Monday, June 22, 2009

Appalachian Ballads

A group of people were sitting around at the wake of a man who died the unusual death of drowning in a barrel of moonshine mash at the still he was operating. His wife was wringing her hands and carrying on in a pitiful way.

"I wouldn't take it too hard, ma'am," a fellow moonshiner said. "I think he died happy. He got out and went to the bathroom three times before he croaked."

Most of you probably don't know that I adore the old mountain ballads. I came across this book, Log Cabin Pioneers: Stories, Songs, and Sayings by Wayne Erbsen, at our local library. Several ballads (and sheet music) were in it (as was the above joke). 

This first ballad is one of my favorites - I highly recommend Songs from the Mountain by John Herrmann, Dirk Powell, and Tim O'Brien, if you want to hear the ballad (there's also an amazing version of Wayfarin' Stranger and Lady Margaret on this album - which is available on Itunes. Scary enough, this is one of my all-time favorite cds).


The Blackest Crow (also known as My Dearest Dear, The Lover's Lament, The Time Draws Near)

As time draws near my dearest dear,
when you and I must part
How little you know of the grief and woe
in my poor aching heart.

Tis but I suffer for your sake,
believe me dear it's true
I wish that you were staying here
or I was going with you.

I wish my breast was made of glass,
wherein you might behold
upon my heart your name lies wrote
in letters made of gold.

In letters made of gold my love,
believe me when I say
you are the one I will adore
until my dying day.

The blackest crow that ever flew,
would surely turn to white
if ever I proved false to you
bright day will turn to night.

Bright day will turn to night my love,
the elements (some versions say 'the yellow birds') will mourn
if ever I prove false to you
the seas will rage and burn.

* * *

This one is about a rare breed of woman - females often weren't moonshiners, nor did they play instruments in Appalachia ("conduct unbecoming a lady" - but, on the other hand, the menfolk seem to have a special spot in their hearts for the independent womenfolk because those are the ones they admire in song and verse). Women did, however, carry guns so no one saw that as strange.

Darling Cory
Wake up, wake up darling Cory,
what makes you sleep so sound?
The revenuers are a comin'
gonna tear your still house down.

(Chorus) Dig a hole, dig a hole in the meadow,
dig a hole in the cold, cold ground.
Go and dig you a hole in the meadow,
gonna lay darling Cory down.

Oh, the first time I saw darling Cory,
she was sitting on the banks of the sea,
with a .44 strapped 'round her
and a banjo on her knee.

(Chorus)

Don't you hear those bluebirds singing,
don't you hear their mournful sound?
They're preachin' Cory's funeral
in some lonesome church yard ground.

(Chorus)

Oh the last time I saw darlin' Cory
she had a wine glass in her hand.
She was drinkin' down her troubles
with a lowdown sorry man.

(Chorus)

* * *
East Virginia

I was born in East Virginia
North Carolina I did go
There I met a fair young maid
and her name I did not know.

Oh her hair was dark in color
and her lips were ruby red
on her breast she wore white linen
there I longed to lay my head.

Papa says we cannot marry
Mama says it'll never do
but if you'll only say you love me
I will run away with you.

I'd rather be in some dark holler
where the sun don't ever shine
than to see you with another
and to know you'll never be mine.

I'll go back to East Virginia
North Carolina ain't my home
I'll go back to East Virgina
Leave old North Carolina alone.

* * *

This one comes from Scotland - earliest known record dates to 1769. Versions have been found in France and Germany. This is the Appalachian version.

Four Nights Drunk (also called Our Goodman and Cabbage Head)

I came in the other night
as drunk as I could be
saw somebody's horse in the stable
where my horse ort (ought) to be.

"Come here my little wifey
and 'splain (explain) this thing to me,
whose horse in the stable
where my horse ort to be?"

"You drunk fool, you blind old fool
can't you plainly see
it's nothing but a milk cow
my granny gave to me."

"I've traveled this wide world over
ten thousand miles or more
but a saddle on a milk cow
I've never seen before."

I came in the other night
as drunk as I could be
saw somebody's boots in the corner
where my boots ort to be.

"Come here my little wifey,
and 'splain this thing to me,
whose boots there in the corner
where my boots ort to be?"

"You drunk fool, you blind old fool
can't you plainly see,
it's nothing but a cream jar
my granny gave to me."

"I've traveled this wide world over
ten thousand miles or more,
but boot heels on a cream jar
I've never seen before."

I came in the other night
as drunk as I could be
saw somebody's hat on the rack
where my hat ort to be.
"Come here my little wifey,
and 'splain this thing to me,
whose hat on the hat rack
where my hat ort to be?"


it's only a thunder-jug
my granny gave to me."
"I've traveled this wide world over
ten thousand miles or more,
but a John B. Stetson thunder-jug
I've never seen before."

I came in the other night
as drunk as I could be,
saw a pair of britches
where my britches ort to be.
"Come here my little wifey,
and 'splain this thing to me,
whose pair of britches
where my britches ort to be?"
"You drunk fool, you blind old fool
can't you plainly see,
it's only a dishrag
my granny gave to me."
"I've traveled this wide world over
ten thousand miles or more,
but suspenders on a dish rag
I've never seen before."

I came in the other night
as drunk as I could be,
saw a head on the pillow
where my hear ort to be.
"Come here my little wifey,
and 'splain this thing to me,

Whose head on the pillow
where my head ort to be?"

"You drunk fool, you blind old fool
can't you plainly see,
it's only a cabbage head
my granny gave to me."
"I've traveled this wide world over
ten thousand miles or more,
but a mustache on a cabbage head
I've never seen before."


* * *

Charlie Monroe was the first to record this but it's an old mountain song. For those who aren't familiar with moonshine, corn squeezings refers to 'shine made from corn mash.

Red Rocking Chair (also known as Red Apple Juice)

No, I ain't got no use
for my red rocking chair
I ain't got no sugar baby now,
no I ain't got no sugar baby now.

Some old rounder come along
took my sugar babe and gone
And I ain't got no sugar baby now,
no, I ain't got no sugar baby now
.

I have her every cent I made
and i laid her in the shade
And I ain't got no sugar baby now,
no, I ain't got no sugar baby now.

And it's who'll call you honey?
It's who'll sing this song?
Who'll rock the cradle when I'm gone?
And it's who'll rock the cradle when I'm gone?

Oh, I ain't got no use
for your red apple juice
I'm living on your corn squeezings now,
yes, I'm living on your corn squeezings now.


* * *
The earliest recorded version of this one is from 1786.

Shady Grove (also known as Little Betty Ann or Salt River)
Shady Grove, my little love,
Shady Grove I say
Shady Grove, my little love,
I'm a goin' away.

I went to see my Shady Grove
standing in the door,
shoes and stockings in her hands,
little bare feet on the floor.

Wished I had a big fat horse,
corn to feed him on,
Shady Grove to stay at home,
feed him while I'm gone.

Peaches in the summertime,
apples in the fall,
If I cna't get the girl I love
I won't have none at all.

Lips as red as a blooming rose,
eyes the deepest brown,
you are the darling of my heart,
stay 'til the sun goes down.

Sixteen horses in my team,
the leader he is blind.
Ever I travel this road again
There'll be trouble on my mind.

If I had a needle and thread,
as fine as I could sew.
I'd sew that pretty girl to my side
and down the road I'd go.

Fifteen miles of mountain road,
twenty miles of sand,
if ever I travel this road again
I'll be a married man.

Cut a banjo from the gourd,
string it up twine,
the only song that I can play
is "wish that gal was mine."

* * *
Some Appalachian/Pioneer Slang:

A gone coon: someone who was ruined or lost
A whoop and a holler: a considerable distance
Blockader: moonshiner
Booger Tales: ghost stories
Cooter around: walk around aimlessly
Corn-fed: husky, strong
Dark-hearted: sad
Doney girl: female sweetheart
Explatterate: to crush or smash
Feeling Poorly: sick
Granny woman: midwife/healer
Haint: ghost
Hit the shucks: go to bed
Honey-fuggle: to flatter for selfish purpose
Hooch: whiskey
Jimberjawed (I grew up with Jibberjawed): someone who's always talking
Polk: sack, sometimes used to denote alcohol
Rake up: remember
Shirky: lazy
Smackdab: exactly
Swarp: hit
Thunder-jug: chamber pot
Weaning house: house for newlyweds
You'ns: usually used in south-eastern half of Appalachia (Virgina, Carolinas, Georgia) to denote both children or "you all"
Young'uns: usually used in the south-western half of Appalachia to denote children
Y'all: everyone wants to credit this to Texas - they don't realize that many people who settle Texas came from western Appalachia! Denotes "you all."

No comments: