Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Rehabilitated Peanut: "Goober Peas"

I was thinking of a how useful a term Sebastian Unger and the US Weather Service have given us in "the perfect storm" (speaking of breezes) to refer to an unlikely conjunction of events that creates a powerful (and in the case of the nor'easter of Unger's book, destructive) new and unique phenomenon.

My own journey into a now lifelong love of folk music is derived from just such a conjunction - and interestingly for a post on this board, not at all primarily from the Kingston Trio. My infatuation for them led to many more diverse folk interests, but it was a result of earlier influences, some of which may be shared by other Boomers.

Aside from the comprehensive love of all things musical of my parents, who surrounded all of my nine brothers and sisters and me with vast numbers of records and books even before we could walk, my first big influences came from Disney via the theme song for Davy Crockett (see below), which you recall featured a simple, guitar and bass only accompaniment and truly sounded more folkie than many real folk songs, and of course Jimmie Dodd from The Mickey Mouse Club, whose Mickey-shaped tenor guitar (and his mastery of it - see below again) engendered in me a fascination with the guitar that quickly replaced my love for the piano (on which I had seven years of lessons).

At the same time, you'll recall the great Burl Ives was churning out hit after hit from the simplest and most accessible folk songs (though in his TV appearances he played a ridiculously little nylon stringed guitar that contrasted with his impressive physical bulk).

But as I've noted before, our local Chicago version of Will Geer/Woody Guthrie/Oscar Brand was Win Stracke, a lefty activist and actor and singer and writer - and host of a children's show called "Uncle Win," on which he daily played a goodly number of folk songs, singing them in an impressive baritone and accompanying himself on what I now recognize as a great big Martin D-28.

Sometime in the very late 50's, Uncle Win recorded an LP called Songs of the Civil War (one side colored blue, the other gray) a great record with the best versions I've heard of about 30 of those songs. I was and remain a Civil War nut (during the Centennial, I frequently knew what happened on each date before our newspaper published it), and one of my two favorite songs on the LP was "Goober Peas."

So when the song popped up on the Kingston Trio's fourth album, Here We Go Again, I already knew it and loved their version because of the banjo part and because they did it straight up. That's why I can still listen to it, unlike "Worried Man," whose lyrics make me cringe for their silliness compared to the original song and "Wide Missouri," whose aching loveliness makes me wish all the more that they had really done "Shenandoah."

"Goober Peas" really was sung by Confederate soldiers through the whole Civil War, possibly coming from a pre-war song. No one knows who wrote it - when it was published on sheet music first a year after the war in 1866, it was attributed to "P. Nutt." Ha ha - or as we say today, LOL. There's one more verse, seldom sung today, written by one of the more than 100,000 Confederate POWs - worth a chuckle, I'd say:

But now we are in prison and likely long to stay,

The Yankees they are guarding us, no hope to get away;

Our rations they are scanty, 'tis cold enough to freeze,—

I wish I was in Georgia, eating goober peas.

Peas, peas, peas, peas, Eating goober peas;

I wish I was in Georgia, eating goober peas.

And here with an unusual video, anime again - the Kingston Trio:

The artist here next is listed as "The Merry Singers," a group that put out dozens of 78s and LPs for children between 1948 and perhaps as late as the 1970s. The early date is of interest - because though there is little detailed information about the group on the internet, I would swear that the lead vocal here is the aforementioned Win Stracke, musical hero of my earliest years:

Other Merry Players recordings feature a voice that sounds very much like Oscar Brand, Canadian/American friend and contemporary of Stracke.

Here's a fine rendition by The 97th Regimental String Band, a group dedicated to authentic performances of the era's songs - I'd guess that the real soldiers sounded something like this:

Civil War re-enacters are a special breed, and this video of another traditional sounding version with frailed banjo ("Cripple Creek" in the middle, yet!) is a montage from a re-enactment camp; the audio track is from yet another early 60s pop-folk group, the Cumberland Three, which included a 20 year old California named John Stewart, who was within a year of replacing Dave Guard in the Kingston Trio. Stewart's traditional frailed banjo accompaniment is featured here and makes an interesting contrast with Guard's banjo work on the KT cut above:

Finally - I usually don't post completely amateur versions - but the cast of characters here allows an exception. Our good friend Bo Wennstam from Sweden living now in Mallorca has uploaded over 200 videos of fantasy camp. Here is a group of us from 2007 in Mikey's Hospitality Suite Annex doing a very Kingston version of the song:

The cast here includes - Michigan's Jerry Peterson doing fine lead guitar throughout, partially obscured by the incredibly talented Fred Grittner on mandolin ( Fred did a wonderful "California" re-write and his JS tribute song "Where The River meets The Sea," memorialized Stewart), fine banjo work by Jim Snow to the left and PK Frawley to the right (with Triofan John Lee joining later in the song), yours truly following along to the right of Fred, with Rick Jarusciewicz on Swiss Army bass. P.C. Fields is standing by the curtain in the back; as Bo pans the shot to the left at 1:13 - that's Mikey Burns sitting with Susan Keays, and you can see the banjo head and half of young Elliott Gleeson. Bob Kozma walks past the camera before the last chorus.

Fun fun fun if not great - and this is why everyone should come to Scottsdale at least once because this kind of jam goes on day and night all week.


Just for fun - the original soundtrack recording of "Davy Crockett" -

And Jimmie Dodd doing some fine tenor work:

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