Posts Tagged ‘music’

Serendipity: Bob Wills “King of Western Swing” took punches and got stronger. Early in his career he was with a country group Lightcrust Doughboys that played on radio—when the flour company dropped them, Bob formed the Texas Playboys and added blues and jazz to play at dances. He hired an announced who was a skilled trumpeter. Thinking Bob hired him for the band, he rehearsed with them. Bob found out and loved it, adding more horns until they could play Big Band music.

WW2 came and Bob and most of his band joined the army. In 1943, he received a medical discharge, and formed a new band, but with few horns, adding electric guitars, the band most people remember. He influenced early rock and roll stars like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. Though time took a toll on him, one of my favorite Bob Wills songs was “Lily Dale,” released in 1956 as a B-side single, one of his last singles I believe. (1905-1975)

/Western swing pioneers The Light Crust Doughboys, featuring (l to r): Milton Brown, Durwood Brown, Truett Kinzey, Bob Wills, and Herman Arnspiger, 1931. Credit: Crossroads of Music Archive and Southwest Collection, Texas Tech University

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Henderson Kentucky is an Ohio River town with a rich musical heritage; space permits mention of 2 people.

W. C Handy “Father of the Blues” (1873-1958) married a Henderson lady and lived here in the 1890s. He was a composer and band leader, most famous for the “St. Louis Blues.”

Grandpa Jones (1913-1998) was born on a farm near Henderson. Though best known as a Hee-haw comedian, he was an accomplished musician and songwriter, his most famous song, “Eight More Miles to Louisville.” I saw him in person at his 75th Show business anniversary in Louisville.

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John Jacob Niles (1892–1980), born in Louisville had 2 musical careers. He was a composer and opera singer. His second career was collecting, writing, and performing folk music. He was one of the first to use and champion the mountain dulcimer and performed at the Newport Folk Festival. He was influential in the rise of 50s and 60s folk music. Two of his most famous songs were “I wonder as I wander” and “Go ‘way from my window,” the latter being quoted in a Bob Dylan song. Iroquois Park had Kentucky Music Weekends starting in 1976, but I don’t recall him being there—perhaps his health was poor by then. [Boot Hill Farm, Winchester]

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Whistlin’ Dixie

Who wrote Dixie? Dan Emmett (1815-1904), a minstrel performer, is credited as composer BUT: His 1850s story of composing it changed over the years, and he delayed filing a copyright. Though musicologists claim Dixie resembles his other songs, he wrote few. As buying songs to perform was common, doubt exists.

Dan’s neighbors were the Snowden Family Band, a family of freed slaves. None of their songs were written down, but a tradition exists in Ohio that they performed it first.

Will S Hays (1837-1907), a prolific Louisville songwriter and his publisher claimed ownership, but lost after years in court. [some claim the melody was borrowed from older English songs so the story may not be over]

John Snowden

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Motor City Blues

A few years ago, my later father, Charles G. Suddeth, asked about a song he’d heard as a kid—Tea Pelham Blues. 1923, the song appeared as Black Bottom Blues, about a once-farming community in Detroit, songwriter unknown. Subsequent versions were Deep Ellum Blues about a Dallas neighborhood home to blues greats such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Leadbelly. In the 1930s, the Shelton Bros. recorded several versions as Deep Elm Blues—the songs my dad heard. Over the years many people have recorded it, including Jerry Lee Lewis, the Grateful Dead, even bluegrass versions. Sorry, Dad, no tea, just elms.

If you go down to deep elm put your money in your shoes
The women in deep elem, they give you the deep elem blues
Oh, sweet mama, your daddy’s got them deep elem blues…


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Underground Railroad?

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad is one of my favorite campfire songs, but its origins are unclear. Some suggest ties to the Underground Railroad. Black railroad workers may have started singing it, the initial melody is similar to Von Suppe’s 1846 Poet and Peasant overture. Later, college students added the Dinah section as a chorus, the words from an 1840 English song, the melody from Christy’s Minstrels’ Goodnight, Ladies. The Dinah is a generic reference to a slave woman. (Eyes of Texas uses different words) Get your guitars out and sing around the campfire!

I’ve been working on the railroad

All the live-long day…

Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah

Someone’s in the kitchen I know…

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I’ll see you in my dreams

Who wrote Irene Goodnight?

And who was Irene?

-Lead Belly first recorded Irene Goodnight in 1933

-His family insists he wrote as a lullaby to his niece, Irene Campbell in 1908

-Leadbelly claimed his uncle Terrell taught him the song

-Others claim the melody is an English folk melody

-Gussie Davis, one of Tin Pan Alley’s 1st black composers, published it in 1886, 2 years before Lead Belly’s birth. No mention of Irene.

-I believe Gussie Davis revamped an old slave song, and we will never know who Irene was.

-Lead Belly rewrote the words and melody, making it the marvelous song it is.

I asked your mother for you
She told me that you was too young

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Mysterious Sylvie

Who the devil was Sylvie?

Lead Belly (1888-1949), most famous for: Irene Goodnight, but another great song was Bring Me a Little Water, Sylvie. 3 theories:

1 About his Uncle Bob calling for his wife, Sylvie.

2 An old slave song about Sylvie.

3 Slave song changed to Uncle Bob’s wife, Sylvie.

I don’t know who she was or who wrote it, I love Lead Belly’s version.

Bring me little water, Sylvie
Bring me little water, now
Bring me little water, Sylvie
Every little once in a while

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Love is blind

One of my favorite songs of the 50s was the Platters 1958 mega hit: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Except that it was from a 1933 Broadway show, Roberta, by Jerome Kern and lyricist Otto Harbach. Tons of people have recorded it, but it will always be a Platter hit for me.

They asked me how I knew
My true love was true…

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Crying time

Bring me nuther brew

Charles Suddeth

(My “perfect” honkytonk song)

I lint you my brand new Ford pickup truck,

I thought you were stranded and stuck.

You said you was going to the laundromat,

But you snuck off with my best friend, Matt.

Just because he’s a big ole rodeo star,

You two ended up at a honkytonk bar.

I’m gonna tell your pa, gonna tell your ma,

Let everybody know exactly what I saw.

In a day or so, you’ll slink back to town,

Your face in a frown, your head hung down.

Folks gonna laugh, and you gonna cry,

I’ll wave goodbye, and you’ll know why.


Oh, Sara Jean, why were you so mean?

We were pals, I thought you were my gal.

[In response to a photo of a girl sitting in a truck in front of a laundromat—and wanting to know if a country song was there]

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