Friday, November 14, 2014

Weeks 13-14: Sailors & Cowhands

Sailors and Cowhands, that's the Music Download selection I'm posting for you on Box. Should be perfect for over the Thanksgiving break and leading into our final regular class on December 2. They fit together, so it makes sense to present them to you back to back, over the two weeks. You can listen to the selections at one go, of course. See below for Download link, Reading, and Primary Songs.

Clipper Ship

SEA SHANTIES. Sailors' songs from a time when the day-to-day work of sailing a ship was intense, all-consuming, and often dangerous--all to be heard in the songs themselves. The Shanties in our selection cover a wide range--both British and American, with many different singing styles; there are nice concertina parts tucked away in there, too. I want each of you to listen to these carefully--and choose one or two on which to focus your visual projects. For this week, the download tracks are your point of departure, rather than video posts on YouTube (I've included a few below--but I want you to concentrate on the download). The shanties (or chanties or chanteys)  began as work songs aboard ship in the days of sail--in a way related to the field hollers we listened to earlier in the term. They reflect life at sea and the experience of being a forecastle hand--where much of the  work was done by group effort. You hear this in the cadence of the songs--the lead call, and then the response of the crew. Many of them come from the days of whaling.

Cattle Drive

COWBOY SONGS reflect the reality of life on the Great Plains in the 19th century. Following the Civil War, with the economy of the South in disarray, cattle drives from Texas up into the Midwest and Chicago were an immediate way of producing income. (The cows sold for  much more in the north, and could be shipped by recently established railway lines to points east.) The attendant folklore is an important party of the American past--including the songs, of course. (Get Along Little Doggie and The Old Chisolm Trail are two we can do--they're in your tan songsheets. Also listen to Willie Nelson's reprise, The Last Cowboy, on YouTube, below.) Several of the download selections come from the Harry Smith Anthology--plus four tracks from a contemporary interpreter, Skip Gorman--whose versions are wonderful, but can seem a little too nicely rounded off. To counter this, I went straight to Hank Williams--who's of course not a "cowboy" singer at all--but remains one of the greats--he could be included almost anywhere in Songs & Places (Note that Log Train is autobiographical on his part--and that Singing Waterfall is the Hank Williams song that John Fahey talks about in the chapter provided in the Reader, below. Lost Highway and Lonesome Whistle are simply two great songs...)

Home Ranch, Thomas Eakins (painted in 1888)

Cowboy songs (and cowboy life in general) became of course an ongoing source for the popular culture industry--with singers like Tex Ritter, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers  and Dale Evans all popularizing them, along with "horse opera" Westerns (movies) and later television shows--so that over time it became very difficult to distinguish historical occurrence from its commercial representation. Or better said, the representations came to stand in for an imagined reality. (For the extreme here, see Sergio Leone's  always engaging "Italian" versions, like The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. A short (and rare) video interview with Leone is included below.) Or any period film with John Wayne in one of his cowboy roles. The same popular treatments happened, but to a much lesser degree, with Sea Shanties (Johnny Depp notwithstanding). You might consider why this is so. Cattle drives are a thing of the past (soon enough the South recovered and Texas had its own railway hubs), whereas whaling (and commercial fishing in general) are ongoing issues. And consider this: trucker songs as the cowboy songs of today.

Gene Autry (publicity photo, 1940s)
John Wayne in Rio Bravo (1959)

In any case, the important thing is for you to listen to the songs, and to use them as a bridge into the worlds they come from--and to let this be reflected in your own projects.


 READING: For Weeks 12-13, read Nicholas Dawidoff, In the Country of Country, Reader pps. 165-86 and Greil Marcus' essay, "Envoi," Reader pps. 94-99 (from the edited collection, The Rose and the Briar). For a musician's take,  read the selection from John Fahey's (very personal) book, How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life, Reader pps. 205-230. The three readings together are intended to extend your understanding of the American folk tradition--a way of understanding where we've been, where we're going--and where you'll take your connections with this music beyond the Songs & Places class...

DOWNLOAD LINK: Sailors & Cowhands --

PRIMARY SONGS: Here are the songs from our primary S&P list, in your tan songsheets. (The ones I want you to know by heart--so sing them more--in the shower and on the road!)  Recorded versions are on you original S&P CD download from beginning of the semester.

Sea Shanties (for Week 12):
Greenland Whale Fishery
Blow Ye winds, Heigh Ho

Cowboy Songs
  (for Week 13)
Streets of Laredo
I Ride an Old Paint
The Old Chisolm Trail 

Get Along Little Dogies)

Here, for reference, are the song titles from the download for the remainder of the semester:

Sea Shanties (on your download):

Greenland Whale Fishery
Blow Ye Winds Heigh Ho
The Wild Goose  (in Louis Killen's unique version)
Paddy Doyle
The Banks Of Newfoundland
The Hog-Eye Man
The Black Ball Line
The Dark Eyed Sailor
In Scarborough Town
The Flying Cloud
The Coast of Peru
Lowlands Low
Jolly Roving Tar
Leave Her, Johnny
The Black Ball Line

Cowboy Songs (on your download):

Streets Of Loredo
I Ride an Old Paint  (Carl Sandburg's version)
A Cowboy's Wild Song To His Herd
Bandit Cole Younger
The Wild Wagoner
Cowboy Love Song
Little Joe The Wrangler's Sister Nell
The Lone Star Trail
Indian War Whoop
Amarillo Walt
Buffalo Gals

Hank Williams (on your download):

Lonesome Whistle (I Heard That Lonesome Whistle)
Lost Highway
The Log Train
Singing Waterfall

Hank Williams takes into the realm of Country Music (formerly known as Country and Western)--important it own right, but a commercial form more than a branch of folk music. (The distinction can be difficult, because Country songs reflect a world that in itself has very strong folk traditions. (Look carefully at Willie Nelson's face when he sings Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain...)



FOLLOWUPS--this is supplemental material for Weeks 12-13. If you look under performers' names, on YouTube, you'll find a wealth of material for both Cowboy Songs and for Sea Shanties (or Chanties or Chanteys). I recommend doing some of this. When you look under "cowboy" see also Gene Autry and Tex Ritter...and maybe even Roy Rogers and Dale Evans...but remember that "real" cowboy songs morphed pretty easily into "real imitation" cowboy songs. So, what else is new? That's why I gave you poet Carl Sandburg singing I Ride an Old Paint on our primary S&P CD. He CARED about the originals (even though he wasn't a cowboy either...)

For the Shanties, if you poke about (particularly with the English material) it's easier to find good contemporary versions.  Not as much money involved, for one thing (there was no "sea shanty" recording industry as with cowboy material--which went hand in hand with cowboy movies. ) Therefore, less kitsch. (Is this a valid equation?) There have always been pirate movies, too--but they've never been presented as the "essence" of the American spirit. (Again, images of John Wayne versus images of Johnny Depp.)

Some particular YouTubes to ampify the above:

Cowboy Songs:
Don Edwards - Barbara Allen - YouTube
(we watched this in class--what's important here is Edwards' interpretation of the song)
Alan Lomax - The Wild Rippling Water (western folk song) (Alan Lomax himself doing this one!)
THE OLD CHISHOLM TRAIL by Harry MAC McClintock - YouTube (audio only--the first "cowboy song" recording)
Tex Ritter - The Old Chisholm Trail - YouTube  (American television--Grand Ol'Opry)
Mike Seeger - "Old Chisholm Trail" - YouTube (a classic folk revival version)
Roy Rogers : Git Along Little Dogies ( 1940 ) - YouTube

▶The American West 06 - The Cattle Trail (1879) - from - YouTube  (From a documentary, with character--or with a character)
▶ The Last Cowboy Song - Ed Bruce & Willie Nelson - YouTube
and a  Very Rare Interview with Sergio Leone in 1984 - YouTube

And moving into Country:
▶ Hank Williams - I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow - live 1951 - remastered 2014 - YouTube 
Willie Nelson - Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain
▶ Buck Owens & His Buckaroos - Crying Time - YouTube
▶ Cryin' Time by BUCK OWENS Original Version 1964 - YouTube 
George Jones & Tammy Wynette - Crying Time - YouTube 
 ▶ George Jones - White Lightning (with lyrics) - YouTube

Some Sea Shanties: 
Mobile Bay shanty audio alan lomax recording  (This is a wonderful song, hard to find--its in the Lomax songbooks.) 
▶ Way Down on Mobile Bay (CHANTY, WORK-SONG) - YouTube
Mobile Bay · Bob Walser (lyrics)
Sea shanty on anglo concertina - YouTube

▶ Louis Killen - The Wild Goose (sea shanty) - YouTube  (an early recording)
▶ Louis Killen at the Bridge Folk Club Nov 2008 - YouTube

Storm at Sea (video)


By the way,  storm videos (YouTube posts) will give you a very good sense of the extremes of life at sea. I'll include one here (note that the titles always use words like "huge" and "awesome.")
YouTube - Boat in a huge storm at sea

And at the opposite end of the scale, an extraneous wildcard--but also delightful:
▶ What's My Line? Gene Autry (1953) - YouTube

Gene Autry, What's My Line, television, 1953