Friday, April 10, 2015

In The Time Of The Second Mountain Music Revival- A Songcatcher Classic Song- "Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies"-Maybelle Carter-Style






A YouTube film clip of a classic Song-Catcher-type song from deep in the mountains, Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies. According to my sources Cecil Sharpe (a British musicologist in the manner of Francis Child with his ballads, Charles Seeger, and the Lomaxes, father and son)"discovered" the song in 1916 in Kentucky. Of course my first connection to the song had nothing to do with the mountains, or mountain origins, or so I though at the time but was heard the first time long ago in my ill-spent 1960s youth listening to a late Sunday night folk radio show on WBZ in Boston hosted by Dick Summer (who is now featured on the Tom Rush documentary No Regrets about Tom’s life in the early 1960s Boston folk scene) and hearing the late gravelly-voiced folksinger Dave Van Ronk like some latter-day Jehovah doing his version of the song. Quite a bit different from the Maybelle Carter effort here. I'll say.

You know it took a long time for me to figure out why I was drawn, seemingly out of nowhere, to the mountain music most famously brought to public, Northern public, attention by the likes of the Carter Family, Jimmy Rodgers, The Seegers and the Lomaxes back a couple of generations ago. The Carter Family famously arrived via a record contract in Bristol, Tennessee in the days when radio and record companies were looking for music, authentic American music to fill the air and their catalogs. The Seegers and Lomaxes went out into the sweated dusty fields, out to the Saturday night red barn dance, out to the Sunday morning praise Jehovah gathered church brethren, out to the juke joint, down to the mountain general store to grab whatever was available some of it pretty remarkable filled with fiddles, banjos and mandolins.

The thing was simplicity itself. See my father hailed from Kentucky, Hazard, Kentucky long noted in song and legend as hard coal country. When World War II came along he left to join the Marines to get the hell out of there. During his tour of duty he was stationed for a short while at the Portsmouth Naval Base and during that stay attended a USO dance held in Portland where he met my mother who had grown up in deep French-Canadian Olde Saco. Needless to say he stayed in the North, for better or worse, working the mills in Olde Saco until they closed or headed south for cheaper labor and then worked at whatever jobs he could find. All during my childhood though along with that popular music that got many mothers and fathers through the war mountain music, although I would not have called it that then filtered in the background on the family living room record player.
But here is the real “discovery,” a discovery that could only be disclosed by my parents. Early on in their marriage they had tried to go back to Hazard to see if they could make a go of it there. This was after my older brother Prescott was born and while my mother was carrying me. Apparently they stayed for several months before they left to go back to Olde Saco before I was born since I was born in Portland General Hospital. So see that damn mountain was in my DNA, was just harking to me when I got the bug. Funny, isn’t it.            
[Sometimes life floors you though, comes at you not straight like the book, the good book everybody keeps touting and fairness dictate but through a third party, through some messenger for good or ill, and you might not even be aware of how you got that sings-song in your head. Aware of where you are, how you got that sings-song in your head and why a certain song or set of songs “speaks” to you despite every fiber of your being clamoring for you to go the other way. Some things, some cloud puff things maybe going back to before you think you could remember like your awestruck father in way over his head with three small close together boys, no serious job prospects, little education, maybe, maybe not getting some advantage from the G.I. Bill that was supposed lift all veteran boats, all veterans of the bloody atolls and islands, hell, one time a coral reef if you can believe that, who dutifully and honorably served the flag singing some misbegotten melody. A melody learned in his childhood down among the hills and hollows, down where the threads of the old country, old country being British Isles and places like that, the stuff collected in Child ballads that got bastardized by ten thousand no longer used for its purpose red barn dance singer when guys like Buell or Hobart added their take on what they thought the words meant and passed that on to kindred and the gens.
Passed on too that sorrowful sense of life of people who stayed sedentary too long, too long on Clinch Mountain or Black Mountain or Missionary Mountain long after the land ran out and he, that benighted father of us all, in his turn sang it as a lullaby to his boys. And the boys’ ears perked up to that song, that song of mountain sadness about lost blue-eyed boys, about forsaken loves when the next best thing came along, about spurned brides resting fretfully under the great oak, about love that had no place to go because the parties were too proud to step back for a moment, about the hills of home, lost innocence, you name it, and although he/they could not name it that sadness stuck. Not to bear fruit for decades and then one night somebody told one of the boys a story, told it true as far as he knew about that father’s song, about how his father had worked the Ohio River singing and cavorting with the women, how he bore the title of “the Sheik” in remembrance of those black locks and those fierce charcoal black eyes that pierced a woman’s heart. So, yes, Buell and Hobart, and the great god Jehovah come Sunday morning preaching time did their work, did it just fine and the sons finally knew that that long ago song had a deeper meaning than they could ever have imagined.]         

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