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The old expression says, 'simplicity is only the absence of clutter', it's not a substance. That's all, right?... The timing's harder. The less notes you play, the harder the timing. When you're playing quick it's just eighth notes so they're all even. Syncopation is created from the space - Jerry Ricks, Port Townsend 97

Author Topic: Dock Boggs Lyrics  (Read 15287 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Dock Boggs Lyrics
« on: September 15, 2013, 05:07:15 PM »
Hi all,
Dock Boggs' version of "Oh Death" appeared on his first Folkway album after his rediscovery by Mike Seeger.  He accompanied himself on the banjo, employing his eerie f#CGAD tuning, which he often used when playing in D, and which made available the spooky hammer on the low fourth string from the bVII note, C, up to the tonic note D. 
Dock said he learned the song from a friend, Lee Hunsucker, who was not a player, but who, according to Dock, sang all the time and had the ability to remember a song's lyrics after only singing it once or twice.  Dock said he learned many songs from Lee Hunsucker. 
Dock's vocal on this is amazing--stylized, certainly, but with a flat affect, very un-actory, he trusted the words to communicate the gravity of the topic.  His way of making his notes, vocally, at this stage of his life was so highly evolved and so much his own. 
John Cohen recorded another version of this song by the ballad singer, Berzilla Wallin, which she called, perhaps more appropriately, "Conversations With Death".  It is also well worth seeking out.  It would really be interesting to know the origin of the song.



What is this that I can see with icy hands taking hold on me?
"I am Death and none can excel, I'll open the door to Heaven or Hell."

REFRAIN: Oh Death, Oh Death
Can't you spare me over 'til another year
Oh Death, Oh Death
Please spare me over 'til another year

"Oh Death", someone would pray, "Could you call some other day?"
"The children's prayed, the preacher preached, the time of mercy is out of your reach."

"I'll fix your feet so you can't walk, I'll lock your jaw so you can't talk
Close your eyes so you can't see, this very hour come go with me."

"Death, I come, take the soul, leave the body and leave it cold.
To drop the flesh off of the frame, the earth and worm both have a claim."

REFRAIN: Oh Death, Oh Death
Can't you spare me over 'til another year
Oh Death, Oh Death
Please spare me over 'til another year

My Mother come to my bed, place a cold towel upon my head
My head is warm, my feet is cold, Death is moving upon my soul

"Oh Death, how you treating me, you close my eyes so I can't see
You hurt my body, you make me cold, you ruin my life right out of my soul."

REFRAIN: Oh Death, Oh Death
Can't you spare me over 'til another year
Oh Death, Oh Death
Please spare me over 'til another year

"Oh Death, consider my age, please don't take me at this stage.
My wealth is all at your command, if you will move your icy hand."

"The old, the young, the rich or poor, are all alike with me, you know.
No wealth, no land, no silver, no gold--nothing satisfy me but your soul."

REFRAIN: Oh Death, Oh Death
Can't you spare me over 'til another year
Oh Death, Oh Death
Please spare me over 'til another year

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: July 14, 2020, 04:56:01 PM by Johnm »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Dock Boggs Lyrics
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2013, 08:23:22 PM »
Hi John,

Re. the roots of the song. It doesn't get us to the origins, but Alan Lomax also recorded Bessie Jones singing a unaccompanied version that is different enough that it seems to be another branch of the song. On the Southern Journey series, Vol 12, Georgia Sea Islands.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Dock Boggs Lyrics
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2013, 08:54:40 AM »
Apropos of nothing in particular, Lee Hunsucker was Dock's brother-in-law, married to his sister Laura. "Oh Death" is one of the few songs Dock plays in that tuning that uses that low C as a melody note (the "ath" in the first "death").
Chris

Offline Johnm

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Re: Dock Boggs Lyrics
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2013, 01:12:40 PM »
Hi all,
Dock Boggs tuned to gCGBD and accompanied himself out of C for "New Prisoner's Song", on which he was joined by Mike Seeger on back-up guitar.  This song has an exceptionally pretty melody and Dock phrases the melody right underneath his singing.
Dock's phrasing on "New Prisoner's Song" is interesting, in that like a lot of blues singers, he will finish out a measure and then tack on an extra beat (boom-chang) to accommodate the vocal pick-up to his next measure.  He's not altogether consistent with this approach, though, and on occasion, as in the second line of the refrain, he goes "short" instead of "long".  His opening refrain and first verse phrase out like so, assuming two big beats per measure (boom-chang, boom-chang) unless otherwise indicated:



Sitting a- lone,     sad, all a- lone
|     C      |    C    |    F        |  C       |
Sitting in my cell, all a- lone, a-
|     C           |    C        |     G     |
Thinking of those good times gone by me                  ,a-
|        C               |        C              |     F        |     F + 1  |
Knowing that I once had a home                                  For
|          G         |        G      |      C       |      C        |     C      |

Seven long years I've been in prison                   For
|       C       |         C              |       F      |       F + 1    |
Seven long more I have to stay                     Just for
|      G        |       G            |      C          |       C           |
Knocking a man down in the alley                      And
|       C      |            C           |      F        |      F + 1      |
Taking his gold watch a-way
|      G      |        G        |      C + 1 |

Looking at Dock's phrasing in this regard, it has a lot in common with that of musicians like Ed Bell, Furry Lewis and Robert Wilkins.  There is more discussion of this sort of phrasing in the "Vocal Phrasing:  The Long and the Short of It" thread.

REFRAIN:  Sitting alone, sad, all alone
Sitting in my cell, all alone
A-thinking of those good times gone by me
A-knowing that I once had a home

For seven long years I've been in prison
For seven long more I have to stay
Just for knocking a man down in the alley
And taking his gold watch away

REFRAIN:  Sitting alone, sad, all alone
Sitting in my cell, all alone
A-thinking of those good times gone by me
A-knowing that I once had a home

Oh, oncet I had a sister and a brother
I wonder if they ever think of me
Oh, oncet I had a father and mother
Who lived in a cottage near the sea

REFRAIN:  Sitting alone, sad, all alone
Sitting in my cell, all alone
A-thinking of those good times gone by me
A-knowing that I once had a home

Edited 9/16 to pick up correction from banjochris

All best,
Johnm



         
 
             
« Last Edit: July 14, 2020, 05:38:53 PM by Johnm »

Offline banjochris

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Re: Dock Boggs Lyrics
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2013, 02:53:53 PM »
On the Brunswick 78, Dock smooths out that "short" line at the end of the second line of the refrain. He still goes long on the others though. Also, John, I think the lyric is "Thinking of those good times gone by ME" each time. This is one where the Folkways recording is much better than the 78, I think.
Chris

Offline Johnm

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Re: Dock Boggs Lyrics
« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2013, 03:24:17 PM »
Thanks very much for that catch, Chris.  I haven't been listening to that rendition but about 48 years and I never heard that "me" right, and it is certainly right.  And I love the song!  Oh well . . ., live and learn, if you're lucky.  I'll make the change. 
I do like Dock's post-rediscovery singing better in general than than his singing on his first recordings;  I also prefer his time later.  It seems more springy and loose and less brittle.
All best,
Johnm

Offline RB

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Re: Dock Boggs Lyrics
« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2013, 05:49:10 PM »
I haven't listened lately but I always heard the line written above as

 'What is this that I can see with icy hands taking hold on me?'

as

 'What is this that I can't see with icy hands taking hold on me?'

Offline Johnm

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Re: Dock Boggs Lyrics
« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2013, 05:54:17 PM »
Hi RB,
I think "can't see" would make more sense, but I just listened three times to the Folkways recording I took the transcription from and couldn't hear a trace of a t there.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Dock Boggs Lyrics
« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2013, 05:33:34 AM »
Since "can't see" makes more sense than "can see", by all means sing "can't see." It's not just us city slickers who mis-hear words to songs. Another instance: in at least one recording of "Hard Luck," Dock sang:

"Hard luck, hard luck, they put me on the spot.
The jury said it wasn't me, my brother Jim got shot."

But the whole point of the first part of the song is that the bullet went through the narrator and killed his brother Jim. Therefore, since it's a humorous song, the only sensible version of the second line is:

The jury said it was through me my brother Jim got shot.

Lyle

Offline RB

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Re: Dock Boggs Lyrics
« Reply #9 on: September 17, 2013, 08:54:16 AM »
It seems that communication takes, at least, two to make it happen.  So it occurs to me that when I said above that I 'heard' 'can't' all those years ago rather than 'can' I might have been less than accurate at 'heard' rather than 'believed.' 

I agree, at least in my memory, as to the flat affect in the singing and the lack of theatrics, 'un-actory.'  I don't know why he would have sung this way, could be a lot of varied reasons, do know that it sounds good at this moment and in memory as compared with more theatrical versions.

I'd also be happy to know more about the song's origins.

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Dock Boggs Lyrics
« Reply #10 on: September 17, 2013, 10:34:51 AM »

I agree, at least in my memory, as to the flat affect in the singing and the lack of theatrics, 'un-actory.'  I don't know why he would have sung this way, could be a lot of varied reasons, do know that it sounds good at this moment and in memory as compared with more theatrical versions.


The "flat affect" is a diagnostic of the anglo-american folksong style, on both sides of the Atlantic. It's characteristic of all the ballad singers (with the exception of John Jacob Niles, who was just plain weird), and that style carried over into other songs. For awhile, Alan Lomax was espousing a theory that he called "cantometrics," which alleged that the flat-affect singing style was due to sexual repression -- a Freudian idea. I don't think it's very profitable to search for causes -- that's just part of the traditional singing style, and anyone who indulges in theatrics is classified by me as a fake singer, not a folk singer.

Lyle   
« Last Edit: September 17, 2013, 05:47:36 PM by uncle bud »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Dock Boggs Lyrics
« Reply #11 on: September 17, 2013, 10:56:37 AM »
Yes, I agree with Lyle.  The term I've often heard used by folklorists to describe such singing is "objective".
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Dock Boggs Lyrics
« Reply #12 on: September 17, 2013, 02:42:57 PM »
Hi all,
Dock Boggs' performance of "Rowan County Crew" appeared on his first Folkways record.  He accompanied himself out of G in a partial C tuning, gCGBD for the song, which is sung and played in a mixolydian pentatonic scale in G, which is to say that the scale tones derive from the C scale, but are sung with G as the key center, G-B-C-D-F, or I-III-IV-V-bVII.  Dock sings the song with banjo doubling the melody right under his singing.

This song is of epic proportions, 6'10" long, with a huge number of verses and words.  It returns the ballad to the function of reportage.  Dock forges right through, pretty much without stopping to come up for air.  The doings in Kentucky were indeed violently dangerous at the times of which he was singing, in the 1880s.  The autoharp player Kilby Snow told me once that in a lot of small towns in Appalachia in the early twentieth century, if you came into town on foot, a stranger after dark, you would just be shot, no questions asked.  Dock's concentration and stamina for this rendition are all the more remarkable when you consider that the song's melody lay right at the top of his vocal range.  One of the striking things about the story the song tells is that it is by no means over at the conclusion of the performance; the murders and attacks are still continuing as the song concludes, and one gets the sense that the chain of events may have continued along in much the same way for some time after the point at which the song ends. 

The last two full verses employ a different melody than all the preceding verses.  I am not at all sure I have the spellings correct for all the characters' names, or the place names.  I'd appreciate help with the two bent bracketed passages.  "Rowan" is prounounced with the same vowel sound in its first syllable as is "county".  The "he" at the beginning of the fourth verse must refer to Floyd Tolliver.
NOTE:  As per banjochris's message that follows this, the word "Ireland" was mis-spoken, and was intended to be sung "he died in iron bands", which is to say, hand-cuffed.  In the second verse from the last, Dock pronounced "deliberate", "delibbity".



Come all you fathers and mothers, and brothers, sisters, too
I'll relate to you the history of the Rowan County Crew
Concerning bloody Rowan and many heedless deeds
Now friends, please give attention, remember how it reads

It was in the month of August, all on election day
John Martin, he was wounded, they say by Johnny Day
Oh, Martin couldn't believe it, he could not think it so
His thoughts was Floyd Tolliver, who struck the fatal blow

Oh, Martin, he recovered, some months had come and past
All in the town of Morehead, these men they met at last
Oh, Martin had a friend or two, about the street did walk
He seemed to be uneasy, no one he wished to talk

He walked in Judge Carriage's grocery, and stepped up to the bar
But little did he think he'd met his fatal hour
The sting of death was near him as Martin rushed in at the door
And a few words passed between them, concerned the row before

The people being frightened, rushed out of the room
And the ball from Martin's pistol laid Tolliver in his tomb
His friends they gather 'round him, a wife to weep and wail
And Martin was soon arrested, and then confined in jail

He's put in jail of Rowan, there to remain a while
In the hands of law and justice, to bravely stand a trial
The people talked of lynching him, but presently they did fail
Some of his friends removed him to the Winchester jail

Some person forged an order, their name I do not know
And the plan was soon agreed upon, and for Martin they did go
They slapped the handcuffs on him, his heart was in distress
They hurried to the station, stepped on the night express

All along the line she lumbered, all at her usual speed
There was only two in number, to commit this awful deed
Oh, Martin's in the smoking car, accompanied by his wife
They did not want her present when they took her husband's life

When they arrived at Farmers, they had no time to lose
And a band approached the engineer and forbid him not to move
They stepped up to the prisoner with pistols in the hand
In death he soon was sinking, he died in Ireland [sic] band

His wife heard the sound, she was in another car
She cried, "Oh Lord, they've killed him!", it's when she heard the pistols fire
The death of these two men caused trouble in the land
Caused men to leave their families and take the parting hand

Our relations are still at war, may never, never cease
Oh, if I could see our loved ones once more in peace
They shot and killed a deputy sheriff, Bumgardner was his hame
They shot him from the bushes, after takin' deliberate aim

The death of him was dreadful, may never be forgot
His body was pierced and torn by thirty-three buckshot
They shot and killed Sol Bradley, a sober and innocent man
They left his wife and childern to do the best they can

They wounded young Ed Sizemore, although his life did save
He seemed to dodge the grog shops, they've stood so near his grave

Edited 9/18 to pick up corrections from banjochris

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: July 14, 2020, 04:58:35 PM by Johnm »

Offline banjochris

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Re: Dock Boggs Lyrics
« Reply #13 on: September 18, 2013, 10:04:45 AM »
A few things on "Rowan" -- the song was composed by fiddler J.W. Day, who was also known as Jilson Setters, the "Blind Fiddler of Lost Hope Holler," which is a whole other thing to get into at another time. I believe Dock plays the song out of gCGBD tuning, so he has the tonic note on the 7th fret of the fourth string as he plays his main chord, 7-7-8-9. I think by far this is Dock's most difficult song to sing and play. The right-hand style is sort of a mix of all of Dock's styles. And the vocal, as you say John, is amazing.

On his interview record for Folkways, there's a track of Dock introducing this song in concert, where he mentions a black man singing this song somewhere up in Kentucky and a relative of one of the families walking up and shooting the man in the head.

In the lyrics

3.2 Morehead should just have one "O"
4.1 I believe Mike Seeger has this as Judge Carriage's in his transcription, but can't remember for sure
4.4 CONCERNING the row before
9.4 I think Dock sings Ireland bands but it sounds like a slip. I believe it probably should be "in iron bands" for handcuffs
11.3 Seeger has Bumgarner instead of Bob Gardner (and I just saw a memorial to the people killed in the feud -- his name was Stewart Bumgardner)
11.4 AFTER TAKING DELIBERATE AIM (Dock pronounces it deliberat--ee)
12.3 SOBER and innocent man
13.2 Seeger has (and I think he's right) HE SEEMED TO DODGE THE GROG SHOPS, THAT stood so near his grave

More on this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rowan_County_War
« Last Edit: September 18, 2013, 10:11:45 AM by banjochris »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Dock Boggs Lyrics
« Reply #14 on: September 18, 2013, 01:43:01 PM »
Thanks very much for all the help, Chris.  I can see where having the album that had the interviews with Dock would really be helpful.  I've never had that one.  I entered all of your suggested changes with the exception of "concerning" for "concerned".  He seems to sing "concerned" pretty clearly, and it makes grammatical sense too, if you think of him eliding the word "that" immediately prior to "concerned".  I've also kept "they've" in the very last line.  I think he may have meant to sing "that", but after 6 minutes, "they've" is what came out, I think. 
Thanks so much for your help.  It feels really good to have it fine-tuned that way, and of course the historical information makes all the difference in such a song.
All best,
Johnm

 


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