My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean

British Songs in the USA

Nehi 3CD - NEH3X1

CD1: John Hammond - Purty Polly.  Uncle Dave Macon - The Girl I Left Behind Me *.  Fiddlin' John Carson - The Boston Burglar.  Riley Puckett - The Boston Burglar.  Kelly Harrell - O! Molly Dear Go Ask Your Mother.  Charlie Poole - The Highwayman.  Earl Johnson - Three Nights Experience.  Fess Williams - Gambler's Blues.  Dock Boggs - Pretty Polly.  Taylor's Kentucky Boys - Maxwell Girl.  B.  F.  Shelton - Pretty Polly.  Grayson & Whitter - Handsome Molly.  Grayson & Whitter - Rose Conley.  Leake County Revelers - My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean.  Gid Tanner - Old Mcdonald Had A Farm.  Gid Tanner - It's A Long Way To Tipperary.  Charlie Parker & Mack Woolbright - Will The Weaver.  Darby & Tarlton - Columbus Stockade Blues.  Buell Kazee - Lady Gay.  Buell Kazee - The Butcher's Boy.  New Arkansas Travellers - Handy Man.  New Arkansas Travellers - I Tickled 'Em.  Roy Harvey - George Collins.  Ernest V.  Stoneman - Down On The Banks Of The Ohio.  Blind Willie Davis - Rock Of Ages.  * actually Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers.

CD2: Carter Family - I Have No One To Love Me (But The Sailor In The Deep Blue Sea).  Sam Mcghee - As Willie And Mary Strolled By The Seashore.  Grayson & Whitter - Where Are You Going Alice?  Frank Luther - Barbara Allen.  Chubby Parker - King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki- Me- O.  Frank Hutchison - Wild Hogs In The Red Brush.  Carolina Tar Heels - Can't You Remember When Your Heart Was Mine?  Bill & Belle Reed - The Old Lady & The Devil.  Stoneman Family - The Spanish Merchant's Daughter.  Leake County Revelers - Molly Put The Kettle On.  Rutherford & Foster - Storms May Rule The Ocean.  Kelly Harrell - Cave Love Has Gained The Day.  Carolina Tar Heels - Rude And Rambling Man.  Charlie Poole - He Rambled.  Dick Justice - Henry Lee.  I G Greer - Sweet William And Fair Ellen Pt.1.  I G Greer - Sweet William And Fair Ellen Pt.  2.  Byrd Moore & His Hot Shots - Three Men Went A- Hunting.  Clarence Ashley - The Coo Coo Bird.  Wilmer Watts & His Lonely Eagles - Sleepy Desert.  Nelstone's Hawaiians - Fatal Flower Garden.  Carson Brothers & Sprinkle - The Old Miller's Will.  Coley Jones - Drunken Special.  Charlie Poole - My Gypsy Girl.  Bradley Kincaid - Barbara Allen.

CD3: Carolina Buddies - In A Cottage By The Sea.  Clarence Ashley - The House Carpenter.  Gid Tanner - Devilish Mary.  The Oaks Family - Wake Up, You Drowsy Sleeper.  Jimmie Tarlton - Lowe Bonnie.  Bill Shepard - Aunt Jane Blues.  Blind Blake - Champagne Charlie's My Name.  Carter Family - I Never Will Marry.  Asa Martin - Crawling And Creeping.  Carter Family - Sinking In The Lonesome Sea.  Carter Family - Can The Circle Be Unbroken (By And By).  Big Bill Broonzy - Keep Your Hands Off Her.  Daw Henson - Lady Margaret And Sweet William.  Pete Steele - Pretty Polly.  Coon Creek Girls - Pretty Polly.  Dixon Brothers - Story Of George Collins.  Leadbelly - The Gallis Pole.  Cliff Carlisle - Black Jack David.  Blue Sky Boys - Mary Of The Wild Moor.  Morris Brown Quartet - Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes.  Carter Family - Black Jack David.  Blind Willie McTell - Amazing Grace.  Wade Mainer - Ramblin' Boy.  Carter Family - The Wave On The Sea.  Bill Monroe - Footprints In The Snow.

It should come as no surprise to readers of this Magazine to find out that many British songs and tunes travelled across the Atlantic, carried there by various waves of immigrants.  We all know that during the period 1916-18 Cecil Sharp spent a total of 52 weeks in the Appalachian Mountains collecting such songs and, as I mentioned in a couple of MT articles - When Cecil Left the Mountains and When Cecil Left the Mountains Part 2 - we know that many of these same songs were recorded on commercial discs by people who had picked them up from friends and relatives.  Some years ago I set about collecting many of these 78s in the hope that they could be reissued on an LP.  I was particularly interested in the number of Child ballads which had been recorded in the 1920s and early '30s by some of the commercial record companies.  In the end, nothing came of this project, but now I find that I was not alone in thinking this way, because Nehi records have reissued a set of recordings many of which I would have included on my proposed LP.  And there is not just one album.  In fact we now have no less than three CDs-worth of material which has now been made available to us all.

Almost all of the tracks heard on this set were originally issued on commercial 78s.  Daw Henson's 1937 recording of Lady Margaret and Sweet William is from an Alan Lomax recording made in eastern Kentucky for the Library of Congress.  It is a fascinating recording, not only for the song itself, but also for the guitar accompaniment which, at times, carries the ballad's melody in a manner similar to that used on the Appalachian dulcimer, the tune sliding up and down the guitar's first string.  Lomax also recorded Pete Steele's version of Pretty Polly, although, when Lomax returned to Kentucky the following year, he found that Steele had moved a few miles north into Ohio.  Lomax then recorded another British ballad from Steele, a version of The Farmer's Curst Wife which Steele called Lack Fol Diddle I Day.  This recording is not included on the Nehi set, though it is available on the 7-CD Yazoo set of Kentucky Mountain Music (Yazoo 2200), but we do get another version of this ballad, namely Bill & Belle Reed's The Old Lady & The Devil.  I am not too sure where the Reeds came from, although many of the people who recorded with them that day in 1928 had been bussed in from Corbin, KY, so there is a possibility that they also came from somewhere in that area.  However, there does seem to be a similarity in both text and tunes to versions of this ballad which have been recorded in Virginia from singers such as Texas Gladden, her brother Hobart Smith and Horton Barker that I wonder if there could be a possible connection here.  (Alternately, of course, it could be that this is one of the ballads which always seem to be similar, no matter where they are collected.) Another Lomax, this time Alan's father John Lomax, was responsible for recording Blind Willie McTell's instrumental version of the hymn Amazing Grace for the Library of Congress.

All of the other recordings heard here were issued on commercial 78s.  I G Greer, who sings us a version of the Child ballad Earl Brand, did record for the Library of Congress, but the recording reissued here was made in New York in 1928 for Paramount Records.  Greer, who is accompanied by his wife playing the dulcimer, was actually an academic.  There is a Hall named after him at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC.  Isaac Garfield Greer (1881 - 1967) was originally from Watauga County, NC and, as a young man, collected a number of songs and ballads from this musically rich area of the Appalachians.  Was he, I wonder, related to Doc Watson's singing relatives Sophronie and Dolly Greer, who can be heard on the Smithsonian/Folkways album The Watson Family (SF 40012)?  Rather surprisingly the commercial companies also recorded a good number of other Child ballads, many of which are included on this set.  These include versions of The Maid Freed from the Gallows, Our Goodman, The Wife of Usher's Well, Lady Alice, Barbara Allen, The Daemon Lover, The Farmer's Curst Wife, Young Hunting, Sir Hugh and The Golden Vanity.  One instrumental track, Wild Hogs in the Red Bush which was recorded by Frank Hutchison and Sherman Lawson in 1928, is credited in the booklet notes as being a tune used for the Child ballad Sir Lionel, when it is actually a version of the tune Miss MacLeod's Reel, which American fiddlers often call Hop High Ladies.  I do wonder if Steve Roud, who wrote the booklet notes, is confusing this track with another instrumental, this time titled Wild Hog in the Woods, which was recorded in 1931 by Lonesome Luke and his Farm Boys., which is indeed a tune related to the Child ballad.  While mentioning the booklet notes it should be said that these deal solely with the history of the songs and ballads and not with the performers.

The remaining tracks are mainly comprised of British and Irish folk songs, and range from ancient pieces, such as versions of The Gosport Tragedy, The Girl I Left Behind Me (actually performed by Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers, with vocals by Riley Puckett and not Uncle Dave Macon as the notes say.  The 1927 Tanner recording was issued on Columbia 78 15170-D and this is the track that is used here), The Unfortunate Rake, The Drowsy Sleeper, Froggie Went a-Courting, No, John, No, Wild and Wicked Youth and The Derby Ram to a number of songs which probably stem from the Music Halls; although one song, which is often thought to be a relatively modern piece, Old MacDonald Had a Farm, can actually be traced back to a song called A Charming Country Life, which was written by Tom D'Urfey in 1706 and performed in the opera The Kingdom of the Birds.  The Song Maxwell Girl, a lively performance by Taylor's Kentucky Boys is said to be a version of the murder ballad The Oxford Girl, but it is not.  It is actually a version of the song Round Town/Alabama Girls Won't You Come Out Tonight.  It's a Long Way to Tipperary (with a lead vocal by fiddler Clayton McMichen and not Riley Puckett as stated in the notes), In a Cottage by the Sea, Champagne Charlie is My Name and My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean are, of course, later Music Hall pieces.

Also included in this group of songs are two fascinating tracks recorded by The New Arkansas Travellers, who are one of life's mysteries.  The singer, we think, was one A P Bishop who was accompanied on Tickled 'Em and Handy Man by a guitar and mouthorgan(s).  Both songs employ the same tune and are clearly from the British Music Hall stage.  In fact, Handy Man is the same song that Cyril Poacher recorded as Slap Dab (Whitewash) and which can be heard on the MT CD Plenty of Thyme (MTCD303).  It was original called The Amateur Whitewasher and was written in 1896 by F Murray & F Leigh.  The Travellers' recordings were made in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1928, although it has been occasionally suggested that the two tracks may have actually been recorded in England.  The singer certainly sounds to be English (from the East-End of London?) but he remains a biographical blank and one does wonder just what the Americans made of him!  Occasionally, one or two songs have titles which suggest an American origin.  For example, Darby & Tarlton's Columbus Stockade Blues is a song which actually owes much to the British folk song Go and Leave Me if You Wish It, while Bill Shepherd's Aunt Jane Blues is a version of The Unfortunate Rake.

This really is a lovely collection of songs and ballads performed by some of the greats of Old-Timey music.  If you are new to this sort of music, then I can heartily recommend the set.  But, if like me, you have been collecting this sort of music for some years, then it would be worthwhile checking your collection before making this purchase, because just about all of these recordings can be found elsewhere and you may already have the material sitting on your shelves.

Michael Yates - 1.7.15

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