Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lily May Ledford- Growing Up in Pinch 'Em Tight Holler


Continuing my series on Lily May Ledford: Banjo Pickin' Girl. Some of this information and more will be presented in a feature I've written for the Old-Time Herald. It would be easy to write a book.

Lily May Ledford was born on a tenant farm in a remote area of Kentucky called Red River Gorge on March 17, 1917. Later, after achieving fame on the radio, Lily May was said to have come from Pinch'Em Tight Holler. The original Ledford family came to America in 1738. They bought land together in Virginia near the Roanoke River in the 1750s and moved to Randolph County, NC by 1769.

Lily’s father Daw "White" Ledford was born on Nov 23, 1882. He was the fourth generation of Ledfords born in Kentucky and married Stella May Tackett about 1907. Lily's parents were tenant farmers and life wasn't easy. Of the 14 children four died shortly after birth and several others died when still young.

"The main source of our livelihood was farming the steep cleared hillsides and the spare bottom land along the banks of the Red River and the many creeks, "said Lily May, "our main crop was corn and sorgum cane."

"We raised many vegetables in the many smaller patches ground closer to the house. We supplimented this with wild game, fresh berries, grapes, nuts and many kinds of wild greens. We raised hogs for meat and kept a milk cow or two."

"Our underclothing was made of flour sacks and shoes were bought only for winter and paid for with furs Papa trapped and sold."

This was related to me by Cari Norris Lily May's granddaughter, "Another great story she told was about her and her brother, Coyen: When they were little, their parents sent them to plant watermelons by the river in the spring and gave them a huge can of watermelon seeds. They planted about half the seeds, then decided they would dig a big hole, and dump the rest of the seeds in. They spend the rest of the afternoon fishing by the river and caught several fish, which really pleased their parents. But when a huge mass of watermelon vines grew in one spot a bit later, their parents figured out what they had done and I think they got spankings. Lily May enjoyed hunting and fishing in Red River."

According to Lily May, "Sometimes neighbors would visit at night with a banjo and Papa would take down his fiddle and they would play far into the night. Us little boys and girls would sit on the floor spell bound."

White Ledford also played the banjo, guitar and pump organ and Lily May learned to play both the fiddle and the banjo. One of the songs she learned from her father was John Henry when she was around 7 or 8 years old. Now Cari Norris plays the song on Lily May's banjo. John Garst, one of the leading researchers on the John Henry Ballad, was excited to see the lyrics. This was one of Lily May's favorites:

John Henry
(Lily May Ledford version, learned from her father, Daw White Ledford circa 1924)

When John Henry was a little bitty boy, sittin’ on his daddy’s knee;
He said the Big Ben tunnel on the C & O road, is gonna be the death of me; Lord, Lord, is gonna be the death of me.

When John Henry was just seven years old, holdin’ to his Mama’s hand; He said, “If I live to be 21, I’m gonna make a steel drivin’ man; Lord, Lord,...

Well John Henry made a steel drivin’ man, belonged to the steel drivin’ crew; And every time his hammer came down, you could see the steel walkin’ through, Lord, Lord...

John Henry had a pretty little woman, her name was Polly Ann; John Henry got sick and he could not work, Polly drove the steel like a man; Lord Lord...

Well they put John Henry on the right hand side, they put the steam drill on the left; He said before I let that old steam drill beat me down, I’ll hammer my fool self to death, Lord, Lord...

John Henry went up the boss and said, oh boss, how can it be; You know the rock is so hard and the steel is so tough, I feel my muscles givin’ way; Lord Lord...

Then John Henry went up on the mountain side, he looked to the heavens above; He said take this hammer and wrap it in gold, and give it to the woman I love; Lord, Lord...

So they took his hammer and they wrapped it in gold, they gave it to Polly Ann; And the last words John Henry ever said to her were, Polly , do the best you can; Lord Lord, ....

If I die a railroad man, bury me under the tie; So I can hear old number 4, as she goes rollin by;
Lord Lord....

But if if die a steel drivin’ man, bury me under the sand; With a pick and shovel at my head and feet and a nine pound hammer in my hand; Lord Lord...

'Til next time,


Monday, October 27, 2008

Coon Creek Girls: Renfro Valley


On the left is a photo of the Coon Creek Girls, now a trio, playing on stage in Renfro Valley, Kentucky.

Renfro Valley and the Renfro Valley Barn Dance were created by John Lair after John and Lula Renfro, the first settlers in Lair’s Kentucky home area in Rockcastle County.

It's important to know that these events directly shaped bluegrass music. Karl and Harty and WLS were imortant influences on the Monroe Brothers and Bill Monroe in particular, who impressed the duo with his fast mandolin playing. More on the Monroes in future blogs.

John Lair was born on July 1, 1894 in Rockcastle County, Kentucky. His father was a farmer and Lair attended a one-room school before going on to finish high school in the county seat town of Mount Vernon. After army service in World War I, he worked in a variety of jobs that included teaching school and editing a small-town newspaper. Work as an insurance company claims adjuster brought him to Chicago in the late 1920s where he became interested in radio.

Around 1930 WLS management was looking to form a new stringband for The Barn Dance radio show and asked John Lair, who was working in advertising to help. Lair who played jug, harmonica and wrote songs excelled at finding talent and then organizing and promoting this talent.

He formed the the first and most famous edition of the Cumberland Ridge Runners, by combining Karl Davis and Hartford Taylor (Karl and Harty and also performed under the name of the Renfro Valley Boys) with banjo and guitar player Hugh Cross and a fiddler named Homer Miller who was known for off-the-wall antics. Cross was already a well-established country crooner and collaborator on the earliest recordings of songs such as "Red River Valley" and "Wabash Cannonball." Lair created a hillbilly image for the outfit, dressing them all in checked shirts, straw and overalls. A famous photograph of them shows them in front of what looks like a rustic log cabin, but was actually a replica of Fort Dearborn created for the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.

A red-haired vocalist and bassist named Clyde Foley was hired to take part in comical sketches with Miller as well as play music; he soon changed his name to Red Foley and went on to become a huge country star. Another featured part of the group for a time was singer and banjo player Linda Parker, also known as "The Sunbonnet Girl." She was really forced to ham-up the hillbilly part and was always dressed onstage in a frilly gingham dress.

Lair eventually was employed by WLS as producer, emcee, and music librarian. As Lair became interested in discovering the real life events upon which old songs were based, he began accumulating a large sheet music collection and gained a reputation as an authority on folk music.

In the fall of 1937 John Lair joined forces with Red Foley, Whitey Ford the Duke of Paducah, and Chicago advertising executive Freeman Keyes to launch the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, which broadcast from Cincinnati over WLW. Lily May Leford (Coon Creek Girls), Dolly and Millie Good, and Red Foley were some of the stars that moved with Lair to Cincinnati and he also added the Duke of Paducah and Aunt Idy (with Little Clifford) to his show. Lair was trying to recreate the music found in his Kentucky homeland instead of the Western and cowboy trends that had recently become popular on the WLS Barn Dance.

Lair was planning to move the Renfro Valley show to his home home in Rockcastle County, KY. He was investing money from his sucessful show on WLW into building cabins, a restaurant (the lodge) with southern home-style meals, a souvenir shop, a candy kitchen, a barn for performances and a country store in Renfro Valley.

Move to Renfro Valley Kentucky "where time stands still"

By November 1939 construction was completed and Lair moved the Renfro Valley Barn Dance Show to its final home in Renfro Valley Kentucky. Not everyone in the Renfro Valley Barn Dance Show wanted to move to a remote area in Kentucky. Lair’s original partners Red Foley and Whitey Ford didn’t stay long. They sold their interests and went back to WLS Chicago. Another star A’nt Idy wouldn’t go at first and then only stayed a short while.

The original Coon Creek Girls split up. Daisy and Violet went with the Callahan Brothers, Howdy Forester, and Georgia Slim to Tulsa, Oklahoma and then to Dallas, Texas. According to Daisy, they were ready for a taste of "big city life." For a while Lily May played with the Amburbey Sisters: Berthy Amburgey (Berthy Woodruff, aka, Minnie), Irene Amburgey (Martha Carson, aka, Martha), and Opal Jean Amburgey (Jean Chapel, aka, Mattie), born in that order, as the Coon Creek Girls.
Soon Lily May and her sister Rosie added a younger Ledford sister to their act, Minnie (stage name "Black-eyed Susie" or "Susie" for short) and continued as the Coon Creek Girls. To replace some of the talent he lost, Lair hired two of the best musicians and comedians of the Barn Dance era, Homer and Jethro.

From the first Saturday night the venture was a moderate success. In spite of dire predictions and Lair moving at the onset of winter, the crowds got bigger and bigger. Radio experts who had held that people wouldn't drive a hundred miles or more to see a barn dance out in the country were amazed. All winter long the crowds kept coming from unbelievable distances and when spring brought ideal traveling weather; all roads seemed to lead to Renfro Valley. License plates from as many as fifteen different states were found on a single Saturday night.

Lair’s dream had come true, much to the appreciation of audience members who filled the auditorium and the many thousands of radio listeners. Lair functioned on stage as emcee and guided the program, song by song, week by week and it was broadcast on radio station WHAS in Louisville. After the departure of partners Red Foley and Whitey Ford, Lair now controlled every facet of the performer’s lives.

"John Lair, once he moved to Renfro Valley," said Lily May’s daughter Barbara Greenlief in a 1996 interview, "had them sign contracts that they couldn't record anything unless he said so; they couldn't talk to other people, they couldn't make any other deals. I mean he—the contracts were just—he owned them."

The barn could comfortably hold about 800 people. Some weekends thousands would flock to the small valley. The two scheduled shows on a Saturday night could not accommodate everyone. "They (Shorty Hobbs and Little Elder Long) and the Homer and Jethro team simply tore up the stage encore after encore," recalled Lily May. "Crowds started flocking in the barn at 5 or 6:00 and they were doing shows ‘til the roosters were crowing at daybreak."

More on the Coon Creek Girls and Lily May later,


Saturday, October 25, 2008

War of the Worlds


We are approaching the anniversary of Orson Welles greatest hoax, Oct. 30th, when he broadcast H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds on October 30, 1938 to make it seem like a current news broadcast. It caused local panic as many listeners believed it was a real alien invasion. This was Welles first notoriety and caused a widespread scandal.

Another "war of the worlds" happened when the Coon Creek Girls led by Lily May Ledford descended upon the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh, PA in 1939 for two weeks to open for Orson Welles production of the play "The Green Goddess."

Sure there have been other all-time booking mismatches, take Jimi Hendrix and the Experience signing on as an opening act for the Monkees in midtour. After dates in the South, they played several concerts in July 1967 in the stadium at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills.

But the Coon Creek Girls and Orson Welles. What were they thinking! The Coon Creek Girls had just played at the White House for the President and Mrs. Roosevelt and the King and Queen of England. Their popularity was at an all-time high.

According to Lily May, "As word got out to the ever alert newspapers, reporters began to arrive from several papers for interviews and the story spread to a New York booking agent who booked us two weeks in the large Stanley Hall in Pittsburgh PA with Orson Welles and Company."

In a 1996 interview with Barbara Greenlief (Lily May's daughter), she commented: "Daisy (one of the Coon Creek Girls) told me one time, I think it was when they were on stage with Orson Welles, that the guys in the orchestra pit kept making fun of them and their accent, and talking about those, you know, the hillbillies. The men would always ask them if they wore shoes at home."

"So one time when the women ran out on stage, they took off their shoes. And so they were kind of playing with that stereotyped image, you know, throwing it back in the guys' faces and laughing at them for thinking such a stupid thing."

George Orson Welles (May 6, 1915 – October 10, 1985) was an Academy Award-winning director, writer, actor and producer for film, stage, radio and television. In the mid-1930s, his New York theatre adaptations of Macbeth and a contemporary allegorical Julius Caesar became legendary. In 1941, he co-wrote, directed, produced and starred in Citizen Kane, often chosen in polls of film critics as the greatest film ever made. Welles received a 1975 American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement award, the third person to do so after John Ford and James Cagney. Critical appreciation for Welles has increased since his death. He is now widely acknowledged as one of the most important dramatic artists of the 20th century: in 2002 he was voted as the greatest film director of all time in the British Film Institute's poll of Top Ten Directors.

More on the Welles-Coon Creek Girls engagement from Lily May: "He was making a tour with the 25 minute play the Green Goddess (a popular stage play of 1921 by William Archer) with our first (opening act) matinee performance. When the light men missed cues the infuriated Mr. Welles stopped the performance several times and stepped to the front and apologized to the audience and berated the terrified sound and light men with that awesome voice of his."

"Well we were well received from the sophisticated audience and everyone waited for the evening papers and the critics words. They all simply ripped Mr. Welles calling it a farce etc. About us they said, 'Well it was alright if you go for Hillbilly mouthings.' "

"That same afternoon Mr. Welles sent his valet to our dressing room with the message I should come to his dressing room. I was already half afraid of him now but dared not disobey the message. I was led to the presence of that august body and treated him very royally as he asked if I could do a favor for him. After our act and bows I was to go to the center mic and tell the audience that now the house was to be darkened for the next big act- a complete blackout."

"They were to hold onto their hats and pocketbooks for a minute or so. And then I was to pick up my skirt and just fly from the stage! This I did and Mr. Welles complimented me and I did this for the next two weeks." (From Lily May Ledford's Autobiography)

That's about it! More on Lily May later.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Bluegrass Paintings


This is a close-up from my painting Banjo Pickin' Girl. It shows the raccoon pumping water in the ocean while a possum in a simmons tree watches. (click to enlarge)

Time for a commercial break from my series on Lily May Ledford: Banjo Pickin' Girl

The IBMA Bluegrass Blog has done a short feature on me and my paintings:

The goal of this site is to give information about bluegrass and old-time songs. My paintings started in 2006 tell the story of bluegrass song lyrics.

I am selling prints of these paintings and the originals. To buy my prints with pay pal or a CC you can go to my ETSY store:

You can also just email me: I'm always looking for ideas to do a new bluegrass painting.

Right now I'm working on "Mole in the Ground." Someone wants me to do "Red River Valley" so I'm going to start that next week.

You can see the paintings here on my blog and read about the history of the songs. I'm also writing an article about my painting "Bury Me Beneath the Willow."



Coon Creek Girls play at the White House


I'm going to do several other features of Lily May Ledford: Banjo Pickin' Girl. This one details the Coon Creek Girls performance at the White House for President and Mrs. Roosevelt and the King and Queen of England on June 8, 1938.

You can hear Lily May give an account of the event on "Gems: Lily May Ledford" a CD produced by her granddaughter Cari Norris on JuneApple. If you want to get a copy you can get one here: This striking collection of songs, instrumentals and stories showcases the natural talent and honest humor of Lily May.

A Big Year- 1938

1938 was a big year for the Coon Creek Girls: Lily May (photo on left) and Rosie Ledford with Ester Koehler (guitar, vocals and mandolin) a contest winner from Ohio and Evelyn Lange (fiddle and bass) another contest winner from Wisconsin. They had just had their first radio performance in Oct. 1937 and were becoming stars on WLW radio in Cincinnati on The Renfro Valley Barn Dance. Kentucky native John Lair had created the Renfro Valley show after leaving WLS in Chicago and bringing Lily May and other stars like Red Foley with him.

John Lair met banjoist Bascom Lamar Lunford at a folk festival in Asheville, NC. When Lunsford attended the National Folk Festival in Chicago in 1937 he visted with Lair in Chicago. Lair was appointed to the Board of the National Folk Festival by director Gertrude Knott as "a student of the origins of folk music." Lair was working at WLW in Cincinnati having started the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. Lair asked Lunsford to find talent for WLW and teach square dancing to various clubs in the Ohio valley. Lunsford also performed on WLW’s Saturday night concerts.

Knott asked Lair and Lunsford to organize the Ohio Valley Folk festival to find talent for the next National Folk Festival to be held in Washington DC later that year. Lair included the Coon Creek Girls and Red Foley to the Festival roster. On March 27, 1938 Ohio Valley Folk festival sponsored by WCKY was held in the Cincinnati Music Hall. The Library of Congress, to record the event, dispatched Alan Lomax. The Coon Creek Girls highlighted the event and secured a spot along with Robert Day on the National Folk Festival roster for 1938 plus important connections with Lunsford and Lomax that would help them later in the year get an invitation to perform at the White House.

After the Festival recording engineerAlan Lomax complained about all the hillbilly music. Back then hillbilly music was commercial country music and not folk music that a purist would follow. Director of the National Festival Gertrude Knott seemed to approve of the Coon Creek Girls and Lair promoted them as Kentucky girls from remote mountain areas that sang old ballads. Years later Alan Lomax seemed later to change his mind and invited Lily May to star in his theater production.

According to a Washington Post newspaper report with a photo: "These Kentucky mountain girls make up one of the winning teams from the Ohio Valley Festival held in Cincinnati in preparation for the National Festival. Each plays all four instruments in the picture and sings ballads known in their families for generations."

In May the National Folk Festival directed by Gertrude Knott was held for the first time in Washington DC at Constitution Hall. The Coon Creek Girls and Robert Day accompanied by John Lair made the trip financed by a mere $92 from the Ohio Valley Festival.

Also in May 1938 John Lair went with the girls and A’nt Idy Harper to record their first session with Vocalion Records under Uncle Art Satherley. They recorded nine songs including "Little Birdie," "Pretty Polly" and two of Lair’s songs. At this session they also recorded the song that Lily May would become identified with: "Banjo Pickin’ Girl." Lily May was already being called "Banjo Pickin' Girl" on her WLW shows.

The White House

Late in 1938 an invitation came for the Coon Creek Girls to perform at a White House concert for President and Mrs. Roosevelt in honor of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth who were to visit in June 1939. Perhaps the invitation was made through Lunsford, who knew the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt from the 1933 White Top Festival. Lily May thought it came from the Coon Creek Girls performance in Washington DC at the National Festival although I haven't found any record of Eleanor Roosevelt attending but she may have or at least heard a radio broadcast. John Lair later credited Alan Lomax although Lair couldn't remember his name, with the invitation.

Regardless of who secured the invitation, the first royal visit to the States by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth while visiting the Roosevelt’s would feature a performance by Lily May and her Coon Creek Girls.

Mrs. Roosevelt decided the concert would show a cross section of American music. Bascom Lamar Lunsford and his square dancing group was invited along with Marion Anderson the concert contralto, opera baritone Lawrence Tibbet, pop singer Kate Smith, folklorist Alan Lomax, and The Coon Creek Girls. Local churches formed a black gospel choir to sing spirituals.

John Lair was not invited but he and his wife decided to accompany The Coon Creek Girls to Washington to attend this prestigious event. Arriving several days before the June 8 performance Lily May recalled "The day of the concert we went over for an early rehearsal. We went through the material we were going to do that night. A distinguished looking gentleman came to the door and listened for a while. Then he asked how long I’d been playing and I said, "I’ve been playing a long time." He said he played a little and asked if he could play with us. Then he said "I’ll get my fiddle."

"After getting his fiddle he introduced himself as Cactus Jack so that’s what I called him. We went to another room. He would play a tune then I’d play one. Then we’d both play one together. This went on for quite some time. We barely made it out in time for the show." Later John Lair told Lily May that Cactus Jack was in fact Vice President John Nance Garner, a pretty fair country fiddler!

Each performer was scheduled to do three songs plus the Coon Creek Girls would play fiddle tunes for Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s square dance group. So on the evening of June 8, 1939 limousines began to deliver the cream of Washington D.C. society to the East Room of the White House. Security was tight as President and First Lady, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were entertaining King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England. John Lair, who wasn’t invited followed the Girls limousine with his wife in their car. The only way he could get in was to carry the bass fiddle for the Girls.

"Well on Renfro Valley he was boss," explained Lily May. "So here we were the stars with him behind us toting the big bass fiddle. Security stopped him and searched the pockets of the case, shook the bass fiddle and looked in the fiddle. They finally decided to let Mr. Lair in but they turned his wife away." Viginia Lair, who had bought a new dress for the occasion, reportedly left in tears.

"We were ushered up there while Alan Lomax was playing his final song, Old Chisolm Trail," said Lily May. "We ran out there an lit right in to ‘How Many Biscuits Can You Eat,’ that was the song they told us Mrs. Roosevelt wanted. I glanced out of the corner of my eye and right down there they were…the King and Queen in the front row. Why they were so close you could have spit on ‘em."

Lily May continued, "The king had rather a long-faced, dour, deadpan look, and he worried me a little. Then as I glanced down, I caught him patting his foot, ever so little, and I knew we had him."

The Coon Creek Girls played another FDR favorite, "Get Along Miss Cindy" as well as an English ballad, The Soldier and the Lady, in honor of the royal couple. They also played "Buffalo Gals" for Lunsford’s square dance group from North Carolina.

Next: Lily May Ledford and Orson Wells. Life is stranger than fiction!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gems: Lily May Ledford


On the left is my painting of Lily May (click to enlarge). Little did I know I would learn so much about her when I painted this.

I've been listening to Gems: Lily May Ledford. This striking collection of songs, instrumentals and stories showcases the natural talent and honest humor of Lily May. She was born on March 17, 1917 in a remote area of Red River Gorge, Kentucky called Pinch 'em Tite Hollar.

After reading her autobiography, I can only reflect with awe her recounting of her childhood and her rise to stardom with the Coon Creek Girls on the radio, highlighted by her performance at the White House for President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor who were visited by the king and queen of England.

Lily May's talent in music can only be compared to my friend Doc Watson. They have a special quality that transcends the flesh; when I listen to them I feel as if I'm immersed in a spiritual sea filled of honesty human emotion.

I'm writing a proposed article about Lily May for the Old-Time Herald. I'll be sharing part of her life with you. By sharing, she'll be making our lives better which is something she would have wanted.

I've also been painting the song "I Wish I was A Mole in the Ground." The painting is almost done. I've found out that Tempy or Tempey is the nickname for the unusual name Temperance. The first recording was done by a friend of Lily May's- Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Lunsford and John Lair, Lily's manager and employer for many many years helped organize several folk festivals which led to Lily May's Coon Creek Girls being invited to the White House.

It's funny how the circle is unbroken....

More on Lily May later,


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum


Yesterday I played at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame & Museum on 2590 Richmond Road Renfro Valley, Kentucky 40473.

I brought all ten of my song paintings and Josh Andrews a singer/guitarist came with me to sing three of the painting songs: Molly and Tenbrooks, Careless Love and Bury Me Beneath the Willow.

It's a good drive from Louisville over 100 miles and we arrived in Renfro Valley around 10:15 to do our 90 minute show starting at 11:00 AM. After we started unloading we met the director, Robert Lawson, who helped us set up the paintings and the sound equipment. Robert was very friendly and helpful and we felt right at home.

Josh Andrews and I did a sound check and played through a few songs to get warmed up. A small crowd had gather and folks were starting to sit down on the chairs in front of the homespun stage. We kicked it off with Molly and Tenbooks. I'd talk for a few minutes about each song and the painting I'd done for the song.

I thought we played well and our sound was good. I noticed one young woman singing along with me. At one point there were 20 to 30 folks there milling around and listening. After the show several people were interested in the art and I gave them my card and even sold a print of "All the Pretty Little Horses."

Robert Lawson liked my art and I decided to leave two paintings to be displayed at the museum; Molly and Tenbrooks and Banjo Pickin' Girl. Robert said he had a spot of Molly and Tenbooks in the Bill Monroe exhibit and he was working on a new display for Lily May Ledford and would have her song, Banjo Pickin Girl, there.

My painting of Molly and Tenbrooks (click to enlarge) on display:

Kentucky Music Hall of Fame & Museum Post Office Box 85 2590 Richmond Road Renfro Valley, Kentucky 40473

Robert is planning on having me back in the Spring 09.

More on the museum later,


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bird in a Cage


My painting on the left is titled Bird in a Cage (Click to enlarge).

This is an obscure oldtime/bluegrass song that is found in the mountain region. I learned my version in North Carolina. I know Jean Ritchie did a version of the song which I've never heard and there are a few other versions.

The song is from the same family as the True Lover’s Farewell songs which include the closely related Down in the Valley songs. The most famous country recordings were down in the 1920-30s as Birmingham Jail. Next blog I'll do some details about the song.

The Bird in the Cage is symbolic of a woman trapped in a relationship from which she can’t escape. With a background set in the Blue Ridge Mountains the bird drops the key to the jail door that could free the transparent woman whose face and hands are locked behind jail bars. My wife Jeanette posed for the face and hands.

Here are the lyrics:


I'm a bird in a cage, love,

Bird in a cage.
Begging for freedom,
Dying a slave,
Dying a slave.

High on the mountain,

Valley so low;
All you can feel, dear,
Is the cold rain and snow;
Is the cold rain and snow.

Turn your back on me,
Court whom you please;
I can't forget you,Darlin',
I can't get free; I can't get free.

Build up your walls, Love,
Build them so high.
Only let me see you,
Darlin', as you pass by;
As you pass by.

I'm a bird in a cage, love,
Bird in a cage.
Begging for freedom,
Dying a slave;
Dying a slave.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

New Banjo Pickin Girl

Hi everyone,

This is a photo of Cari Norris standing in front of my painting of her grand mother Lily May Ledford- the original Banjo Pickin Girl. The photo (click to enlarge) was done at the Higgins Maxwell Gallery on Payne St. after a performance at the gallery last night. My art will be on display until Nov. 1 so if you're in the Louisville are a please stop by.

Cari has kept the family tradition going and plays her grandmother's banjo clawhammer style.

Cari is a musician and an artist and I got to play a few songs with her including Banjo Pickin Girl and John Henry.

She does authentic renditions of her famous grandmother's songs and has a good singing voice as well. It is kind of eerie to notice the resemblance of Lily May in my painting and Cari today. Hopefully she can come play again on Nov. 1 when I play the songs my paintings are based on.

I'm still trying to track down info on Clayton McMichen and Cliff Carlisle two country music stars of the past that lived in Louisville. McMichen owned a bar several houses from where I currently live and I talked with Chet Bell who knew Cliff Carlisle and met McMichen in the 1970s. He gave me some new info on Cliff Carlisle which I can add to his bio. McMichen's daughter lives in the area but I don't know how to get a hold of her yet. I've asked around and no one seems to know anyone that knew McMichen back in the 1950s when he owned the National Bar at 300 Spring St.

I'll have some more photos of the gallery at some point. It was great meeting Cari and playing Banjo Pickin Girl with her.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Art show/Performance


I just had my art show opening yesterday and tonight I had my performance. I wish I could say it was a smashing success but it wasn't. I did get to meet several people that are important to me.

Lynn Tincher, local author, came to my opening Friday. She is a talented author and has a great personality. She's very helpful and positive. I've published ten books and sold quite a few- actually I've sold out of all my books but the last two. My latest book, "Bluegrass Picker's Tunebook" is still doing well. I talked to Lynn about publishing my 3 unpublished fiction novelettes. She is going to critique one of them sometime. Maybe this will get me motivated to find a fiction publisher.

Lynn sold several copies of her new book, Afterthoughts at the opening. I'm looking forward to reading her book soon. She also has a great newsletter. Writers may contact Lynn at

Tonight at the gallery I played the songs that my paintings are based on. I had two special guest performers. Josh Andrews played guitar and sang Molly and Tenbrooks. He has a strong voice and has an authentic country/bluegrass sound.

One thing I hoped for happened. Cari Norris came. Her grandmother is Lily May Ledford, who is featured in my painting Banjo Picking Girl. Not only did she come to the performance but she brought Lily May's banjo! She played and sang Banjo Pickin' Girl with me backing her on guitar. She's actually a good clawhammer picker and singer. What a doll. She even looks a bit like Lily May does in my painting.

Her husband and 5 year old Samuel also came. I think Samuel liked my version of Froggy Went A-Courtin'. It was great meeting them. Cari is also an artist working on a series of still life oil paintings. We have some pictures of the performance and her standing holding her grandmother's banjo in front of the painting.

Thnaks to everyone who came and helped.

Gotta run, more later.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Artshow


I'm getting ready for my art show opening tomorrow at 6:00. I spent all day yesterday getting it set up. Here's the press release:

THE HIGGINS MAXWELL GALLERY on 1200 Payne Street, Louisville, Ky 40204 will present American artist Richard L. Matteson Jr. from Oct. 10 until Nov 1. The show will open with a reception 6:00- 9:00 PM on Oct. 10. Matteson, who is nationally recognized musician, author and artist, will also present two musical performances at the gallery Oct. 11, 7:00 PM and Nov. 1, 7:00 PM. Admission is free. The Higgins-Maxwell gallery is open Mon-Sat, 10am-6pm. For information call Bob Higgins 502-584-7001.

There wasn't enough room for my large paintings. We had to move them over in a truck and we'll have to move them back again. The main focus is my new series: The Bluegrass Series and Driftwood Series. I also had no room for some of my other paintings. Everything looks good now and there's only a few details left.

The opening this Friday should be fun! I'll have my music books on a table and local author Lynn Tincher will be there signing copies of her book, Afterthoughts. I'll be featured in Lynn's newsletter, The Literary Lynnch Pen, on November 18th.

The granddaughter of the banjo picker in my painting Banjo Pickin' Girl (Lily May Ledford) will be there as well as old-time banjo player Harry Bickle. Hope we have a big turnout and everyone enjoys themselves.

To see my paintings check out my previous blogs.

Till next time,


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Froggie Went A-Courtin'

Good Morning,

Today I'm setting up for my art show at the Higgins Maxwell Gallery that opens this Friday. I played last night at a bluegrass jam on Bardstown Rd.

I want to feature my painting, Froggie Went A-Courtin' in today's blog. With all the verses and scenes in Froggie I had to be creative to fit them all in.

The scene is actually based loosely on a photo taken at Salem Lake in Winston-Salem. It was in the spring and the leaves of the trees had not come out. The largest tree of course was where Miss Mousie lived.

At the time I was looking at illusions so I put several in the painting as well as all the verses of the song.

Froggie Went A-Courtin’ 48" by 60" Acrylic on canvas. C 2006. The largest painting at 48" by 60" Froggie Went A-Courtin’ has the most scenes and verses. There are also impossible objects like the impossible stairs Froggie and his horse are doomed to climb (on far left of canvas. There is also one additional scene of the princess kissing the frog (hidden in the rocks and bush- lower center) and a surreal depiction of Froggie riding hidden behind the trees (ala Rene Magritte).

As the painting begins Froggie rides out of the lyrics (which is a painting in itself) along the path, meets Miss Mousie, proposes to Miss Mousie, gets Mister Rat’s blessing, then rides the path into the sky where the wedding takes place in a big pine tree. At the end poor Froggie is eaten by a big black snake. The path is really the snake, which winds throughout the picture.

Froggie is one of the oldest and most popular songs and includes many variations. The song first appears in 1549 Wedderburn's "Complaynt of Scotland."

Froggie Went A-Courtin'

Froggie went a-courtin' and he did ride, Uh-huh,
Froggie went a-courtin' and he did ride, Uh-huh,
Froggie went a-courtin' and he did ride,
With a sword and a pistol by his side, Uh-huh, Uh-huh, Uh-huh.

Well he rode up to Miss Mousey's door, Uh-huh,
Well he rode up to Miss Mousey's door, Uh-huh,
Well he rode up to Miss Mousey's door.
He hit it loud and made it roar, Uh-huh, Uh-huh, Uh-huh.

He took Miss Mousey on his knee, Uh-huh,
Took Miss Mousey on his knee, Uh-huh,
Took Miss Mousey on his knee.
Said, "Miss Mousey, will you marry me?" Uh-huh, Uh-huh, Uh-huh.

"Without my uncle Rat's consent, Uh-huh
"Without my uncle Rat's consent, Uh-huh
"Without my uncle Rat's consent,
I wouldn't marry the president, Uh-huh, Uh-huh, Uh-huh.

Uncle Rat laughed and he shook his fat sides, Uh-huh,
Uncle Rat laughed and he shook his fat sides, Uh-huh,
Uncle Rat laughed and he shook his fat sides,
To think his niece would be a bride, Uh-huh, Uh-huh, Uh-huh.

Oh where will the wedding party be? Uh-huh,
Where will the wedding party be? Uh-huh,
Where will the wedding party be?
Way down yonder in a holler tree, Uh-huh Uh-huh, Uh-huh.

Well, first to come were two little ants, Uh-huh,
First to come were two little ants, Uh-huh,
First to come were two little ants,
Fixin’ around to have a dance, Uh-huh Uh-huh, Uh-huh.

Next to come in was a bumble bee, Uh-huh
Next to come in was a bumble bee, Uh-huh
Next to come in was a bumble bee.
Bouncin’ a fiddle on his knee, Uh-huh, Uh-huh, Uh-huh.

Next to come was a big bull-frog, Uh-huh,
Next to come was a big bull-frog, Uh-huh,
Next to come was a big bull-frog,
He jumped up high and started to clog, Uh-huh Uh-huh, Uh-huh.

Next to come was a big tom cat, Uh-huh,
Next to come was a big tom cat, Uh-huh,
Next to come was a big tom cat,
He chased the mouse, the frog and the rat, Uh-huh Uh-huh, Uh-huh.

Mr. Frog went swimmin’ across the lake, Uh-huh,
Mr. Frog went swimmin’ across the lake, Uh-huh,
Mr. Frog went swimmin’ across the lake, (pause)
And he got swallowed up by a big black snake, Uh-huh Uh-huh, Uh-huh.

Gotta run,


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Clayton McMichen Mystery

Guest What?

I just saw what I believe was once Clayton McMichen's "speak easy" in the basement of the tavern he owned in Louisville in the 1940s or 1950s.

Who is Clayton McMichen? He was probably the best fiddler on the planet, and certainly was one of the best in Country music from 1920 to the 1940s. He was the star fiddler in the Skillet Lickers band. Ever heard of Merle Travis or Lester Flatt- they both played in McMichen's bands in Louisville.

So I heard McMichen owned and ran a bar in Louisville, it turns out it's four houses away from where I live on Spring Street! It was called the National Bar, now it's the Spring Street Bar and Grill. When I went and talked to the manager, she didn't know who McMichen was but knew the downstairs was a "Speak easy" an the upstairs is "where the girls were." She said there were paintings on the basement wall of jazz musicians.

I checked with Harry Bickle (who will also be at my art show), an old-time banjo player, who let me know the McMichen bar was on Spring St. called the National Tavern. So now I knew, I had moved to Louisville four houses from McMichen's Bar.

Today I went back and asked the manager to see the paintings. It was eerie- I was taken by the bartender around the back where she unlocked a small door. We climbed down the stairs into a musty cellar where was water seeping around the edges of the concrete block walls. There were the jazz paintings, painted on concrete walls, that McMichen obviously had commissioned.

This was were they jammed late at night. There's a painting of a sexy girl with big breasts dancing, there's a guy playing clarinet, there's a horn player, a horn and a martini glass with an olive. The paintings were well done by a good artist but they are in bad condition. One painting is completely obscured from water damage. These are large paintings covering about half of the basement.

Then the manager of 20 years said the place was haunted. So we left. And no...I didn't see McMichen's ghost. McMichen was more that just a hillbilly fiddler, he played swing and jazz tunes. He had a clarinet player in one of his first bands!

Here's a bit about the Skillet Lickers:

"Well folks, here we are again, the Skillet Lickers, red hot and rarin' to go," said Clayton McMichen, introducing the Skillet Lickers' "Soldier's Joy." "Gonna play you a little tune this morning, want you to grab that gal and shake a foot and moan."

The Skillet Lickers, who epitomized the rollicking good-time string bands of the 1920s, were formed in 1926 when Frank Walker, head of Columbia’s "Country Music" recordings, created a group from the top recording artists and musicians in the Atlanta region. Walker, who traveled to Atlanta regularly with his portable studio, waxed records featuring his first stars Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett there in 1924. After bringing Clayton McMichen and Riley Puckett to the studio for a session in April he decided to add other local talent, fiddler Gid Tanner, banjoist Fate Norris and fiddler Bert Layne, to create Country Music’s first supergroup. Several days later on April 17, 1926 Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers cut their classic first eight sides: "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane," "Bully Of The Town," "Pass Around the Bottle," "Alabama Jubilee," "Watermelon on the Vine," "Don’t You Hear Jerusalem Moan," "Ya Gotta Quit Kickin’ My Dog Around" and "Turkey in The Straw."

More to come,


Granddaughter of Banjo Pickin' Girl


Just when you think life can't get any weirder, it does. The granddaughter of Lily May Ledford who is featured in my painting Banjo Pickin' Girl, is coming to my art show. Her name is
Cari Norris and she lives in Louisville. I knew nothing about her when I started the painting last year when I lived in Illinois. One of my banjo pickin' friends mentioned that she lived in Louisville. I picked up the phone book and called her tonight. She is coming to the opening of my art show this Friday:

THE HIGGINS MAXWELL GALLERY on 1200 Payne Street, Louisville, Ky 40204 will present
American artist Richard L. Matteson Jr. from Oct. 10 until Nov 1. The show will open with a reception 6:00- 9:00 PM on Oct. 10.

Above is my painting (for details see my earlier blogs). I sold one reproduction of this on-line already. Cari Norris had already seen the painting when I dropped it off at Amazing Grace Whole Foods to be displayed for a while.

Small world! I can't wait to talk to Cari about her grandmother.

Details later,


All the Pretty Little Horses


Today I want to share with you another painting in my Bluegrass Series, "All the Pretty Little Horses." (Click image to enlarge)
Though the song is not a bluegrass standard, it's a traditional lullaby that's been sung throughout the bluegrass region for generations. Some source date this song back to the mid-1800s.

All the Pretty Little Horses (Lyrics)

Hush-a-bye, don't you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
When you wake, you'll have cake,
And all the pretty little horses.

Black and bay, dapple and gray,
Coach and six little horses,
Hush-a-bye, don't you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.

Hush-a-bye, don't you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby,
When you wake,
You'll have cake,
And all the pretty little horses.

Way down yonder, down in the meadow,
There's a poor wee little lamby.
The bees and the butterflies pickin' at its eyes,
The poor wee thing cried for her mammy.

Hush-a-bye, don't you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
When you wake, You'll have cake,
And all the pretty little horses.

All the Pretty Little Horses 30" by 40" Acrylic on canvas. C 2006. The lullaby All the Pretty Little Horses has been sung to children in the US since the 1800s. It was collected in the 1920s and the 1934 version collected by Alan Lomax is the basis for my painting and lyrics. The Bridge has ominous lyrics that are usually left off: "Way down yonder, down in the meadow; There's a poor wee little lamby. The bees and the butterflies pickin' at its eyes; The poor wee thing cried for her mammy."

My painting is set in the clouds in the dream world of the little baby. From an impossible object in the center spring saucers (even one flying saucer!) that become the piece of cake with a candle and fork illusions. The pretty little horses on the right disappear and form the baby’s face while the butterflies turn into the baby’s face.

This was the first painting of the Bluegrass Series, which are paintings of traditional American Songs with the lyrics also painted on the canvas.
If you want info on purchasing one of my paintings or my inexpensive professional reproductions please contact me.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Latest Performance


Dean Johnson sent some photos of the Bluegrass Messengers' performance at the Clifton center last Saturday Oct. 4. It's interesting to note Murrell Thixton is really playing banjo with one hand in the photo. I knew he was good but this proves it!

I'm singing and playing guitar; Dennis Talley is back behind me playing bass; Zack Pursell is playing fiddle and on the far right John Dwyer is pickin' mandolin. This was a pick-up band but it really was fun! We had some rave feedback from the SevenCounties Group that sponsored the event. I want thank every for pickin with me.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Silver Dagger: Song notes, Close-ups


The Silver Dagger is one of the oldest ballads found in the Appalachian Mountains.

Here are two close-ups of my painting. (See full painting in last blog). First is a close-up of the lyrics. Second is a close-up of Willie after he knocks at her window while above an angel tries to warn them of the upcoming tragedy.

Perhaps the earliest text appears as Drowsy Sleeper- in the Bodelian Library in 1817 and in The Social Harp 1855 (first verse only); Earliest complete version in the US is “Awake Awake!” sung by Mary Sands at Allanstand, NC Aug 1, 1916.

The song and its close variants have many names: "The Drowsy Sleeper " [Laws M4]; “Oh Molly Dear (Go Ask Your Mother)” “Silver Dagger;” “I Will Put My Ship in Order” “Awake, Awake” “Who's That Knocking?;” “Peggy Dear;” “Kentucky Mountain;” “Julianne;” “Willie Darling;” “Little Willie;” "Bessie and Charlie."

It's related to: “Greenback Dollar,” “Old Virginny/East Virginia Blues/Dark Holler Blues,” “Darling Think of What You've Done;” "Greenback Dollar" (plot); "Go From My Window;" "One Night As I Lay on My Bed."

The chronology of the “Drowsy Sleeper” Songs can be seen below. Traced from a broadside from Chrome, Sheffield, 1817 entitled the “Drowsy Fleeper” in the Bodelian Library, England, to “Katie Dear” in the 1930’s in the US.

1) “The Drowsy Sleeper " [Laws M4];” 1817 Bodelian Library- England
2) “Arise! Arise!” Late 1800’s early 1900’s England
3) “Awake! Awake! (Sharp No. 57 see: Version 4)” US versions- 1916
4) “Silver Dagger” 1918 Sharp- US version
5) “Oh Molly Dear (Go Ask Your Mother)” 1926 Kelly Harrell
6) “Katie Dear” 1934 Callahan Brothers

The first recording, under the title 'Katie Dear', was by the Callahan Brothers in 1934. Joe and Bill, from North Carolina, were born in 1910 and 1912 respectively. Bill Malone ['Country Music USA' p110] and the unidentified writer of the notes to 'Callahan Brothers' CD [Old Homestead 4031] indicate that there was plenty of singing around the Callahan household and that they learned the folk component of their repertoire [before being swept away with Jimmy Rodgers music in the late 20s], songs like 'Katie Dear' and 'Banks of the Ohio, from their mother. This would probably bring the date back to the late 19th century at least.

The name “Katie Dear” and “Oh Mollie Dear” are interchangeable: The gal came back to life and changed her name often- May, Molly, Nancy, Mary, Madam and nameless in “Drowsy Sleeper” variants in Randolph; Julia (Julie) and nameless in Silver Dagger; Mary in Cox' Silver Dagger. A number of bluegrass singers used the Katy Dear/Oh Mollie Dear variant. These are the earliest recordings:

1) Oh Molly Dear (BVE 35667-3)- Kelly Harrell- 6-09-1926
2) Oh Molly Dear (BVE 39725-2 B. F. Shelton- 7-27-1927
3) Sleepy Desert (Paramount 3282, 1931; on TimesAint03)- Wilmer Watts & the Lonely Eagles- 1929
4) Wake Up You Drowsy Sleeper (BE 62575-2)- Oaks Family- 6-04- 1930
5) Katie Dear (14524-2) - Callahan Brothers (vcl duet w.gtrs) - 01/03/1934. NYC.
6) Katie Dear (BS 018680-1) - Blue Sky Boys (vcl duet w/mdln & gtr) - 01/25/1938. Charlotte, N.C. (Bill and Earl Bolick) Within The Circle/Who Wouldn't Be Lonely, BSR CD 1003/4. Rounder set 'The Blue Sky Boys' Rounder CD 0052. The booklet has a short essay by Bill Malone. As Bill says: 'The Blue Sky Boys' sound - mandolin, guitar and 2 voices - may suggest an earlier phase of American existence, but the sentiments they express are timeless. They speak directly to our hearts, if we will but listen, as few entertainers in country music history have done'.
7) Katy Dear (64077-) - Tiny Dodson's Circle-B Boys (vcl w/vln & gtrs) - 06/07/1938.

The Carter Family recorded their version of “Drowsy Sleeper” entitled “Who’s That Knocking On My Window” (64102-A) in 1938 while in NY. Today the song has been recently recorded by such diverse artists as Dave Van Ronk, Old Crowe Medicine Show and Dolly Parton.

That's enough bloodshed for now,


Silver Dagger


Today we're going to feature one of my fav tragic ballads "The Silver Dagger." I first learned this song in NC as Katie Dear. It's a bit tricky to play at first because there's a measure with only 2 beats. I really like the Old Crow Medicine Show's version; we played a show with them back in 2000.

Below is my painting of the Silver Dagger. (Click to enlarge)

Silver Dagger: 30" by 40" Acrylic on canvas. C 2008. The Silver Dagger is one of the oldest tragic ballads found in the Appalachian Mountain region. The chronology of the "Drowsy Sleeper" Songs can be traced from a broadside from Chrome, Sheffield, 1817 entitled the "Drowsy Fleeper" (Drowsy Sleeper) in the Bodelian Library, England, to "Katie Dear" in the 1930’s in the US.

Other names include "Silver Dagger;" "Awake, Awake;" "Who's That Knocking?;" "Peggy Dear;" "Kentucky Mountain;" "Julianne;" and "Willie Darling." The lyrics are from several versions but the plot compares to Romeo and Juliet. There are five separate scenes telling the sad story.

Silver Dagger

"Who's that knocking at my window,
Knocks so loud and won't come in?"
'Tis your own true-hearted lover
Rise you up and let him in.

Her hair was gold and her eyes was sparkling,
And her cheeks were diamond red.
And on her breast she wore a lily
To morn the tears that I did shed.

"Oh Katie dear go ask your mother,
If you can be a bride of mine.
If she says yes come back and tell me,
If she says no we'll run away."

"Oh Willie dear I cannot ask her,
She's in her room up taking a rest.
And by her side is a silver dagger,
To slay the man that I love best."

Then he picked up that silver dagger
And stove it through his weary heart.
Saying, "Goodbye Katie, goodbye darling,
At last the time has come to part.

"Then don't you see that cloud a rising
To shield us from the rising sun;
Oh, won't you be glad my own true lover
When you and I become as one?"

Then she picked up that bloody dagger,
And stove it through her lily-white breast.
Saying, "Goodbye Willie, goodbye mother,
I'll die with the one that I love best."

Red Apple Juice Song Notes

Good Morning,

The Bluegrass Messengers played at Talentfest last night at the Clifton Center. We played two short 3 songs sets: Rollin' My Sweet Baby's Arms; Lonesome Valley; Little Maggie; Hot Corn; Used To Be and Circle Be Unbroken. I want to thank the talented players that performed with me: Dennis Talley Bass, John Dwyer Mandolin, Zack Pursell fiddle, and Murrell Thixton banjo.

Now for Red Apple Juice! This white blues is found throughout the Southeast and Appalachians. Red Apple Juice is known by these different names: Red Rocking Chair; Red Apple Juice; Sugar Baby; Honey Baby; I Ain’t Got No Honey Baby Now.

The confusion between the Sugar Babe/Crawdad Song and the Sugar Baby/Red Rocking Chair continues. The Folk Index on-line fails to differentiate and lumps the Sugar Babe/Sugar Baby songs together. Clearly Sugar Babe (Crawdad Song) and Sugar Baby (Red Rocking Chair) are two different songs. The problem is that some Red Rocking Chair songs are named Sugar Babe- such is life!

The origin of the Red Rocking Chair/Red Apple Juice/Sugar Baby songs I am referencing here may be traced back to Child No. 76 "The Lass of Roch Royal." In Scottish Ballads by Robert Cambers 1829 p. 91 the forsaken Lass asks Love Gregory:

Oh who will shoe my bonny foot? And who will glove my hand?
And who will lace my middle jimp Wi’ a new made London band?

Compare to the standard American lyrics found in many "True Lovers Farewell" songs:

Oh, who will shoe your little feet/ And who will glove your hand
And who will kiss your red rosy cheeks/ When I'm in some far off land

Compare to Doc Boggs’ "Sugar Baby" on Brunswick 118 in 1927:

Who'll rock the cradle, And who'll sing the song?
Who'll rock the cradle when I'm gone? Who'll rock the cradle when I'm gone?

The question (posed originally by "The Lass of Roch Royal") is answered:

I'll rock the cradle, And I'll sing the song.
I'll rock the cradle when you’re gone, I'll rock the cradle when you’re gone.

Bogg's 1927 version features "Hub Mahaffey on guitar. John Boggs, Dock's oldest brother, taught him this and Dock kept his brother's tuning. The song was fist collected in 1909 by EC Perrow as "Done All I Can Do."

DONE ALL I CAN DO Earliest collected version E.C. Perrow JOAFL (From Mississippi; negroes; MS. of W. G. Pitts; 1909.)

Done all I can do
Trying to get along wid you;
Gwine to carry you to your mammy pay day.

Dock Boggs made the first as "Sugar Baby" 1927. Both Frank Profitt and Clarence Tom Ashley sang songs close in word and tune to Dock's. The first recording as "Red Apple Juice" was from Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1935. In 1939 Charlie Monroe recorded the song as "Red Rocking Chair." The Country Gentlemen and Doc Watson also used the "Red Rocking Chair" title.

The use of floating verses and the lack of a theme make the lyrics of Red Rocking Chair/Red Apple Juice/Sugar Baby/Honey Baby songs difficult to understand. The song is a white blues about the difficulties of the singer’s lover. Check out my painting in the last blog for one interpretation.

I've got many versions and more info on my web-site:

That's all folks for now,


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Red Apple Juice


Ready for a glass of red apple juice? Below is my painting of Red Apple Juice (click to enlarge). I love singing the song and have learned several versions. One version in my new book, Mel Bay's Bluegrass Picker's Tune Book (279 pages with stories and historic info about the 213 songs).

This old-time white blues song was first collected in 1909 by EC Perrow as "Done All I Can Do." Some song lyrics come from the Scottish ballad "The Lass of Roch Royal" in 1829.

In the Appalachian Mountains the song is known by different names: Red Rocking Chair/Red Apple Juice/Sugar Baby/Honey Baby/Ain’t Got No Honey Baby Now.

My painting takes the song way back; from Eve in the Garden of Eden to eternal life; from the cradle to the grave and beyond. As Eve ponders eating the apple with the serpent watching, apple juice flows from a glass forming a lake of red apple juice. The path takes you from the cradle to the rocking chair and the grave and finally eternal life. The lyrics "who’ll rock the cradle," "ain’t got no use for your red rocking chair" and "laid her in the shade" lead you on a journey as if the red apple juice is the blood of life.

Here are the painting lyrics:

Red Apple Juice

Ain't got no use for your red apple juice,
Ain't got no honey baby now,
Ain't got no honey baby now.

Who'll rock the cradle and who'll sing the song,
Who'll rock the cradle when I’m gone,
Who'll rock the cradle when I’m gone.

Ain't got no use for your red rocking chair,
Ain't got no honey baby there,
Ain't got no honey baby there.

Gave her all I made then I laid her in the shade,
What more can a poor boy do?
What more can a poor boy do?

Usually I sing:

Ain't got no use,

Ain't got no use for your red apple juice,

Ain't got no honey baby now,

Ain't got no honey baby now.

Basically you're just repeating the first line then using the second line as a tag. If you want to purchase a high quality 12" by 16" reproduction of any of my Bluegrass series songs they're just $40, backed with foam core board and ready to hang. Just e-mail me and I'll give you ways to purchase. You can even use pay-pal thought my ESTY site. Email me for info:

Next blog we'll look at the history of the red apples!


Careless Love: Song Notes


Today we'll look at the history of Careless Love and different lyrics. Much of this information is found at The Mudcat Discussion forum. Here's the site:

According to Malcolm Douglas: "The tune is basically 'The Sprig of Thyme', and 'Careless Love' frequently includes floating verses familiar from songs like 'Died For Love'; so its antecedents are essentially British, though re-made in America with new stylistic influences."

In the US the song can be traced back to 1880. Vance Randolph collected a version in 1948 that was learned in 1880. WC Handy writes about Careless Love and Loveless Love in his autobiography, Father of the Blues (Originally published by New York: Macmillan 1941, the below excerpt from the Da Capo Press paperback version pp 147 - 149):

"Loveless Love is another of my songs of which one part has an easily traceable folk ancestry. It was based on the Careless Love melody that I had played first in Bessemer in 1892 and that had since become popular all over the South. In Henderson I was told that the words of Careless Love were based on a tragedy in a local family, and one night a gentleman of that city's tobacco-planter aristocracy requested our band to play and sing this folk melody, using the following words:

You see what Careless Love has done,
You see what Careless Love has done
You see what Careless Love has done,
It killed the Governor's only son.

We did our best with these lines and then went into the second stanza:

Poor Archie didn't mean no harm,
Poor Archie didn't mean no harm,
Poor Archie didn't mean no harm

-But there the song ended. The police stepped in and stopped us. The song, they said, was a reflection on two prominent families. Careless Love had too beautiful a melody to be lost or neglected, however, and I was determined to preserve it.

[. . .]Having created a vogue for Careless Love, which John Niles calls Kelly's Love in his book of folk songs, I proposed to incorporate it in a new song with the verse in the three-line blues form. That week I went to Chicago, and while there I sat in Brownlee's barber shop and wrote Loveless Love, beginning with "Love is like a gold brick in a bunko game." There I wrote the music and made an orchestration which I took next door to Erskin Tate in the Vendome Theatre. His orchestra played it over, and it sounded all right. A copy was immediately sent to the printers.

Without waiting to receive a printed copy, however, I taught Loveless Love to Alberta Hunter, and she sang it at the Dreamland caberet. It made a bull's-eye. Before Alberta reached my table on the night she introduced the song, her tips amounted to sixty-seven dollars. A moment later I saw another lady give her twelve dollars for "just one more chorus." I knew then and there that we had something on our hands and the later history of the song bore this out."

WC Handy's Loveless Love Katherine Handy - Loveless Love is on YouTube. "This is one of the earliest recordings (Jan., 1922 for Paramount) of this moving composition by William Christopher Handy. In spite of the relatively poor sound quality, this song is obviously brilliantly performed by his daughter Katherine and Handy's Memphis Blues Orchestra, directed by W. C. Handy."

I've transcribed some of the words. The last verse surprisingly is the same as the bluegrass "Free Little Bird" which as I recall was derived from a 1800s parlor song Kitty Clyde. Handy's orchestra plays a latin beat throughout. Missing is the fourth verse which I had trouble hearing easily- anyone?

Loveless Love- WC Handy 1921

Love is like a hydrant turns off and on,
Like some friendships when your money's gone.
Love stands in with the loan sharks,when your heart's in throngs.

It I had some strong wings like an aeroplane,
Had some broad wings like an aeroplane.
I would fly away forever,
Never to return again.

Oh love, oh love, oh loveless love
Has said our hearts are goldless gold.
From dreamless dreams and schemeless schemes
How we wreck our love boats on the shoals.

(missing this verse)

If I were a little bird,
I'd fly from tree to tree.
I'd build my nest way up in the air,
Where the bad boys wouldn't bother me.

Here is the additioanl verse Handy mentions in his autobiography. It's not on the UTube recording.

Love is like a gold brick, in a bunko game,
Like some bank note, with a bogus name;
Both have caused many a downfall,
Love has done the same.

Compare this to Billie Holiday's "Loveless Love." Lyrics are from an on-line source (not sure of accuracy) that I edited.

Loveless Love W.C. Handy (Billie Holiday Version)

Love is like a hydrant turns off and on,
Like some friendships when your money's gone.
Love stands in with the loan sharks,
When your heart's in throngs.

It I had some strong wings like an aeroplane
Had some broad wings like an aeroplane.
I would fly away forever
Never to return again.

Oh love oh love oh loveless love
Has said our hearts are goldless gold
From milkless milk and silkless silk
We are growing used to soul-less souls

Such grafting times we never saw
That's why we have a Pure Food Law
In everything we find a flaw
Even love oh love oh loveless love

Just to fly away from loveless love

(Bessie Smith, New York, May 26 1925)

Love, Oh love, Oh careless love
You fly to my head like wine
You wrecked the life of a-many poor girl
And you nearly spoiled this life of mine

Love, Oh love, Oh careless love
In your clutches of desire
You made me break a-many true vow
Then you set my very soul on fire.

Love, Oh love, Oh careless love
All my happiness I've left
You fill my heart with them worried old blues
Now I'm walkin', talkin' to myself.

Love, Oh love, Oh careless love
Trusted you now it's too late
You made me throw my only friend down
That's why I sing this song of hate.

Love, Oh love, Oh careless love
Night and day I weep and moan
You brought the wrong man into this life of mine
For my sins till judgement I'll atone.

Here's the link to listen to Bessie Smith: The lyrics are by WC Handy. They are composed lyrics and not the folk lyrics that he heard in 1892 although a few lines may remain.

Here is Riley Puckett's version of 'Careless Love'. Puckett was the blind guitarist and singer for the supergroup, The Skillet Lickers based out of Atlanta. It is interesting that he uses the 'a-many poor' expression rather than 'many a poor', as in the Bessie Smith version.

Source: transcription from Riley Puckett 'Old-Time Greats Vol 2' Old Homestead OHCD-4174. Riley recorded this twice: on 29 Oct 1931 (issued May 1932 as Co 15747-D) and on 29 March 1934 (issued in September 1934 as Bb B5532). There is no indication on the Old Homestead CD on which of these was the source of the reissue.

Love, oh love, oh careless love
Love, oh love, oh love divine
You broke the heart of a-many poor boy
But you'll never break this heart of mine

Now love, oh love, that is untrue
Love, oh love, that is untrue
Love, oh love, that is untrue
It's hard to love someone that don't love you

You robbed me of my silver and my gold
You robbed me of my silver and my gold
You robbed me of my silver and my gold
But you can't rob me of my soul

Oh take me back to Caroline
Take me back to Caroline
Take me back to Caroline
To see that girl I left behind

Now on these railroad banks I stand
On these railroad banks I stand
On these railroad banks I stand
A-shooting at another man

Love, oh love, oh careless love
Love, oh love, oh love divine
You broke the heart of a-many poor boy
But you'll never break this heart of mine

That's all for now,


Friday, October 3, 2008

Careless Love


Below is my painting of Careless Love, a song that is a blues, jazz and bluegrass standard.

Careless Love 30" by 40" Acrylic on canvas. C 2008. WC Handy, father of the blues, claimed he learned the song back in 1892. His version 1921 "Loveless Love" recorded by Bessie Smith and his 1925 folk version paved the way for jazz and blues recordings. Collected as early as 1909 the song was popular among Country musicians in the late 1920s and 30s. Careless Love was recorded by Dock Boggs, Riley Puckett, and also Ernest Stoneman.

My painting begins on the left side above the lyrics with the lovers (in the trees) meeting in a densely wooded background. Their profiles emerge from two tree trunks. The entire cabin scene shows the result; the young girl who is now pregnant, stares in the distance as her lover (on far right) passes the cabin door and won’t come in. While their hound dog lies impassively on the porch and her father sits in a rocking chair whittling wood, her mother raises a shotgun towards the young man who hasn't taken responsibility for his actions.

If you are intersted in buying my original paintings or very affordable prints $40 for a "12 by 16" glossy color print with backing (ready to be hanged) please e-mail me:

One touch I added was a bee pollinating a daisey (left bottom). The lyrics which are difficult to read are the standard lyrics sung in the mountains by a woman (I'll post the man's lyrics as well):

Careless Love

Love, oh love, my careless love,
Love, oh love, my careless love.
Love, oh love, oh careless love,
Oh look what careless love has done.

Once I wore my apron low,
Once I wore my apron low.
Once I wore my apron low,
I could not keep you from my door.

Now my apron strings won't pin,
Now my apron strings won't pin.
Now my apron strings won't pin,
You pass my door and won't come in.

I love my mama and papa, too,
I love my mama and papa, too.
I love my mama and papa, too,
I'd leave them just to go with you.

You’ve gone and broke this heart of mine,
You’ve gone and broke this heart of mine.
You’ve gone and broke this heart of mine,
It'll break that heart of yours sometime.

These are similar the the lyrics sung by Jean Ritchie. Now here are the man's lyrics that I used to sing:

Love, oh love, oh careless love,
Love, oh love, oh careless love.
Love, oh love, oh careless love,
Oh look what careless love has done.

Sorrow, sorrow to my heart,
Sorrow, sorrow to my heart,
Sorrow, sorrow to my heart,
Since I and my true love did part.

I wish that lonely train would come,
I wish that lonely train would come,
I wish that lonely train would come,
Gotta go back where I come from.

Compare this to Careless Love in 1929 by Byrd Moore & His Hotshots [Clarence Ashley and Clarence Greene].


Love, oh love, how can it be
Love, oh love, how can it be
Love, oh love, how can it be
To love someone that don't love me

I wish that eastbound train would run
I wish that eastbound train would run
I wish that eastbound train would run
And carry me back where I come from

I used to be a brakeman on a train
I used to be a brakeman on a train
I used to be a brakeman on a train
But now I wear a ball and chain

Never put a stranger from your door
Never put a stranger from your door
Never put a stranger from your door
If you do, you'll reap just what you sow

Byrd Moore & His Hotshots recorded this on October 23, 1929 in Johnson City, Tennessee, and it was issued as Columbia 15496-D in February 1930. Transcription from reissue on Various Artists 'A Collection of Mountain Songs' County LP 504. Byrd Moore & His Hotshots had recorded the song in 1928 for Gennett in Richmond, Ind, and that was issued as Gnt 6824 in June 1929.

In the next blog we'll look at the history of the song and some other versions,


Molly and Tenbrooks- Song Notes


One the 213 songs that appears in my new book, Mel Bay's Bluegrass Picker's Tune Book (279 pages with stories and historic info about the songs) is the "old Kentucky folksong" Molly and Tenbrooks adapted by the father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe.

In my last blog is my painting of the song. In this blog I'll give some more detailed background info. The Kentucky-bred horse Ten Broeck was undoubtedly named after the famous horseracing entrepreneur Richard Ten Broeck, owner of the great horse, Lexington. Ten Broeck is still a city (and street) located in Jefferson County, KY in the Louisville metro area very near where I now live!

Here's an actual short preview article from the NY Times:
Remember $10,000 was a boatload of money back in 1878. I'd say it was somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million today!

Here’s an account of "THE GREAT RACE" from THE VERNON PIONEER; Volume IV Vernon, Lamar Co, Ala. July 19, 1878 No. 10 Louisville, KY, July 4.

The great race between Ten Broeck and Mollie McCarthy was run today. It was a match for $5,000 a side, making a stake of $10,000. The amount of money at stake was not what made the match of importance. It was the great respective portions of the country, and sectional and state pride and interest.

Ten Broeck is admittedly the favorite and champion of the great Mississippi and Ohio valleys, as Mollie McCarthy is of the whole pacific slope, and California especially. It was not the Atlantic slope against the Pacific, but the great Central Valley of our country against the region beyond the Rocky Mountains. As such the horses met, representatives of widely separate sections of the United States.

Entering the fourth mile, Mollie dropped down to a mere hand gallop, and Ten Broeck was doing little more, but he had just gait enough to drop her ten lengths around the turn to the quarter pole. Keeping on in a steady gallop, he drew away from her fifty yards by the time he reached the far turn. Going on in his hand gallop he drew more and more away from her, and when he entered the home stretch she was a hundred yards behind, and had dropped down into a hand trot, and soon was stopped entirely. In a slow gallop, but not at all at case, Ten Broeck came home, finishing the fourth mile in 2:26 ¾ , and the heat in 8: 19 ¾. Mollie did not come to the stand at all, and the figures run up showed Ten Broeck first and Mollie distanced. Kentuckians rejoiced that their favorite had won, but all were disappointed with the indifferent race.

Here’s another account from Thoroughbred Heritage: Mollie made the then difficult trip across the Rockies; the rails over the mountains in the west that carried her had been completed less than eight years earlier. The day of the race, July 4, 1878, dawned clear, but the track was slow, due to a heavy shower the previous night, footing Mollie had displayed a disinclination to like.

The crowd at the Louisville Jockey Club was the largest seen to that time, with some estimates putting its size at 30,000, an observer reporting that all trains, extra trains, steamboats and inner-city transport jammed to capacity to reach the grounds. Mollie received applause from the crowd when she appeared in her white sheet, but the crowd roared when Ten Broeck stepped onto the track. They started evenly, and Mollie led for the first mile, "with such a beautiful and apparently easy stroke, and the horse seemingly at labor, but really annoyed at restraint, that a shout went up that she had already beaten him."

Mollie led for the second mile, but after the quarter pole Ten Broeck drew ahead, and by the time they had reached 2-1/2 miles he was leading by a length, and at the third mile he was ahead by twenty yards. At 3-1/2 miles Mollie gave up the chase, and Ten Broeck cantered home easily in the slow time of 8:19-3/4. "Such a shout as went up over the triumph of Ten Broeck, and such a scene of wild and extravagant excitement, I never saw before, and never expect to again, outside the impulsive state of Kentucky." It was Mollie's first defeat, in fact, her first defeat in any heat at any distance. This race was Ten Broeck's last.

The Mollie and Tenbrooks song, as Wilgus and others have asserted, may be related to "Skewball" and other Irish horse-race ballads which pre-dated the 1878 match race in Louisville. It is also said to have been authored within a few days of the actual race, and very quickly began to circulate in variant forms (the one hallmark of a true folksong), with some of these being "collected" in the late 19th century. Despite Monroe's definitive bluegrass version, variations persist (compare the verses and wording of the Stanley Bros. take on it), and recordings have also been made by blues and country musicians (Cousin Emmy, for one!) under a variety of related titles, like "Old Timbrook Blues," "Old Kimball," and the understandable "Run Molly Run." There are also African-American versions of the ballad which were circulated.

Various versions have surfaced but Monroe’s is the classic bluegrass version. Where Monroe learned his version of Molly is not documented. Two early versions by the Carver Boys and Warde Ford are possible sources. "Tim Brook" was recorded by The Carver Boys in 1929, and released in 1930. It's now on Music of Kentucky, vol. 1 (Yazoo); The Carver Brothers version is a related version of "Ain't that Skippin' and Flyin'" similar to the Allen Brothers.

Warde Ford's version (audio; rec. September 3, 1939, collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell in Boomtown [Central Valley], Shasta County, California) of "The Hole in the Wall -- Alternate title: Timbrooks & Molly" can be heard on-line at California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties. Another though different early version is "Run Mollie Run," which was recorded on October 7, 1927 in Chicago and issued as Vocalion 1141by Henry Thomas. Newer versions include Molly and Tenbrooks by Steve Gillette and Linda Albertano, Cherry Lane Music, 1967 and the Kingston Trio on "Goin Places." The Trio changed a few names around to avoid copyright problems.

At age six Mollie won Chicago's Garden City Cup, and, back in California, a purse race in San Francisco. She had won 15 of her 17 races, and was retired to Rancho Santa Anita. She produced three foals in succession to Baldwin's home stallions, between 1881 and 1883. She died on March 15, 1883, soon after dropping her filly by Rutherford, which was poignantly, or perhaps matter-of-factly, named Mollie's Last.

For another detailed account:

Ten Broeck had been buried under a fancy monument at the central Kentucky farm where he had been foaled, which was called "Nantura Stock Farm." The grave of Ten Broeck, which is located on private land, far back (and invisible) from the road linking Midway and Frankfort (Lexington's "Old Frankfort Pike"). The gravestone's text says "TEN BROECK / Bay Horse / Folded [sic] on Nantura / Stock Farm / Woodford Co., KY / June 29, 1872 / DIED / June 23, 1887 / PERFORMANCES / 1 Mile 1 39 3/4 / 2 Mile 2 49 1/4 / [and so on, extending down the gravestone to the final notation: 4 Mile 7 15 3/4."

And that my friends is the "Tail of Two Horses"


The Song That Started The Bluegrass Genre

Howdy, can't have a bluegrass music style until you have two groups playing it. Molly and Tenbrooks is legendary for creating the bluegrass genre when The Stanley Brothers recorded "Molly And Tenbrooks" on Rich-R-Tone 418 in Sept. 1948 after hearing Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys perform it. Monroe's recording was made in October 1947 but not released until September 1949.

Molly and Tenbrooks
(click for a large image)

This is my painting of the famous horse race was held July 4, 1878 at the Kentucky Derby racetrack, Churchill Downs. The Derby started three years before in 1875. African-American jockey William Walker’s greatest victory was aboard Ten Broeck, owned by Frank Harper in a famed four-mile match race the California-based mare Molly McCarthy.

In the bottom left corner is a painting of the actual poster used to advertise the race. The bottom middle has the lyrics and if you read music you can play the song from this painting! The key Monroe sang the song in was the key of B; I put it in the key of C to make it easier.

Molly and Tenbrooks is a painting depicting the song about the great horse race held on July 4, 1878 at the Kentucky Derby racetrack, Churchill Downs. Actual accounts of the long four-mile race state that Molly led for over one mile then Ten Broeck took the lead pulling away in the last mile; Mollie pulled up never finishing the race.

My painting is based on the song version by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys made in October, 1947. In the song Molly take the lead then has a fever in her head. Monroe gets the horses mixed up one so verse; I changed it to: "Tenbrooks said to Molly you're looking mighty squirrel; Molly said to Tenbrooks I'm leaving this old world; Leaving this old world oh Lord; Leaving this old world."

In Monroe’s song as in the actual race Tenbrooks wins the race but in Monroe’s song Mollie dies: "Go and catch old Ten-Brooks and hitch him in the shade; We're gonna bury old Molly in a coffin ready made." My painting shows Molly’s jockey standing over the fallen horse. Above the tree where Tenbrooks is hitched in the shade, is Molly’s spirit running in the sky. The painting also includes the actual sheet music with notes painted in blue in the right hand corner.

Monroe recorded different versions. Here are the lyrics:

MOLLY AND TENBROOKS: Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys- 1947

Run ol’ Molly run, run ol’ Molly run
Tenbrooks gonna beat you to the bright and shining sun
To the bright and shining sun oh Lord; bright and shining sun.

Tenbrooks was a big bay horse, he wore a shaggy mane
He run all 'round Memphis, and he beat the Memphis train
Beat the Memphis train oh Lord; Beat the Memphis train.

Tenbrooks said to Molly, what makes your head so red
Running in the hot sun with a fever in my head
Fever in my head oh Lord; Fever in my head

Out in California where Molly done as she pleased
She come back to old Kentucky, got beat with all ease
Beat with all ease oh Lord; Beat with all ease

Molly said to Tenbrooks you're looking mighty squirrel
Tenbrooks said to Molly I'm leaving this old world
Leaving this old world oh Lord, leaving this old world.

The women's all a-laughing, the children all a-crying
Men all a-hollering old Tenbrooks a- flying
Ol’ Tenbrooks a- flying oh Lord; Ol’ Tenbrooks a-flying

Kiper, Kiper, you're not riding right
Molly's a beating old Tenbrooks clear out of sight
Clear out of sigh oh Lord; Clear out of sight

Kiper, Kiper, Kiper my son
Give old Tenbrooks the bridle and let old Tenbrooks run
Let old Tenbrooks run oh Lord; Let old Tenbrooks run

Go and catch old Tenbrooks and hitch him in the shade
We're gonna bury old Molly in a coffin ready made
In a coffin ready made oh Lord; In a coffin ready made

Bill Monroe's versions on Knee Deep in Bluegrass, Decca DL-8731, LP, cut# 11; 16 All-Time Greatest Hits, Columbia CS 1065, LP (197?), cut# 1; Essential Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys. 1945-49. Vol 2, Columbia CT 52480, Cas (1992), cut# 14. Also included on some versions is this verse:

See old Molly coming, she's coming around the curve.
See old Tenbrooks running, straining every nerve.
Straining every nerve, Lord, straining every nerve.

I like the line, “Molly said to Tenbrooks you're looking mighty squirrel.” It’s also interesting to note that Monroe has his horses mixed up in that line. It should be Tenbrooks telling Mollie “she’s looking mighty squirrel,” after all Molly dies not Tenbrook. Clearly Monroe learned the song that way- so the song is a song that he learned from another source. Monroe may have arranged it, but he wouldn't have written the verse wrong.

Here's the correct verse:

Tenbrooks said to Molly you're looking mighty squirrel,
Molly said to Tenbrooks I'm leaving this old world,
Leaving this old world oh Lord; Leaving this old world.

Next blog we'll look more at the history of this song.


Darlin' Corey: Song Notes and Close-ups

Close-up "Dig a hole in the meadow."

Close-up "Darlin' Corey Sleeping By Moonshine Jug"

Close-up "Darlin' Corey sitting by the sea"

Close-up "Revenuers find her moonshine still"

Song Notes: Darlin' Corey is known by many names including "Dig a Hole in the Meadow," "Darlin' Cora," "Little Lulie," "Darling Cora," "Corey, Corey." It's related to "Little Maggie" "Country Blues" and other white mountain blues.
Here's a list of some recordings by date: Little Corey - Clarence Gill (01/06/1927); Darling Cora - Buell Kazee (04/19/1927); Darlin' Cora - B.F. Shelton (07/29/1927); Little Lulie - Dick Justice (ca.05/1929); Darling Corey - Monroe Brothers (06/21/1936); Little Lulie - Homer Brierhopper (06/09/1938); Doc Watson (1963); Monroe Brothers (1964); Single: Bill Monroe & his Blue Grass Boys (1964).

For a good video of an authentic version, watch Mike Seeger on UTube (link below):

The first collected version was made by Cecil Sharp in 1918 from English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians (1932, no. 152; with tune).THE GAMBLING MAN (version B) (Sung by Mrs. Clercy Deeton at Mine Fork, Burnsville, N.C., Sept. 19, 1918)

1. My pocketbook full of money,
My friends all a-standing around;
My pocketbook are empty,
And I ain't got a friend to be mine.

2. Last night as I lay on my pillow,
Last night as I lay on my bed,
Last night as I lay on my pillowI
dreamed little Bessy was dead.

3. Go dig me a hole in the meadow,
Go dig me a hole in the ground,
Go dig me a hole in the meadow
When I lie this poor gambler down.

4. The first time I saw darling Corie,
She had a dram glass,
Drinking away her trouble
And a-going with a gambling man.

5. The next time I saw darling Corie,
She had a sweet smile on her face;
Drinking away her troubles
And a-going in another girl's place.

Another printed early version was from the singing of Aunt Molly Jackson and is found in Our Singing Country (John and Alan Lomax, 1941). Mt. Airy, North Carolina, fiddler Tommy Jarrell remembered the tune "going around" the Round Peak area (where he grew up) around 1915 or 1916, and became quite popular with the younger folk.

Little Maggie and Darlin' Corey are similar songs. Some of the lyrics appear in both songs. The chords are frequently played the same but the melody of each song is distinctly different. The Darlin' Corey songs have the "Dig a hole" verse, and the revenuers (or highway robbers) verse. The last verse was found in the Monroe Brothers recordings done in the 1930s; it's also in the Aunt Molly Jackson version.

There are 20 lyric versions and more info on my web-site: