Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Slainte! To Health In The New Year: "The Jug Of Punch"


Just about the only cultural element as widespread throughout the countries of the world as music has been the fermenting, brewing, or distillation of some local products - grains, berries, fruits, tubers, and in Mongolia, mare's milk - into some mood-altering and intoxicating beverages. So it's no wonder that most every country also has a positive raft of folk songs related to the pleasures and joys - and not infrequently the sorrows - of drinking, and we're not talking about water here. As my long gone cousin Jimmy Conway ("I made it out of Ireland one step ahead of the Black and Tans" - that'd be 1922) used to respond to my mother when she'd offer him a glass of H2O on his visits to our home - "Did ye ever see what that stuff does to the inside of a pipe?"

The fact that alcohol is a frequent guest at celebrations of all kinds - from weddings and funerals and parties to - of course - New Year's festivities - makes a drinking song the exactly right selection for this week's Weekend Videos. And there is no drinking song closer to my own heart or to those of my nine brothers and sisters as "The Jug of Punch."

Since most Xroaders know the Kingston Ttio version, before we get to some interestingly different performances of the song, it might be worthwhile to explain - what exactly is punch, as in the song? I had labored under the misapprehension for many years that it was a sort of Irish boilermaker, a combination of beer and whiskey, called in colonial New England by its British name, flip. [Parenthesis: a true and original boilermaker is a tad different from flip - you're supposed to drop the whole shot glass full of your favorite whiskey into the beer stein; in Ireland, one never does so but (if you've money enough for the pricey whiskey) orders instead a "a shot and a pint" - same effect.]

In fact, Irish whiskey punch is more closely related to the hot rum drinks also popular in New England in colony days. Recipes differ, but the common denominators seem to be, in addition to whiskey, lemons, cloves, hot water, and sugar (brown, preferably). Mix it all up and quaff - it can be consumed at room temperature but the preferred method of serving was following a stir with a hot poker, ashes and all. [Sounding good right at this moment - it's in the mid 30s here in SoCal, unusually cold for us, and it would go nicely with the Christmas tree and the fire.]

"The Jug Of Punch" song comes to us in two clearly related but distinctly different versions, which for want of more apt descriptive terms I'll call tippling and inebriated. The tippling version, which requires some dexterous tongue and vocal work, seems to be the older of the two - very Celtic sounding and all - and one might guess more commonly sung early of an evening. The raucously inebriated version would likely show up after a few bowls of punch - or even more than one "shot and a pint" - a combination sure to be lethal to one's sobriety.

This might well be an Irish song that, like the earlier "Mountains of Mourne," the Kingston Trio did not get directly from the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, who were just getting organized into an act in 1960 at the time of the Make Way album.
The Clancys had included a version on their very first album (Come Fill Your Glass With Us) on the Tradition label that they owned in 1959, but that version is clearly the grandparent of the one posted below and not the only influence on Nick, Bob, and Dave, who are clearly tippling here and not raucous:



Luke Kelly of the Dubliners (on the short list with Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem as the greatest of Irish folk soloists) was known to take a hit or five before going out and performing, and I believe it shows in this version of the song, whose lyrics and musical structure suggest that this is at least a progenitor of the NBD arrangement:



A word of explanation on Kelly's introduction. Everyone but everyone knew of the Clancy's "raucous" version, posted below; Luke is differentiating his older version from the one that the CB used in performance. I'd be more surprised that Paddy and his brothers did the older version at all - but Vanguard brought out a kind of bootleg album that included a rare tape of the Brothers doing Luke's version.

For a truly delightful and rather more musical studio take of this version, here is Altan from the album Celtic Wonder:



A really excellent and complex vocal arrangement of the tipling version was recorded in the 1970s by Scotland's wonderful folk group, The Corries - here the original trio as opposed to the later duo:



And now, the version I first heard in the late 50s - in a live performance from the early 1980s. This is Paddy Clancy's (1924-1998) signature song. I believe it was Mr. Banjo who observed earlier that he liked the way that Paddy just stood up to the mic, fists clenched, chest and jaw out, and belted away.



It was this version that my brothers and sisters and I would bellow at the top of our lungs, as children just for the sheer joy of it, and as adults (occasionally) under the very spell sung of here. One family sing - and these were always spontaneous, never planned nor too wholesome nor cheesy in the least - that stands out in my memory - in summer of 1982, my father in the last month of his life (though we didn't know that for sure at the time), the twelve of us sitting in the grand library that he'd added onto the house - my dad (who had spent his entire life trying NOT to be Irish) suggested that we sing this one before he retired for the night. Perhaps inspired by that, we all shouted it out (in tune of course!) like we were kids again, complete with every bark, whistle and growl on the original recording plus a few dozen more.

I'll never forget it. Auld lang syne, indeed.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

For The Season: "We Wish You A Merry Christmas"

In keeping with the holiday spirit...and there's a bit more to this song than meets the eye at first....

"We Wish You A Merry Christmas" is one of those songs that we all know, that we've always known, that was likely familiar to us before The Kingston Trio's The Last Month Of The Year - and that most of us could not say at all where we first heard.

The song's inclusion in that landmark album - still a nominee almost fifty years after its release as the most pleasingly and satisfyingly unique of all holiday releases during the era of recorded music - was ever so slightly mystifying because nearly every other cut was either a traditional song not widely heard ("Mary Mild" from "The Bitter Withy"), or an original composition ("The White Snows Of Winter" by Shane and Drake from Brahms, among others), or an unusual take on a familiar enough carol ("Sing We Here Noel"). The Trio's interpretation of "Somerset-Gloucestershire Wassail" is more interesting musically than "Merry Christmas," the aforementioned "Sing We Noel" is a better arrangement, and "Go Where I Send Thee" and the title song are more typical uptempo signature KT numbers.

The song itself is shrouded in a bit of mystery - no one knows its exact time or place of origin. A version of it appears in a "miscellany" - a somewhat random collection of poems and song lyrics from the early days of printing in England - in the mid-sixteenth century, when Shakespeare was a boy. Like many English carols, it seems to have originated in Wessex (named for the West Saxons and in, well, the west of the country) and like "Wassail" above was a carolers plea for some goodies as a reward for the holiday cheer that they hoped to bring. "Figgy pudding" is a concoction as simple as and apparently related to its New World cousin pumpkin pie (similar ingredients [except the figs instead of pumpkin, of course]) and never to be confused with the more elaborate, delicate, and difficult to do right plum pudding celebrated by Dickens.

I find two points of interest about the song as we have it today - the Kingston Trio's acquisition and handling of it in 1960, and the different flavors brought to it by the differing arrangements below.

There is just no question where the KT got the song, even as likely as it is that each of them, like us, knew it for a long time. The LMOTY arrangement, as you'll hear, is a nearly exact copy of the Weavers, who had their structure for the song under copyright. Some day I'll do an exact count of the number of Weavers songs that the Trio re-imagined on their first eight or so albums. Until then - you don't have to take my word for it. Here are the Weavers from their 1950 Decca sessions supervised by Gordon Jenkins:



As I noted when I posted a weekend video about "Across The Wide Missouri" (CompVid101 On "Missouri") Jenkins' considerable talents and the Weavers' style just didn't mesh well, any more than did Jimmie Haskell's with the KT on Something Special. You can barely hear Seeger's banjo on this, and the tinkling and brassy orchestration annoys more than it enhances.

The Weavers lost the orchestral artifice when they reunited for their legendary Carnegie Hall concert on Christmas Eve of 1955, four years after the Jenkins sessions and three following their dissolution under the pressure of the McCarthy era black list. Their set list of nearly thirty songs in that show echoed down through the next twenty and more years of popular folk music, as virtually every pop folk group and several folk-rock bands included Weavers tunes in their recording repertoires. The quartet closed the show with "We Wish You A Merry Christmas," but as of now no recording of that rendition appears on YouTube. However - the original group of Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman, and Ronnie Gilbert reunited 25 years after their first Carnegie concert for one of their final appearances before Hays's death, and they resurrected their acoustic rendition here, nearly identical to the '55 track except that it is slightly slower and with perhaps a tad less youthful gusto:



I'm guessing that NBD made two choices in their adaptation. First, the non-orchestral live Weavers' version from At Carnegie Hall (1956) proved to be a better model - on it you can hear how closely Dave Guard was following Seeger's banjo lines, and the whole effect is more rousing than the Decca studio recording above. Second - as I'm sure everyone noted - the Trio chose not to do that sort of "one world" verse that was the Weavers' kind of subtle political interpolation in many of their songs, the primary "one-worlders" of the era being of course the Communist and socialist movements in Europe and America. Here's the Trio - a snactioned posting not in violation of copyright:



Again as I noted in the "Missouri" piece - listening to the two versions makes me happy and thankful that Voyle Gilmore did not try to go the Gordon Jenkins route. The Trio's occasionally exotic instrumentation on LMOTY (bouzouki, for example) never gets in the way of the song and actually does enhance the sound and the uniqueness.

And now for some fun - John Denver and The Muppets:



After that, I needed an antidote - and what could be better than The Chipmunks (Featuring Alvin, of course) from the mid-Sixties :



Or a terminally cute version from my favorite all-girl Japanese band (there's a category for you), Vanilla Mood:



Japanese violinist Sori - not quite as fun as the Mood girls, but of the same stripe:



Irish New Age/neo-Celtic superstar Enya gives the tune her trademark treatment:




Ultimately, of course, whatever their "subversive" political motives may have been, Seeger and the Weavers are right - the words mean the same, whatever your home. So a merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. And God bless us, all, everyone.

Friday, December 12, 2008

For Novelty's Sake: "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm"

One of the oldest and most delightful of folk subgenres is the nonsense song - tunes like "Polly Wally Doodle All The Day" and "Jimmy Crack Corn" and "There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed A Fly" - plus a host of Irish and English songs whose choruses and sometimes verses include no recognizable words in our mother language (see "Polly" above).

Commercial music's closest relative to folk's nonsense is the so-called novelty song, a composition whose primary point is humor, satire, or just plain weirdness. Though the era of recorded music has created an explosion of songs of this type - and we all remember gems like "The One-Eyed, One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater" and "The Monster Mash" and "Itsy-Bitsy Teenie-Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" - such known-author ditties go way back. We have examples from 17th century England and 18th century colonial America, and every country I know of has some entries in their musical omnibus. Often born in taverns and bordellos, frequently bawdy to outright obscene, many of these novelty tunes seem to outlive apparently worthier compositions that just don't catch the long term public fancy with the same staying power.

Probably the single richest mine of novelty songs before the advent of record companies was the 19th century English music hall, ancestor of subsequent forms from burlesque to revues to musical comedies. There was a usually uptempo, ribald, joshing nature to the songs and a distinctive musical framework which has left its traces in 20th century music from flat-out music hall performers like Sophie Tucker (and about half the import acts on the old Ed Sullivan Show) to the structure and sound of performers like the Beatles (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band IS a music hall album far more than anything that could be called rock) to Herman's Hermits To Elton John.

The Kingston Trio from almost the first recognized the value for pacing in shows and on albums of including some of these numbers. Their "formula" for the early albums usually included a banjo blaster or three, a foreign language number, ballad/solos, a sea chantey and/or spiritual - and one song at least designed to evoke smiles and laughter - they were, after all, a nightclub act that got seriously out of hand. And the English music hall was one of the best sources for KT funny numbers - consider "Three Jolly Coachmen" (folk, but a music hall staple), "The Unfortunate Miss Bailey," (ditto), "The Ballad of the Shape of Things (a modern satire of madrigals but one that would have been at home in those old British theaters), "The Tattooed Lady" (authentic music hall) - and this weekend's videos of a late entry into the genre but one of its most popular, Weston and Lee's "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm" from 1960's Sold Out Album.

Most people know the rough outlines of the story of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second wife, mother of the great Queen Elizabeth, and victim of likely trumped-up charges of adultery, for which she was beheaded. I fear, however, that recent dramatic treatments of this lady have served to distort the reality of the complex, driven, headstrong person that she was in an effort to garner more sympathy for her than most in Britain seem to feel - or than she deserves. It'd be hard not to feel some pity for a woman in an era in which all females were chattels of men, who succeeded brilliantly in many of her ambitions, and who met an unjust death (historians are about 99% certain that she was just too clever to commit adultery with anyone, much less with her brother, one of the four named co-respondents) with courage, dignity, and a remarkably well-crafted speech - unless you also remember that she parlayed Henry's desire for her (which she thwarted until he had tried to annul his first marriage) into the dismissal of a woman ten times her superior in everything except sexual politics (Catherine of Aragon, the princess of the age), a crown, and the securing of it through the engineered executions of the saintly Bishop John Fisher and the most remarkable intellect of his and nearly any age, the man for all seasons himself, Sir Thomas More. Anne's date with the headsman was an example of "as ye soweth, so also shall ye reapeth." She played a high stakes game remarkably well until she lost the final big wager.

That may account for the English ambivalence about her reflected in this song. Macabre in its conception (and likely less amusing in the wake of the very real horrors of the last ten years), the song manages to steep itself in a kind of campy horror that clearly echoes "The Unfortunate Miss Bailey" and provides the same kind of amusement that prevents you from taking it seriously. Composers Weston and Lee, successful in pop music in the 20s and 30s, wrote the song in 1934, apparently for the prince of the British music hall, the then-44 year old Stanley Holloway, still two decades away from his signature role as Eliza Doolittle's father in the London, Broadway, and film productions of My Fair Lady ("I'm gettin' married in the mornin'/Ding dong the bells are going to chime.....get me to the church on time"). Here's Holloway in the original recording:



Holloway's American music hall counterpart Rudy Vallee - he of the megaphone and dancing chorines - attacks the number with more American gusto and Cyril Smith on lead:



The Kingston Trio used Vallee's American lyric rewrite ("Army" and "Red Grange") but give it their own distinctive flair - one of those too rare numbers that features Nick's tenor guitar at the front of the accompaniment:



For a creepier, slower and weirder version - Dean Gitter from 1957:



And finally, a novelty within the novelty - a lady singing the piece - Molly Twitch at a 2010 DickensFest. This is what a 19th century English music hall performance may well have looked like::



Weston scored again in the 40s with a song that many of us remember from the 60s - "I'm 'Enerey The Eighth, I Am" as done by the aforementioned Herman's Hermits. It takes a rare talent - and an unusual mind - to come up with two such memorably off-beat songs.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

For You And Me: Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land"

Our "one nation, under God" has from its first years been a hotbed of contentious, bitter partisan brawls. Most of us can't even conceive of an election as violent and nasty in its rhetoric as that of 1800 (or 1824 or 1828), and if George W. Bush finds himself aggrieved by the shots taken at him by both sides in our recent plebiscite, he can find some comfort in reading just how much more terribly, personally, and negatively was lampooned the winning candidate of 1864 both by his own party and by his opponents - that of course would be one Abraham Lincoln.

Yet from this contentiousness has emerged a country that somehow manages both to function and to reform itself on a regular basis better than just about any other - and I do not mean that in any shallow jingoistic way but rather as a close student of history. Our polarized factions - and take your pick from any era of U.S. history, be it federalists vs. states' rightsers, or slavers vs free staters, or Populists vs. mainstream parties, or are modern right wingers vs. left wingers - seem to function in an almost dialectical manner, keeping our politics in a perpetually uncomfortable state of imbalance that somehow works.

While it has always been a favorite pastime of every party and faction to accuse its rivals of a lack of patriotism (as defined of course within the narrow confines of one's own beliefs), the objective fact remains that the country has been well-served by a wide variety of its citizens of every political and religious stripe. As JFK observed in his speech to the Houston convention of ministers in 1960 asserting that his Catholicism did not cast a shadow over his patriotism and should not disqualify his presidential candidacy, "Nobody asked my brother Joe about his religion when he boarded the bomber that exploded and killed him; nobody asked for my religious affiliation when I took command of a PT boat."

That's why I often wonder what Irving Berlin and Woody Guthrie might have had to say to each other had they ever sat down and discussed their respective compositions, "God Bless America" and "This Land Is Your Land." As most people know, Berlin was a Russian Jewish immigrant (as a child) who achieved likely the longest-running successful career of any American songwriter, and his "God Bless America" was his fervent anthem both of love for his adopted country and a proud statement that patriotism was not limited to the native born.

Most also know that Guthrie, populist/socialist./radical rabble rouser, took exception to what he saw as the shallow and superficial banality and essential falseness of Berlin's song and penned "This Land" as an angry leftist retort. Where Berlin's song is, like "America The Beautiful," a prayer - as in may God bless America - for continuing guidance toward a millennial perfection, Guthrie's piece, especially with the now usually omitted verses, was a cry for reform, for a land that did not belong implicitly to the shadowy image of an elite but rather to The Common Man. The verses not often sung today are here:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

Ironically, perhaps, neither composer seemed to see that there respective songs were two sides of the same coin, essentially making the same assertion, albeit with different emphases.

Both songs, of course, are crown jewels in our country's catalog of patriotic songs.

And that is why this week's videos of Woody's masterwork are all from absolute musical heavyweights. Here is Woody's own recording, an exquisite piece of simplicity and understatement::



Here is the KT version from Goin' Places, still my favorite for its stately, unrushed, majestic rhythm and pacing - and I love the way Dave's voice breaks at the end:



For many, the PP&M version was the first one that they heard, and that trio did a fine, sincere uptempo reading of the song on (I believe) their first album [4/12/09] - original recording of PP&M was removed for CopyVio - so many years later, here's the group in Japan in 1990]:



Johnny Cash could turn any song into classic rockabilly, as he does here with the Guthrie tune:



Finally - while I wasn't a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen's "Seeger Sessions" interpretations of folk songs - he has always had a way with "This Land," and the Boss's version from his 1985 "Born In The USA" tour is I think his best and one of the best I've ever heard:



And an update here on 1/19/09 - yesterday on the National Mall in the concert celebrating the imminent inauguration of Barack Obama - Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, and Pete's grandson Tao Rodriguez perform a stirring version - using all of the verses:


In whatever version one prefers, I have always felt that this is the quintessential American modern folk song. It doesn't matter how much of cliche it may have seemed to become - it is American idealism at its purest and simplest, whatever patriot is singing it, of whatever political persuasion.
And further...May 1, 2013 I discovered this video recently; it was uploaded to YouTube six months after this article first appeared. From 1976, an assemblage of folk royalty - former Weavers Pete Seeger and Fred Hellerman, Woody Guthrie's son Arlo, now an elder statesman of folk music, Judy Collins (who turns 74 today) with an introduction by the irrepressible writer, scholar, and gadfly Studs Terkel, singing all the verses that WG retained in his final version of the song.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Evolution Of A Classic: "Sloop John B"

When I began to think of these Weekend Videos as a kind of series that I'd do regularly, I resolved that I likely wouldn't be writing up any really commonly-known KT songs, or at least not some of the highest profile ones that exist in different versions. The problem was, I thought, that we'd have the KT rendition and then a host of other pale imitations of it (as with "A Worried Man," which as I noted in my article on that generally has everyone from Pete Seeger to Johnny Cash doing different words to the KT's distinctive arrangement of the melody) or an absolutely unique Trio version with everyone else doing imitations of an alternative take (as with last week's "Someday Soon," in which all non-Kingston versions are variations on Tyson's original and Judy Collins' wonderful performance). Consider, for example, what would happen with "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face": the New Frontier arrangement is singular, and everyone else is doing a less-successful Roberta Flack.

Of course, I've also proven myself wrong again and again, what with some really interesting versions out there of well-worn tunes like "Tom Dooley," "Greenback Dollar," and "Long Black Veil."

Few other "hits for other artists" have as direct a bloodline from the Kingston Trio to massive popularity as does "Sloop John B." As most Trio fans know, Al Jardine of The Beach Boys was and is a huge KT fan (note his comments on the Wherever We May Go video) and brought the song with the striped shirt look to Brian Wilson, who despite an initial lack of enthusiasm eventually came up with the classic rock arrangement that is the most widely-known version of the song today.

The John B apparently was a "sponger" in the Caribbean that went down to the bottom of Governor's Harbor in Eleuthra in the Bahamas around 1900 after a fire of uncertain origin, possibly insurance-induced arson but just as possibly the result of some careless partying by the crew (which of course would be more in keeping with the song). Classic American poet Carl Sandburg included a version of the song in a 1927 collection of folk numbers that he edited, and Alan Lomax had it in his seminal 1947 Folk Songs Of North America.*(For corrections to this and several other errors in this post, please see expert Peter Curry's comments below.) Lomax acknowledges Sandburg as the "collector," and Sandburg insisted on sharing the copyright with Weaver Lee Hays, who seems to have given the song its current structure.

The Weavers recorded it in their Decca sessions supervised and orchestrated by Gordon Jenkins around 1950 (and as with the other Jenkins' collaborations with the group, it was a case of two brilliant styles just not meshing), but it was likely the 1956 recording of the group's Carnegie Hall concert that was the immediate predecessor of the KT's version, though as we will see, the Lyn Murray Singers may have been an influence as well.

So here is the very original Kingston Trio - fifty years ago - from Capitol T996 in all its glorious monophonic mix. Bob Shane is doing a great understated rhythm strum (with Travis Edmondson, Theo Bikel, and Alex Hassilev, Shane is one of the all-time great bare-handed strummers - but unlike the others, on a steel string guitar[!]). Nick Reynolds is doing some great understated bongo work; Dave Guard is like Shane using bare fingers to pluck what sounds like a calfskin-headed S.S. Stewart banjo:



I have always believed that this number is actually the signature song of the Trio's first album and the key to its genius. The arrangement is so well-thought-out and so different from what came before - and so in keeping with the desperate, hung-over nature of the lyric - that the singular and unique touch that the Kingstons brought to so many later numbers first displays itself here (and on several other songs from the first album, including "Tom Dooley").

Fifty years later, our current Trio has updated their performance and given it a kind of "Blow The Man Down" swagger that even the Beach Boys can't match. Courtesy of Debobwan himself - thanks Mr. Shane! - George, Bill and Rick rock it out:



Of course, you can't go very far into a discussion of the song without reference to The Beach Boys. Their version is so widely known that posting it here would be redundant - except that the structuring of an intricate harmony is really on display here in this remastered rendition:



Here are the aforementioned Lyn Murray Singers from 1952 - sounds like a Gordon Jenkins arrangement with a touch of pop-calypso and a wrinkle or two that just might have been included by the KT.

Well, CopyVio got this one - too bad, because it is more of a direct antecedent of the KT and the BB than this interesting early 1950's recording by Blind Blake Higgs - thanks to PC Fields for this one:



And what happens when rockabilly meets calypso? Shall we ask Johnny Cash?



I've recently discovered this outstanding guitar duet by two of pop/country/rockabilly's best, the legendary Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed:



And Waylon Jennings has a sensitive treatment of the song, apparently with some influence from the quieter way in which the KT sang it:



I have always loved this song and been fascinated by it, most especially the original Nick,Bob, and Dave Kingston trio cut with its subdued desperation. That's probably why I want to close with this, my favorite all-time performance of the song, posted for nearly a year now my channel and embedded here to Xroads by me before - our two friends departed from us this year having fun with the song at Fantasy Camp4 in 2003. It's classic Kingston - Nick and John are joshing each other, they want everyone to sing along, Travis Edmondson takes the second verse - and on the last chorus, John's high harmony is full of the plaintive longing of the original album cut, and Nick is glowing and confident and happy as he leads the audience in this wonderfully quiet and nostalgic moment:



A great song to sing indeed - and with three distinctly different Trio versions.

Later Additions - 9/1/11

A few more versions uploaded to YouTube since this article was published:

Surf guitar legend Dick Dale from the late 1950s:


RelientK covering the Beach Boys version from the early 2000s:


February, 2012

From 2000, the legendary Van Morrison of Ireland and Lonnie Donegan, the great UK skiffle star of the 1950s - more reminiscent of the early Kingston Trio than the Beach Boys:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

"That Damned Old Rodeo": Ian Tyson's "Someday Soon"

Given the inextricable link between American folk music traditions and the lore of the Old West, I always thought it a bit strange that the original troupes of the Kingston Trio didn't venture more frequently into the distinct folk sub-genre of cowboy music. When they did so, the results were at times stunningly effective. The Shane, Guard, Reynolds trio recorded few songs lovelier than their version of "The Colorado Trail," a genuine artifact from the cowboy times, and Stewart configuration made a decent attempt at "Get Along Little Dogies," which if nothing else features an interesting and original chord accompaniment structure.

Maybe the cowboy numbers seemed too country-ish for a band that needed to maintain a somewhat urban posture for the nightclub dates that they played all through their career. But then - the Trio had plenty of river songs - and mountain songs - and history songs - just few serious traditional cattle drive tunes.

They fared better with faux cowboy numbers. If "Some Fool Made A Soldier Of Me" was just silly and "Adios, Farewell" a merely unsuccessful attempt to tap into the success of Marty Robbins' "El Paso" - they did score musical successes with a truly great version of the fake folk "Long Black Veil," and I always thought that their performance of "Red River Shore" (another nod to Robbins, perhaps) was the only truly listenable song on Something Else and one of their best numbers from their last two records.

"Someday Soon" from the Nick, Bob, John album fits into this category, as it does in "Really Great Writers And Songs Discovered/Promoted By The Kingston Trio." By 1964, when the KT put this one on vinyl, its writer Ian Tyson was already a superstar in his native Canada and very popular in the U.S., both with album sales and frequent appearances on Hootenanny and other TV variety shows. With his at first POSSLQ* and later wife (and eventually bitter divorce enemy) Sylvia Fricker, Tyson became a major force in folk music on both sides of our (formerly) friendly border - as a performer of course, as a writer ("Four Strong Winds" has been voted the greatest song ever written by a Canadian - and though I agree, you have to wonder what Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot ["Early Morning Rain," maybe?] fans might say to that), and like Bob Gibson in this country, a discoverer of new talent (it was Tyson who gave Lightfoot his earliest break, and he also sponsored the early recording career of Joni Mitchell).

After the boom period of the folk movement passed and his marriage to Sylvia imploded, Tyson returned to the ranch in Alberta that he was having trouble paying for, sought and found work as a cow puncher and ranch hand, all the while still writing and performing, albeit to much smaller audiences for a time. (I caught him in a crummy bar outside of Edmonton in the early 80s when i was returning from one of my solo adventures to the Canadian Arctic; there were maybe 25 people in the audience, and both of us there who were actually listening heard a great show.) He re-cast himself as the troubadour of the simple cowboy way of life, with steady and increased success since then. As a matter of fact, if you visit his website and check out his discography (Tyson Discography) all you'll find are the cowboy-era albums from 1973 onward - no folk, no "Four Strong Winds" - no Sylvia.

And yet - whatever was between Ian and Sylvia fifty years ago when they met almost fifty years ago has been immortalized in this great song, which is sort of imaginary-autobiographical. Written by Tyson, it seems as if he is conceptualizing the romance through her eyes - he was, in case you didn't know, a rodeo rider before he turned to music and art.

The best-known version of the song, of course, is by Judy Collins from a really great Judy album, Who Knows Where The Time Goes? There is a live performance video of Collins doing the song on TV in 1969 ( Judy Collins Live) and I really wanted to post it - but without that great steel/slide guitar intro and accompaniment, you just lose too much of the flavor of the number. So here is Judy's actual studio recording:

[But since Collins' video above was yanked from YouTube as of 3/09 - here's the live performance, sadly minus slide guitar.]



However - a recent (2009) performance on the Letterman show includes the great slide guitar part - and shows that 40 years later, Collins still has the vocal chops to pull it off:



This came out after the Kingston Trio had flipped the speaker of the lyrics from the girl to the young cowboy. It's a version that few outside of Trio circles have ever heard (Nick, Bob, John didn't sell very well, comparatively) - but it has the virtues of an original arrangement and a strong, masculine vocal by John Stewart:



Now, I'd love to post a full version of Ian Tyson doing his own song - but as Rick Daly knows, Syvia's lawyers don't take kindly to YouTube or websites like his using her performance material. So - several of the songs that came from the 1984 Ian and Sylvia Reunion are now on YouTube - but "embedding is disabled by request" - from Sylvia's attorneys, I'm betting. However - here's a video montage of Ian doing his own composition:



Not surprisingly, the song has remained tremendously popular with female country singers in all the decades since Collins' performance. Here are two of what I think are the best - Crystal Gayle and Suzy Bogguss:

Crystal Gaye, 1979



Suzy Bogguss - Recently



And to close - since as mentioned the pedal steel is such a fine part of this arrangement - how about a pedal steel instrumental version - from The Steel Guitar Association in Ireland, of all places:



A great song, indeed - and in this year of lost legends, we can be happy that Ian Tyson is still alive and kicking, out on the road somewhere, singing and writing into the sunset of his life..............

*POSSLQ is an acronym for "people of opposite sexes sharing living quarters" - one that never really caught on but I always thought deserved to.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Melancholy Parting: Dylan's "Fare Thee Well" And "The Leaving Of Liverpool"

Bob Dylan has attained such an iconic status in the world of American folk and popular music that it's hard to remember (or even conceive) that he was barely twenty years old when he arrived in New York and began a serious attempt to make a living in music. He was a scruffy, shifty, erratic kid about whom there are plenty of less than savory tales told about his behavior, his veracity about himself and his prior life, and his treatment of people around him. Some of those tales are undoubtedly apocryphal and born of jealousy or spite; others have the kind of persistent reincarnation that suggest at least a grounding in truth. At his best, our young genius-to-be seems to have given a fair number of previews of his explosive talent for writing memorable, high-impact songs; at his worst - well, we were all twenty once, and I'd venture to guess that most of us could look back at that time in our own lives and recall some of the things that we ourselves did that we hope will be buried with us.

A window into that time in Dylan's earliest career is provided by Martin Scorsese in his (typical for him overlong and in need of editing) documentary No Direction Home. Many in the Greenwich Village crowd didn't quite know what to make of him, befriend him though they did. Dave Van Ronk, Spider John Koerner, and John Cohen all expressed in the film a kind of bemusement at Dylan's persona and shenanigans - and Liam Clancy found him eager but occasionally annoying. What becomes clear in the film is how much Dylan derived - and how many songs he appropriated - from each of those (and other) older, more established stars of the pre-KT small and largely unknown Village folk community.

I was surprised to see in No Direction Home how many times Liam Clancy was interviewed and how often he and his brothers and Tommy Makem were cited as major influences on Dylan - and I really shouldn't have been, given the number of songs on Dylan's earliest albums that are direct derivations of numbers from the Clancys' repertoire: "Pretty Peggy-O" is a slight re-working of the Brothers' version of the Scots "Bonnie Maid Of Fife" from their first album; "Restless Farewell" is an adaptation of Liam's classic solo on "The Parting Glass"; "Rambling, Gambling Willie" is failed attempt to create an American outlaw song of the same tenor as the vastly better traditional "Brennan On The Moor" with which the Clancys opened most of their concerts; and as most people know, "With God On Our Side" simply substitutes a generic set of anti-war protest lyrics for the more particular, pointed, and effective ones from Dominc Behan's "The Patriot Game." (Behan's objections to Dylan's purloining of his tune were quickly silenced when it became more widely known that Behan himself had filched much of the tune for "Patriot Game" from a really obscure Appalachian folk song. Thus goes the "folk process.")

Recognizing as he clearly did that the power of the CB&TM's performances derived in equal measure from their "leave it all on the stage" attitude and the wide and deep mine of source material of Irish traditional music, Dylan went back to the well at least once more for the melody of his "Fare Thee Well." The Clancys had been singing the old Anglo-Irish waterfront drinking song "The Leaving Of Liverpool" all around the Village for a year or two (Liam once said that they stole it from Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew, who would become the heart of The Dubliners); Bobby D. changed the tune ever so slightly, retained the basic sense of the lyrics (as he did with "Restless Farewell"), and uncorked "Fare Thee Well My Own True Love."

I had never heard Dylan sing this until fairly recently, except in bootlegs from live performances, but the times they are a changin' and YouTube now has what amounts to a demo from BD of his rewrite in 1963:

I first became aware of the song on this version here - The Kingston Trio from 1964's Nick, Bob and John album. The audio here is from the re-engineered, cleaned up version released recently that attempted to compensate for the many faults of the original Decca recording, which sounded flat and two-dimensional without the recording magic of Capitol Records producer Voyle Gilmore and engineer Pete Abbot:



I'm not sure how much influence (if any besides preventing orchestration and adding a bass) that Gilmore had on the actual arrangements of the KT, but I like to think he might have suggested that they slow down a bit on this one.

At about the same time, the song was also recorded by Dion and the Wanderers, the "Dion" being the same Dion DiMucci who had been a teen heartthrob as the front man for the Belmonts and as a soloist as well. The more mature Dion of 1965, still three years away from his signature hit song of "Abraham, Martin and John", recorded a folk-rock album that included several Dylan songs, including "Fare Thee Well":



For something dramatically different, Ken and Jane Brooks present a classic bluegrass reading of the tune:



Ken Brooks is blistering those strings - that is outstanding bluegrass flatpicking.

The first version of the composition I heard was of course was the root song "Leaving of Liverpool" by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, a much superior song in its simple and honest melancholy. Here is that legendary group - Clancy brothers Liam, Paddy, and Bobby with the pride of Armagh, Tommy Makem. This is the band's original studio recording from 1963.


For something a tad more Irish in its sound but still polished - Johnny McEvoy does a great job:



Here is a tape of Ronnie Drew, Barney McKenna and more - a sort of proto-Dubliners group - from an early 60s TV show. This one is the rough edged, sort of pre-KT folk sound:



And the best for last - a TV special featuring the great Tommy Makem, quite possibly the best of all soloist Irish folk singers:


The Dylan song is pleasant enough - but for me the original is infinitely superior. Though it's a sailor's song - he is after all coming back, according to the lyric - I've often wondered how often this might have been sung the night before weighing anchor by some of the five million souls who between 1840 and 1910 left Liverpool, never to return, for their own New Worlds.......

Appendix - 7/11/09

And a live performance by a later incarnation of the legendary Dubliners:

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Mystic Chords Of Memory: "Try To Remember"

Here in Southern California, we baked like hell (nearly literally) in the second hottest October since record-keeping was initiated in 1885, thus obliterating for me even the most fleeting memories of the multi-hued autumns of what was my favorite of all months of the year growing up in the Middle West five decades ago. The fading late afternoon light, softened by the sun's declension into a lower arc in the evening, the chill of the early evening air, the pungent scent of burning leaves - all encouraged the wonderfully strange and almost mystical feelings of melancholy and passing time and yearning for I knew not what that sought out the deepest reaches of my adolescent and Irish soul and embedded themselves there, familiar and comfortable annual visitors that gave even my youngest self opportunities for reminiscence and a gentle, not-unpleasant sense of regret.

And into this emotional landscape dropped the song that expresses those feelings as effectively as any song I know, Harvey Schmidt's and Tom Jones' "Try To Remember" from the longest-running show in theatrical history (42 years, 1960-2002, over 17,000 performances), off-Broadway's The Fantasticks. [The original cast from 1960 (including Jerry Orbach,  center) is pictured at left.]

The show itself is a bit of slightly cornball fluff, a romantic semi-comedy that taps into audiences' most accessible emotions about love and youth and age and experience. There is a narrator named El Gallo who sings this number (repeatedly, like "Old Man River" in Showboat), an ingenue couple, wise old parents, and a Romeo/Juliet kind of story though with an almost happy ending.

But the song burst out of the show that resided all those years at the Sullivan Street Theater, a non-Equity playhouse, meaning 99 seats or fewer, and almost immediately became a standard of the American songbook. Like the signature song in many an American musical - you could walk out of the theater, never having heard it before, humming it and wanting to hear it again.

"Try To Remember" isn't a folk song - but then, in the purest sense, neither is "The Mountains of Mourne" - or "Oh, Susanna!" for that matter. Yet all three and many more like them have been beloved of and sung by generations of people, reminding one of Big Bill Broonzy's quip that all songs are folk songs because he never heard a horse sing (or Bob Shane's corollary - "I'm not a folksinger - I'm a folks' singer.")

The song, though, has many of the elements of a folk song - repetition, lyrical simplicity, a fairly easy tune, and an accompaniment structure that can be done with four easy chords (you can throw in a kind of rogue 7th if you feel you have to). It's so widely known now that it might as well be a folk song - and interestingly, after the play itself, it was largely folk type singers who popularized it.

And now to the music. We start with the original El Gallo himself, the late, great Jerry Orbach. Now Law and Order is one of my all time favorite TV shows, and Orbach was its centerpiece as Det. Lennie Briscoe. But I had known of him 25 years before the TV show because of his Broadway career including Tony Awards and nominations - and Jerry gets our first video today - the original cast recording here:




Now Bob Shane of course always had a way with show tunes, from the very beginning of the group with "Maria" from Paint Your Wagon. What I like so much about this great solo from the KT album #16 in addition to the wonderful guitar arrangement (by John Stauber) is that the raw talent that Bob demonstrates on the several live recordings of "Maria" has grown through years and performance into the superb craft of a vocal artist on his take on the song:



Here is Bob again, eight years later in 1970 from a Japanese recording of the New Kingston Trio - interesting to compare it to his first recording:



A year or so before Bob, though, The Brothers Four had one of their patented mellow top ten hits with the number. This video from the 2002 This Land Is Your Land PBS special has only bassist Bob Flick from the original group, though lead singer Mark Pearson is kind of the George Grove of the BF, having joined the band in 1969 and remained with them through the years. I prefer baritones on this number, but Mark's voice is so clear and melodic that he has almost changed my mind:



To some degree in the popular mind of the time, the song "belonged" as well to Harry Belafonte - and with good reason. This video, from 1976, shows the interpretive and vocal power of one of the greatest popular singers of the last century, 39 at the time and at the height of his power. HB is using his own distinctive vocally counter-pointed arrangement and accompanied by all-star guitarists, Brazilian Sivuca on the left and long-time Belafonte collaborator Millard Thomas on the right. That smoky, mellow baritone of Belafonte's still moves me beyond words:



Critics have branded the song as a kind of sentimental nonsense. Sentimental, yes - but like the best songs of that stripe ("Danny Boy," anyone?), an honest and unabashed sentimentality is an art form of its own, one of enduring validity. "Try To Remember" pretends to be nothing more than it is - a simple song whose evocative power resides precisely within its simple emotionality.

Appendix - 6/7/10

Within the last few weeks, a performance video of the great Jerry Orbach doing the number in 1982 surfaced. Given the fact that videos from TV shows tend to disappear rather quickly from YT, I'll post it here for as long as it's viewable:



9/2/11

For the full on pop vocal, the great Ed Ames:

Friday, October 31, 2008

In Memory Of Studs Terkel (1912-2008): "The Midnight Special"


Studs Terkel died today at the age of 96, and though you likely have to be from Chicago as I am fully to appreciate the import of that loss, everyone who loves folk music and a good read and oral history and the United States of America should take some note of his passing.

I'm betting that the obituaries will focus on Terkel's really marvelous series of oral histories, most of which reached best seller status and whose titles are likely familiar to many who read here : Hard Times with ordinary people telling of their memories of the Great Depression at a remove of forty years; Working , in which ordinary people talk about the jobs they do and how they feel about those occupations; and maybe the best known, The Good War , in which ordinary people (sensing a trend here, are we?) recalled their parts in World War II , written in the 80s long before "the greatest generation" commotion began to surface and when Terkel's interviewees were still vigorous and about the age that most of us here are now - with a developed sense not only of what they did and what they lost but how it colored and shaped the rest of their lives.

But Terkel was much more than a writer with an innate sense of the stories that needed to be told and an interviewing genius that enabled him to elicit the most intimate, profound, and frequently moving revelations from his subjects (and Terkel rarely put himself into his narratives at all). He was an activist, a blacklistee, a bit of a poet, founder of the Old Town School of Folk Music with Win Stracke and Frank Hamilton (later of the Weavers) that produced luminaries like Bob Gibson and Jim (Roger) McGuinn - and the host of an incredibly interesting radio show in Chicago for well over forty years. Though the show was eponymous, it was promoted by Chicago's WFMT-FM radio station for all the years of the folk revival as "The Midnight Special" (though memory tells me it started at 11 pm).

Terkel loved all kinds of music and played them all - experimental jazz, blues, occasional show tunes, and anything that could be called folk. Though he favored populist/leftist and traditional singers - no surprise there - he also enjoyed pop folk and played the KT, the Clancys, and the Chad Mitchell Trio frequently. It was on Terkel's show that I first heard many of the old folk performers I'd only read about on album covers or in articles, Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, Cisco Houston - all of whose records I subsequently bought and enjoyed because of Studs Terkel.

When I heard that he died this afternoon, I changed my plan for Weekend Videos and recalled that Terkel often opened and closed his show with this recording of Leadbelly doing "Midnight Special" - this very recording:


You can't compete with the original cats, as Dave Guard said of Hawaiian musicians on Live At Newport - but NBJ gave them a run for the money with the raw, uptempo energy of their performance of the song from the first Decca album - a performance that deserved a much better production and mixing than it got (can we spell V-O-Y-L-E-G-I-L-M-O-R-E?):



As I'm sure most here know, the song is a chain gang/jailhouse song from the penitentiaries of the Deep South at the turn of the last century, most especially from the work farms of Louisiana and Texas that gave birth to many great songs like "Old Riley" and "Ain't No More Cane On This Brazos." According to the legend most closely associated with the song, some prisoners believed they would be able to escape their (usually) life sentences if they could scratch their way up the high walls of their cells to the barred windows to catch the beams of the headlight of the passing train, whose lonely whistle fading into the night must have been a wrenching reminder of the freedom that they had lost, given away - or been robbed of.

I think you can hear all that and more from Odetta, who blessedly is still with us:



The first notes you hear on the next version are a then- unknown Bob Dylan playing mouth harp to introduce Harry Belafonte's bluesed-out and typically intense version. Reminds you of what a great singer Belafonte is.



Speaking of being blessed with the ongoing presence of a legend - here is Pete Seeger and his grandson Tao doing the song in January of this year when Pete was only 88. See my comment about Belafonte:



Even a good song can be done badly and a good group overreach itself. Here's a bad 70s flashback of ABBA trying their hand at the number.....




...and finally, a good 70s flashback which, if not exactly folk, deserves to close the show - John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival:



Always one of my favorite songs - and one I wish the KT had used as a show opener more often than they did.

Additions At 3.5 Years +

The huge catalog of folk songs on YT has grown exponentially since this post first appeared in 10/2008. Among the best and most classic performances of this song - The Weavers from around 1950:



...and Paul McCartney from 1991, reflecting his early roots in R&B and skiffle:

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Terrible Beauty Is Born: "Roddy McCorley"

We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

- W.B. Yeats
One of the now-vanished delights of Trio Fantasy Camp was the Q&A session on Thursday night conducted from 2000 til 2005 by Nick Reynolds and John Stewart (with Bob Shane joining the party in 2006 and 2007). The guys would answer campers’ questions and regale the assemblage for up to an hour and a half with tales of the road, odd memories that would occur spontaneously, stories behind some of their song acquisitions, and memories of people and places long gone.

Nick and John were especially warm in their memories of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem – John’s tale of a party in Theodore Bikel’s Greenwhich Village apartment where an over-earnest Bikel kept trying to sing some quiet and intense folk number, only to be interrupted at every start by a tipsy Tommy Clancy bellowing the opening notes to the brothers’ raucous version of “Haul Away Joe” [see appendix below] – Nick speaking feelingly of his close friendship with Paddy Clancy’s widow following the eldest Clancy’s 1998 passing - both recalling the drinking party in a Chicago hotel where Bob Shane taught the Clancys the pleasures of drinking rum.

At one FC after such reminiscences, Nick asserted with some asperity, “People criticized us for not doing enough protest songs. What the heck did they know? You want to hear a protest song? Listen to the Clancy Brothers sing ‘Roddy McCorley!’"

I had always loved Nick Reynolds for his humor and warmth, but at that moment I was ready to canonize him for his citing of what I had always regarded, years before I heard the Kingston Trio do it, as the very best of the hundreds of Irish songs of rebellion, a song finely crafted and demonstrating the touch of a genuine poet.

Though Roddy McCorley himself is a shadowy figure from the Great Wexford Rising of 1798 (more below), the song’s origins are clear. Poet Ethna Carberry  (the pen name for Anna Johnston) wrote the words in the late 1800s, nearly a century removed from the uprising; they were later set with her blessing to a fragment of an old air.

The original poem is rather longer than the four verses commonly sung today; the modern adaptation, which rearranges parts of some verses and leaves out others altogether, was done by Paddy Clancy, the eldest of the famous brothers, apparently with an eye to the standard length of the folk-type songs being sung in the U.S. at the time. The text of the complete poem is HERE.

For reasons that I cannot figure out, the song – though ragingly popular in Ireland since its creation – never caught on in the U.S. when other Irish rebel songs did, like “Kevin Barry” and “The Rising Of The Moon” and “Bold Fenian Men,” all of which were well-known in American Irish communities as long ago as the time of my own parents’ childhoods in the 1920s. All three of those and many more made their way into American movies, often as incidental or background music in John Ford’s westerns.

It was not surprisingly the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem who brought this wonderful piece into the heart of the American folk revival – and from them it was picked up by the Kingston Trio, whose massive commercial punch, even as relatively late as 1962, propelled it into the subconscious of two generations of Irish Americans and folk fans in general.

But first, back to Roddy himself. In the Rebellion of 1798, known by many names including The Year of the French (because of revolutionary France’s attempt to aid the rebels) and as noted The Great Wexford Rising (though there were more than a dozen counties involved in the coordinated attacks on the English military), local leaders became overnight heroes – and almost universally martyrs as well. We know little of McCorley except that he was a member of the group United Irishmen, founded by angry Protestant Presbyterians like himself (yes – Roddy was not Catholic!) who were infuriated by the British exploitation that in forty years would lead to the Potato Famine that killed two million and sent another two million packing, through the melancholy port cities of Waterford and Cork and Liverpool, to the foreign shores from which they never returned. (Thus did the Stevenses, Conways, Flahertys, and a Moran come to Chicago and combine to be my ancestors.)

McCorley was the leader of a sadly under-armed squadron in the town of Toombridge, County Antrim – pitchforks, no less - against a regiment of redcoat infantry. The rebels were cut to pieces with a few including McCorley escaping for a time. Roddy was later captured, convicted by a drumhead court martial – apparently with no defense attorney – and summarily executed by hanging from the ruined bridge in the town of Toomebridge. His body was dismembered by our British cousins and buried at different points along the road to Ballymena, though later his remaining friends exhumed the fragments and re-buried them secretly in a proper grave that was unmarked and unknown to this day. His descendants remain in Ireland, some actively involved in politics, and there is an active Republican “Roddy McCorley Society” linked below.

And now for the music. Instead of my usual practice of starting with the KT version, I’m starting with the first recorded version I heard, courtesy of Grandma Moran, around 1959 – from the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem’s first album on Tradition records (Paddy Clancy’s label – the records were at first recorded in the kitchen of his Greenwich Village apartment) to identify them as a group. This remains and will always be my favorite version of the song – just Liam on guitar, singing his heart out with Tom, Paddy, and Tommy Makem.

Since that audio-only piece was yanked for copyright, hers a similar performance from a live TV show in Chicago from 1962.)



It's clear that the KT took their cue from the Clancy's rousing performance. Here, familiar to us all, is the Trio from College Concert.



It took me a while to like this - I thought the drum stuff that frames the song was an unnecessary artifice, as if the guys didn't trust the inherent power of the words and their own fierce energy to carry the import of the number. I also thought that John S's banjo strum here was just wrong for the number - too syncopated and "Little Light"-ish for a song that should by to the 4/4 martial beat of boots tramping on sacred ground.

I heard it with new ears, though, when my young YouTube Irish friend Daragh, newly entranced with the KT, pronounced it the best version he had heard - and when he posted it, his Irish commenters universally loved it. And the Trio undeniably brings its signature, unmatchable energy to its performance.

County Antrim is in the ancient kingdom of Ulster, as is Keady town, birthplace of Tommy Makem. I have no evidence, but I believe that he brought this song to the group - the southern Tipperary-born Clancys had not included it on their Rising of the Moon album of Irish songs of rebellion prior to Tommy's joining the group, and it's certainly now one of the best-known of all the songs of that genre. Here is the authentic real deal - Tommy Makem solo toward the end of his life - a GREAT rendition:



And here's a fine performance that has another curious KT connection. The Wolfe Tones (a really popular and prominent folk group in Ireland associated with radical IRA politics and named for the most famous leader of the 1798 rising, James Wolfe Tone) perform "Sean South of "Garryowen." The tune is clearly the same as "McCorley" - but Sean South (pronounced 'Soot' or 'Sowt') was the other teenager killed in an abortive IRA attack on a British military barracks in 1957 that went awry when the IRA explosives failed to detonate. The first teen to be mortally wounded was Fergal O'Hanlon - referenced in "The Patriot Game."



In any form, it's a great song. Just as you don't have to be a Texan to love "Remember The Alamo," you don't need to be Irish to love what the KT and the others do with this one.


Appendix
Here's some extra stuff:

1) The website of the Roddy McCorley Society:
Official Roddy McCorley Web Page
2) 1962 video kinescope of the Clancys doing the posted version:



3) One of John Stewart's great hidden talents was as a mimic. I mentioned in the main post that John told a story about Tom Clancy interrupting Theo Bikel - well, here's how the Clancys sounded doing "Haul Away Joe" - and JS could do a stunning imitation of Tom Clancy, who sings this lead:



4) Finally - especially for Pa Mick Coates Down Under - the Dubliners' version, with Barney McKenna - as Mick says, the greatest tenor banjo player that ever was - if you don't believe so, just lsiten: