Friday, January 03, 2020

Happy Birthday To You-*In The Time Of "The Good Old Boys" (And Gals) - Hillbilly Heaven-Ozark Style

Happy Birthday To You-

By Lester Lannon

I am devoted to a local folk station WUMB which is run out of the campus of U/Mass-Boston over near Boston Harbor. At one time this station was an independent one based in Cambridge but went under when their significant demographic base deserted or just passed on once the remnant of the folk minute really did sink below the horizon.

So much for radio folk history except to say that the DJs on many of the programs go out of their ways to commemorate or celebrate the birthdays of many folk, rock, blues and related genre artists. So many and so often that I have had a hard time keeping up with noting those occurrences in this space which after all is dedicated to such happening along the historical continuum.

To “solve” this problem I have decided to send birthday to that grouping of musicians on an arbitrary basis as I come across their names in other contents or as someone here has written about them and we have them in the archives. This may not be the best way to acknowledge them, but it does do so in a respectful manner.    

A  YouTube's film clip of the trailer for "Homemade Hillbilly Jam".

DVD Review

Homemade Hillbilly Jam, various professional and amateur musicians playing old time and modern instruments, First Run Productions, 2005

Well, this traveling American “roots” music caravan that I have been running via the Internet, in this and other “hot” cyberspace spots, has been all over this country. I have been down in the Delta with the country blues artists like Robert Johnson, Skip James and Son House. I have been in those dust-blown Oklahoma hills with Woody Guthrie. I have been out West with the cowboy balladeers. I have been down in the swamps of Louisiana with the Cajun boys and girls, black and white. I’ve have been up in those Kentucky mountains with Roscoe Holcomb. Hell, I have even spent time, an inordinate amount of time, discussing roots music as it filtered through the 1960s folk revival in those rural meccas of New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts. You will agree I have been around. On this stop we go to the hills again this time to the Ozarks to “discover”….hillbillies and their musical traditions.

Now I know that it is hardly news that the term “hillbilly” has, over the last few decades, carried some pretty negative connotations. Hard-nosed 'wild men' truckers and car aficionados , honky tonks and honky-tonk women, “know-nothing” politics, in short, good old boys and girls fully enjoying the benefits of the 19th century in the outback. The truth or falsehood of those characterizations is not at issue here though. What concerns me is the addition of this “hillbilly” flavor to the “roots’ music bandwagon. This is done here, by following the doings, comings, goings and whatnot of three modern “hillbilly” (or at least hillbilly-descended families) musical families out in Ozark country.

Some of this music, the motels, honky-tonks and barns where it is played, and the instruments used to play it are very familiar from other regions like those Kentucky hills mentioned before. This, moreover, makes sense because there are some common Scotch-Irish Child Ballad-like traditions that unite these various strands as the forebears drove relentlessly westward. This region, isolated back in the older times, did develop its own variations but I sense that, good old boys and girls or not, we are on some very familiar ground. And here is the kicker for this reviewer, personally, when it comes to knowledge of this music. Oh sure, as I have mentioned in other reviews, it was in the background in our house from my Kentucky-born father back in my youth. It’s in the genes. But let me tell where I really started to get a better sense of this mountain music. Many years ago I used to listen to a Saturday morning local radio show from the wilds of Cambridge. The name of the show-“Hillbilly At Harvard”. What do you think about that, my friends?

Pretty Saro

When I first come to this country in eighteen and forty nine
I saw many fair lovers, but I never saw mine
I view├ęd all around me, I found I was quite alone
And me a poor stranger and a long way from home

My true love she won't have me and this I understand
She wants a freeholder and I've got no land
But I could maintain her on silver and gold
And as many of the fine things as my love's house could hold

Fare you well to old father. Fare you well to mother too.
I'm going for to ramble this wide world all through
And when I get weary, I'll sit down and cry
And I'll think of Pretty Saro, my darling, my dear.

Well I wish I was a poet, could write some fine hand
I would write my love a letter that she might understand.
I'd send it by the waters where the islands overflow
And I'd think of my darling wherever she'd go.

Way down in some lonesome valley. Way down in some lonesome grove
Where the small birds does whistle, their notes to increase
My love she is slender, both proper and neat
And I wouldn't have no better pastimes than to be with my sweet.

Well I wish I was a turtle dove, had wings and could fly
Just now to my love's lodging tonight I'd draw nigh
And in her lily-white arms I'd lie there all night
And I'd watch the little windows for the dawning of day.

Well I strolled through the mountains, I strolled through the vale
I strolled to forget her, but it was all in vain.
On the banks of Ocoee, on the mount of said brow
Where I once loved her dearly and I don't hate her now.

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