Sleeve Notes for Roam the Country Through by Jeff Warner
I’ve been surrounded by traditional song for as long as I can remember. As a boy, and later as a teen, I was with my parents, Anne and Frank Warner, on some of their song-collecting trips in North Carolina and New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. I learned first-hand the value rural singers placed on the songs passed down to them. I’m glad I got to meet people for whom old songs were their main—sometimes only—music. Some of the songs on this album I learned from the singers my parents met, some from early country music recordings and most, I see, from friends along the way who had the same love of tradition that I did. Now, I’m proud to pass them on to new friends.
Tracks on the album are accompanied by:-
Jeff Warner: vocals, English concertina, banjo, guitar, jig-doll; Alice Jones: vocals, harmonium, piano, whistle;
Ben Paley: fiddle
1 Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel
Uncle Dave Macon (1870-1952), first star of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, recorded this song in 1927. It was his re-working of Dan Emmett’s song written in 1853—which very well might have been a parody of an earlier song. Emmett (1815-1904), along with his band the Virginia Minstrels, helped bring the minstrel craze to the New York stage in 1843. Uncle Dave’s verses comment humorously on his times, and hint at his talent as a stage entertainer and banjoist. Macon recorded about 170 songs in his career, even though he didn’t become a professional musician until he was in his 50s. He was known as the “Dixie Dewdrop.”
2 Beautiful Life
I learned this from Ohio fiddler Jeff Goering who learned it from Amish sisters Mary and Emma Yoder from the village of Charm in eastern Ohio. As I found later, it was written by William Golden in 1918. It became a country and bluegrass standard, often performed faster than the Yoders’ version. But this is the way I first heard and loved the song.
3 Girls They Go Wild Over Me
This starts out as a 1917 Tin Pan Alley popular song “They Go Wild, Simply Wild Over Me,” written by Fred Fisher, music and Joseph McCarthy, lyrics. But I learned it in the 1970s from Mac Benford, banjo player and songster for the famed Highwoods String Band of Ithaca, New York. From correspondence with Mac, it appears many hands re-shaped the song over the decades—perhaps most especially Mac himself.
4 A Frog He Went A-Courting
This old English song goes back to at least 1580, and there is much speculation that the “mouse” could be Queen Elizabeth I; others say perhaps Mary Queen of Scots. This version was collected in the mountains of Kentucky in 1917 by English song collector Cecil Sharp. I learned it in the 1980s from a charming singer—and renowned arts administrator—Dick Lewis of Portland, Oregon.
5 Lass of Gleanshea
John Galusha (1859-1950) sang this song to my parents, Anne and Frank Warner, in 1941. John lived in Minerva, New York, deep in the Adirondack Mountains. He spent his life as a logger, later as a guide and forest ranger. “Glenshee,” widely sung in the lumber camps of the northeast US and Canada, was written by Andrew Sharpe, shoemaker and song-writer of Perth, Scotland, who died there in 1817.
6 Hitting the Trail Tonight
This is a 1935 poem by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950) reflecting his work as a cowboy in Colorado and Arizona. The tune is by Hal Cannon, former Utah State Folklorist and member of the Deseret String Band. He published it in Old Time Cowboy Songs, Peregrine Smith Books, Salt Lake City, 1988.
7 Gypsum Davy
Cecil Sharp collected this version of the “Gypsy Laddie” ballad in the mountains of Tennessee in 1916. The fine mixolydian tune is as he found it. I have inadvertently added text from other versions over the years, but the story remains the same, one that has echoed down the generations. I play it in double C banjo tuning.
8 Bony on the Isle of St. Helena
Anne and Frank Warner met the Tilletts in 1940, on an early song-collecting trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Charles, known as “Tink,” and his wife Eleazar gave the Warners many great songs over the years, including “Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still.” Tink learned this song about the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, in oral tradition, “perhaps from a shipwrecked sailor.” Years after noting down the song, the Warners discovered that Tink’s “Be’est it best in time” in the last verse of the song was a mis-hearing of “Be ye steadfast in time.”
9 Roving Peddler
A version of the “The Roving Journeyman” collected in 19th century England and Ireland, the “Roving Peddler” (or Pedlar) was in the northeastern US as early as 1851, in the Philadelphia published “Bobbing Around Songster.” A favorite in logging camps in the US and Canada, I learned it from the repertoire of New York State’s Catskill Mountain logger George Edwards (1877-1949).
10 Days of ‘49
John Galusha gave this to the Warners in 1941. A nostalgic look back at the California gold rush camps, it first appears in print in San Francisco in 1872, a minstrel song (without chorus) written by Charles Bensell (aka Charley Rhoades), d. 1877, with a tune different from Galusha’s. The Galusha-Warner version appeared in John and Alan Lomax’s Folk Song USA in 1947 and has become the standard melody for the song. I use a G minor banjo tuning, gDGBbD.
11 Better Home
I learned this in the 1980s from Jeff Todd Titon, now of Brown University. He learned it from the Rev. John Sherfey in Stanley, Virginia, in 1977, during long research that became his book Powerhouse for God, University of Texas Press, 1988. “Better Home” (“When I Get Home”) was probably written in the early 20th century.
12 My Dixie Darling
This is the Carter Family version of a widely popular country song. Like many Carter Family hits, it was originally a Tin Pan Alley popular song, this one written in New York City in 1909, as “Dixie Darlings,” Percy Wenrich music, Arthur Gillespie words. As the song passed down in oral tradition, some text was lost or changed. Often confused by the “girls of the north” reference in the song, I put together a third verse, using text from the original sheet music, that attempts to clarify.
13 Jamie Judge
Another from the repertoire of New York Adirondack Mountain singer John Galusha. It is one of many logging camp songs reflecting the dangers of trying to break up log jams in a river during spring log drives. The Bonshee River probably refers to the Bonnechere River in Renfrew County, Ontario.
14 Train on the Island
I learned this in the 1980s from Craig Johnson and The Double Decker String Band in Washington, D.C. Of themselves and their music they said, “Oldtime country music is the source. Delight and bewilderment is the result.” They got the song from Virginia fiddler Luther Davis (1888-1985). The often-enigmatic text varies from source to source—I selected from several.
15 Tenting Tonight
I’ve heard this American standard all my life—but I wasn’t drawn to it until I learned that it was written in my adopted state of New Hampshire. Walter Kittredge (1834-1905), a famed musician known as the “Minstrel of the Merrimac,” was drafted into the Union Army in 1863. He quickly wrote and performed the song which became well-known on both sides of the Civil War—and remained so after the conflict. Kittredge, as it turned out, did not pass his physical and did not serve in the Union Army.
16 It’s My Lazy Day
“Lazy Day” was written by Smiley Burnette (1911-1967) and was featured in the Western movie Bordertown Trails in 1944. Burnette was a comic actor, songwriter and musician who often appeared in Hollywood films as sidekick to Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. I learned the song from famed West Coast fiddler Hank Bradley, who was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in the 1960s. He came up regularly to play music at our coffee house in Durham, NC. It was formally known as the Triangle Coffee House, but we locals called it by the institution’s old name the “Null and Void.”
17 Jamestown Homeward Bound
Jeff Davis, my music partner for twenty years, found “Jamestown” in Joanna Colcord’s 1938 book, Songs of American Sailormen. Davis made some subtle changes to the melody and we recorded it in the 1980s. It’s time to revisit this anthemic song.