by Dorothy Scarborough, under the title Frankie and Albert, followed two years later by a similar version using the name Frankie and Johnny in Carl Sandburg's The American Songbag. Sandburg himself said the song was common along the Mississippi River and among railroad men as early as 1888, while John Jacob Niles dated it as early as the late 1820s. Others suggest it is much more recent, saying that it is unlikely that there would be no published versions until the 1920s if the song were really as old as claimed.

Among the hundreds who have recorded this song are Lead Belly, Frank Crumit (1927), Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, Josh White, Lonnie Donegan, Mississippi John Hurt, Elvis Presley (from his 1966 film of that name), Mae West, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Taj Mahal, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chet Atkins, Jimmie Rodgers, Gene Vincent, Fats Waller, Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan.

And, of course, YouTube Songster, Lew Dite.

And also a really great performance by Blind Drunk Al.

There is also a great version by Charlie Poole, who rewrote it and renamed it Leaving Home. He recorded it with The North Carolina Ramblers in 1926. In this version Frankie shoots Johnny in the back for threatening to leave her, then begs to be jailed.
You can hear Lew Dite sing this version at The Gryphon D'Or in Montreal where we gathered for the YouTube Strummit.

I first heard the song performed by Burl Ives on one of my parents' 10 inch 78 rpm recordings, when I was a young child, so his is probably the version that has stuck with most strongly.

You can see my video of the song, and here are the lyrics.



The Frozen Logger (James Stewart)


This tall story was written in 1951 by American writer and composer, James Stewart (1892-1971).

It has been recorded many times. One of the earliest was by Odetta (1954). Others include Cisco Houston, Jimmie Rodgers, The Weavers, Jim Kweskin, Oscar Brand and Margaret Roadknight. It was also sung (but not recorded) by Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.



Gently Johnny, My Jingalo


I know little about this pleasant song, but I believe it is of English origin. The only recording I have heard was on an album by Terrea Lea. There are various bawdy versions, but this one is spotlessly clean. I don't know what a jingalo is, though I'm pretty sure it's not the same as a gigolo!

One of the bawdy versions was originally used in the film The Wicker Man.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.


Git Along, Little Dogies


A popular cowboy song. Apparently orphan calves were known as dough-guts, which was eventually shortened to dogie, which is used in cattle country to refer to a pot-bellied orphan calf. It should be pronounced with a long "o" sound - not like "doggies".

The song was collected in Texas in about 1893 by Owen Wister, author of The Virginian, though the "whoopie ti-yi-yo" was a later addition as it was originally "Sing hooplio, get along little dogies."

You can watch my video of this song. Here are the lyrics.



The Goat Song


Though I first heard this as an American song, it is more likely to have originated in England. It is also known, in shorter versions, as Bill Grogan's Goat or Old Hogan's Goat. It was also turned into a parody of The Lonely Goatherd, called The Highland Goat Song. Another version, from Kentucky, called Grandpa's Billygoat, tells a different story, but includes the goat coughing up the shrts and flagging down the train.

In 1904, a variation written and sung by Billy Brackett was published as sheet music (Music by Lottie L. Meda). It seems to include some lines inspired by The Cat Came Back.

I used to sing this song with my sister, Annette, when she was about five or six years old and I was about eighteen. We haven't sung together since that time, so it was fun to get together with her recently and try it again. The main difference was that this time she understood what she was singing about.

Here is our performance and here are the lyrics.


Go Away From My Window (John Jacob Niles)

Folksinger and musicologist, John Jacob Niles claimed to have composed this song when he was 16 years old, but did not perform it until 1930.

It has been recorded by many singers, including Harry Belafonte, Marlene Dietrich and Linda Ronstadt.

Niles was one of the many influences on Bob Dylan, as can be seen in this extract from Chronicles: "I listened a lot to a John Jacob Niles record, too. Niles was nontraditional, but he sang traditional songs. A Mephistophelean character out of Carolina, he hammered away at some harplike instrument and sang in a bone chilling soprano voice. Niles was eerie and illogical, terrifically intense and gave you goosebumps. Definitely a switched-on character, almost like a sorcerer. Niles was otherworldly and his voice raged with strange incantations. I listened to 'Maid Freed from the Gallows' and 'Go Away From My Window' plenty of times."

Dylan refers to this song in the first line of his song, It Ain't Me, Babe.

Here is my rendition of the song. I try to sing it something like the way Niles does it.

And here are the lyrics.


Going Down the Road Feeling Bad


This song, also known as Chilly Winds and Ain't Gonna Be Treated This Way was recorded many times in the 1920s and 1930s by hillbilly artists such as Henry Whitter, Ernest Stoneman, Riley Puckett and Fiddlin’ John Carson, though the song was probably known much earlier, and possibly has African-American roots. Since 1933 it has been known as the song of the migrant families who were escaping the dustbowl of Oklahoma and the floods of Arkansas.

It has also been recorded by Big Bill Broonzy, Cousin Emmy, Elizabeth Cotton, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Gerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.

I first heard it sung by Burl Ives on one of my parents 78s as the B-side of Big Rock Candy Mountain. That was an appropriate pairing, though, at that age, I didn't see the connection between these songs.

You can hear me sing it on this video, and the lyrics are here.

Going to the West


According to Peggy Seeger, this song was collected from an Alabama singer, Janie Barnard Couch, in the late 1940's. Janie said she believed the song was composed about 1880, when there was a large migration of people from Marshall County going to the new lands of Texas. The song tells of a young man whose wife would not accompany him on the journey.

It is sung here by Hillary Hall in the Saturday concert at the Hong Kong Folk Society Reunion at Halsway Manor, Somerset, in July 2014.

Here are the lyrics.

Goodnight Irene


This song was made famous by Lead Belly, whose1936 Library of Congress recording received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. He claimed he learned it from his uncle. It may have been based on an 1886 pop song by Gussie L. Davis.

The Weavers recorded it in New York City on May 26, 1950. Their recording lasted 25 weeks on the charts, reaching No 1.

It has since been recorded by a number of artists, includingFrank Sinatra (1950), Gene Autry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Ry Cooder, Michelle Shocked, Bryan Ferry, Little Richard, Pete Seeger, The Irish Rovers, Peter, Paul & Mary, Mississippi John Hurt, Bob Hope, Nat King Cole, Odetta, Carl Perkins, Big Bill Broonzy, Lonnie Donegan, Robert Johnson, Chet Atkins, Leon Russell, Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, Van Morrison, The Chieftains, Jimmy Buffett, Grateful Dead, The Pogues, Mitch Miller, John Sebastian and just about everybody else, including forty thousand Bristol Rovers fans.

Here is a nice version by YouTube singer, DrBlueMoon.

Here are members of the Hong Kong Folk Society singing it after several hours of singing, playing and drinking, and here I am singing it with Lew Dite while Yoong shucks corn.

Later we sang it on the porch with Ukulele Katie from Virginia.

Here are the lyrics.


Good Old Mountain Dew (Bascom Lamar Lunsford)


Bascom Lunsford was not only a folklorist but also a lawyer, who defended clients in criminal cases involving moonshining.

It has been recorded by many artists, including Mother Maybelle Carter, Trini Lopez (1968), Willie Nelson (1974), Grandpa Jones, Doc Watson, Glen Campbell (2005) and The Stanley Brothers.

Here it is performed by participants in a banjo workshop at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, 1910. The artists are Allan Ricketts, Old Man Luedecke, Ray McLain, Rik Barron and Leroy Troy.


Green Corn


This African-American play-party song was popularised by Lead Belly. It has also been recorded by The Weavers and Richard Dyer-Bennet.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.


Green Green Grass of Home (Claude "Curly" Putman Jr.)


This country song was first popularised by Porter Wagoner in 1964 and then by Bobby Bare in 1965. When Tom Jones

Since then it has been covered by many singers including Elvis Presley (1975), Johnny Cash (1968) on his Folsom Prison album, Kenny Rogers (1977) and Joan Baez (1969) on David's Album.

recorded it in 1966 it reached number one in the UK Singles Charts where it remained for seven weeks. It was also recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis in 1966, but was not particularly successful.

Here is my rendition. And here it is sung by the Hong Kong Welsh Male Choir's very own Tom Jones, Terry Brewster, at Tony and Gidget Wong's 20th Wedding Anniversary party.

Here are the lyrics.


The Grey Goose


This traditional American folk song was made famous by Lead Belly in the 1930s. It is about a preacher who hunts and captures a grey goose for dinner on a Sunday but is unable to kill it no matter how hard he tries. The implication could be that he had not properly observed the Sabbath. Some commentators see the goose as a metaphor for the tough spirit of the African Americans who began as slaves but refused to be defeated.

You can hear this song, along with Pick a Bale of Cotton and Take This Hammer sung by Lead Belly himself in this medley.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (Harry McClintock)


Harry McClintock, who recorded this song in 1926, claimed that he wrote it when he was a hobo in 1897 or 98, basing it on a Salvation Army song called Revive Us Again. He sang the song in an army camp during the Spanish American War, where the soldiers added new verses. Other verses have been added by Carl Sandburg.

McClintock is probably best known for his other hobo song, The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Here is his original recording of Hallelujah, I'm a Bum.

My video of the song is here. And here I am singing it with Lew Dite on his famous porch. You can also see us working on it in this video about our first meeting.

The lyrics are here.



Ham and Eggs


This chain gang song is generally attributed to Lead Belly, but whether he actually composed it or adapted a traditional song is uncertain. The "Hah" sound represents the striking of the prisoners' hammers breaking rocks.

The song was recorded in 1957 by Lonnie Donegan, who did a great job of taking Lead Belly's songs to a wider audience. Lew Dite also does an excellent rendition of this song.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Hard Times Come Again No More (Stephen Foster)


Stephen Collins Foster was born in 1826 in Lawrenceville, east of Pittsburgh, the ninth child of the family. He was a great pioneer of American music. HIs aim was to write music that would be widely understood by the common people. He wanted to transform the black-face minstrel songs, extremely popular at that time, by making them more tasteful and compassionate rather than mocking the slaves as these songs tended to do.

His first big hit was Oh, Susanna, but he made little money out of it as it was widely pirated by music publishers. Some of his other popular songs, all written in the 1850s, were Old Folks at Home, My Old Kentucky Home, and Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair.

Hard Times Come Again No More was published in 1855. It was a comment on recent events in his own life, including his (temporary) separation from his wife, Jane, and the death of his closest friend as well as both his parents. He was also getting heavily into debt, taking advances from publishers and then finding he was unable to supply the songs he had promised them.

He died in 1864, one of his most popular songs, Beautiful Dreamer, being published posthumously.

Hard Times was given a new lease of life recently when recorded by Bob Dylan. It has also been recorded by Mary Black, Nanci Griffith and, of course, Dan Samples.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Haul Away Joe


This song is a short-drag shantey, also known as a foresheet or mainsheet shantey. Shanteys of this type were sung for short hauling jobs which required a few bursts of great force, such as changing the direction of sails via lines called braces, or tightening the corners of sails with sheets or tacks. There is one strong pull per chorus, normally on the last word, in this case "Joe".

This is one of ten songs I recorded with Matthew Vaughan in Bangkok on March 11th, 2013.

Here is our video of the song, and here are the lyrics.


Hicks' Farewell


This song was written by the Rev. B. Hicks, a Baptist minister of South Carolina. He wrote this in the belief that he was dying, while he was confined in Tennessee by a fever, and sent it to his wife. In fact he lived to preach another day. The lyrics first appeared in William Walker's Southern Harmony (1835)

My source for this version is George P Jackson's Spiritual Folk-Songs of Early America (1937). Doc Watson recorded the song, using a different tune.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Hobo's Lullaby (Goebel Reeves)


Goebel Reeves, himself a hobo by choice, wrote this song to the tune of the Carter Family song, Thinking Tonight of my Blue Eyes .

It has been recorded by Woody Guthrie, his son, Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, and Ramblin' Jack Elliot.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.


Home On the Range (Brewster Higley)


Dr. Brewster M. Higley (1823–1911) of Kansas, wrote a poem called My Western Home, which was first published in a December 1873 issue of the Smith County Pioneer under the title Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam. Higley's friend, Daniel E. Kelley, set it to music. It soon spread across the USA in various forms. In the early 20th century, it was arranged by Texas composer, David Guion, (1892–1981) who is often credited as the composer. It was officially adopted as the state song of Kansas on June 30, 1947, and is generally considered to be the unofficial anthem of the American West.

Here is my rendition, which uses the original lyrics, but with the modern chorus.

And here is my four-year-old grandson, Axel, singing the first verse, with keyboard accompaniment.

Hopalong Peter


This is probably not a very old song as there are not many variations to be found. It was recorded on 78s by J. E. Mainer and by Fisher Hendley and the Aristocratic Pigs. The Hendley version was recorded by the New Lost City Ramblers, who included it in their songbook (the only version in print). Later recordings are probably all derived from the New Lost City Ramblers version, which is the only one I am familiar with.

Here is Lew Dite's video of the song and here is mine.
The lyrics are here.


The House of the Rising Sun


A well-known ballad about a girl who ends up in a New Orleans brothel. The oldest known recording was by Clarence Ashley (1934), who learnt it from his grandfather, Enoch Ashley. It was recorded by Woody Guthrie in 1941, by Lead Belly in 1948 and Glenn Yarbrough in 1957. Other recordings were made by Josh White, Dave van Ronk, Nina Simone, Odetta, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan (1962), Charlie Byrd, Roy Acuff, The Almanac Singers (1941), The Weavers, Peter, Paul & Mary, Henry Mancini, Dolly Parton, David Allan Coe, Gary Glitter, John Fahey, Waylon Jennings, Tim Hardin, Tommy Emmanuel, Buster Poindexter, Marianne Faithful and Tracy Chapman.

And I haven't even mentioned The Animals yet! Theirs is the best known version of the song, which Eric Burdon first heard sung by Josh White. In their version the narrator is a boy, which rather obscures the fact that it is a song about prostitution. It was a huge hit for them. Now, of course, everybody expects people singing this song to cover the Animal version. Another group to have a hit with the song was Frijid Pink, though it was basically an Animals cover of.

Here is my performance, and here are the lyrics.



Hullabaloo Belay


This was used as the theme song for Hullabaloo, a popular television program of folk music.

You can see my performance of the song and here are the lyrics.



I Come and Stand at Every Door (Nazim Hikmet)


This song is a loose translation, by Jeanette Turner, of the anti-war poem K?z Çocu?u (The Little Girl) by Turkey's most important modern poet, Nazim Hikmet (1901-63), who was persecuted and imprisoned for his outspoken Marxist views.

The story is told by the ghost of a seven-year-old girl, who died when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima ten years earlier.

It was recorded by Pete Seeger in 1962, using the tune of The Great Silkie, and this is the version used in later recordings.

Probably the best-known performance is by The Byrds on their album Fifth Dimension (1966). It has also been recorded by This Mortal Coil on their album Blood (1991) and recently by Bruce Springsteen.
Here is my performance of the song. And here are the lyrics.


I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night
(Alfred Hayes, Earl Robinson)


Joel Emmanuel Hägglund, known as Joseph Hillström, or Joe Hill for short (1879 - 1915) was a Swedish-American union leader and songwriter. He was executed for a murder he probably had nothing to do with.

After his death, he was memorialized by several folk songs, this one being the best known. It was written as a poem by Alfred Hayes in about 1930 and set to music by Earl Robinson in 1936.

This song has been recorded by several artists, notably Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, The Dubliners and Joan Baez (1969).

Bob Dylan's I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine is obviously based on this song.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


If the River Was Whiskey (Charlie Poole)This is a featured page


Charlie Poole (1892 - 1931) was an American old time banjo player and country musician. His old-time string band, North Carolina Ramblers, recorded many popular songs between 1925 to 1930.

This song is his version of the traditional Hesitation Blues, which has been performed in countless versions by countless musicians.

Here is the original recording of the song.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


If Ya Wanna Be Happy (Roaring Lion / Jimmy Soul)

This politically incorrect song is also known as Ugly Woman and Get an Ugly Girl to Marry You.

Roaring Lion was born as Hubert Raphael Charles around 1910, but later changed his name to Raphael de Leon. His career as a singer was launched in 1927, when, to his surprise, he won a calypso competition.

In the 1930s, Roaring Lion was instrumental in spreading the international popularity of Trinidadian calypso. Between 1934 and 1941 he was the most prolific calypso recording artist, cutting nearly 100 singles, including popular standards, such as Mary Ann, Netty Netty, and Six Feet High. Ugly Woman (recorded in 1933) was one of his most famous compositions, and was a big hit for Jimmy Soul, who rewrote and recorded it in 1963 with the title If You Wanna Be Happy. Most renditions since then have been based on Jimmy Soul's adaptation.

Roaring Lion spent much of 1945 singing in New York clubs, including the Village Vanguard, where he was replaced by Harry Belafonte, who, he claimed, performed and recorded some of his songs without credit or compensation.

The song has been recorded by Belafonte and The Coasters among others and Chubby Checker used the tune for his hit song Limbo Rock.


Here is my performance, and here are the lyrics.


If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus (Charles Neblett)


This song chronicles the victories of the Civil Rights Movement. It was written by Charles Neblett of the Freedom Singers, a group which included Bernice Reagon, Cordell Reagon and Rutha Harris. He used the tune of the traditional gospel song O Mary Don’t You Weep. Not sure why, but it is sometimes attributed to either "Carver Neblett" or "Chico Neblett". Maybe they were nicknames?

The song refers especially to the protest sparked by the refusal by Rosa Parks, a seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, to give up her seat on a city bus to a white passenger in December 1955. The bus driver had her arrested and she was tried and convicted of violating a local ordinance.

Often referred to as the "mother of the civil rights movement," her act of defiance led to a citywide boycott of the bus system by blacks that lasted for over a year, and resulted in the US Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation on city buses.

The song has been recorded many times, by artists such as Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte, and is sometimes even considered a children's song.

Here is my rendition and the lyrics are here.


I'll Go Chasin' Women (Stuart Hamblen)


Stuart Hamblen was a popular singer, songwriter, actor, poet, and radio personality from the 1930s through the 1950s. He was first a hit on radio but appeared in films with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and John Wayne and wrote several chart-topping country songs. Some have called him radio's first singing cowboy. He is perhaps best known for his gospel song, It Is No Secret What God Can Do.

I'll Go Chasin' Women (1949) was his first major country and western hit.

This is one of ten songs I recorded with Matthew Vaughan in Bangkok on March 11th, 2013.

Here is our video of the song, and here are the lyrics.


I'll Not Marry At All


This is one of many songs where a woman asserts that she would rather be independent than married to a man, some others being I Never Will Marry and I Wish I Was a Single Girl Again. Of course there is also the male equivalent, as in I Wish I Was Single Again.

In different versions of this song the girl rejects men on the basis of their age, their size, their financial status or even their profession (as in Madely Wilsh du Heira). It can even be an objection to the man's name. ("I won't marry a man called Bill ...").

This version is similar to that sung by Peggy Seeger.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets (Maud Irving and Joseph Philbrick Webster)


See Wildwood Flower below.


I'm a Rake and a Rambling Boy


This song is a shortened version of a song called The Rambling Boy collected in 1930, from Emma L. Dusenbury, Mena, Arkansas, by Vance Randolph.

The song originated in England or Ireland and has a number of variations, including Newry Highwayman, Jolly Blade, Irish Robber and Wild and Wicked Youth. It probably appeared in America thanks to mid-19th century broadsides rather than being brought by immigrants.

My performance is here and the lyrics are here.


I'm Just an Old Black Choo-Choo (Terry Fell)


Terry Fell was born in 1921 in Dora, Alabama. He got his first guitar at nine years old, when he swapped his groundhog for it, but it was three years before someone showed him how to play it. He is best known for his song, Truck Driving Man which he recorded in 1954 as the B-side of his only country hit, Don't Drop It. He was more successful as a songwriter than a performer, and wrote several songs for Rose Maddox, including this novelty song about the passing of the steam train era.

This was put up as my thousandth video on YouTube, and it was made as a collaboration with YouTube star, Alonzo Garbanzo. I think it is a good example of what YouTube has to offer - the chance to communicate and create something with people we may never meet in real life. Alonzo, being more tech savvy than I am, did all the work of putting this together.

You may notice some strange reversals in the video. That probably has something to do with the filming on location on Mars.

I don't normally report on the honours achieved by my videos, which don't stay up for long anyway, but because it was a collaboration I'll put them up as at December 13, 2009. Alonzo deserves most of the credit for its success.

#10 - Most Discussed (Today) - Australia
#4 - Most Discussed (Today) - Music - Australia
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#27 - Most Discussed (This Week) - Music - Australia
#25 - Top Favorited (Today) - Music - Australia
#39 - Top Rated (Today) - Australia
#4 - Top Rated (Today) - Music - Australia
#29 - Top Rated (This Week) - Music - Australia

Here is our performance.
You can also see it on Alonzo's channel.

Here are the lyrics.

I Never Will Marry


There are several versions of this song, but most seem to end with the woman drowning herself. One of the earliest versions seems to be The Lover's Lament for Her Sailor, which was known in England throughout the nineteenth century. Another version is The Sorrowful Lady's Complaint, a broadside from the Roxburghe Collection. Most modern versions of the song seem to have appeared in America, where the song has been recorded by many artists, including The Weavers, The Carter Family, Peggy Seeger and Linda Ronstadt (with Dolly Parton.)

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.

In the Pines


This song, also known as Black Girl, My Girl or Where Did You Sleep Last Night? was popularised by Lead Belly, who recorded it in 1944, though it dates back to at least the 1870s. The earliest known print version was Black Girl, collected by Cecil Sharp in 1917.

It has been recorded by many singers, including Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Bill Monroe, Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy, Grateful Dead, Sir Douglas Quintet, Long John Baldry, Dave van Ronk, Connie Francis, Dolly Parton and Nirvana (Kurt Cobain).

Here is an excellent article on the history of this song. And here is my YouTube friend, Shawn McNair, performing the song.

Here is my performance of the song, and here are the lyrics.


I Ride an Old Paint


This classic cowboy song has been recorded by many artists including Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Cisco Houston, Lew Dite and Johnny Cash.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.


Island in the Sun


This calypso song was written by Lord Burgess and Harry Belafonte for the 1957 movie Island in the Sun, starring James Mason, Joan Collins, Dorothy Dandridge, Michael Rennie, and, of course, Belafonte.

Here it is sung by Belafonte, and here is my rendition. Here are the lyrics.


Istanbul (Not Constantinople) (Jimmy Kennedy and Nat Simon)


The lyrics of this song, by Jimmy Kennedy, refer to the change of name from the Greek "Constantinople" to the Turkish "Istanbul." Blissfully ignoring the politics involved, the song suggests that, as with New Amsterdam changing its name to New York, "people just liked it better that way," and that it's "nobody's business but the Turks".

The words were set to music by Nat Simon.

The song was originally recorded by the Canadian group, The Four Lads in 1953, the first gold record for this group.

It has been covered by several artists, including Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald (1953), Frankie Vaughan (1954), Bette Midler (1977) and They Might Be Giants (1990)

My rendition of the song is here and here are the lyrics.


It Takes a Worried Man


This song, also known as Worried Man Blues, was first recorded by Emory Brooks in 1927 and by John Fox (Sam Collins) the same year, It has also been recorded by Charles McDevitt (1928), The Carter Family (1930), Woody Guthrie (1940), Cisco Houston (1953), Burl Ives (1959), The Kingston Trio (1960), Ramblin' Jack Elliot, the Stanley Brothers (1971), Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys (1961), Osborne Brothers (1963), Van Morrison and many others.

Here it is sung by Lew Dite down by the lake at Dunany. And here I am singing it with Lew Dite and Ukulele Katie on the porch. (coming)

Here are the lyrics.

I've Been Driving on Bald Mountain


Odetta used to perform
this old negro chain gang song combined with Water Boy. It was also recorded by The Kinks.


Here is an extract from Odetta's performance, and here is my rendition of the two songs. The lyrics of these songs are here.


I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago


This song is part of a great tradition of tall stories. The first known reference to it is in 1913, and Carl Sandburg included it in his American Songbag in 1927. There are many versions, with a variety of titles, including I'm The Man That Rode the Mule Around the World, I Was Born Four Thousand Years Ago, When Abraham and Isaac Rushed the Can, I'm an Educated Man and The Historian. Artists who have recorded it include Clarence Ashley, Fiddlin' John Carson (1924), Uncle Dave Macon (1929), Doc Watson, Odetta, Pete Seeger and Elvis Presley.

Cisco Houston combined it with Great Historical Bum under the title Just the Facts, Ma'am.

Here is a video of Lew Dite performing it at The Wheel Club in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


I Wish I Was a Little Sugar Bun


This funny little song was popular in the Boy Scouts movement. I don't know much about it, but it is usually sung with a lisp as in I With I Wath a Wittle Thugar Bun. I first came across it in Frank Lynn's popular collection, Songs For Singin'.

You can hear my rendition here and here are the lyrics.


I Used to Work in Chicago


There are many versions of this traditional rugby song / drinking song, some more bawdy than others. Oscar Brand has recorded one of the better renditions. It is basically a play on words, with some of the puns more effective than others.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics I use.

I Wish I Was a Single Girl Again


This song was first collected in America by Belden (1907), who thought it probably came from a printed piece or the music hall.

It may be descended from one or more British songs. Certainly it's a common theme, and some of the details come up in songs like Still I Love Him and When I was Young, a Northern English variation. Another possible relative is the broadside song The Joyful Maid and Sorrowful Wife which goes back at least to 1802. Then there is The Unfortunate Wife, also from the nineteenth century.

The Carter family sang a closely related song Single Girl / Married Girl and of course there is also the male equivalent - I Wish I was Single Again.

The song has been recorded by several artists, including Frank Proffitt, Peggy Seeger, Eva Cassidy and Peter. Paul and Mary,

My rendition is here, and here are the lyrics.


I Wish I Was Single Again


The earliest known date of this song is 1904. It is known in America and Canada but may have originated in England or Scotland. It has been recorded by several folksingers, including Burl Ives and The Weavers. This song is sung from the male point of view and should not be confused with Single Girl or I Wish I Was a Single Girl Again.


Here is my rendition of the song. The lyrics are here.

Jamaica Farewell


Probably the best known of all calypso songs, the lyrics have been attributed to Lord Burgess, who put it together with various bits of traditional Caribbean folk song, using a traditional calypso tune known as Iron Bar. It was made famous by Harry Belafonte, who performed it on his groundbreaking album, Calypso.

The term "ackee rice" refers to the fruit of a tropical tree taken to Jamaica from West Africa in 1793. It's apparently an aquired taste, but Jamaicans love it cooked with saltfish, tomatoes, onions, bacon and spices. It is eaten with hard dumplings, green bananas and maybe breadfruit

The song has been recorded many times. Some of the best include Jimmy Buffett, The Brothers Four, Carly Simon, Marty Robbins, Lew Dite and Sam Cooke. And here is a Bollywood version of the song!

My rendition is here, and here are the lyrics.

Jesse James


Jesse James became an American folk hero in his own lifetime before he was killed in 1882. Many songs were written about his exploits, the most famous being this one, first recorded by Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1924. Since then it has been recorded by many artists, including Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, The Pogues, Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen (2006).

It is sung here by Lew Dite at the Wheel Club, where I went with him in 2010 when my wife and I visited him and his wife in Montreal.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


John Brown's Body (William W. Patton)


Rev. William Weston Patton (1821 - 1889), was president of Howard University and a fierce abolitionist. He was chairman of the committee that presented to President Lincoln, on 13th September, 1862, the memorial from Chicago asking him to issue a proclamation of emancipation.

In October 1861 Patton wrote new lyrics to the battle song, John Brown's Body, which were published in the Chicago Tribune on December 16, 1861. Unlike the more repetitious lines of the original version, this song gave some detailed about Brown's actions and their results, glorifying his acts of violence. One verse directly refers to the attack on the armory in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and another compares him to John the Baptist.

Two months later, Julia Ward Howe wrote her famous version, The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Here is my rendition of the song, requested by SephieRothe. Here are the lyrics.

John Henry

Adapted from Wikipedia



American Songs - Raymond's Folk Song Page

Statue of John Henry outside the town of Talcott in Summers County, West Virginia.



John Henry
is an American folk hero, who has been the subject of numerous songs, stories, plays, and novels.

Like other "Big Men" such as Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, John Henry also served as a mythical representation of a group within the melting pot of the 19th-century working class. In the most popular version of the story, Henry grows to become the greatest "steel-driver" in the mid-century push to build railroads across the mountains to the West. When the owner of the railroad buys a steam-powered hammer to do the work of his mostly black driving crew, to save his job and the jobs of his men, John Henry challenges the owner to a contest: himself alone versus the steam hammer. John Henry beats the machine, but exhausted, collapses, and dies.

In almost all versions of the story, John Henry is a black man and serves as a folk hero for all American working-class people, representing their marginalization during changes entering the modern age in America. While the character may or may not have been based on a real person, Henry became an important symbol of the working class. His story is usually seen as an archetypal illustration of the futility of fighting the technological progress that was evident in the 19th century upset of traditional physical labor roles. Some labor advocates interpret the legend as illustrating that even the most skilled workers of time-honored practices are marginalized when companies are more interested in efficiency and production than in the health and well-being of their employees. Although John Henry proved himself more efficient than the steam-drill, he worked himself to death and was replaced by the machine anyway. Thus the legend of John Henry has been a staple of American labor and mythology for well over one hundred years.

Some of the many who have recorded this song are Lead Belly, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Jesse Fuller, Paul Robeson, Mississippi John Hurt, Woody Guthrie, Merle Travis, Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, Big Bill Broonzy, Josh White, Odetta, Johnny Cash, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Fred McDowell, Harry Belafonte, Roberta Flack, Bill Monroe, Dave Van Ronk, Lonnie Donegan, John Jacb Niles, Lew Dite and Bruce Springsteen.

Here is my rendition.

This is the Tune:

American Songs - Raymond's Folk Song Page

And here are the Lyrics.


Johnny Cuckoo


This song is generally known as an African-American children's activity song from the Georgia Isles. A description of how to perform the activities can be found in Step It Down: games, plays, songs, and stories from the Afro-American heritage (p. 71) by Bessie Jones' & Bess Lomax Hawes (1987). It has been argued that this song was used to build self-esteem among African-American children.

The song is probably based on an English game song called Dukes a-Riding, popular in Lancashire in the1820s. An early variation was The King's Arrival, adapted in Edinburgh to refer to the visit of George IV in 1822.

Other American adaptations include We're Riding Here to Get Married and Buffalo Boy, which I first heard sung by The Weavers.

Johnny Cuckoo can be heard sung by Janie Hunter on the Smithsonian Folkways album, Been in the Storm So Long, a Johns Island collection. It was also sung by Joan Baez at one of the Newport Folk Festivals.

Here is my rendition, sung with Marco Acca, and here are the lyrics.

The Johnson Boys


This song seems to have begun as a fiddle tune, probably adapted from the Irish tune "Doran's Ass", which dates back to about 1860. There are two main versions known, this one possibly being a parody of the other, which is about soldiers in the civil war, though some have suggested that the more serious version was based on the above song - a kind of anti-parody.

I believe the first recording was by Al Hopkins & His Buckle Busters (May, 1927). I first heard it sung by The Weavers. Others who recorded it include Frank Proffitt, The New Lost City Ramblers and Bluegrass Messengers.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Just Because (Sydney Robin)


This song was written by Sydney Robin and first recorded by Hubert Nelson and James D. Touchstone who called themselves Nelstone's Hawaiians.

It was then recorded and popularised by the Shelton Brothers, Bob, Joe and Merle, who were pioneers of country music in Texas from the mid 1930s to the 1960s. It was their first release on Decca Records and they went on to record over 150 songs for Decca, as well as recordings for Victor Records and King Records.

Elvis included it on his first album, simply titled Elvis Presley.

Here it is performed by Ukulele Katie at Shaika, when we were in Montreal for Lew Dite's YouTube Strummit.


Kelly's Irish Brigade



During the American Civil War, there were Irish Brigades that fought for both the North and the South. This song celebrates Kelly’s Irish Brigade that fought for the Confederacy in the West. It was actually a regiment led by Patrick Kelly (1822 - 1864), who had emigrated to the United States from County Galway.

After the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863, Colonel Kelly was promoted to command the Irish Brigade following the resignation of Brig. Gen.Thomas Francis Meagher. He led the heavily depleted brigade (down to 532 men) in an attack at the Wheatfield at Gettysburg, where the brigade lost another 198 troops engaged. Kelly died, aged 42, during the Siege of Petersburg when he was shot though the head while leading the Irish Brigade forward against Confederate earthworks.

The lyrics of this song, of unknown authorship, are set to the well-known tune, Rosin the Beau, perhaps best known in the States as Acres of Clams.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Kickin' My Dog Around


Also known as The Missouri Dawg Song or They Gotta Quit Kickin' My Dog Around, this song has been attributed to Byron G. Harlan, who recorded it with the American Quartet in 1912. You can hear the original recording here. Presidential candidate, Beauchamp Clark, actually used it as his campaign song that same year. An article in the NY Times pointed out that it was originally a 15th century German children's song.

It has been recorded many times, but my first hearing of it was a recording by Buffy Sainte-Marie, so my version is obviously influenced by hers.

Here a nice cover of her version by a YouTube performer, Mishka, who calls herself zebell33.

And here is my rendition. The lyrics are here.


Kimo Kemo


This variation on The Frog Went a-Courting goes back hundreds of years and was known in both England and America. The Smithsonian Institute included Chubby Parker's version in its Anthology of American Folk Music. It is generally considered a children's song.

This song is on my fourth CD, Pigs Might Fly.

You can watch my video of this song, and read the lyrics.

More recently I have sung this song with my six-year-old grandson, Axel. You can see our duet here.

There is also a confederate version of this song which does not tell the story of the frog's courting, and is even more nonsensical. You can see my rendition of it and here are the lyrics.


Kisses Sweeter Than Wine (Lee Hays)


This love song was written and sung by The Weavers. Lee Hays seems to have done most of the work but all of them contributed in some way. It was apparently based on a song by Leadbelly. The song was also recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary, Jimmie Rodgers and Frankie Vaughan.

There are some classic performances of this song on YouTube, for example Peter, Paul and Mary, with Andy Williams and Theodore Bikel with Judy Collins.

You can hear my rendition of the song performed with a friend from Brunei. And here are the lyrics.


Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream (Ed McCurdy)


This gentle anti-war song was written by Ed McCurdy in about 1950. It has been covered by Pete Seeger, The Weavers, Donovan, Simon and Garfunkel, Arlo Guthrie, The Corries and John Denver among others.

Here is my video of the song and here are the lyrics.


Leaving Home (Charlie Poole)


See Frankie and Johnny above.



Likes Likker Better Than Me


One of many great songs from the prohibition era, this was originally performed by the Woodie Brothers, and later by The New Lost City Ramblers.

I learned this song from Lew Dite, who has several videos of it on YouTube, accompanied by a variety of instruments, including the erhu.

Here is my video of a performance with Lew Dite. I hadn't sung it before, so I had to look at the words in one of Lew's handwritten songbooks, while he sang along and played the spoons.

Here are the lyrics.


Lily of the West


Though this ballad is often seen as traditionally American, it goes back to at least 1839 in Ireland, and has been collected in various parts of England, including Devonshire, Yorkshire and Cornwall. The tune is similar to Lakes of Pontchartrain, but in a major instead of a minor key. In Ireland it is also sung to Gilderoy (the tune of Star of the County Down), and it is sometimes Molly instead of Flora.

I first heard this sung by Joan Baez. It has also been recorded by Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Mark Knopfler and The Chieftains.

Here is my video of the song and here are the lyrics.

This video has been put on gdgest's website, Songs of Newfoundland and Labrador.


Little Brown Jug (Joseph Winner)


Joseph Eastburn Winner wrote this drinking song in 1869. It became popular again during the Prohibition era, and was a hit for Glenn Miller and his band in 1939. Though the song is about the hard life of an alcoholic couple it is sung to a cheerful melody.


American Songs - Raymond's Folk Song Page
American Songs - Raymond's Folk Song Page
Original sheet music cover

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.


Little Maggie


This popular song is clearly related to Darling Corey, though it is generally considered a separate song rather than a variant. It is usually done either in old-time or bluegrass style, but my rendition is based on the first version I ever heard, sung by white blues singer, Barbara Dane.

Probably the earliest recording is by Grayson and Whitter in about 1928, though it had been around for about a generation before that. It has also been recorded by Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs, Bill Monroe, Frank Proffit, The Stanley Brothers (1946) and The Kingston Trio.

Bob Dylan included it on his 1992 album, Good as I Been to You.

Here is a good bluegrass version by Dan Paisley and Southern Grass, and another by Lew Dite.

You can also watch my slow blues version. The lyrics are here.


Little Mohee


This song, also known as The Indian Lass or The Lass of Mohee, often has a lot more verses than the version I sing, and there are also bawdy versions. Although generally considered an American song, it was well-known in England in the 1800s. I learnt it from the singing of Burl Ives, but from his song book. I don't think I ever actually heard him sing it.

It has also been recorded by Buell Kazee, John Jacob Niles and Nic Jones among others.

the tune is obviously related to the better-known On Top of Old Smokey.

My rendition is here, and here are the lyrics.


Little Moses


One of the many great songs made famous by the Carter family. Here is a performance by Sara and Maybelle Carter.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Little Peanut Shell (Nancy Ames)


This song is from the debut album, The Incredible Nancy Ames, released in 1963.

Here is my video and here are the lyrics.


Little Sadie


This folk ballad is also known as Bad Lee Brown, Cocaine Blues, Whiskey Blues, Chain Gang Blues, Bad Man's Blunder and Transfusion Blues among others. It tells the story of a man who is arrested for shooting his wife (or girlfriend in some versions) and sentenced to a long term in prison. The earliest written record of the song dates from 1922. Some versions have him arrested in Jericho (in South Carolina), others in Mexico.

The first known recording is by Clarence "Tom" Ashley (1930), in which Sadie seems to have been a prostitute. Other recordings are by T. J. 'Red' Arnall (1947), Billie Hughes (1947), Riley Puckett, Lightnin' Wells, Woody Guthrie with Cisco Houston, Johnny Cash (1960), The Kingston Trio (1960), Slim Dusty (1960), Doc Watson (1963, with Ashley), George Thorogood (1978), Jerry Garcia, Hank Williams, Crooked Still and Bob Dylan (1970), who included two versions on his Self Portrait album, both basically covers of Ashley's version - as, indeed, is mine.

Here it is played by the Manzanita Band.

Here is my video of the song and here are the lyrics.


Liquor in the Well (Mike Cross)


This humorous little song was written by Mike Cross, a folksinger from North Carolina.

It has been covered by The Irish Rovers and threelegsoman.

Here is my cover and here are the lyrics.

Liza Jane


Not to be confused with Vince Gill's song, Little Liza Jane.

There are many versions of this song from the South. Many of them seem to have verses in common with Old Joe Clark. I first heard it sung by Burl Ives on his 10" LP, Folk Songs About the Fair Sex (1953).

Here is my rendition of the song and the lyrics are here.


Lolly Too Dum


There is a common device in folk music to enable the singer to sing from the point of view of the opposite sex. You just have a verse at the start which goes something like "As I walked out over London Bridge / One misty morning early / I overheard a fair pretty maid / Was lamenting for her Geordie." Having got that out of the way, the rest of the song is told by the woman, and the supposed narrator is never heard of again. A similar device is used in the Australian song, Moreton Bay, where the singer presumably doesn't want to be too closely identified with the convict.

In this traditional American song, we not only lose the narrator but we actually end up with the girl's mother telling the story, as if she were the narrator all along. Perhaps it is hoped that the audience would be too wrapped up in the song (or too drunk) to notice.

I first heard the song sung by Burl Ives when I explored my parents' record collection as a young child. I think it was on the Coronation Concert album. Pete Seeger has also recorded it.

Erratum - The "fiddlers" in my rendition should be "peddlers" - as you can see from the lyrics.


Lonesome Valley


A popular spiritual from the African-American tradition. Here is a blues version by Mississippi John Hurt. and an interesting a capella performance by The Fairfield Four, used as the soundtrack to a Japanese animation.

You can also see my performance of the song, and read the lyrics.


The Long Black Veil (Wilkens and Dill)


I first heard this sung by Joan Baez. Here is Bruce Springsteen singing it with the Seeger Sessions Band.There is also a good version by Johnny Cash, which is performed here by Dave Matthews and Emmylou Harris. Here is Dylan performing it in 1997. This is a little movie telling the story of the song, with The Chieftains singing on the soundtrack.

My video of the song is here and the lyrics are here.


Long Lonesome Road


Alan Lomax collected two versions of this song, one of them sung by a group of convicts.

I first heard it sung by Joan Baez. It has also been recorded by Ian and Sylvia and Jeremy's Friends.

Here is my rendition of the song, and here are the lyrics.


Lookin' Out My Back Door (J. C. Fogerty)


Creedence Clearwater Revival, often shortened to CCR, was an American rock band popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The lead vocalist and guitarist was John Fogerty, who wrote most of the songs. The other members were John's brother, Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook, who played bass guitar and Doug Clifford, who played drums. Their musical style was Southern rock, with songs about such icons as bayous, catfish and the Mississippi River. The band has sold 26 million albums in the United States alone.

This song, from their album Cosmo's Factory (1970), was the band's fifth and final No.2 national hit. (They never reached No. 1).

The song was requested by theoletrex3.

Here is my cover and here are the lyrics.

Looky Looky Yonder


This song was first recorded by Lead Belly.You can hear a video of him singing the song as the first part of an a capella trilogy of chain gang songs, along with Black Betty and Almost Done.

Here is my cover of this trilogy, and here are the lyrics.


Lorena (H. D. L. Webster and H. P. Webster)


Rev. Henry De Lafayette Webster wrote these words after a broken engagement to his sweetheart, Ella Blocksom, who lived with her sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Blandy after the death of her parents. The family attended the Universalist Church in Zanesville, Ohio, where Webster was the minister. Henry Blandy, being a wealthy member of the community could not allow his sister-in-law to marry a poor preacher and insisted on Ella breaking the engagement. She later found a more suitable match in William Wartenbee Johnson, Ohio Supreme Court justice from 1879-1886.

When Ella broke off with the Reverend, she wrote him a letter containing the line "If we try, we may forget," which he later used in his song. Brokenhearted, he resigned as minister and left Zanesville. In 1856, he met the composer, Joseph P. Webster, who was looking for lyrics to fit a melody he was writing, and wrote this ballad about his lost love, changing her name from Ella to Bertha. The name was later changed to Lorena, as a three-syllable name was needed to fit the tune, possibly inspired by the "Lenore" of Edgar Allan Poe's poem, The Raven.

The song was first published in Chicago in 1857. It became a favorite of soldiers of both sides during the American Civil War. It is said to have been banned as it made the soldiers think of their wives and sweethearts back home. One Confederate officer even blamed the song for the South's defeat as it made the soldiers so homesick that they lost the will to fight.

J. P. Webster also wrote In the Sweet By and By and I’ll Twine Mid the Ringlets, better known these days as Wildwood Flower.

The song has been recorded by several artists, notably John Hartford. Johnny Cash also sang a version with rather different words.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Louis Collins (Mississippi John Hurt)


Though there are many versions of this song, also known as Angels Laid Him Away, the original was almost certainly composed by blues guitarist Mississippi John Hurt. According to Masters Of The Instrumental Blues Guitar, Louis Collins is a murder ballad which Hurt composed after hearing people talk about a shooting. He first recorded it in 1928 for Okeh Records and then again in 1963 for Piedmont.

One popular cover is by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman. I like blinddrunkal's version too.

I had a request by MrHardPressed to cover this song, so here is my attempt. Here are the lyrics.


Loving Hannah


Most modern versions of this song, which is closely related to Handsome Molly, come from the singing of Jean Ritchie, who says she learned it from her father and two cousins. In an e-mail to Elisabeth Null (3/13/07) she wrote: "Dad knew a fragment of it; Uncle Jason Ritchie knew three verses; the total song I finally heard from another old member of the family, Isom Ritchie. All three of them had the same general melody, and mine is a melding of the three I guess."

Peggy Seeger did a version in which she shifted the words around a bit and borrowed lines and images from other floating verses associated with this song family.

The song is very popular in Ireland, Scotland, and England where it was recorded by Shirley Collins, Mary Black, Isobel Campbell and Jeannie Robertson. Because of Jeannie Robertson's version many people assume it is a Scottish song, but she actually learned it from a recording given to her by Jean Ritchie when the latter visited Scotland in 1952, and from there it became part of the Scots and Irish oral tradition. The song probably originated in one of these countries in the first place, but was basically forgotten until it came back via America.

It is sung here by Dave Ellis at a session of the Hong Kong Folk Society at The Canny Man in Wanchai.

Man of Constant Sorrow (Dick Burnett)


This song is generally attributed to Dick Burnett, a blind fiddler from Kentucky, who was the first to record it in about 1913, using the name Farewell Song. However even he was not sure whether he actually wrote the song, saying in an interview many years later, "I think I got the ballad from somebody — I dunno. It may be my song...". It has been suggested that he adapted it from a Baptist hymn called Wandering Boy.

Cecil Sharp collected the song in 1918 and published it as In Old Virginny.

Emry Arthur recorded it in 1928 and Sarah Ogan Gunning rewrote this version as Girl of Constant Sorrow in 1936.

The song was popularised by the Stanley Brothers, who recorded it in 1951. Ralph Stanley said in an interview in 2009, "Man of Constant Sorrow is probably two or three hundred years old. But the first time I heard it when I was y'know, like a small boy, my daddy - my father - he had some of the words to it, and I heard him sing it, and we - my brother and me - we put a few more words to it, and brought it back in existence. I guess if it hadn't been for that it'd have been gone forever. I'm proud to be the one that brought that song back, because I think it's wonderful."

Other notable recordings are by Joan Baez (1960), Judy Collins (1961), Roscoe Holcomb (1961 – 62), Peter, Paul and Mary (1962), Bob Dylan (1963), Rod Stewart (1969), The Dillards (1972) and Jackson Browne (2000). The song had a new lease of life when performed by the fictitious Soggy Bottom Boys in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) in a version based on the Stanley brothers' rendition.

Here is my rendition of the song and here are the lyrics.


The Man Who Comes Around (Bob Miller)


This song first appeared in the late twenties. It was copyrighted by Bob Miller (using the name Trebor Rellim), who was a piano-player with the Kentucky Ramblers, a group that later became known as the Sweet Violet Boys, and later again as The Prairie Ramblers. The Sweet Violet Boys recorded it under the title There's a Man that Comes to Our House in May, 1937, in Chicago.

It was quite a popular song at various times from the 1930s to the 50s. Some who recorded it are Nat Gonella and His New Georgians (1939), Tommy Tucker Time (1940) - Tommy Tucker's band also sang a sequel called The Man Don't Come to Our House Anymore - Will Osborne and His Slide Music (1940), John Dwyer and the Yonder Mountain String Band. It was also the title song of a Johnny Bond country album in the 50s on the Starday label.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


The Man Who Wrote "Home Sweet Home" (Fleta Jan Brown)


Songs about the trials of marriage became popular around the middle of the 19th century, especially in vaudeville shows. Those from the women's point of view tended to be serious complaints about poverty, alcoholic husbands and hungry babies. The male protagonists on the other hand tended to be humorous complaints about their treatment at the hands of their wives.

This song was, surprisingly, written by a woman. It was published in 1908 with the title - The Party That Wrote Home Sweet Home Never Was A Married Man. It was recorded in 1910 by vaudeville entertainer, Eddie Morton, a rather uninspired version with a lot of spoken words. In 1927, it was recorded by two North Carolina musicians, Mack Woolbright and Charlie Parker. Mack Woolbright, a blind 3-finger banjo player, was an early influence on Earl Scruggs, who later recorded this song.

It has also been recorded by The New Lost City Ramblers and The Grateful Dead.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Many Thousand Gone


See the introductory video at the top of this page. According to Alan Lomax's The Folk Songs of North America, this song, also known as No More Auction Block, originated in Canada and was sung by former slaves who fled there after slavery was abolished in 1833. Dylan adapted the tune for his great song, Blowing in the Wind.

Here is Paul Robeson singing the song.

The lyrics are here.


Mary Ann


I have seen this described as an Anglo-American music hall song of the 1850s, possibly from Nova Scotia, but it has obvious roots in the set of songs which includes Fare Thee Well (Ten Thousand Miles), Turtle Dove, and Robert Burns' My Love is Like a Red Red Rose. Another American variant is The Storms Are On the Ocean, a popular Carter family song.

I think I learnt this from Peggy Seeger, but Ian and Sylvia also did a very good version of it.


Here is my performance of the song. The lyrics are here.

The first upload of this video has been removed from YouTube due to corrupted file. For details of views and comments, see the Archives page.


The Merry Minuet (Sheldon Harnick)


Sheldon Harnick, who wrote this charming little ditty in 1958, is best known for the popular musical, Fiddler on the Roof.

The best-known rendition of the song is the recording by The Kingston Trio on the 1959 album The Kingston Trio at the Hungry i. They changed the original "la la" lines to whistling, and most subsequent renditions, such as those of Bud and Travis, pudgenet and Alonzogarbanzo, are basically covers of the Kingston Trio version, including the whistling.

I decided to go back to the "la la"s - mainly because I can't whistle.

Here is my performance, and here are the lyrics.


Midnight Special


This song appears to have had its origins among black prisoners. It was first published in two different versIons in Carl Sandburg's The American Songbag in 1927 though some of the lyrics appeared in print in 1905.

In 1927, Sam Collins recorded the song commercially with the title The Midnight Special Blues and in 1934, John and Alan Lomax recorded Lead Belly singing a version of the song at Angola Prison, wrongly naming him as the writer, though he did apparently add some verses relating to a 1923 Houston jailbreak.The Lomaxes interpreted the light of the train as the light of salvation; if it shone on you it meant you would be released. Carl Sandburg disagreed. He thought it meant the narrator would rather be run over by a train than stay in jail.

The song shares many lines with other prison work songs such as Jumpin Judy and Ain't That Berta.

It has been covered by many artists, including Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, Odetta, Big Joe Turner, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, Lonnie Donegan, Eric Clapton, Harry Belafonte (with Dylan on harmonica), Little Richard, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Here is my rendition of the song, and here are the lyrics.


Miller's Cave (Jack Clement)


This country-style song was recorded by Hank Snow in 1960, when it reached No. 9 on the Charts. Strangely enough, the writer is cited as Harlan Howard, whereas later recordings identify the writer as Jack Clement.

I learnt the song from the singing of Dicky Lee, who covered it on his 1962 album, The Tale of Patches.

It was also a hit for Bobby Bare, who released it as a single in 1964, reaching No. 33 in the Pop Charts and No. 4 in the Country Charts.

See my performance here and the lyrics here.


Miner's Lifeguard


This coal-mining song is sung to the tune of the 19th century sacred song Life's Railway to Heaven, which was adapted from the Welsh hymn, Calon Lan.

These lyrics were collected and recorded by George Korson from Mrs. Luigi Gugliotta, West Virginia in 1940.

The line "keep your eyes upon the scale (or sometimes "scales") refers to the coal owners' practice of underweighing the miners' coal cars which was common until the unions succeeded in appointing a union man to doublecheck the weight.

It was recorded by The Almanac Singers, Pete Seeger's group that preceded The Weavers.

Here it is sung by Kwan at a session of the Hong Kong Folk Society at The Canny Man in The Wharney Hotel, Wanchai.

Here are the lyrics.

Mister and Mississippi (Irving Gordon)


This song, published in 1951, was popularized by Patti Page. It was also recorded by Rex Allen, Dennis Day and Johnny Desmond. My parents had a 78 rpm recording, from which I learnt the song as a child, but I have no idea who the singer was. The success of the song later prompted Gordon to write Delaware, another song which used a pun on the name of a place.

Here is a rendition by Norwegian band, Jonas Fjeld & Chatham County Line. My video is here.


The Monkey and the Engineer (Jesse Fuller)


Jesse Fuller (1896 - 1976) was a one man band musician, best known for his song San Francisco Bay Blues.

The Grateful Dead covered several of his songs, including this humorous story of a monkey that can drive a train.

Here is my cover, requested by MrHardPressed, and here are the lyrics.


The Moonshiner


There are many versions of this song and there have been many arguments about its origin. Many believe it began as an Irish song, as claimed by the Clancy Brothers. Alan Lomax, in American Ballads and Folk Songs, wrote that it belongs to the “Wagoner’s Lad” family, and is related to songs like On Top of Old Smokey and Rye Whiskey.

It has been sung by Roscoe Holcomb, Bob Dylan, Uncle Uncle Tupelo, Clancy Brothers and many others, with various titles such as Moonshiner's Lament, Moonshiner Blues and The Bottle Song. Here it is sung by YouTube star, Dan Samples, better known as coolanddark.

Here is my rendition and the lyrics are here.


More Pretty Girls than One


This popular song was written by Alton Delmore of the Delmore Brothers and Fiddlin' Arthur Smith. It has been covered by several artists, including Lead Belly, Lyle Lovett, Doc Watson, Jimmy Martin, Tony Rice and Ricky Skaggs, but the version I'm most familiar with is that sung by Woody Guthrie, who recorded it on a album of early songs with Cisco Houston and Sonny Terry.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

I sang this song with Lew Dite when my wife and I visited him and his wife in Montreal, Canada in July 2010. I uploaded this video at the time, but we did a second take, which he put on his channel, but I never got around to putting it on mine - until now.


Motherless Child


See Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.


Motherless Children


This song was recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in 1927, and it may well have been written by him. His mother died when he was only a baby, probably just before 1905. His father's second marriage was not a success and Willie's stepmother threw a pan of lye into his face when he was seven years old, blinding him for life.

There are many different versions of the song and it has been recorded by many artists, including Mance Lipscomb, Eric Clapton, Herman E. Johnson, Reverend Gary Davis, Bob Dylan, The Staple Singers, Dave van Ronk, Odetta, The Carter Family and Rosanne Cash.

Here is my rendition of the song and here are the lyrics.


Muleskinner Blues


The original version of this popular country song was written by Jimmie Rodgers, under the title Blue Yodel #8. George Vaughn (full name George Vaughn Horton) is sometimes listed as co-author. It seems to have been based on an earlier song called Labor Blues, recorded by African-American singer, Tom Dickson, in 1928, in which a black worker tells his white employer he is quitting his job, the opposite of Rodgers' version.

It begins as follows:
It’s "good mornin’ Captain", ‘e said "good mornin’ Shine",
Said "good mornin’ Captain", said "good mornin’ Shine".
"T’ain’t nuthin’ the matter, Captain, but I just ain’t gwine.

"I don’t mind workin’, Captain, from sun to sun,
I don’t mind workin’, Captain, from sun to sun.
But I want my money, Captain, when pay-day come."

The word "Shine", which was retained in Rodgers' song, was a derogatory term for an African-American.

The song was first recorded by Rodgers in 1930 and has been recorded in several different versions by many artists since then, including Roy Acuff (1939), Bill Monroe (1940), Woody Guthrie (1944), Odetta (1956), Lonnie Donegan (1957), Ramblin' Jack Elliott (1958), The Fendermen (1960), Jose Feliciano (1964), Dolly Parton (1970), Don McLean (1973), The Brothers Four (1989) and Van Morrison (1996).

Here is my video of the song, requested by Danny Lobo, and here are the lyrics.


My Country, 'Tis Of Thee (Samuel F. Smith)


This great American song, originally known as America, was written by Samuel Francis Smith in 1831, when he was a student at Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. He found the tune in Muzio Clementi's Symphony No. 3 and wrote this patriotic hymn to fit the melody, reportedly in just thirty minutes. It is, of course, the same tune that was used for the English National Anthem - God Save the Queen. The song was first performed in public on July 4, 1831, at a children's Independence Day celebration at Park Street Church in Boston, and published in 1832.

Here is my rendition and you can find the lyrics here.

The antislavery movement adapted these lyrics in 1843 to help spread its message. Abolitionist writers were noted for taking familiar tunes and rewriting them to attack slavery and those who defended it. The anti-slavery lyrics were written by A. G. Duncan and published in Antislavery Melodies: for The Friends of Freedom edited by Jarius Lincoln. Here is my rendition of the abolitionist version.


My Gal Is a High-Born Lady


This song was originally a "c00n song", written by Irish minstrel, Barney Fagan, in 1886. Since then it has entered the folk tradition with totally revised words. It was popularised by Uncle Dave Macon and has become a bluegrass standard.

Here it is performed by Leroy Troy at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk festival, 2010. It was a great privilege to meet Leroy and the other banjo pickers at this Sunday morning workshop.


My Grandfather's Clock (Henry Clay Work)


This song was written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work, who also wrote Marching Through Georgia and The Ship That Never Returned. It is popular in many musical genres, including brass bands and bluegrass.

It is thought to have been inspired by the George Hotel, an inn in Piercebridge on the border of Yorkshire and County Durham, which was owned and operated by two brothers called Jenkins. There was an upright longcase clock in the lobby which kept perfect time until one of the brothers died, after which it lost time at an increasing rate, despite several attempts by local clockmakers to repair it. When the other brother died, the clock stopped, never to go again. Henry Clay Work is believed to have visited the hotel in 1875 and based this song on the stories he heard there.

Here is the inimitable Leroy Troy playing the tune on his banjo.

Here is my rendition and the lyrics are here.


My Old Kentucky Home (Stephen Foster)


Stephen Collins Foster was born in 1826 in Lawrenceville, east of Pittsburgh, the ninth child of the family. He was a great pioneer of American music. His aim was to write music that would be widely understood by the common people. He wanted to transform the black-face minstrel songs, extremely popular at that time, by making them more tasteful and compassionate rather than mocking the slaves as these songs tended to do.

His first big hit was Oh, Susanna, but he made little money out of it as it was widely pirated by music publishers. Some of his other popular songs, all written in the 1850s, were Old Folks at Home, My Old Kentucky Home, Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair and Hard Times Come Again No More. He died in 1864, one of his most popular songs, Beautiful Dreamer, being published posthumously.

My Old Kentucky Home was probably composed in 1852, published as My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night in 1853 and performed by Christy's Minstrels. It is thought that Foster was inspired by Harriett Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851). In his sketchbook, the song was titled Poor Uncle Tom, Good Night and this line was used at the end of each verse. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass believed the song aroused "the sympathies for the slave, in which anti-slavery principles take root and flourish."

In 1928 this song became the official state song of Kentucky but, in 1986, it was changed to make it more politically correct, when Carl Hines, the only black member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, initiated a bill to substitute the word "darkies" by "people" on the grounds that the lyrics "convey connotations of racial discrimination that are not acceptable". I prefer to sing the original "politically incorrect" version.

You can see the lyrics here.


Neesa Neesa (Traditional Seneca)


This is a Native American shamanic chant from the Seneca Tribe. "Neesa" is the Seneca name for Grandmother Moon, and "Gaiwey Ho" refers to creation or the creator.

The words are:
Neesa Neesa Neesa
Neesa Neesa Neesa
Neesa Neesa Neesa
Gai-wey Ho, Gai-wey Ho

I joined in with the Festival Choir at the Palm Creek Folk Festival 2013. We performed a half-hour concert after two one-hour rehearsals, and this was the first song we performed.


Nine Hundred Miles


This hillbilly blues was the forerunner to the better known but less interesting 500 Miles. It was sung by Woody Guthrie, who is said to have learned it from a Negro shoeshine boy in his home town of Okema, Oklahoma. It is also known as Reuben Blues or Reuben's Train and is apparently related to Black Girl / In the Pines.

Here it is played and sung by Rod Foo at a session of the Hong Kong Folk Society at The Canny Man in Wanchai.


Nobody's Child (Mel Foree and Cy Coben)


This tear-jerker was first recorded by Harry Hibbs. It has been widely recorded since then, and artists who have covered it include The Beatles (with Tony Sheridan), Lonnie Donegan, The Traveling Wilburys, Foster and Allen, Hank Snow, Hank Williams Jr., Sheb Wooley, Billy Fury and Karen Young. It was also a hit for Hong Kong singer, Agnes Chan, who recorded it when she was 15.

These days, stopping to watch the children play is probably not a good idea. You might end up in jail!

This song was requested by my YouTube friend, nigelbourke. Here is my rendition.

Here are the lyrics.


No More Auction Block


See Many Thousand Gone.


Oh, Death


This song, also known as Conversations With Death, is most often found in far southwestern Virginia and western North Carolina. Polly Johnson recorded ten verses of the song in 1939 for Emory Hamilton and it has been recorded by John Cohen from a number of western North Carolina singers. Dock Boggs learned the version he sings from Lee Hunsucker in the 1930, but it was not until 1963 that he was recorded singing it, by Mike Seeger. The song has had something of a revival after being featured in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Although considered an American song, it has been traced back to British origins.

Like some of the Child ballads, the story is told purely through the use of dialogue.

Here is Ralph Stanley singing the song and another recording from his younger days.

You can see my attempt at performing it here.

The lyrics are here.


Oh, Freedom


An anthem of the anti-slavery movement and of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. To quote from Rosa Parkes, the black woman who refused to move to the back of the bus: My belief in Freedom goes way back to the days when my mother used to sing “Oh Freedom Over Me”. I will never forget those words ... These words formed my feelings about being free. They gave me strength when things seemed bad, and they guided my thoughts about what I was willing to do to be free. So when I declined to give up my seat, it was not that day or that bus in particular. I just wanted to be free like everybody else. I did not want to be continually humiliated over something I had no control over: the color of my skin.

I sing this as part of a trilogy, as sung by Odetta. Here is a video of Joan Baez singing the song.

You can see my video at the top of the page. The lyrics are here.


Oh! Susanna (Stephen Foster)


This nonsensical love song was first published in 1848. When Stephen Foster was 16 (in 1843), he worked as a bookkeeper for his brother Morrison, who was a friend of Dan Rice, one of the first blackface clowns. This was the year that Dan Emmett established the first blackface minstrel troupe in New York and so-called "Ethiopian" songs were becoming popular. Foster wrote his first minstrel song, Old Uncle Ned and it was performed by the minstrel troupe, The Sable Harmonists. His second song, Away Down Souf, was written for a contest sponsored by The Eagle Saloon in 1847, and his third effort was this now famous song, under the name "Susanna".

He was paid $100 by publishers, Peters and Field, but a New York publisher beat them to it with a pirated edition naming E. P. Christy of the popular Christy's Minstrels as the author. This Manhattan based group became the main performers of Foster's minstrel songs in the 1850s. Oh, Susanna was one of the first minstrel songs to be considered acceptable to the middle classes, possibly because it coincided with the sudden popularity of polka which was arriving from Europe.

Early recordings of the song include Dan Hornsby and the Young Brothers Tennessee Band (1927) and Arthur Fields. Since then it has been recorded by many great artists - such as Roy Rogers, Lew Dite, Johnny Cash and James Taylor.

These days the minstrel/blackface tradition is seen as a form of racism. The blackface minstrels were made up as caricatures of African slaves, and the performances mocked African-Americans, presenting them as uneducated figures of fun. It is ironic that this beloved American song had such racist beginnings. These days it has been watered down, with the most offensive lines left out. However, in the interests of historical accuracy, I am performing this song pretty much as Foster wrote it.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.

And here it is again on the verandah of the Pappers' house in Mackay - with Sue Papper on melodeon. (coming)


Old Blue


A traditional song about a faithful dog. I first heard it sung by Joan Baez on her second album, Joan Baez, Vol. 2 (1961).

This song goes back to at least 1909, when a version was collected by Perrow. Another version , sung by a Negro construction gang was collected in 1915-1916. Jim Jackson recorded it, with guitar accompaniment, for Vocalion in Chicago on 22 January 1928 (Vo 1146). Other artists who have recorded it include Ian and Sylvia and James Taylor.

Here are Peter, Paul and Mary having a lot of fun with it, and here is my rendition. Here are the lyrics.


Old Dan Tucker


The origins of this popular song are largely unknown, though one version is attributed to songwriter and performer Dan Emmett, who claimed he wrote it in 1830 or 1831 when he was fifteen or sixteen years old. Other songwriters it has been credited to include J. R. Jenkins and Henry Russell. Regardless of who wrote the first version, it has become part of oral tradition, with hundreds of verses added and replaced at different times, of varying quality. The blackface minstrel troupe, The Virginia Minstrels, popularized the song in 1843, and it quickly became part of the minstrel repertoire during the antebellum period. These days it is still a bluegrass and country music standard.

The first sheet music edition (1843) used exaggerated Black Vernacular English to chronicle Dan Tucker's visit to town, where he breaks various social taboos including fighting, getting drunk and overeating.

With its intense occasionally syncopated rhythm and simple melody some scholars see it as a transitional piece between early minstrel music and the later more European-style songs.

With its raw energy, racism and gleeful political incorrectness, the song is typical of the masculine boasting songs common in the early minstrel days. Dan Tucker is portrayed as animalistic and violent, primitive, ugly, and not too bright. His flouting of convention allows some verses to make fun of respectable middle class American society, which appealed to the working class audiences, whereas others are just nonsense that have little to do with the story, but just sound good and keep the song going.

Though I am generally quite happy to sing politically incorrect songs that show the way our thinking has changed, I have compromised a bit in this one, as I use the later variation of Tucker playing cards in the cellar with "the preacher" rather than "a n*gger" as in earlier versions. However, I've retained the verse about different shades of blackness.

As some of these verses indicate, the song was also popular as a dance tune, with some kind of dancing game based around it.

Here is my rendition and the lyrics I chose to include.


The Old Gray Mare Is Back Where She Used to Be (Carson Robison)


One of the top country hits of 1943 was this song, written and recorded by Carson Robison. It is obviously based on the traditional ditty, The Old Gray Mare She Ain't What She Used to Be. I first heard this sung by banjo picker, Leroy Troy, at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, 2010.

I made this video with Canadian, Matthew Vaughan, who works in Bangkok, Thailand, and accordionist, Bob Hornett, of bertosvids, who was driving Matthew to Melbourne Airport.

Here are the lyrics.


Old Joe Clark


This old mountain ballad was popular with soldiers during World War 1, especially from Virginia and Kentucky. An early version was printed in 1918, and there are known to be about 90 verses. Joe Clark, born in 1839, was a mountaineer who was murdered in 1885. There is an excellent website about this song here, including a lively rendition by the Rosinators, and a lot of information about the origins of the song. It has always been a popular tune, whether sung or played on fiddle or banjo. Here is is on mountain dulcimers. And Lew Dite sings it accompanied by his strumstick!

Here is my rendition, accompanied by a rather scratchy fiddle player! And here are the lyrics.


The Old Maid's Song


Although generally considered an American song, this appears to date back to at least 1636, when it appeared in England as a broadside ballad. In some early versions the old maid finally gets married to a chimney sweep (The Chimney Sweeper's Wedding or The Black Chimney Sweeper) There are also Irish variations, such as Old Maid in the Garret.

This version seems to have been popularised mainly by Pete Seeger.

Here is my video of the song and here are the lyrics.


Old Rattler


The original title of this song, widely collected from prisons, was Calling the Dog. The earliest recording was by blind singer, George Reneau, in 1924, the first "hillbilly" recording for Vocalion Records. Reneau was a wandering street corner minstrel, one of very few who became recording artists. He died of pneumonia at the age of 32, singing on the streets of Knoxville. The song became popular when recorded by Grandpa Jones. It has also been recorded by Doc Reese, Belafonte, Elizabeth Cotten and Ramblin' Jack Elliott.

Lead Belly sang this song combined with Old Riley, a song about an escaped prisoner.

My rendition is here, and here are the lyrics.


Old Riley


This song about an escaped prisoner was collected by John Lomax in 1939 from Rev. Moses (Clear Rock) Platt, an inmate of the Texas State Prison Farms. It incorporates the song Old Rattler, who is chasing the escapee.

It was popularised by Lead Belly, and later by Lonnie Donegan, in a shortened version. Cisco Houston recorded it, among others.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Omie Wise


This murder ballad is based on actual events which took place in 1808. Naomi Wise was an orphan who was being brought up by Squire William Adams, a gentleman of good standing in the community. Omie, however, got involved with a scoundrel named John Lewis, who having got her pregnant, decided to get rid of her as his ambitious mother had found a better match for him. He persuaded her to elope with him, but Naomi began to complain when she realized they were riding in the wrong direction. Then John Lewis told her his real intentions, tied her dress above her head, rode into the middle of Deep River, and held Naomi under the water with his foot until she drowned. Lewis was arrested for the murder and reportedly fled while out on bail and joined the army. He returned some years later to face trial and was acquitted because the evidence was circumstantial and the passions of the community had cooled by then.

The song was written shortly after the murder. but the first recorded version of the song was performed by G.B. Grayson in 1927. Another version was performed by Doc Watson, who learned the song from his mother. It has been recorded by many singers, including Clarence Ashley, Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb, Shirley Collins, Judy Henske, Bob Dylan, Greg Graffin and The Pentangle.

Here is my rendition of the song, and here are the lyrics.


Only the Hangman is Waiting For Me (Wayne P. Walker)


This is one of many songs descended from the British traditional song, The Unfortunate Rake, the best known one being The Streets of Laredo. It was copyrighted in 1960 under the title Only the Heartaches by Wayne P Walker, with additional words by Jess Edwins and Terry Kennedy. Rex Allen sang it on his 1962 album Rex Allen Sings and Tells Tales, making it a hangman that was waiting rather than just heartaches.

Here is Rex Allen's original recording and here is my rendition. Here are the lyrics.


The One on the Right Was on the Left (Jack Clement)


A song about the dangers of mixing politics with traditional music, which, of course, is quite a tradition in itself. This song was sung by Johnny Cash, on his 1966 Columbia album, Everybody Loves a Nut.

My video of the song is here, and here are the lyrics.


On Top of Old Smokey


The earliest known appearance of this popular song is in 1911. Alan Lomax believed it was related to Wagoners Lad, as in this version, but other scholars believe they are two separate songs.

It has been recorded by many great performers, including The Weavers (1951), Hank Williams, Burl Ives, The Morris Brothers and Earl Scruggs, Chris Barber, Lew Dite, nondepouk, ABBA and Bruce Springsteen (1980), all of which can be heard on YouTube along with a few dozen other versions.

Here is my rendition, and, more recently, I have sung this song with Axel, my five-year-old grandson. Here are the lyrics.


On Top of Spaghetti (Tom Glazer)


This little children's ballad was written and originally performed by folk singer, Tom Glazer, with the Do-Re-Mi Children's Chorus in 1963. It is, of course, a parody of well-known American ballad, On Top Of Old Smokey. Also popular with the Scouts, the song tells the story of what happened to a meatball when somebody sneezed.

This is one of ten songs I recorded with Matthew Vaughan in Bangkok on March 11th, 2013. It is dedicated to my grandson, Axel.

Here is our video of the song and here are the lyrics.

Since then I have made a video of the song with Axel, now five-years-old, with Axel on keyboard, myself on guitar and both on vocals. Here is our rendition.

Orphan Girl (C. G. Keith)


This song was written by Elder C.G. Keith in 1905 for the Cooper Edition of the Sacred Harp songbook. It was very popular among country-music performers in the 1920s, and has been recorded by Buell Kazee, Fiddlin' John Carson, Riley Pucket, Ernest Stoneman, Almeda Riddle (1965) and Doc Watson.

My performance is here, and here are the lyrics.


Over the Garden Wall (Harry Hunter, G. D. Fox)


This song was written by the minstrel showmen, Harry Hunter (lyrics) and George D. Fox (music) in 1879. It was a big hit in the 1890s when sung by the vaudeville singer, Tony Pastor, and eventually moved into the folk tradition.

The Carter Family popularised it again when they recorded it in 1933. They sang only two verses, the first and fourth, with some changes to the melody.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.

Over There (George M Cohan)


This song, written in 1917 during the first World War, was popular with United States soldiers in both World Wars. Cohan is said to have claimed that the words came to him while he was travelling by train from New Rochelle to New York shortly after the U.S. had declared war against Germany in April 1917.

On June 29, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt awarded Cohan the Congressional Medal for this and other songs.

The slogan "The Yanks are Coming" is derived from this song.

Early recordings include versions by Nora Bayes, Enrico Caruso, Charles King, Billy Murray, and Arthur Fields.

This song was requested by DitzyBrunett247. Here is my rendition (coming) and here are the lyrics.

The Ox Driving Song


This song was collected by John Lomax. The following quote is attributed to Alan Lomax: "Even cowboys and muleskinners acknowledged that the ox driver had a precision, virulence, and ingenuity in his profanity that no one could match. His animals literally wouldn't pull unless he lashed at them with a tremendous string of oaths. This violent song, which John Lomax collected from Herman Weaver in the Texas pine woods, comes out of the tough bandit-ridden Missouri Hills of the 1860s."

I first heard it sung by Odetta on the first album of hers I ever heard - and owned - My Eyes Have Seen.

It has been recorded by several other artists, including The Brothers Four and The Seekers.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Patches (Barry Mann and Larry Kolber)


In the early 1960s songs about dying teenagers emerged as a popular genre in Britain and the US. Some examples were Running Bear, Tell Laura I Love Her, Teen Angel, Ebony Eyes and Leader of the Pack. For an interesting article on this phenomenon see A brief life: broken hearts and sudden deaths.

One of the best (worst?) of these was Patches, a Romeo and Juliet story written in 1962 by Barry Mann and Larry Kolber, who also wrote the surfing death song Johnny Surfboard, which Barry Mann himself recorded in 1963.

Dicky Lee had a hit with his recording of Patches in 1962. Appropriately he went on to write and record a song called Laurie, in 1965, a song in which the singer meets and falls in love with the ghost of a girl who died a year earlier.

Here is my video of the song, and here are the lyrics.


Pay Me My Money Down


This work song, also known as Pay Me, You Owe Me, was first collected by Lydia Parrish from the Negro stevedores working in the Georgia Sea Islands. Though published in 1942 the melody is much older and has been used in other songs,

It was performed by The Weavers at their influential 1955 Carnegie Hall concerts, and also recorded by The Kingston Trio in 1958. It was the first single released from Bruce Springsteen's 2006 album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions and one of the most popular songs in his concerts, where it was usually the closing number. And, of course, there is the classic rendition by the King of Skiffle, Lew Dite.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.


Peg and Awl


Though this song is usually sung and titled as Peg and Awl it probably refers to a machine called a Pegging Awl, used for making shoes. It is about the increasing mechanisation taking over from traditional craftsmanship.

The song was popularised by Hobart Smith of Virginia. He learned it from Kelly Harrell, who recorded it in 1925. I first heard it sung by The Carolina Tar Heels (1928) on An Anthology of American Folk Music.

It has also been recorded by Pete Seeger, Lew Dite, Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.


Pick a Bale Of Cotton


First collected by Alan Lomax from prison farms in Texas, this is a boastful song about picking an impossibly large quantity of cotton (a bale is about a quarter of a ton). One version (1934) sung by Moses Clear Rock Platt, an African-American singer (and prisoner) has led to some controversy as it used the word "n*gger". In fact, many people now consider it politically incorrect to sing this song at all because of its associations with slavery. There is a fascinating thread on the Mudcat site about a school that was pressured into withdrawing the song from a choral concert after complaints fromparents.

Pete Seeger has argued that it would have been sung fairly slowly as a work song if it was actually sung by the slaves on the cotton fields, so it is quite likely that it does not actually go back to those times. The version that we know today comes mainly from the singing of Lead Belly, who called it a "play-party" song, and has been carried on by singers such as Harry Belafonte, Odetta and the great blues duo, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

The song has also been sung by Lonnie Donegan and ABBA.

My performance is here. Here are the lyrics.


Plastic Jesus (Ed Rush, George Cromarty, Ernie Marrs)


The original version of Plastic Jesus was an actual radio advertisement in the1940s and 50s for a company that made plastic dashboard statuettes of Jesus and offered them for sale in various states including Texas and West Virginia. This parody is generally attributed to Atlanta songwriter Ernie Marrs, who wrote a number of topical songs that were recorded by Pete Seeger, one example being The People Are Scratching. Seeger had actually planned to record Plastic Jesus, but changed his mind after it had already been advertised on a Folkways album. He wrote, possibly in The Incompleat Folksinger, that he liked the song a lot because it showed how people accept plastic or illusion over substance but he said he decided not to sing the song any more because he thought the reason he enjoyed it might have something to do with his Protestant upbringing, and did not want to offend any Roman Catholics.

Ernie Marrs did record it in the 1960s for Broadside Magazine , where it was printed. A shorter version was printed in Sing Out (1964).

However this satirical song was around before Marrs adapted (and copyrighted) it. It was actually written by two West Coast musicians, Ed Rush and George Cromarty, who were members of the Goldcoast Singers. Ed Rush traced the song back to an African-American camp-meeting song with lyrics "I don't care if it rains or freezes, leaning on the arms of my Jesus," which was the theme song of a religious radio program broadcast from Baton Rouge in the 1940s. The parody lyrics are based on this line.

Here is how Ed Rush describes it: "As bored teenagers in Fresno, California in the late 50's my friends and I used to sit around on hot summer nights playing with a radio to find distant stations. A favorite was (as I dimly recall) a station with the call letters (maybe) XERB, from Del Rio, Texas. The transmitter was just over the Rio Grande, in Mexico, so that they could engage in some questionable transactions that the FCC might not have approved of. They peddled all sorts of tacky quasi-religious stuff, including plastic statues of Jesus, Mary, etc. These were guaranteed to protect the buyer, especially if he sent cash. One of our favorite programs often featured rousing spiritual anthems, including one song that started, 'I don't care if it rains or freezes, leaning on the arms of Jesus...' Being slightly irreverant teenagers, George and I came up with 'I don't care if it rains or freezes, long as I've got my plastic Jesus...', etc, etc. I clearly recall rolling on the floor with laughter for about an hour". He also notes: "In mid-1963 a Chicago disc jockey played Plastic Jesus several times a day and nearly got fired by his very Catholic boss."

Paul Newman sings this song in Cool Hand Luke as a hymn, as if it was the only thing he knew that had some spiritual words.

This song was heavily debated when it was printed in Sing Out and again when it was printed in Broadside, with angry subscribers asking how they could publish something so blasphemous, canceling subscriptions and claiming they would never read the magazine again. Gordon Friesen of Sing Out defended the song against charges of being sacrilegious: "'Where does the sacrilege lie really, with the song, or those greedy for profits, who debase the Savior by producing and peddling these cheap little trinkets in his image?'" (Broadside, issue 39).

I first heard this song from a friend at school who was instrumental in introducing me to the folk scene and also happened to be an atheist). At the time I also found it offensive until I understood that the target is the sellers of religious kitsch, not religion itself.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.


Polly Wolly Doodle


The first known publication of this song is in a Harvard student songbook of 1880. It is sometimes credited to blackface minstrel, Dan Emmett. It is generally considered to be a children's song. Many of the nonsense verses used in the song can actually be found in a number of songs of African American origin.

Shirley Temple sang a version of the song with quite different words in the movie, The Littlest Rebel (1935). Other movies featuring the song are Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You (1938) and Blake Edwards' S.O.B. (1981).

Here is my rendition and I also do the Shirley Temple version.

Here are the lyrics to both versions.


Preserven el Parque Elysian (Mike Kellin)


This song was written (in Spanish) by actor, Mike Kellin, for a rally to save Elysian Park in Los Angeles, used yearly by a million people, many of them Mexican-Americans. It was first printed in the West Coast Songmakers Almanac. Pete Seeger recorded it on his album God Bless the Grass.

The above information is from Broadside #76, where the song was reprinted.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Pretty Polly


There are a number of versions of this murder ballad, which is also known as The Gosport Tragedy or The Cruel Ship's Carpenter. It has been collected both in the British Isles and in the Appalachian region of North America, and appears to be closely related to the Scottish song, Banks of Red Roses. It is also closely related to Child ballad #4 (The Willow Tree) as can be heard in this version by Pete Seeger, sung in Melbourne in 1963.

Many versions of the story have the villain as a ship's carpenter who promises to marry Polly but murders her when she becomes pregnant. When he goes back to sea, he is haunted by her ghost, confesses to the murder, goes mad and dies.

The many artists who have recorded this song include The Byrds, Judy Collins, Bob Fuller, Queen Adreena, Sandy Denny, Ralph Stanley, Dock Boggs, Bert Jansch, Gillian Welch and, of course, Lew Dite.

Bob Dylan sang this song in his early years and used the tune for his Ballad of Hollis Brown.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.


Pretty Saro


Several variations of this song were collected in the Appalachian mountains in the early 1900s. The earliest publication was in Lomax's North Carolina Booklet (1911). In some versions the woman is named Sarah or even Molly. The tune is probably of British origin, as suggested by the term "freeholder."

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.

The Race Is On (Don Rollins)


This song was written by Don Rollins for country music artist, George Jones. It was the first single released from his 1965 album of the same name. Released as a single in late 1964, it peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. Artists who have covered the song include Jack Jones (1965), Alvin and the Chipmunks (1965), The Grateful Dead (1981), Dave Edmunds (1981) and Sawyer Brown (1989).

This song was requested by MrHardPressed.

Here is George Jones singing it and here is my cover. Here are the lyrics.


Ragged But Right


This song is probably of African-American origin though it seems to have crossed over from the blues tradition to country music, since it was popularised by blind country singer, Riley Pucket (1894-1946), who is probably the first singer to be recorded yodelling. It is probably more often played as bluegrass rather than blues.

However I am more familiar with it as a blues-style song, narrated from the woman's point of view.

Here is my video of the song, and here are the lyrics.


Red Light Saloon


The original Red Light Saloon was a hotel in Caldwell, Kansas, a town at the end of the cattle trails. Outside of Caldwell was a hill where ladies of the evening would keep a lookout for the trail herds coming toward town. They could then be prepared for the expected surge in business. It was a notoriously violent place. In its first three years, Caldwell went through nine town marshals, several having been killed near the saloon. On June 22, 1882, the town's tenth marshal, George S. Brown, was killed inside the Red Light Saloon. The town had had enough. The proprietor and proprietress of the saloon, George and Maggie Wood, quickly left town and the saloon mysteriously caught fire and burned down.

Having said all that, the Red Light Saloon referred to in this song, popular in the cowboy camps, was actually an establishment in Rawlins, another town in Kansas. It took its name from the hotel in Caldwell and was operated by John Curtis and J. A. Gordon. There were eight women available, four of whom were married, according to the 1880 census, one with a two-year old child in residence.

The original song is a bit too bawdy for this channel and it is usually sung in this watered down version. The young lady in the original version of the song must have been especially in demand as she could charge $5.00, very expensive for the time. A similar saloon in Cheyenne charged only $3.00 and included a bath.

A version of the song similar to this one was recorded by Oscar Brand.

Here is my rendition of the song and here are the lyrics.


Red River Valley


This song is often thought of as as a cowboy song from Texas, but Edith Fowke, a Canadian folklorist, found that it originated among British troops who went to Manitoba in the late 1860s to put down the Metis rebellion in North Dakota. It began as a song of military occupation, which would be seen as politically incorrect these days, as it was originally about "the half-breed who loved you so true." It became popular in New York as In the Bright Mohawk Valley, a version written by James Kerrigan in 1896.

When I first bought a guitar at the age of 16, I got a little book of folk songs with a section at the back about how to accompany yourself on guitar. The shortened version of Red River Valley that I sing was the first song in this section, and therefore the first song I ever sang with guitar.

Many singers have recorded this song, including Jo Stafford, Connie Francis, Slim Whitman, Marty Robbins, Warren Buffet (!), Jimmie Rodgers, Wesley and Marilyn Tuttle, ichingiching and, of course, Lew Dite.

You can hear my rendition of the song, and here are the lyrics.

And here is a virtual duet with HectorAwol on harmonica!


Red Wing (Thurland Chattaway and Kerry Mills)


This popular song was written in 1907. Thurland Chattaway wrote the lyrics and Kerry Mills wrote the music by adapting a tune from Robert Schumann's 1848 piano work Album For the Young (Opus 68). There are a few bawdy versions of this song, which probably sprang up soon after the original was published. One of these was recorded by Oscar Brand on his 1950 album Bawdy Songs & Backroom Ballads, Volume 3. The tune has also been used for a number of other songs, including Charlie Chaplin, and Woody Guthrie's Union Maid.

The song has been recorded many times, one of the earliest being by Buell Kazee & Sookie Hobbs in 1928. It was also featured in the 1961 movie The Comancheros when the characters played by John Wayne? and Lee Marvin sing it while drunk at the top of their voices.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Rock About on My Saro Jane


This song, ironically describing the lack of work to do on a ship, was recorded, and possibly written, by Uncle Dave Macon (1870 - 1952). I first heard it sung by Odetta on her 1959 album, My Eyes Have Seen.

Here is a bluegrass version by Country Gazette.

And here is my rendition. The lyrics are here.


Rock Island Line


In September, 1934, John Lomax and Lead Belly were touring prisons in Arkansas, when they both heard Rock Island Line for the first time - at the state prison in Little Rock. Lomax didn't get the names of the singers, simply referring to them as a "group of convicts." A few weeks later they heard the song again at Cummins Farm near Gould, Arkansas, in a more polished performance which made a bigger impression on Lomax. The lead singer of this group was a prisoner named Kelly Pace, who was doing five years for burglary. Lomax recorded Pace's song, but Lead Belly added it to his repertoire. As he performed it to live audiences he gradually changed it from a call-and-response work song to a solo performance with guitar.

John Lomax was concerned that Lead Belly's songs were too remote from the concerns of middle class audiences, so he asked Lead Belly to introduce his songs with some words of explanation. In 1944 he added a prelude to the Rock Island Line, so that it became a story of a train approaching a depot. The engineer signals the depot agent that he is carrying live animals and so doesn't have to stop and pay a toll. After the train passes, the engineer boasts of fooling agent, because his train was actually carrying pig iron. Here is Lead Belly's rendition.

For lots more information on the background to the song, you can check out this website.

Rock Island Line was also recorded by The Weavers, but the song did not become a hit until it was recorded by Scottish singer, Lonnie Donegan in 1954, as one of the first skiffle songs. Released as a single in 1956, it reached number nine on the British charts, propelling Donegan to stardom. As he said himself, this song changed his life:
"It changed it absolutely from being a little banjo player sitting in the back of a jazz band to being the biggest star in England, really."

It has also been recorded (in the late 1960s) by Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, Harry Belafonte (in the 1970s), Odetta, Little Richard (1988), Bobby Darin, John Lennon, Arlo Guthrie and Johnny Cash.

Here is my rendition of the song, and here are the lyrics.

Rocky Top (Felice and Bouleaux Bryant)


This American country and bluegrass song was written by husband and wife team, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant in 1967 and first recorded by the Osborne Brothers the same year. It shows the city-dweller lamenting the loss of a simpler and freer existence in the hills of Tennessee.

It has been recorded by many artists including Lynn Anderson (1970), Dillard and Clark, Buck Owens, Dolly Parton, John Denver and Billie Jo Spears.

In this video it is the second of two songs sung by Katrina Rodeheaver and Camille Lacey, two participants in the Cantus Salisburgensis festival at our closing ceremony at Salzburg Fortress.

Round the Bay of Mexico


This popular shanty is also known as Heave Away Santiana and Aweigh Santy Ano.

According to Hugill, it began as a pumping shanty, but was later more widely used at capstans, and was especially popular with whalers. There are probably more variations on this than almost any other shanty: Hugill gives three completely different sets of words and three tunes and says that any tune could be paired with any lyrics. He gives six separate first refrains and no ten second refrains, adding that the first and second refrains could be sung in reverse order if desired.

Most versions heard today tell the story of Santiana's exploits in Mexico's war against the United States in the 1840s - but they are not always historically accurate, with many versions saying that Santiana defeated General Taylor. The version we sing here is a simple one that leaves out the war altogether!

The song has been recorded by many artists, including Harry Belafonte and The Weavers.

It is one of ten songs I recorded with Matthew Vaughan in Bangkok on March 11th, 2013.

Here is our video of the song, and here are the lyrics.


Roving Gambler


This American folk song probably originated with an English broadside known as such as The Journeyman or The Roving Journeyman. The first commercial recording was probably in 1924, by Samantha Bumgarner of North Carolina. It has been recorded by many artists, including The Brothers Four, Marvin Rainwater, The Everly Brothers, Marty Robbins, Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Dylan.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Run Come See, Jerusalem (Blake Higgs)


This song is about a devastating Category 3 to 4 hurricane in the Bahamas in 1929 that destroyed many ships. It was written by Blake Alphonso Higgs, who recorded it in 1951. Higgs was a blind Bahamian calypso singer, who fronted the house band at the Royal Victoria Hotel in Nassau for many years.

Several American folk singers have sung this song, which I first heard sung by The Weavers. Others include The Phoenix Singers (1962), The Brothers Four, The Pennywhistlers, Clam Chowder, Joseph Spence and Odetta.

My video of the song is here, and here are the lyrics.

Running Bear (J.P. Richardson)


A popular song by J.P. Richardson, who was also known as "The Big Bopper". It was popularised by Johnny Preston in 1959 who sang the song with background vocals by Richardson and George Jones. It reached Number 1 on the charts in January, 1960, and was also a Number 1 hit in England. Richardson never lived to see its popularity as he died in the same plane crash that killed Buddy Holly.

The story is basically the old Romeo and Juliet tale, with the river between them serving as a metaphor for their separation due to the animosity between their tribes.

I remember when this song first came out I was with my schoolmates and we overheard a group of girls talking about the song, and saying things like "I love Running Bear." You can imagine what kind of images that conjured up in our adolescent minds.


Here is my performance of the song, and here are the lyrics.


Saint James Infirmary Blues


The earliest known version of this song goes back to 1899, when it was known asThe Gambler's Blues. It may have been based on an Irish ballad calledThe Unfortunate Rake, which mentions a "St. James Hospital", another descendant of which is the cowboy song Streets of Laredo.

The song has been performed by many well-known singers, including Cab Calloway (Betty Boop version here), Louis Armstrong, Blind Willie McTell (Dying Crapshooter's Blues), "Spider" John Koerner, Jack Teagarden, Billie Holiday, Cisco Houston, Lou Rawls, Arlo Guthrie, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, The Doors, The Animals, Doc Watson, Simon Prager, Tom Jones, Eric Clapton and Van Morrison.

Bob Dylan adapted the tune for his song Blind Willie McTell (1981), which was only released in 1991 on the Bootleg Series.

My performance is here, and here are the lyrics.

An excellent website devoted to this song can be found here.


Salty Dog (Zeke Morris)


This song was written by Zeke in 1935, and arranged by him and his brother, Wiley. "Salty Dog" seems to have a number of meanings. Wiley's interpretation seems to make the most sense - "I have a different definition of a salty dog than Zeke has. Back when we were kids down in Old Fort we would see a girl we liked and say 'I'd like to be her salty dog.' There also used to be a drink you could get up in Michigan. All you had to do was say 'Let me have a Salty Dog,' and they'd pour you one."

Zeke said of the origins of the song, "I got the idea when we went to a little old honky tonk just outside of Canton which is in North Carolina. We went to play at a school out beyond Waynesville somewhere and we stopped at this place. They sold beer and had slot machines. At that time they were legal in North Carolina. We got in there after the show and got to drinking that beer and playing the slot machines with nickels, dimes and quarters. I think we hit three or four jackpots. Boy, here it would come! You know you had a pile of money when you had two handfuls of change. The name of that place was the 'Salty Dog,' and that's where I got the idea for the song. There's actually more verses to it than me and Wiley sing, a lot more verses."

Salty Dog was the most popular number the Morris Brothers ever recorded. According to Wiley, "It's considered a standard. Everybody uses it in the bluegrass field, just about. We're making more money off it now on copyright royalties than we ever did on our record, with other people using it. I reckon that song is known all over the world. When I get my statement every six months, it's being played in every nation under the sun. That song is even popular in Japan! 'Salty Dog' aint one that's gone up to high heaven and then fell completely down. It's just one that's considered a standard. It's our biggest song 'cause it's a good five string banjo number played bluegrass style."

It has also been recorded by Roger McGuinn, Flatt and Scruggs, Jelly Roll Morton, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Willie McTell, Reverend Gary Davis, and Johnny Cash.

Here is my video of the song, and here are the lyrics.


Say Darlin' Say


This popular but politically incorrect old-time song incorporates the song "Hush Little Baby", which is normally sung as a lullaby. It is often performed by bluegrass bands.

Here is my rendition (coming), and here are the lyrics.

Scarlet Ribbons (Jack Segal & Evelyn Danzig)


This rather sentimental song about an unlikely small miracle was written in 1949 and has been recorded by many singers, including Juanita Hall, Harry Belafonte, Perry Como, Val Doonican, Jim Reeves, Bobbie Bare, Cliff Richard, Roy Orbison, Gracie Fields, Doris Day, Vera Lynn, Dinah Shore, Renée Geyer, The Kingston Trio, Willie Nelson and Sinéad O'Connor.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.


Seven Old Ladies (Locked in the Lavatory)


This song, which appears in several versions, is a parody of the traditional English nursery rhyme, Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be?

The oldest recovered American text is in The One, The Only Baker House Super-Duper Extra Crude Song Book, which was probably compiled at Massachusetts Institute of Technology around 1955. It has been recorded by Oscar Brand among others. There are variants in Britain, such as Three Old Ladies, and even a version with twenty-one old women.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics I use.


She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain


This song, also known simply as Coming 'Round the Mountain, is often considered to be a children's song.
The first printed version of the song appeared in Carl Sandburg's The American Songbag (1927), but it probably goes back to the late 1800s. The song was based on the old Negro spiritual, When the Chariot Comes and spread through Appalachia with the now familiar lyrics, but retaining the call-response structure, and later sung by railroad work gangs in the Midwest.

My video here is in four parts, beginning with the original spiritual, When the Chariot Comes, continuing with a variation of Coming Round the Mountain which includes a rhyming line rather than just repetition of the main line, then another spiritual based on the song, or perhaps based on the original spiritual, called Going Back With Jesus, which was recorded by the Heavenly Gospel Singers in Charlotte in 1937. Finally there is a children's song popular in Scotland sung to this tune.

You can also hear me sing this song (second version) with my three-year-old grandson, Axel, along with a couple of other songs.

Then, when Axel was four we sang the song accompanying ourselves on the keyboard.

Here are the lyrics of all four variations.

Shenandoah


The origins of this song are obscure, though it probably goes back to the early nineteenth century.

It has been collected many times by the likes of Lomax and Sandburg and is generally believed to have its origins as a sea-shanty (specifically a short-haul chanty) though this would be before the word "Shenandoah," whether it refers to an Indian chief (with a young daughter) or just a place, became part of the song. It has also been claimed by riverboatmen, cavalry and wagon soldiers, mountain men, traders and trappers.

It has been called by various names, including The Wide Missouri, The World Of Misery-Solid Fas (a West Indian rowing shanty, used while chasing the whale, which may well have been corrupted into "Missouri"), The Oceanida, Rolling River, The Gals Of Dublin Town, The Harp Without The Crown and The Saucy Arabella.

A writer on Mudcat cites the following version collected in 1909:

O Shenadar I'll have your daughter;
Way - o, you rolling ruin;
I love her as I love the water,
Ha!---
I'm bound away across the wild Missouri.

O Shenadar what is the matter?
Way - o, you rolling ruin;
Your daughter's here and I am at her,
Ha! ha!
I'm bound away across the wild Missouri.

The earliest known print version seems to be one named Shanandore quoted in an article, Sailor Songs, by W.L. Alden in Harpers New Monthly Magazine, Volume 65, Issue 386, July 1882.

Here are the lyrics of the typically watered-down version that I sing. And here is a lovely version by the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Chamber Choir, recorded in Paris.


The Ship That Never Returned (Henry Clay Work)


Henry Clay Work, famous for "My Grandfather's Clock" and "Marching Through Georgia", wrote this song in 1865. No reason is given for the ship's failure to return, but this was not an uncommon event in the days of sailing ships.

The melody has been used for a number of other songs, the two best known being Wreck of the Old 97 about a 1903 train wreck and Charlie on the MTA written in 1948 as a campaign song for Walter A. O'Brian about a man who couldn't get off a Boston subway train because the M.T.A had added an exit fare to get off the train. It was a big hit for The Kingston Trio in 1959.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Shortnin' Bread


Shortening bread is a kind of corn bread with strips of bacon, "shortening" referring to any fat used in baking, such as butter, lard, oil and margarine. In fact it was used to describe just about any bread or biscuit containing fat and flour.

Mammy's L'il Baby Loves Shortnin' Bread
is believed to have been written in 1928 by Jacques Wolfe, a Romanian immigrant to New York who developed an interest in African-American music. This was written for blackface vaudeville and became popular with general audiences when it was recorded by Lawrence Tibbett (1896 -1960), one of the pioneers of American radio. It was later revived by Nelson Eddy, who sang it in the MGM movie Maytime (1937), directed by Robert Z. Leonard. In 1938 it was a big hit for The Andrews Sisters.

I first heard the song sung by Burl Ives. Other artists who recorded it are Gil Tanner, The Beach Boys (1979), The Tractors (1998), and Neal Pattman.

Wikipedia also mentions performances by Donald Duck (in Three For Breakfast, 1948), Captain Harris in Police Academy 4 and Ethel Mertz in I Love Lucy (Season 4).

My performance is here and the lyrics are here.


Silver Dagger


This ballad, from the singing of Joan Baez, is a short version of a much longer song that has been around since the nineteenth century, the first published version being dated 1907, though there is a very similar song called Drowsy Sleeper, collected in Dorset in the 1830s. In the longer versions it is the male whose parents do not allow him to marry the girl because she is too poor. She kills herself with a silver dagger and when he finds her, he picks up the dagger and he, too, kills himself.

The 1960 version by Joan Baez, apparently the first to do away with the Romeo and Juliet story, has become the standard way of performing this song. It has also been recorded by Dolly Parton, Solas and Roger McGuinn, who changed the words to sing it from the boy's point of view, something Joan herself would never have done!

Here is my performance and here is a rendition with Marco Acca, which we recorded in Rome in October 2011.

Here are the lyrics.


Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis)


There is some controversy about whether Merle Travis actually wrote this song, which he recorded in 1953. George Davis (1906-1992), known as the "singing miner of Hazard, Kentucky," claimed to have written the song as Nine to Ten Tons some time earlier.

Tennessee Ernie Ford had a big hit with the song when it was released as the B-side of a song called You Don't Have to be a Baby to Cry in 1955.

The many others who have recorded the song include Johnny Desmond (1955), Frankie Laine (1955), The Weavers (1956), Eddy Arnold (1956), Kate Smith (1958), Homer & Jethro (1960), Jimmy Dean (1961), Bo Diddley - 1961, Lorne Greene - 1965, Stevie Wonder (1966), Tom Jones (1967), Eric Burdon (1990), Johnny Cash, Leon Russell, The Platters, and Big Bill Broonzy.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Skip to My Lou


Generally considered a children's song these days, Skip to My Lou was originally a popular frontier dance song for a "partner stealing" dance. As fiddles and other instruments were considered indecent, the dancers created their own music by clapping and singing.

"Lou" is apparently derived from "love", via the Scottish word "loo."

Just about everybody does this song including Pete Seeger, Jean Ritchie and some of my favourite YouTube stars, Lew Dite, Dan Samples and David Holness's brother, Dimple Diamond. Even the boys from Bonanza have a go at it.

So of course I had to do it. Here is a video of me singing the song and here are the lyrics.

You can also see a live performance of the song together with Ain't Gonna Rain No Mo' at a session of The Hong Kong Folk Society at The Canny Man in Wanchai. Five years later, I recorded these two songs with my six-year-old grandson, Axel. Here is our video.


The Sloop John B (Traditional Bahamas)


Also known as I Wanna Go Home and John B Sails.

Carl Sandburg collected an early version of this song from John & Evelyn McCutcheon of Treasure Island, West Indies where, according to Sandburg, "time & usage have given this song almost the dignity of a national anthem around Nassau. The weathered ribs of the historic craft lie imbedded in the sand at Governor's Harbor, whence an expedition, especially sent up for the purpose in 1926, extracted a knee of horseflesh & a ring-bolt. These relics are now preserved & built into the Watch Tower."

An interesting theory is that the sloop's bad luck was due to its name. "John B" in Afro-Carribean culture, sounds like "jumby" -- a West African term referring to the undead creature that has been anglicized to "zombie."

Alan Lomax collected a version from Cleveland Simmons group at Old Bight, Cat Island, Bahamas in 1935. Blind Blake Higgs, a popular Nassau entertainer, recorded a string band version with the Royal Victor Calypsos in 1952. The first version I heard was by The Weaver's, recorded in 1951. It was also recorded by The Travellers in 1952.

Lonnie Donegan recorded the song in 1960, as did Bud and Travis, and The Kingston Trio had a big hit with it in 1962. probably the best known version these days is the one recorded by The Beach Boys (1966)

It has been recorded by many other artists, including Johnny Cash, Jimmie Rodgers and Roger Whittaker.

Friends from Melbourne, Nick and Jill, were staying with us in Hong Kong for a few days and they just happened to be here at the right time for the monthly session of the Hong Kong Folk Society at The Canny Man. They thought they would just come along and listen in, but we managed to persuade Nick Demytko (after a few drinks) to lead us all in Sloop John B - with a little help from John Walsh.

And here is an a capella rendition sung by members of the Hong Kong St David's Society at the Rainbow Restaurant on Lamma Island.


Smoke on the Water (Zeke Clements and Earl Nunn)


This song may come across as racist and politically incorrect these days, but it was written during World War II and the desire to bomb Japan into oblivion was perfectly understandable at the time. It was co-written in 1944 by country singer, Zeke Clements, and recorded shortly thereafter by Red Foley. It was also sung by Roy Acuff, Bob Wills (1945), Boyd Heath (1945) and Merle Travis (1945)

Probably the first actual recording was from an Armed Forces radio broadcast in 1944 over WXLD on the island of Saipan where they were building the airstrip to be used to bomb Japan. It was played by a band called The Rainbow Boys and reportedly included Pete Seeger on banjo.

Here is a modern version of the song, by wddurey.

You can hear my rendition here and here are the lyrics.


Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child


The song goes back to the slavery days in the US when children of slaves were often sold away from their parents. It was performed in the 1870s by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. It has been widely recorded in many different versions.

Though the song can be taken literally, the “motherless child” may also refer to the slave's yearning for his motherland in Africa, though the home in “a long ways from home” could also refer to Heaven.

Among the many who have performed the song are Paul Robeson (1930s), Bobby Breen, in the movie Way Down South (1939), Louis Armstrong (1958), Lou Rawls (1962), Odetta (1960), Ike and Tina Turner (1969), Boney M. (1977), Van Morrison (1987), Hootie and the Blowfish (1994), Tom Jones (1999), Wishbone Ash (2006), Eric Burden, in the movie The Blue Hour (2007) and Sweet Honey in the Rock (1998). Mahalia Jackson sings it as part of her performance of Summertime.

I sing it as part of a trio of songs, the others being Oh Freedom and No More Auction Block. See the video at the top of this page.

The lyrics are here.

Son, Don't go Near the Indians (Rex Allen)


One of the songs from my childhood.

Rex Allen (1920 – 1999) was an American actor, singer and songwriter. Rex Elvie Allen was born on a ranch in Mud Springs Canyon, forty miles from Willcox, Arizona. He grew up to become a popular entertainer known as "The Arizona Cowboy." This song, which was on his 1962 album, Rex Allen Sings and Tells Tales was probably his biggest hit.

Here is Rex Allen's original recording. And here is Sheb Wooley's parody - Son, Don't Go Near the Eskimos.

Here is my cover and here are the lyrics.


Spanish is the Loving Tongue (Charles Badger Clark)


One of the most popular of all the cowboy love songs, this ballad was written in 1915 by the western poet Charles Badger Clark, Jr. under the title A Border Affair. The story of true love that was unacceptable due to racial barriers appealed to many in that sentimental age. One of the first recordings was by Richard Dyer Bennet, who learned it from Sam Erskin.

It has been recorded by many performers including Ronnie Gilbert, Marianne Faithfull (1965) and Bob Dylan(1973).

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

This song was requested by YouTube friend, realoldgeezer.

Springfield Mountain


This song, also known as On Springfield Mountain, The Pesky Sarpent, The Springfield Ballad, The Story of Timothy Mirick, and Elegy on a Young Man Bitten by a Rattlesnake, is one of the earliest known American ballads. It is based on an actual incident in which Timothy Merrick (or Mirick, or Myrick) died after being bitten by a rattlesnake on August 7, 1761 in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. The record states: "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."

The song is thought to have been first composed as a dirge or eulogy before gaining status as folklore throughout the colonies. Because of its popularity there are many variations of the ballad and its story. Although the song has now settled down to one specific melody, it was originally sung to other tunes, including Old Hundredth and Merrily Danced the Quaker's Wife.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Stagolee


This popular song, also spelt in various ways such as Stagger Lee and Stack O Lee, is based on the murder of William "Billy" Lyons by Stagger Lee Shelton. However it may go back before that particular murder as Shelton could have taken his nickname from an earlier song.

John Lomax first published the song in 1920, but it was well known by then among African American communities. The oldest known recording is by Herb Wiedoeft and his band in 1924. It has since been recorded by many singers, including Mississippi John Hurt (1928), Lloyd Price (1959), Ma Rainey, Pat Boone, James Brown, Taj Mahal, Memphis Slim, Fats Domino, Neil Diamond, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Doc Watson, Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dylan, Ike and Tina Turner, Tommy Roe (1971), The Grateful Dead and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (1996).

It has also been sung by many of my YouTube friends including Lew Dite, Blind Drunk Al, Matthew Vaughan and Sir Coughsalot.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Starving to Death on My Government Claim


This nineteenth century song of the pioneers is also known as Lane County Bachelor, Greer County Bachelor and The Alberta Homesteader. It tells of the harsh conditions that greeted early settlers in Kansas, though it has, of course, been adapted to various other parts of the American West.

The Homestead Act of 1862 offered 160 acres of land previously owned by the railroads to homesteaders who agreed to live on the land for five years. Drawn west by the promise of free, fertile land, Pioneer settlers started arriving in Kansas in 1869, but they found life more difficult than expected as the land was dry and not as fertile as they had been promised. This song, possibly written by a pioneer called Frank Baker to the tune of The Irish Washerwoman, became popular throughout the west.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


The State of Arkansas


This ballad tells a very similar story to the two Australian songs, The Stringybark Cockatoo and The Cockies of Bungaree. In the late nineteenth century, the American state of Arkansas was often shown in a bad light, and this song was always a bit of an embarrassment to the state's politicians.

The hero of the story, known by several names, including Charlie Brennan, Sanford Barnes, Bill Stryker and John Johanna, leaves his home, which can be Buffalo town, Nobleville town or Charlestown among others, to seek employment. He hears of job opportunities in Arkansas, sets out by railway, and arrives in an Arkansas community, which is variously identified as Fort Smith, Van Buren, Little Rock or Hot Springs. There he meets a man who takes him to spend the night in what is supposedly the state’s finest hotel, an experience that makes him want to leave Arkansas immediately. However, his host persuades him to take a job draining some land. Several weeks of hard labor and meagre rations of “corndodgers” (fried cornmeal bread - known in Australia as johnny cake) and “sassafras tea” make him say, “I never knew what misery was till I came to Arkansas.” In some versions, he would rather marry a “squaw” in Indian Territory than stay in Arkansas.

The earliest printed text of this song was published in Journal of American Folklore in 1913. The earliest sound recording is probably by Kelly Harrell and the Virginia String Band in 1927, but the song was probably around at least from the 1890s, and some believe it was known in the 1870s. Alan Lomax suggested that the song was of Irish-American origin, perhaps related to The Spalpeen’s Complaint to the Cranbally Farmer, which Patrick Weston Joyce published in 1909. If so, this may explain the similarity to the two Australian songs mentioned above.

The song has been recorded by various singers and groups, including Pete Seeger, The Almanac Singers, The Weavers, Sam Bell, Jimmy Driftwood, Kelly Harrell and the Virginia Stringband.

There is also a cowboy variation, called Diamond Joe, set in Texas, which has been recorded by Cisco Houston, Rambling Jack Elliott, Tom Rush and Bob Dylan.

You can see my video of this song here. Here are the lyrics.

Here is the video of Diamond Joe and here are the lyrics.

Stealin'


The best known version of this song was first recorded by the Memphis Jug Band as Stealin' Stealin'. in 1928 in Memphis, with Will Shade (harmonica), Vol Stevens (acoustic guitar), Ben Ramey (kazoo), and Jab Jones (vocals, jug). It was re-released in 1959. and has been the model for most renditions of the song since that time.

The label credited Will Shade as the composer, and his publisher still holds the copyright, but the song is actually a compilation of much earlier lyrics.

Here is a good rendition by YouTube songster, Lew Dite, and another by Devil in a Woodpile. If you like Japanese blues here is a rendition by Yukadan.

And here is my rendition. The lyrics are here.

Stewball


The song, Stewball, originated in either England or Ireland, where it began as Skewball, meaning a horse with white patches on a coat that is not black. The horse in question won a race in Kildare in the eighteenth century.

An American version of the song was sung by slaves in the Southern states, and the location varies between California, Texas and Kentucky. It uses an African-American-style call and response technique, as opposed to the ballad style of the English version. This version was popularised by Lead Belly.

A recording by Joan Baez, which was my introduction to the song, is closer to the English version. This better-known version has been recorded by Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, Dan Fogelberg, Peter, Paul and Mary, Slainte and The Hollies among many others.

Here are some excellent versions by YouTube stars, Lew Dite, David Holness, and marcoacca. You will find more on this playlist put together by none other than stewballmax3 himself. There is also a French version, sung by "nondepouk".

Here is my rendition of the English version of the song and here is the American version performed with my wife and two friends from Brunei who visited us in Hong Kong. Here are the lyrics of both versions.


Stop That Thing


One of my favourite Blues singers was Sleepy John Estes, so called because he often closed his eyes during his songs. He recorded this lively song in 1935 with Hammie Nixon on blues harp. The lyrics are fairly meaningless, and include a number of stock phrases found in several songs.

You can hear his performance here, and here is my attempt at a cover. The lyrics can be seen here.

Streets of Laredo


Also known as The Cowboy's Lament this is a well-known cowboy ballad where a dying cowboy tells his story to a live cowboy. Its origins are not clear, but it goes back to at least the 18th century as an Irish or British folk song called The Unfortunate Rake, which tells a similar story, except that the hero's death is caused not by a bullet wound but by a sexually transmitted disease. Another Irish song, The Bard of Armagh, uses the same tune.

The song has been recorded by Joan Baez, Jim Reeves, Roy Rogers, Marty Robbins, Rex Allen, Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie, Lew Dite and many country and western singers. There are a number of songs that use the same tune, such as Only the Hangman (or Only the Heartaches.) It also seems to be part of the inspiration for Eric Bogle's song No Man's Land (also known as The Green Fields of France.)

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.


Sweet Betsy from Pike (John A. Stone)


This American gold-rush ballad about the trials of a pioneer named Betsy and her lover Ike, who migrate from Pike County to California in the "days of forty-nine," was first printed in 1858, but probably written several years earlier. According to Alan Lomax, "Such songs were performed by the professional entertainers who toured the gold camps, and were circulated in the little pocket song books of that day." Though earlier versions may have existed, it is believed that John A. Stone wrote much of the song that is normally sung these days. Stone, who died in 1864, had crossed the plains from Pike County in 1849-1850, with a small singing group, the Sierra Nevada Rangers, which toured the mining camps. His published version appears to have omitted some of the bawdier verses which were probably sung in the camps.

Carl Sandburg wrote of the song that "it has the stuff of a realistic novel. It is droll and don't-care, bleary and leering, as slippery and lackadaisical as some of the comic characters of Shakespeare."

It was recorded by Burl Ives in 1941 for his first album The Wayfaring Stranger. Since then it has been recorded by various artists including Bob Gibson, Cisco Houston, Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Warner and Tom Paxton.

The tune used is generally known as Villikins and his Dinah. Many songs have been set to this tune. There is even one by Stephen Foster, called The Great Baby Show (or The Abolition Show). The story of Betsy and Ike is probably the best known of all the Villikins songs.

Here is my video of the song, and here are the lyrics.


Sweet Forget-Me-Not (Bobby Newcomb)


Though this song was written in Ohio in 1877, and published in sheet music as a "Song with Waltz Chorus," it has become very much a part of the folk tradition, especially in Newfoundland, where it has been recorded by Eddie Coffey in the 1970s and groups such as Ryan's Fancy and Great Big Sea. Other artists who have recorded it include Dolores Keane and Foster and Allen.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Take This Hammer


This prison work song was collected by John and Alan Lomax, though it is believed to have been collected earlier in 1915, sung by Newman Ivey White. It is likely that it was sung by black prisoners working on the railroads. It was made famous by Lead Belly, who recorded it as a single in 1942, though many other artists have recorded it, including The Monroe Brothers (1936), The Osborne Brothers, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Jesse Fuller, Mississippi John Hurt, Long John Baldry, Jimmy Witherspoon, Odetta (1957), Lonnie Donegan (1959), The Brothers Four, New Christy Minstrels, Flatt and Scruggs (1962), The Beatles, Johnny Cash (1963) and Lew Dite.

You can hear the song, along with Pick a Bale of Cotton and Grey Goose sung by Lead Belly in this medley.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


Tell Old Bill


This song probably originated on the Georgia Sea islands, sung by the descendants of slaves, with rather different words, and probably to the tune of The Frog Went A-Courtin'. The first printed version was probably that in Carl Sandburg's American Songbag (1927), under the title Dis Mornin', Dis Evenin', So Soon, which he collected from the singing of Nancy Barnhart, a painter from St Louis. Folklorist, Sam Hinton, collected another version ten years later from an African American farmer in Walker County, Texas. The song reached a wider audience when Bob Gibson recorded his interpretation of Sandburg's version in the late 1950s. It has also been recorded by The Weavers, The Kingston Trio, The Chad Mitchell Trio, Dave Van Ronk, Eric Bibb, Don McLean, Lew Dite and, in a very different version, by Bob Dylan.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Texas Rangers


This song was collected by Alan Lomax from Robert Shiflett of Virginia in 1962. It may have begun as a music hall song, and in different versions, the enemies are Indians, Yankees, or Mexicans. It was probably written around the start of the Civil War and was popular with soldiers on both sides.

The Texas Rangers were originally armed with single-shot muskets, and were no match for the Indians who could shoot their arrows several times in the period it took the Rangers to reload their rifles. When the Rangers were armed with the Colt six-shooter in 1840 they had a much better chance.

The song has been recorded by various artists including the Cartwright Brothers, Harry McClintock, The New Lost City Ramblers, Almeda Riddle, Tex Ritter, Ian and Sylvia and Lew Dite.

Sarah Ogan Gunning used this song as the starting point for her 1937 song, Come All You Coal Miners.

You can hear my rendition of the song and read the lyrics.


There Is A Tavern In The Town


This song first appeared in the 1883 edition of William H. Hill’s Student Songs. The lyrics appear to be based on a traditional miners’ song from Cornwall, U.K. However, the melody is known to be a popular tune from late nineteenth-century America. Although the story is told from the abandoned woman's point of view, it has usually been sung by men as a drinking song.


A popular children's song, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes uses this tune.

Here is my rendition of the song, and here are the lyrics.

There'll Be No Distinction There (Blind Alfred Reed)


Alfred Reed (1880 - 1956) was an American old-time country musician. He recorded some songs at the 1927 Bristol Sessions, alongside better known artists like Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. He played fiddle with his son Arville on guitar. Born completely blind he spent most of his life as a street musician until 1937 when a statute was passed prohibiting blind street musicians. He also served as a lay Methodist minister, and a lot of his songs are religious in nature. But they also contained some social commentary, which was unusual for the time. For that reason he is sometimes considered to be an early "protest" singer. He died in 1956, supposedly of starvation.

Reed's most famous recording was his 1929 release of How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? He never recorded again after 1929.

There are different versions of this song around, and it has been made more politically correct by changing the phrase "We'll all be white" to "We'll all shine bright." While I generally prefer to sing the original lyrics of songs regardless of political correctness, in this case I decided to go with "all shine bright" as I think it sound better.

The song has been recorded by the Carter Family and the New Lost City Ramblers among others. I first heard it sung by YouTube singer, SirCoughsalot.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


The Thing (Charles Randolph Green)


This was written in about 1948 or possibly 1950, and recorded by Phil Harris. Since then there have been recordings by such artist as Teresa Brewer, Ray Charles, Bing Crosby, Arthur Godfrey and Danny Kaye.

There are a number of songs in this genre, including a bawdy song called The Chandler's Wife. It is also a bit like Tom Paxton's The Marvelous Toy.

Here I am singing the song and here are the lyrics.


Things About Coming My Way


This blues standard has the same tune as the better-known Sitting On Top of the World. Other songs using the same tune are You've Got to Move and Robert Johnston's Come On in My Kitchen.

I can't remember whether I first heard this sung by Josh White or The Weavers. It has also been recorded by Guy Davis, Frank Hamilton, Jerry Silverman and Judy Broderick.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.


Those Were the Days (Gene Raskin)


New York's White Horse Tavern was famous in the 1960s as a meeting place for folk singers like Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs and the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Gene Raskin, who also frequented the tavern, wrote this song lamenting the passing of those golden days. Apparently he used a traditional Russian tune for the melody.

The song was popularized in the early 1960s by The Limeliters, but the best known recording was by Mary Hopkin (1968), produced by Paul McCartney. It was also the final song recorded by the Clancys.

Here it is, in singalong style, led by Steve Walker at the Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice Choir end of season party at Helena May.

Times Are Getting Hard, Boys (Traditional / Lee Hays)


Lee Hays found the chorus of this song in Carl Sandburg's American Songbag (1927) and added verses to it.

It has since been recorded by several artists including Pete Seeger (1955), Lonnie Donegan (1958), The Limeliters (1960), Robert De Cormier Folk Singers (1964), Peter Yarrow (1975), Eddy Arnold and Tom Paxton.

Lew Dite sings it here
at our first meeting at Dunany near Montreal. The lyrics are here.

The Titanic


This song appeared in various forms a few years after the Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg on April 15, 1912.

Here is my performance of the song. gdgest has put this video on his website: Songs of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I also play this on the fiddle here, together with Reuben James, which is also the tune of Wildwood Flower.

The lyrics are here.


Tom Dooley


This ballad was based on the true story of an impoverished Confederate veteran, Tom Dula (pronounced Dooley), who was hanged for the brutal stabbing to death of his fiance, Laura Foster, in 1868. Many believed that the actual murderer was Anne Melton, Dula's second lover, whose comments led to the discovery of Laura's body, and that Dula admitted guilt to protect her.

Colonel James Grayson was a Tennessee politician who had hired Dula on his farm when the young man fled North Carolina under suspicion, using a false name. Grayson did help in Dula's capture and returning him to North Carolina, but this was the extent of his involvement. Some versions of the song portray him as a romantic rival of Dula's or a vengeful sheriff involved in his capture and execution.

The song was probably first sung shortly after the execution. The earliest known recording was by Grayson and Whitter in 1929.

Frank Warner, a folklorist, made a recording in 1952, having collected the song from Frank Proffitt in 1940, and passed it to Alan Lomax, who published it in Folk Song: USA. Neither seemed to be aware of the earlier (1929) recording.

The Kingston Trio recorded the song in 1958, basing their version on Frank Proffitt's, but only singing three verses, and the chorus four times. It sold over six million copies and is often said to have begun the folk revival of the late 1950s and 1960s.

Other notable recordings are by Lonnie Donegan (1958) who did a faster skiffle arrangement, Johnny Rivers, pretty much a copy of The Kingston Trio's version, and Doc Watson (1964), with a longer version. Here's a nice traditional arrangement of the song, based on Doc Watson's version.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


To Morrow (Lew Sully)


This song, about somebody trying to get a train to a town called Morrow, is much older than most people realise. It was written by Lew Sully and published as sheet music by the Geo. W. Meyer Music Company in 1898. It was sung by Bob Gibson, one of the leading singers of the 1960s folk revival. When The Kingston Trio performed it they wrongly credited him as the writer.

The earliest recording was by Dan W. Quinn sometime around 1900.

There are actually several towns by the name of Morrow. Some claim the song is about Morrow, Ohio, a small town near Cincinnati. Other Morrows are in Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Another possible candidate is Morrowville in Kansas, which was named after its founder, Senator Cal Morrow. The town was called Morrow until 1896, just two years before Sully wrote the song, but the name was apparently changed after complaints from the railroad company that its ticket agents were confused when travelers asked for "a ticket to Morrow."

There is no town called Morrow in Australia, but this didn't stop Australian poet, Keith McKenry, from rewriting it as a bush ballad. I had the pleasure of hearing him recite his version at a concert he performed at The Victorian Folk Society in Ringwood.

You can watch us sing this song or, better still, see the Muppets doing it.

The lyrics are here.


The Twelfth of Never (Jerry Livingston and Paul Francis Webster)


The title of this popular song comes from the expression "the 12th of Never," which is used as the date of a future occurrence that will never happen. Like many traditional songs it indicates a date when the man will stop loving the woman, such as when all the seas go dry or when the black crow turns white - i.e. He will never stop loving her.

The tune comes from The Riddle Song, a traditional English ballad. Ironically, this song is about impossible things that do actually happen!

It has been recorded by Johnny Mathis (1957), Dame Gracie Fields (1960), Jeff Buckley, Roger Miller (1968), Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard (1972), Donny Osmond (1973), Olivia Newton-John (1989), and Dolly Parton with Keith Urban.

Here is my attempt at the song, and here are the lyrics.


Two Brothers (Irving Gordon)


This song about the American Civil War was written in 1951 by Irving Gordon, who wrote the famous Who's On First routine for Abbot and Costello. It has been recorded by Kay Starr, Harry Belafonte, Bud & Travis, The Wayfarers,The Weavers, Dusty Springfield,Tom Jones and Rod McKuen among others.

Here is my performance and here are the lyrics.


Ugly Woman (Roaring Lion)


See If You Want to Be Happy.


Venezuela (John Jacob Niles)


At one time John Jacob Niles claimed that
he heard a group of Barbados sailors singing this song in Marseilles and that he learned it from them. Later he changed his story and said, "I wrote 'Venezuela', words and music, in the harbor of Boulogne, France, in 1918. It was written to amuse a group of English and American aviators who were fog-bound in the harbor. A group of Barbados sailors on a grain ship nearby had been singing something about a girl they had met in Venezuela, and this is all it took to spark my imagination."

Some years later, Burl Ives recorded the song, without citing Niles as the writer. When Niles sued him successfully for breach of copyright, Ives said, "I thought you said you learned it from a bunch of sailors." Niles responded, "I lied! I wrote it!" When Richard Dyer-Bennet did a concert in Seattle several years ago, he mentioned this incident and told the audience that, true or not, he is always very careful to give proper credit to John Jacob Niles before he sings the song.

Many songs thought to be traditional were copyrighted by Niles, despite the fact that there was some evidence that many of these songs were sung in some form long before Niles laid claim to them.

Venezuela is among the earliest folk songs I heard, as my parents had the recording of Burl Ives' Coronation concert, which included this song.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.


The Wabash Cannonball


This song, about a fictional train, probably originated in the late nineteenth century. Its first documented appearance was on sheet music published in 1882, with the title The Great Rock Island Route and credited to J. A. Roff. It was rewritten by William Kindt in 1904 under the title Wabash Cannon Ball.

One of the earliest recordings was by The Carter Family in 1929, and there was a popular version recorded by Roy Acuff in 1936. Other great artists who have recorded this song include Blind Willie McTell, Lonnie Donegan, Lew Dite, Jerry Reed, Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins and Hank Snow. And, of course, Woody Guthrie used the tune for Grand Coulee Dam.

Here is my rendition, and here are the lyrics.


Wagoner's Lad


Probably of English origin, this song was recorded by Buell Kazee in 1928. It became popular in the folk revival of the 1960s, especially through an a capella recording by Joan Baez. It has also been recorded by The Kingston Trio, Bud and Travis, Erik Darling, Pete Seeger, Peggy Seeger, John Denver and Dock Boggs.

You can see me singing the song, and here are the lyrics.


Water Boy


This song was written in 1922 by Jacques Wolfe, a Romanian immigrant to New York,
and popularised in the 1920s by a jazz arrangement from Avery Robinson, recorded by Roland Hayes (1922) and Fats Waller (1922). Since then it has been recorded by many folk performers, including Paul Robeson, John Lee Hooker, Odetta, who combined it with another song, I've Been Driving on Bald Mountain, Harry Belafonte (1960), and The Kingston Trio.

Here is an extract from Odetta's performance, and here is my rendition of the two songs. Here are the lyrics of these songs.


When First Into This Country


This song is also known as "When First Unto This Country." In the original version it was simply "When First To This Country". It was collected in 1934 by John and Alan Lomax from the Gant Family in Austin, Texas. They recorded it sung by Foy and Mrs. Maggie Gant and an unknown guitarist. It was not a very successful recording as they were used to singing it unaccompanied.

Peggy Seeger and later Mike Seeger heard the recording while growing up, and both have performed it, changing the rhythm to suit guitar accompaniment. It was made popular by Mike Seeger's New Lost City Ramblers.

It has also been recorded by Fairport Convention and the Grateful Dead among others.

Here is my performance of the song.


When I First Came to This Land


This is another one of those cumulative songs like The Bog Down in the Valley and The Twelve Days of Christmas and one which is very easy to adapt according to the singer's own circumstances. It began as a (low) German song Wann Ich Vun Dem Land Rei Kumm which was brought to Pennsylvania by European immigrants. There are records of it being sung in 1939.

Oscar Brand heard it at the home of a family in Allentown and wrote his own version of it in 1948. The original melody was apparently similar to the tune of Oleanna but he set it to a tune similar to Baa Baa Black Sheep or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and sang it on his radio show. Pete Seeger, his guest on the show, picked it up and recorded his own version of it, based on what he remembered from Oscar's singing.

It has since been recorded by several artists, including The Limeliters, Josh White and Martyn Wyndham-Read.

Here is my rendition of the song and here are the lyrics.


When the Saints Go Marching In


The song began as a gospel hymn called When the Saints are Marching In, written by Katherine Purvis in 1896, with music by James Milton Black. It was changed to its present form in 1927, and soon became a jazz staple. It was traditionally used as a funeral march in New Orleans, where it woud be played as a slow dirge as the coffin was carried to the cemetery, and then as an upbeat "Dixieland"-style tune on the way back. The New Orleans football team named themselves the Saints, after the song.

Early versions of the song are apocalyptic, using imagery from Revelations, though it is often watered down in modern versions. For example, in the version I sing, "when the sun refuse to shine" is sung as "when the sun begins to shine" which tends to render the apocalyptic message meaningless.

Louis Armstrong was the first to popularise the song nationally in the 1930s, to the dismay of his sister who thought it was blasphemous to treat a church hymn as a jazz band tune. It was also brought into the rock and roll repertoire by Fats Domino and also by Bill Haley and His Comets. Others who have recorded it include The Weavers, Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beatles, B.B. King, Dolly Parton and Bruce Springsteen.

Here is my rendition of the song, and here are the lyrics.

And here is a version I performed with Lew Dite.


When You Say Nothing at All (Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz)


This country song was a big hit for three different performers: Keith Whitley, who took it to the top of the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart on December 24, 1988; Alison Krauss, whose version became her first solo top-10 country hit in 1995; and Irish pop singer,
Ronan Keating, whose version was his first solo single and a chart-topper in the UK in 1999. It has also been recorded by Frances Black (1996), Hank Marvin (2000), and Cliff Richard (2007) (Information from Wikipedia)

Here is is sung by Pat Thomson at a session of The Hong Kong Folk Society at The Canny Man in Wanchai.

Whoa Mule


There are many versions of this lively old time song usually played with banjo accompaniment. It was featured on this episode of The Andy Griffith Show.

And here it is performed by Lew Dite at Shaika in Montreal., when we were there for the YouTube Strummit in September, 2010.


Wicked Polly


The origins of this cautionary tale are obscure, but the first known version of the song appeared in 1925. Poor Polly's greatest sin seems to be that she enjoyed dancing, and she is doomed to spend eternity in Hell for leading such a frolicsome life in the belief that she could turn to God in her old age.

The song is also known as Dying Girl's Warning, The Unfortunate Girl and Young People Hark.

Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Wildwood Flower


This song began as I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets, written in 1860 by Maud Irving, with music by Joseph Philbrick Webster (1819-1875), who also wrote In the Sweet By and By and Lorena. Here is a 1939 recording of the song, collected by John Lomax.

It became part of the folk repertoire, with several changes and gained wide popularity when recorded by the Carter Family. I first heard it sung by Joan Baez.

Woody Guthrie used the tune for his song The Sinking of the Reuben James, adding a chorus of his own. For more information see the Woody Guthrie page. You can hear my attempt to play it on the fiddle, together with The Titanic.

Here is my rendition of the original parlor song and here are the lyrics of both the original and the Carter Family version.


Will the Circle Be Unbroken?


See Can the Circle Be Unbroken? above.

Willie Moore


Probably the best known recording of this song is by Burnett & Rutherford (1927), which was included in Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. Dick Burnett (1887-1977) was a blind singer and banjo player who lived in Monticello, Kentucky, and is probably the composer of Man of Constant Sorrow, in 1913. In 1914, he joined up with a teenage fiddle player, Leonard Rutherford and together they made several recordings for Columbia in the 1920s.

The lyrics are from a printed broadside and the music is the high part of an old ballad tune also used for the Child ballad Lady Margaret.

The song has also been recorded by Joan Baez, though with rather different lyrics.
Here is my rendition and here are the lyrics.

Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues


Winnsboro is a town in Fairfield County, South Carolina. From late 19th century, textile production became the major, and often the only, industry in Southern states of the US like North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. By the 1920s, unpaid overtime (known as “stretch-outs”) combined with the paternalism of mill owners to make mill workers angry enough to go on strike. This is a good example of a song about the transition from an agrarian society to an industrialized civilization as it shows the feelings of the overworked laborers, many of whom had come from the slower labour of the farms.

In the General Strike of 1934 textile workers sang this song as they marched to neighboring mills to shut them down and in the camps they formed outside the suddenly silent mills. It has been recorded by Pete Seeger and Lead Belly, among others. It was also reworked by modern pianist and composer Frederic Rzewski.

Here is a video about the origins of the song made for the Fairfield County Museum.

Here is my rendition of the song and here are the lyrics.

Wolverton Mountain (Claude King & Merle Kilgore)


This ballad launched Claude King's career in the US in 1962. Apparently it was based on a real character who lived on Woolverton Mountain in Arkansas. Johnny Horton and George Jones supposedly declined the chance to record the song. If so it was a bad decision. Claude King decided to record it himself and the song was at the top of the US charts for nine weeks.

You can hear the original recording here, and also here on YouTube and another one with amusing illustrations, so why bother listening to my cover?

The lyrics are here.


The Worm Song


Here is my performance of this sad little love song. The lyrics are here.


The Wreck of the Old 97


The wreck of Old 97 occurred when 33-year-old Joseph A. ("Steve") Broady, at the controls of engine number 1102, was operating the train at high speed in order to stay on schedule and arrive at Spencer on time on September 27, 1903. An extra fireman was assigned to help keep the steam at maximum pressure as the train was running an hour late. There were a number of danger points between Monroe and Spencer, but to make up time, Broady rapidly descended a heavy grade that ended at a bridge spanning Cherrystone Creek and, unable to decelerate sufficiently, the train derailed and plunged into the ravine below, killing nine people.

The Southern Railway blamed Broady for the wreck but the railroad had a contract with U.S. Mail which included substantial penalties for each minute the train was late into Spencer, so there was obviously pressure on the engineers to stay on time.

The ballad, based on the song, The Ship That Never Returned, was first recorded by Virginia musicians, G. B. Grayson and Henry Whittler, and then by Vernon Dalhart in 1924 as the first million-selling country music release in the American record industry. It has since been recorded by several artists including Earl Flat and Lester Scruggs, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Patrick Sky, Lonnie Donegan, The Seekers and Hank Snow.

The authorship of the ballad has been disputed, Fred Jackson Lewey claiming to have written it the day after the accident. The lyrics were adapted by Henry Whitter for the performance by Vernon Dalhart.

In 1927 it was claimed that the song was written by local resident, David Graves George, one of the first on the scene of the crash, a claim that was not upheld by the U. S. Supreme Court. Copyright was also claimed by F. Wallace Rega in 1924. Subsequent research points to Charles Noell, supposedly Lewey's co-author, as the originator of the ballad.

I am joined in this video by Matthew Vaughan, a Canadian YouTube friend working in Bangkok, and accordionist, Bob Hornett, who dropped in with Matthew before taking him to the airport.

Here are the lyrics.

Wreck on the Highway (Dorsey Dixon)

Dorsey Dixon wrote this classic song in 1937 after a serious road accident near Rockingham North Carolina, and recorded it in 1938 with the title Didn't Hear Nobody Pray. In 1940 it was recorded by Chicago radio duo Karl and Harty and then by Roy Acuff in 1942 under the title Wreck On The Highway. It is his version that is generally known today.

Here is the song performed by Dorsey Dixon himself, with a detailed description of how he was cheated by the music industry, with credit for the song going to Roy Acuff.


Here is my rendition of the song, and here are the lyrics.



Yellow Bird


This calypso song began as Choucoune, a Haitian song composed by Michel Mauleart Monton in 1883 to lyrics from a famous poem by Oswald Durand.

When calypso music became popular in the United States in the mid-1950s, the melody of Choucoune was adapted by Norman Luboff and new English lyrics were written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The only connection with the original lyrics is that the words "ti zwazo" (little birds) were part of the chorus.

The song first appeared on the Norman Luboff Choir's Calypso Holiday album in 1957 and was later the title track on albums by the Mills Brothers, Roger Williams and Lawrence Welk. It was also sung by Harry Belafonte, whichg is the first rendition I heard.

Here is my video of the song and here are the lyrics.


You Are My Sunshine


This song is said to be the third best-known song in the world, after Happy Birthday and White Christmas. It was first recorded by The Pine Ridge Boys in August, 1939. The Rice Brothers Gang recorded it the following month and Paul Rice claimed to have written it in 1937, inspired by a long letter from a girl in South Carolina, in which she called him her sunshine.

Late the same year, country singer, Jimmie Davis, purchased the song from Rice for $35 and published it in 1940 using his own name and that of his partner, Charles Mitchell, which was common practice at that time. Davis recorded the song in February of that year, and it was one of the top five country music recordings in 1940. When he ran for governor of Louisiana, he used it as a campaign song, singing it at all his political rallies.

However the song was actually known in Georgia before 1937, sung by country singer, George Riley Puckett, in the early 1930s. He and Paul Rice had played with Oliver Hood, a music teacher who wrote many songs, but did not think they had commercial potential. His descendants claim to have the brown paper bag on which Hood wrote the lyrics and say he first performed the song in 1933. The success of You are My Sunshine prompted Hood to start copyrighting his songs, but it was too late to protect the song that he considered was stolen from him.

Bing Crosby and Gene Autry both recorded the song in 1941, and it has been recorded extensively since then. Among the many who have covered it are The Carter Family, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, The Mills Brothers, Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney, Anne Murray, Sammy Davis Jr., Doris Day, Duane Eddy, Jimmie Davis (1940), Gene Autry, (1941) Aretha Franklin, Neil Diamond, Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mitch Miller, Ricky Nelson, Oscar Peterson, Willie Nelson, The Righteous Brothers, Lew Dite, Ike & Tina Turner, Tex Ritter and The Ventures.

Here is my rendition of the song and here are the lyrics.

Here is a video of Niagara Falls with a sound track of this song sung recorded by Lew Dite and myself.



raymondcrooke
raymondcrooke
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