Thursday, August 27, 2009

Moonshiners and Revenuers: "Darling Corey"


My little Comparative Videos enterprise is constantly full of surprises, like my last posting's excellent version of "Maria" by actor Pernell Roberts, or Johnny Cash doing "Remember The Alamo," or a mountain ocarina version of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face."

That notwithstanding, I was in no way prepared for this week's revelation. Of the fifty three songs I've profiled thus far, the one with the largest number of video interpretations on YouTube is this week's entry, "Darlin' Corey," or as the Kingston Trio named it (never forget those lucrative publishing profits), "Corey, Corey." And it isn't even close - there are more than 80 different video versions on YouTube, many with a good claim to be heard for their creativity of interpretation or their uniqueness. I'd guess that the elasticity of the simple song lends itself to multiple interpretations, and the song has been a multi-generational delight for banjo pickers and frailers alike.

I was never a big fan of the song originally on the KT At Large album, and I often skipped the cut. I thought it was just too mono-tonal, and Nick Reynolds' "ohhs" I found especially annoying. I still don't think they add much to the song at all, but I've developed an affection for the other vocal harmonies and have always been stunned by the quantum leap in Dave Guard's banjo work that the song represents.

Like a substantial number of now-familiar Appalachian folk songs, "Darlin' Corey" was first recorded in the 1920s by a number of artists, the best-known of whom I think was Clarence Gill (though Wikipedia says that the song was never released). Despite a number of versions copyrighted under different titles, the piece is clearly a traditional folk song, and musicians and banjo players especially have undoubtedly noticed the similarity of chord structure between it and that other great moonshining girl song, "Little Maggie." I am surprised, though, that A.P Carter apparently never got his hands (and copyright) on it.

We start with a mid-1950s version is the skiffle performance from the UK's Lonnie Donegan:



The immediate antecedent of the Kingston version was the Weavers' recording in 1954. The arrangement for the latter was by Pete Seeger, whose solo version from 1993 is here:



The influence on the KT is clear, including Dave's respectable (for a two-year banjo player) attempt to replicate the far more complex Seeger frail:



Now, what the current Trio often does is use the original recording as a template and then enhances both instrumentation and harmonies, and I think that's perfectly on display here:



And since we're doing KT versions, here is one of the best camper trios ever from FC10 - Tom Sanders, Tony Lay, and Bert Williams. Note the dead-on frailing that Bert is doing (we played this one together in Mike and Mikey's suite)and Tony's authentic Shane bare-handed strum:



There are so many other great versions, and so little space here. Some of the best - one of my favorite singers from the 80s, Bruce Hornsby with pop-country turned traditionalist Ricky Skaggs:



The legendary Seldom Scene doing what I think Ives was trying to do:



Two hot, popular younger groups I've seen in person - first, Crooked Still:



and Red Molly - I love the ladies doing this:



The variety of styles demonstrated here is what got me going in this project in the first place, and it feels great to be at it again. More to come....

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Addendum, August 2014

A few weeks ago an extremely rare live performance video was posted to YouTube of the Kingston Trio on The Perry Como Show in January of 1960 doing this song. It is extraordinary how much better Dave Guard had gotten at frailing in the year following the studio recording above.

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