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.

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.

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.”