Thursday, February 4, 2010

"Get Along Home, Cindy!"

It's always fun for me to find genuinely, even radically, different interpretations of a folk song - all of which still retain clear relationships both to each other and to the long-lost original or root song. That's what we have this week with a genuine old folk chestnut, "Get Along Home, Cindy."

That it's a really old song has certification from no one less than Alan Lomax himself, who speculates in his 1947 Folk Songs Of North America that "Cindy" predates the year of 1840 that he asserts as the invention of the five string banjo in North Carolina by one Joe Sweeney. (This, incidentally, is the first time I've stumbled across that note and definitely the first time I've ever heard so definite a claim for the invention of the instrument, though Lomax offers no documentation in the book. If anyone knew for certain, though....) What Lomax doesn't make clear, however, is whether he believes that the song is African-American in origin (and the first established publication of the piece in 1902 is in AA dialect) that was borrowed by Scots-Irish fiddlers and banjo players or vice versa. No matter at this remove, I suppose, and it is doubtful it could ever be established anyway.

In any event, the song breaks out of the valleys and hollers and into public consciousness in the U.S. first not from the Carters or other Appalachian pickers but in fact from the Southwest - from the King of Western Swing, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys (pictured above) in the following 1936 recording. Wills plays a mean country fiddle behind Tommy Duncan's vocal, and his lead guitarist playing an electrified guitar is Leon McCauliffe:

Gotta love that cross between honky-tonk and cowdy (as Mick Coates calls it) with spot-on harmony on the chorus. These guys were the best.

And speaking of the 5 string banjo, Joe Sweeney above or no - the modern master of the folk styles of the instrument is of course Pete Seeger, here on an early 78 rpm recording from the late '40s or early 50s:

The precision and clarity of Seeger's rapid playing, here in what sounds like a modified frail, set the standard for all folk players who followed him.

For a Grand Ole Opry take on the song, we go to Grandpa Jones and a simple, straightforward, no frills version:

The "commercial folk" version here is one of those signature, high-energy, syncopated Guard, Shane and Reynolds songs, with audio here from Dinah Shore's TV show from April of 1959, just when the group is conducting an unprecedented assault on Billboard's album charts, with two albums in the Top Ten, one on the way there, and the summer release of Here We Go Again making it four in December of that year:

Dave Guard has been playing banjo for about two and a half years at this point. Discouraging to us mere mortals.

From later that same year - many will remember Rick Nelson, Dean Martin, and Walter Brennan doing a version of it from the Howard Hawks/John Wayne Rio Bravo:

Not at all bad, really. And whatever else, in the shadow of the Grammys with all that - stuff - they were doing - Rick(y) is really playing his own guitar here.

For the fun and strange - pop/jazz/comedy/what-have-you icon Jo Stafford does a version that straddles pop and jazz - earlier 50s:

But back to the roots with two fine closing versions - first, Duane Eddy's demi-rockabilly instrumental - I always loved his twangy guitar playing:

Anyone else hear the roots of Glen Campbell's later guitar work here?

Weeks like this one are really fun doing this blog. I just may keep it going forever.....

Addendum, 10/2/10

Just found this outstanding and authentic-sounding version from the UK's Rosinators:

Addendum - 12/10/10

A recent bluesy version from Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant - courtesy of folk researcher extraordinaire PC Fields:

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