WHEN HE IS GONE, American Folk Song

#amwriting #music

Some say this Appalachian folk song dates from the Civil War, and identify it as the lament of a girl for her beau that’s gone to war and her promise to remain faithful until he returns. The theme, however, seems to be Scottish, as it bears some distinct semblance to Lass of the Roch Royal (also known as Child #76), and I believe it may date from the late 18th century, as the phrase “10,000 miles” is meaningless in terms of the Civil War but does make sense for the British Empire.

You can listen to a brilliant version of it by West Jackson Middle School (Jefferson, GA) girls’ chorus here. Pay special attention to the first sopranos’ note on “kiss” – amazing! This is the way I learned it many, many moons ago.

WHEN HE IS GONE

He’s gone away
For to stay a little while,
But he’s coming back
If he goes 10,000 miles.

Oh who will tie my shoe,
And who will glove my hand?
And who will kiss
My ruby lips when he is gone?

(Refrain)  Look away,
Look away over yondro.

He’s gone away for to stay
A little while,
But he’s coming back
If he goes 10,000 miles.

And it’s papa will tie my shoe,
And it’s mama will glove my hand,
And none will kiss my ruby lips
When he is gone.

(Refrain)  Look away,
Look away over yondro.

I look away down the street
Where he has gone,
And I wonder how I will live
All thru the day, oh.

Will he ever come?
Oh will he ever come?
I always feel I’ll see him come
From far away.

(refrain)  Far away,
Far away, over yondro.

Old Settler’s Song

#amwriting #amsinging #folkmusic

In the mid-19th century, the Gold Rush left many hopeful miners dispirited and penniless. Rumors abounded that the Pacific Northwest was ripe for the plucking, with rich, fertile soil for those willing to work it. Unfortunately, most of that soil was covered with timber, and years of work were needed before it would yield enough crops to sustain a family. Another dream dashed, but in its place was the possibility of “farming” the sea.

This song is also known as “Acres of Clams”, and is sung to the tune of the old Irish favorite Rosin the Beau. The phrase “I started one morning to shank it” simply means “I started off on foot”; the shin or leg was commonly known as the “shank” in the 19th century, and walking was often referred to as traveling “by shank’s mare.” You can listen to a version of this song by The Travelers here.

OLD SETTLER’S SONG

I’ve traveled all over this country
Prospecting and digging for gold;
I’ve tunneled, hydraulicked and cradled,
And I have been frequently sold.

Refrain:
And I have been frequently sold,
And I have been frequently sold.
I’ve tunneled, hydraulicked and cradled,
And I have been frequently sold.

 

For each man who got rich by mining,
Perceiving that hundreds grew poor,
I made up my mind to try farming
The only pursuit that was sure.
So rolling my grub in my blanket,
I left all my tools on the ground,
And started one morning to shank it
For the country they call Puget Sound.

 Refrain:
For the country they call Puget Sound,
The country they call Puget Sound.
I started one morning to shank it
For the country they call Puget Sound.

 

Arriving flat broke in midwinter,
I found it enveloped in fog
And covered all over with timber
Thick as hair on the back of a dog.
When I looked on the prospects so gloomy,
The tears trickled over my face.
I thought that my travels had brought me
To the end of the jumping off place.

Refrain:
To the end of the jumping off place.
The end of the jumping off place.
I thought that my travels had brought me
To the end of the jumping off place.

 

I staked me a claim in the forest
And sat myself down to hard toil.
For two years I chopped and I loggered
But I never got down to the soil.
I tried to get out of the country
But poverty forced my to stay,
Until I became an old settler
Then nothing could drive me away.

 Refrain:
Then nothing could drive me away,
Nothing could drive me away.
Until I became an old settler,
Then nothing could drive me away.

 

And now that I’m used to the climate,
I think that if a man ever found
A place to live easy and happy,
That Eden is on Puget Sound.
No longer the slave of ambition,
I laugh at the world and its shams,
As I think of my happy condition
Surrounded by acres of clams.

 Refrain:
Surrounded by acres of clams.
Surrounded by acres of clams.
I think of my happy condition
Surrounded by acres of clams.

O’Donnell Abu!

#amwriting #amsinging #irishmusic

One of the best of the rebel songs, O’Donnell Abu! was written by Michael Joseph McCann in 1843. “Abu!”, as I understand it, is similar to “Hurrah!”  I recognized this song on the bagpipes long before I knew the words (or even knew it had words!) I subsequently have asked many Irish singers for the song, and found but few of them also know there are words. A version by tenor Michael O’Duffy can be found here.

 

O’Donnell Abu!

Proudly the note of the trumpet is sounding,
Loudly the war cries arise on the gale,
Fleetly the steed by Lough Swilly is bounding,
To join the thick squadrons in Saimer’s green vale.

Refrain:
On every mountaineer, strangers to flight or fear,
Rush to the standard of dauntless Red Hugh!
Bonnaught and Gallowglass, throng from each mountain pass,
Onward for Erin, O’Donnell Abu!

Princely O’Neill to our aid is advancing
With many a chieftain and warrior clan.
A thousand proud steeds in his vanguard are prancing
‘Neath the borderers brave from the Banks of the Bann.

Refrain:
Many a heart shall quail under its coat of mail.
Deeply the merciless foeman shall rue,
When on his ears shall ring, bourne on the breeze’s wing
Tyr Connail’s dread war cry, O’Donnell Abu!

Sacred the cause that Clan Connell’s defending,
The altars we kneel at, the homes of our sires.
Ruthless the ruin the foe is extending,
Midnight is red with the plunderer’s fires.

Refrain:
On with O’Donnell then, fight the old fight again,
Sons of Tyr Connail all valiant and true!
Make the proud saxon feel Erin’s avenging steel
Strike for your country, O’Donnell Abu!

 

Wildly o’er Desmond the war wolf is howling,
Fearless the eagle sweeps over the plain,
The fox in the streets of the city is prowling,
And all who would scare them are banished or slain!

Refrain:
On every mountaineer, strangers to flight or fear,
Rush to the standard of dauntless Red Hugh!
Bonnaught and Gallowglass, throng from each mountain pass,
Onward for Erin, O’Donnell Abu!

 

Special thanks to Stair Na Héireann Blog for this article about Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell that reminded me of this song.

Wayfaring Stranger

#amwriting #amsinging #folkmusic

This song’s roots are open to discussion. Some say it dates from the 18th century, some say the 19th; some credit it to North Carolina, some the Appalachians in general, while still others believe it was originally an African-American spiritual. Regardless of who’s right (or close to right), it’s a beautiful song, and there’s a beautiful version of it by Emmylou Harris here.

Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger

I am a poor wayfaring stranger
Come traveling through this world of woe.
Yet there’s no sickness, toil nor danger
In that fair land to which I go.

I’m going there to see my Father,
He said he’d meet me when I go.
I’m only going over Jordan,
I’m only going over home.

I know dark clouds will gather ‘round me,
I know my way is rough and steep,
But golden fields lie just before me
Where the redeemed shall ever sleep.

I’m going there to see my mother,
She said she’d meet me when I come.
I’m only going over Jordan,
I’m only going over home.

I’ll Tell Me Ma

#AmWriting #IrishMusic

A happy little ditty about courtin’. There’s some discussion between the cities as to whether this song belongs to Dublin or Belfast. Though known as a drinking song today, it was originally a playground chant for children, accompanied by a game that was a cross between tag and “Ring Around the Rosie”. Suffice it to say it’s of Irish origin. In the interest of fairness, I’ve included Dublin below, but Sinéad O’Connor prefers Belfast, and her version is here.

I'LL TELL ME MA ...

REFRAIN: 

I'll tell me ma, when I go home,
The boys won't leave the girls alone.
They pull my hair, they stole my comb,
And that's all right till I go home.
She is handsome, she is pretty,
She's the belle of Dublin city,
She is courtin', one, two, three,
Please won't you tell me who is she?

Albert Mooney says he loves her,
All the boys are fighting for her.
They rap at the door and they ring at the bell,
Saying 'Oh, my true-love are you well?'
Out she comes as white as snow,
Rings on her fingers, bells on her toes,
Old Jenny Murphy says she'll die,
If she doesn't get the fellow with the roving eye.

REFRAIN

Let the wind and the rain and the hail blow high
And the snow come tumblin' from the sky
She's as sweet as apple pie
And she'll get her own lad by and by.
When she gets a lad of her own
She won't tell her ma when she gets home
Let them all come as they will,
For it's Albert Mooney she loves still.

REFRAIN

 Notes: There’s a parody of this song by Marc Gunn titled “I’ll Tell Me Cat” on his album “Irish Drinking Songs for Cat Lovers”, and a Serbian folk group, The Orthodox Celts, sing it as “The Belle of Belgrade City” (but that’s beyond the pale!)

Sweet Betsy From Pike

#amwriting #amsinging #folkmusic

This traditional American folk song about the California Gold Rush of the 1850s is sung to the tune of “On Top of Old Smokey”, which in turn may date from the 17th century. The refrain after each verse is probably a bastardization of the original Gaelic words. I learned this song as a child from a Burl Ives album, and you can hear him singing his version here. 

Sweet Betsy From Pike

Oh, don’t you remember sweet Betsy from Pike
Who crossed the big mountains with her lover Ike,
And two yoke of cattle, a large yellow dog,
A tall, shanghai rooster, and one spotted hog?

Refrain after each verse:
Ooldooldang foldedeido ooldooldang foldedidey

One evening quite early they camped on the Platte,
‘Twas near by the road on a green shady flat;
Where Betsy, quite tired, lay down to repose,
While with wonder Ike gazed on his Pike County rose.

They soon reached the desert, where Betsy gave out,
And down in the sand she lay rolling about;
While Ike in great terror looked on in surprise,
Saying “Betsy, get up, you’ll get sand in your eyes.”

Sweet Betsy got up in a great deal of pain
And declared she’d go back to Pike County again;
Then Ike heaved a sigh and they fondly embraced,
And she traveled along with his arm around her waist.

The wagon tipped over with a terrible crash,
And out on the prairie rolled all sorts of trash;
A few little baby clothes done up with care
Looked rather suspicious, though ’twas all on the square.

The shanghai ran off and the cattle all died,
The last piece of bacon that morning was fried;
Poor Ike got discouraged, and Betsy got mad,
The dog wagged his tail and looked wonderfully sad.

One morning they climbed up a very high hill,
And with wonder looked down into old Placerville;
Ike shouted and said, as he cast his eyes down,
“Sweet Betsy, my darling, we’ve got to Hangtown.”

Long Ike and Sweet Betsy attended a dance,
Where Ike wore a pair of his Pike County pants;
Sweet Betsy was covered with ribbons and rings.
Quoth Ike, “You’re an angel, but where are your wings?”

A miner said, “Betsy, will you dance with me?”
“I will that, old hoss, if you don’t make too free;
But don’t dance me hard. Do you want to know why?
Doggone ye, I’m chock full of strong alkali.”

Long Ike and sweet Betsy got married of course,
But Ike getting jealous obtained a divorce;
And Betsy, well satisfied, said with a shout,
“Good-bye, you big lummax, I’m glad you backed out.”

The Valley of Knockanure

#irishmusic #irishhistory #amwriting

Stemming from an incident in Gortagleanna during the War of Indepence (1921), there are several versions of this song extant. These lyrics are based on a poem by Bryan MacMahon, which in turn is based on oral histories and older poems, some of which are lost today. A haunting version of this song is presented by Mary O’Dowd here.

THE VALLEY OF KNOCKANURE

You may sing and speak about Easter Week
And the heroes of Ninety Eight,
Or bold Fenian Men who roamed the glen
In victory or defeat.
Their names on history’s pages told,
Their memories will endure,
Not a song is sung of our darling sons,
In the Valley of Knockanure.

There was Walsh and Lyons and the Dalton boy,
They were young and in their prime.
They rambled to a lonely spot
Where the Black and Tans did hide.
The Republic bold they did uphold,
Tho’ outlawed on the moor,
And side by side they fought and died
In the Valley of Knockanure.

It was on a neighbouring hillside,
We listened in hushed dismay.
In every house, in every town,
A young girl knelt to pray.
They’re closing in around them now,
With rifle fire so sure,
And Lyons is dead and young Dalton’s down
In the Valley of Knockanure.

But ere the guns could seal his fate,
Young Walsh had spoken thro’.
With a prayer to God he spurned the sod,
As against the hill he flew.
The bullets tore his flesh in two,
Yet he cried with voice so sure,
“Revenge I’ll get for my comrade’s death,
In the Valley of Knockanure.”

The summer sun is sinking low
Behind the field and lea.
The pale moonlight is shining bright
Far off beyond Tralee.
The dismus star and clouds afar
Are darkening o’er the moor,
And the banshee cried when young Dalton died,
In the Valley of Knockanure.

May God guard and keep the place they sleep
In the Valley of Knockanure.

Oft In The Stilly Night

#IrishMusic #amwriting

This poem, written in the early 19th century by Irishman Thomas Moore, was set to music by Scottish composer Sir John Stevenson. It was perhaps most famously played at the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002. I also feature it in my manuscript LET THE CANYONS WEEP, as the favorite song of Katie Donovan, the clan matriarch. A version of it by the inimitable Sarah Brightman can be found here.

OFT IN THE STILLY NIGHT

Oft in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Fond mem’ries bring the light
Of other days around me:
The smiles, the tears of boyhood years,
The words of love then spoken,
The eyes that shone now dimmed and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Sad mem’ry brings the light
Of other days around me.

When I remember all
The friends, so link’d together,
I’ve seen around me fall,
Like leaves in wintry weather;
I feel like one who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled, whose garlands dead,
And all but he departed!
Thus in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Sad mem’ry brings the light
Of other days around me.

The Cowboy’s Dream

#amwriting #cowboysongs

A common theme in cowboy songs is the hope of heaven. This particular song is sung to a Scottish air virtually everyone is familiar with: My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean. A very early (1935) and abbreviated recording of the song by The Sons of the Pioneers features Roy Rogers on vocals and yodel. It can be heard here.

The Cowboy’s Dream

Last night as I lay on the prairie,
And gazed at the stars in the sky,
I wondered if ever a cowboy
Would drift to that sweet by and by.

CHORUS: Roll on, roll on;
Roll on, little dogies, roll on, roll on,
Roll on, roll on;
Roll on, little dogies, roll on.

The road to that bright, happy region
Is a dim, narrow trail, so they say;
But the broad one that leads to perdition
Is posted and blazed all the way.

They say there will be a great round-up,
And cowboys, like dogies, will stand,
To be marked by the Riders of Judgment
Who are posted and know every brand.

CHORUS

I know there’s many a stray cowboy
Who’ll be lost at the great, final sale,
When he might have gone in the green pastures
Had he known of the dim, narrow trail.

I wonder if ever a cowboy
Stood ready for that Judgment Day,
And could say to the Boss of the Riders,
“I’m ready, come drive me away.”

CHORUS

For they, like the cows that are locoed,
Stampede at the sight of a hand,
Are dragged with a rope to the round-up,
Or get marked with some crooked man’s brand.

And I’m scared that I’ll be a stray yearling,
A maverick, unbranded on high,
And get cut in the bunch with the “rusties”
When the Boss of the Riders goes by.

CHORUS

They tell of another big owner
Whose ne’er overstocked, so they say,
But who always makes room for the sinner
Who drifts from the straight, narrow way.

They say he will never forget you,
That he knows every action and look;
So, for safety, you’d better get branded,
Have your name in the great Tally Book.

Note: if you’re interested in seeing more traditional cowboy songs, John A. Lomax anthologized many of the lyrics in Cowboy Songs & Other Frontier Ballads, published in the Journal of American Folklore in 1938. It’s available for download from the University of Nebraska.

THE SPINNING WHEEL

#irishmusic #music

A traditional Irish tune. The rhythm of the words actually invokes the spin of the wheel, as the young girl tries to convince her grandmother there are no sounds from outside the window but those made by nature. There’s a lovely version of the song by Catherine McKinnon with the Jubilee Singers here.

THE SPINNING WHEEL

Mellow the moonlight to shine is beginning,
Close by the window young Eileen is spinning.
Bent o’er the fire, her blind grandmother sitting,
Crooning and moaning and drowsily knitting.

Chorus: Merrily, cheerily, noiselessly whirring,
Spins the wheel, rings the wheel while the foot’s stirring.
Sprightly and lightly and merrily ringing
Sounds the sweet voice of the young maiden singing.

“Eileen, a chara, I hear someone tapping.”
“Tis the ivy, dear mother, against the glass flapping.”
“Eileen, I surely hear somebody sighing.”
“’Tis the sound, mother dear, of the autumn winds dying.”

“What’s the noise I hear at the window I wonder?”
“’Tis the little birds chirping, the holly-bush under.”
“What makes you shoving and moving your stool on,
And singing all wrong the old song of The Coolin?”

Chorus

There’s a form at the casement, the form of her true love,
And he whispers with face bent, “I’m waiting for you, love.
Get up from the stool, through the lattice step lightly,
And we’ll rove in the grove while the moon’s shining brightly.”

The maid shakes her head, on her lips lays her fingers,
Steps up from the stool, longs to go and yet lingers.
A frightened glance turns to her drowsy grandmother,
Puts her foot on the stool, spins the wheel with the other.

Chorus

Lazily, easily, now swings the wheel round,
Slowly and lowly is heard now the reel’s sound.
Noiseless and light to the lattice above her,
The maid steps, then leaps to the arms of her lover.

Slower and slower and slower the wheel turns,
Lower and lower and lower the reel rings,
Ere the reel and the wheel stop their spinning and moving,
Through the grove the young lovers by moonlight are roving.