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.

Friday, August 14, 2009

"They Call The Wind Maria"


Every time I think I'm coming to the end of this series and can envision only four or five more songs to profile, something comes up and I find myself seeing ten or fifteen beyond that number - and delaying one week's selection for something more immediate (as two weeks ago when my upload of our Chilly Winds "Hard Travelin'" was a good excuse to profile that song, long a favorite of mine).

When I did the KT Wikipedia a month ago, I came upon and used a quotation from Bob Shane from the 1997 book Martin Guitars in which Bob descried the folksinger label attached to the group, saying that they did "folk-oriented material amid all kinds of other stuff." The first song that popped into my head for "other stuff" was "They Call The Wind Maria," a Broadway Lerner&Loewe chestnut that stood out from the folkier selections on the ...from the Hungry i album but remained a highlight of that record because of the sheer power and excellence of the performance. And as with songs previously profiled here like "Scarlet Ribbons" and "Try To Remember", it has been folkies and country singers who have contributed at least as much to the song's popularity as the musical comedy community.

The Trio has long introduced the song as one swiped from a failed Broadway musical, but that's not quite so, unless you prefer to think relatively. Paint Your Wagon played on Broadway for 289 performances between late 1951 and mid 1952 - at seven shows a week, that's about 40 weeks - not enough to retire on but what should have been well past the break-even point for shows of that era. Production problems created cost overruns that ate up the modest profits. Now that's not a flop - unless of course you remember that Lerner and Loewe were almost co-equal with Rodgers and Hammerstein as the dominant composers on postwar Broadway and unless you compare Wagon with genuine L&L hits that ran for years like My Fair Lady and Camelot.

Still, Wagon would likely be dismissed to the dustbin of history were it not for this song and another great tune, "I Was Born Under A Wanderin' Star." "Maria" was sung in the original cast by Rufus Smith, the least-known but fully equal member of that group of stunningly talented Broadway baritones of the era that included Gordon MacRae, John Raitt, Richard Kiley, Robert Goulet and more - and the recently-deceased Harve Presnell (d. 6/30/09), whose version here is from the 1969 movie and is as Lerner and Loewe conceived it:



The Kingston Trio gives us the next three versions - first, the one that many of us fell in love with from Hungry i, a fabulous version in a nightclub without orchestra or chorus (forgive the fanzine images of Mariah Carey, whose parents did in fact name her after this version of the song but got the spelling wrong):



Now, I never fully embraced John Stewart doing Dave Guard-era Trio songs - until the Flashback album. That version here is a superior performance - five years down the line Shane is in even better voice, Stewart's lead guitar and background vocals are haunting, and Stewart and then Shane just blow away the rhythm guitar part at the end - and John Triofan Lee's mastering brings Nick Reynolds' bongos up to a proper level - just magnificent:



And an excellent piece of evidence showing why Bill Zorn is the only singer in folkdom with the vocal power to take Shane's place in the group - here's the current KT in an equally wonderful rendition:



And another Big Voice from the days of yore - I hope some here remember Vaughn Monroe:



Frankie Laine, from 1998, late in his career:



It would have been a treat to hear Laine do this in his prime.

Carlie Slaven presents a delightfully unique and original bluegrass version:



Finally, our surprise selection of the week - actor Pernell Roberts of Bonanza and Trapper John MD set against videos of the former show in its glory days:





Contrary to some people's suppositions, I do not actually live at the computer, and next week's Weekend Videos may well go the way of last week's - into the dark cavern of lost good intentions. I'll be in Manitou Springs CO rehearsing like crazy for our show there - hope to have a WV anyway but no promises. Then again - no one seemed to miss one last week....:)