Sweet Sunny South is the only song on this album whose author is known; W.L. Bloomfield wrote it in 1853 under the title Take Me Home. I sing lyrics from the original sheet music, which I found in the Library of Congress’s collection. However, the original melody (in waltz time) fell out of favor a long time ago.
When I first heard The Blackest Crow as a teenager, I thought, “Ugh, too sappy, and too many chords.” (There are four.) Then I experienced the subject matter firsthand, and it became one of my favorite songs. I love the poetry in the lyrics. There’s a reason folks have been singing it for centuries!
I’ve Always Been a Rambler dates back to pre-1850s Britain. The British versions often have the narrator finding a new, wealthy lover who occupies his attention completely—until he receives word that his parents and his old sweetheart have all died of broken hearts.
Uncle Dave Macon (1870–1952) is my source for Way Down the Old Plank Road. I gotta say, the last verse is one of my favorite “floating” (traveling) verses.
I learned the style of fiddling and singing on Wagoner’s Lad from listening to Bruce Molsky. Singing with the fiddle is deeply satisfying—it’s like an extension of my voice.
Wind and Rain is ancient; it has been circulating since the 1600s, if not earlier. I borrow from an obscure version recorded in 1969 by autoharp player Kilby Snow (1905–1980). Kilby learned it in the early 1910s from his 95-year-old grandfather, a Cherokee Indian. (The fiddle part is mine; an exception to my “no overdubs” policy.)
A Sailor Being Tired is a poignant ballad which I’ve only heard from Dillard Chandler (1907–1992), a singer of many old ballads, some nearly extinct.
Goin’ Across the Sea is a fun fiddle tune, often played with two parts. I always get the B part confused with Angeline the Baker, so I decided to just give in and play it as well.
Dock Boggs (1898–1971) is my source for Country Blues. He says that this song used to be called Hustling Gamblers, but in the 20’s people were slapping the word “blues” onto any old song in order to make it more saleable. Closely related to Darling Cory.
Willie Moore is likely of British origin. To me, the most intriguing aspect of this song is that we never learn what really happened to Sweet Annie. Though the “Willie” character in a folk song is usually guilty of some crime, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. So, whodunit?
Little Sadie comes from the singing of Clarence “Tom” Ashley (1895–1967). Dedicated to my brother Kyle, who was hip to those alternate-string pull-offs long before I thought they were cool.
I learned A-Rovin’ on a Winter’s Night from a [Doc] Watson Family album. It is related to The Blackest Crow and includes floating verses from many older songs such as My Love is Like a Red Red Rose and The Lass of Roch Royal. Like The Blackest Crow, I sang this song to someone in particular that I love—who, yes, will never be my own. Zollie’s Retreat refers to Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer, who was killed by Union soldiers in 1862. Viola tuned to AAEA. Dirk Powell (my source for Zollie’s Retreat) calls this kind of fiddle tuning “dead man’s tuning.” (Correction: I actually tuned my fiddle to AADA, which made Zollie's Retreat harder to play but opened up some new chordal possibilities in Winter's Night.)
Keep That Skillet Good and Greasy is just plain good advice.
I learned House of the Rising Sun from a Clarence Ashley recording. Funny story: I got so excited when I came up with my guitar arrangement, as I had never heard anything like it with this song. Turns out, the chords I came up with are the same ones used in several “pop” versions. Oh well. It’s still super-fun for me to play... like all these songs, actually.