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Author Topic: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home  (Read 6407 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« on: May 13, 2014, 02:32:37 PM »
Hi all,
"Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home" is a song that has had a very wide circulation among Country Blues musicians, much as has "Railroad Bill".  I thought to do a thread collecting different versions of the song.  Just for the sake of clarity, simple inclusion of the phrase "poor boy" in a title or lyric does not place it in this song family.  For example, neither Booker White's version of "Poor Boy" or Willie Lofton's "Poor Boy" belong in this family, since they're altogether different songs.  In order to fall in the family, the phrase "poor boy, long ways from home" needs to featured prominently in the lyric.

Carl Hodges' "Poor Boy Blues" was recorded in Saluda, Virginia in 1979 by Kip Lornell.  Hodges accompanied himself out of E position in standard tuning.  The song is most often played out of Vestapol with a slide, but is played in other tunings/positions, too.  I like the roughness of Carl Hodges sound; it's not one I would normally associate with a Virginia player at all.  The way he just whacks the strings with his right thumb sounds really good to me.



Poor old boy, stood on the road and cried
Poor old boy, stood on the road and cried
Poor old boy, got nowhere to --

Poor old boy, long ways from home
Poor old boy, long ways from home
Poor old boy, stood on the road and cried

Poor old boy, don't know which-a-way to go
Poor old boy, don't know which-a-way to go
Poor old boy, stood on the road and cried

SOLO X 2

Poor old boy, long ways from home
Poor old boy, long ways from home
Poor old boy, got nowhere to go

Poor old boy, stood on the road and cried
Poor old boy, stood on the road and cried
Poor old boy, got nowhere to go

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: May 13, 2014, 02:33:53 PM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« Reply #1 on: May 13, 2014, 02:35:26 PM »
Hi all,
John Hurt played his version of "Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home" out of C position in standard tuning.  It has a raggy, danceable feel quite different from other versions of that song that I've heard.  John Hurt either didn't have many verses for the song or could only recall two when he recorded it.  His version of the song is unfamiliar to me, and I didn't know he played it.



I'm a poor old boy and a long ways from home
Feel like I ain't got no friend
(guitar finishes verse)

SOLO

I'm a poor old boy and a long ways from home
I feel like I ain't got no friend
I'm a poor old boy and a long ways from home
I feel like I ain't got no friend

Oh please, please, let me stay all night
I'm a poor old boy and a long ways from home
Oh please, please, let me stay all night
I'm a poor old boy and a long way from home

SOLO

All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« Reply #2 on: May 13, 2014, 02:36:49 PM »
Hi all,
Cat Iron recorded "Poor Boy, A Long, Long Way From Home" accompanying himself in Vestapol with a slide, as many or most versions of that song have been played.  He spends a lot of time playing time in between his verses, just vamping.  What a tremendous singer he was.



I'm a poor old boy, I'm a long, long ways from home
I'm a poor old boy, I'm a long ways from home
I'm a poor old boy, I'm long way from home

Ain't got nobody to feel and care for me
Ain't got nobody to feel and care for me
Says, all I had done caught the train and gone

Says, I went to the depot, I looked up at the sign
Said, I went to the depot, I looked up at the sign
Said, nothing I see would bring my baby back

Vicksburg on a high hill, N'awleans just below
Vicksburg on a high hill, N'awleans just below
If she don't come tomorrow, next day be my boat

Tell, if you don't want me, whyn't you tell me so?
Woman, if you don't want me, whyn't you tell me so?
If you don't want me, whyn't you tell me so?

All best,
Johnm

Offline Kokomo O

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Re: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« Reply #3 on: May 13, 2014, 03:24:59 PM »
John, I agree you've got three great and disparate examples of the song there.

There are a couple of strange things about the Cat Iron version. First, in the second verse, while I agree that you've probably correctly transcribed the word "feel," it doesn't really make sense. As I listened, I thought he was going to sing "feed," and that you had it wrong, but I hear "feel" also.

Second, the stock line "Vicksburg on a high hill, N'awleans just below" is rendered just a little different than normal--it's usually Natchez down below. A little odd, because Natchez is pretty close to Vicksburg, but New Orleans is pretty far, and I don't think I've ever heard the line sung this way.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« Reply #4 on: May 13, 2014, 06:32:00 PM »
Hi Kokomo,
Yes, Cat Iron is singing "feel and care".  The more common complaint in lyrics is that the singer has no one to "feel my care".  Robert Johnson, Skip James and a host of other singers used that line.  I think Cat Iron was working off of that.
What's especially strange about Cat Iron not citing Natchez as being "just below" Vicksburg is that he was a resident of Natchez and recorded there.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« Reply #5 on: May 13, 2014, 07:59:12 PM »
Hi all,
Unlike most of the songs that Herman E. Johnson recorded, "Po' Boy" was what might be called a Blues Standard rather than an original number, though Johnson gave it plenty of individual touches.  He played it in Spanish with a slide, with the slide closely tracking the sung melody.  As he gets near the end of the song, from verse three on, he reiterates the last line of the form, messing with it and sometimes concluding phrases with the slide (indicated by a dash).  This vocal device of repeating the last line of a verse was often employed by Texas Alexander, whose voice bore some similarity to Herman Johnson's, though Johnson's voice is deeper than Alexander's.



   I'm the poor boy and a long ways from home
   I'm a poor boy and a long ways from home
   I'm a poor boy here and I ain't got nowhere to go

   I ain't got nowhere to lay my weary head (2)
   Rather than fer (sic) you to leave I would rather see you dead

   When I left her house, she followed me to her door (2)
   "You ain't got no money, man, I'd rather see you go,
   Man, I'd rather see you -----, and I'd rather see you go

   SOLO

   I am talking on that long distance phone (2)
   Tryin' to call my little gal but I think she been gone too long,
   I think she have been gone too -------

   Now, tell me, gal, what you want me to do (2)
   I tried so hard and I can't get along with you
   I just can't get along with ----, get along with ----, I can't get along with ---

All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« Reply #6 on: May 13, 2014, 08:02:39 PM »
Hi all,
Ramblin' Thomas recorded "Poor Boy Blues" at the same November of 1928 session as "Ramblin' Man", and like "Ramblin' Man", "Poor Boy Blues" was played lap-style slide in Vestapol.  "Poor Boy Blues" is probably the earliest exposure a lot of folks had to Ramblin' Thomas' music, for Harry Smith included it on his Anthology of American Folk Music.  The song has a distinct Pre-Blues quality, and employs two-line stanzas much like Texas Alexander's "Levee Camp Moan" and "Section Gang Blues", both of which sound as though they had work song origins.  The third and fourth verses are a bit baffling, as are other blues lyrics about being on the sea or water.  Thomas phrases his vocal right on top of the guitar playing the melody, and the match of voice and instrument is terrific.



   REFRAIN: Poor boy, poor boy, poor boy long ways from home

   I was down in Lou'siana, doin' as I please
   Now I'm in Texas, I've got to work or leave

   REFRAIN: Poor boy, poor boy, poor boy long ways from home

   "If your home in Lou'siana, what you doin' over here"
   Say, "My home ain't in Texas, and I sure don't care."

   REFRAIN: Poor boy, poor boy, poor boy long ways from home

   I don't care if the boat don't never land
   'Cause I can stay on water as long as any man

   REFRAIN: Poor boy, poor boy, poor boy long ways from home

   SOLO

   REFRAIN: Poor boy, poor boy, poor boy long ways from home

   And my boat come a-rockin' just like a drunken man
   And my home's on the water and I sure don't like land

   REFRAIN: Poor boy, poor boy, poor boys a long ways from home

All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« Reply #7 on: May 13, 2014, 08:05:46 PM »
Hi all,
Barbecue Bob backed himself with a slide in Spanish tuning for "Poor Boy A Long Ways From Home".  For many or most of his slide songs in Spanish, Barbecue Bob actually used the slide sparingly, but on this performance he plays slide pretty much from beginning to end, shadowing the voice and the melody.  This is a song that is most often played in Vestapol, I think, though Booker White had a very different version in Spanish tuning.  Barbecue Bob phrases some verses in twelve bars and others in sixteen bars; that kind of fluid changing of forms within a song didn't survive in any big way much beyond the 1920s.



I'm a poor boy, I'm a long ways from home
I'm a poor boy, I'm a long ways from home
I'm a poor boy, ain't got nowhere to go

Ain't got nowhere, lay my worried head
Honey, I ain't got nowhere, t' lay my worried head
I ain't got nowhere, lay my worried head
Sometime, I'd soon to be dead

Honey, tell me, what you gonna do
Please tell me, what you gonna do
Please tell me, what you gonna do

I done left my brown, standin' in the door
Left my brown, standin' in the door
I left my brown, standin' in the door
"Why'n't you ring?", she said, "You're not 'bliged to go."

I'm the poor old boy, stood on the road and cried
I'm the poor old boy, stood on the road and cried
I didn't have no blues, just couldn't be satisfied

Honey, give me long long distance phone
Now, give me long distance phone
Honey, give me long distance phone
I wanta hear from my sweet mama back home

Uh, Central, ring six-oh-nine
Central, ring six-oh-nine
I wanta hear from that bob-haired gal of mine

Edited 1/22 to pick up correction from dj

All best,
Johnm

Offline waxwing

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Re: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« Reply #8 on: May 13, 2014, 09:46:19 PM »
Then there's Gus Cannon's famous slide banjo version, backed by Blind Blake on guitar. I'm assuming Gus was in a banjo tuning similar to Vastapol. I play it on a guitjo in Vastapol and get some bass licks in there kinda like Blake's, but I haven't really sussed what position he's playing in.

Having not been recorded before or since playing slide, Gus seems pretty adept at finishing the phrase with the slide. Gus certainly exhibits his fine vocal capabilities.

Wax



Been a poor boy an? a long way from home
Long way from home
Been a poor ol? boy an? a long way from home

I got ?rested, no money to buy my fine
Money to buy my fine
I got ?rested, no money to buy my fine

Said I guess I'll have to catch the Frisco out in this land
Catch the Frisco out
Lord I guess I have to catch that Frisco out

Man if that don't do I'm gwine ? woods a while
Try the woods a while
Yeah

I cried hello Central gi? me?
Your long-distance phone
I cried hello Central gi? me your long-distance phone
(She ask me what number did I want)

I cried, ?Please ma'am gi? me 1349?
?1349?
I cried, ?Please ma'am gi? me 1349?

Tried to phone it to my?
Tried to phone it to my?
Tried to phone it to my?

Tell her send me little?
Tell her send me little money
Tell her send me little money
Oh to buy my fine   

She cried the buckets got a?
She cried the bucket got a?
She cried the bucket got a?
Lord ?twon?t hold no beer

"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline Johnm

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Re: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« Reply #9 on: May 13, 2014, 10:22:15 PM »
Thanks for adding the Gus Cannon/Blind Blake version, Wax.  It's a cool one and one of the earliest recorded versions, I would think.  Fishing around on Youtube I found this version by Eugene Powell, amazingly closely modeled on Gus's version.  I wouldn't have figured Eugene Powell to be influenced by Gus Cannon--it was kind of a shock.



All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« Reply #10 on: May 13, 2014, 10:26:36 PM »
Hi all,
Bo Weavil Jackson/Sam Butler recorded "Poor Boy Blues" backing himself with a slide in Spanish tuning.  Like most of his slide blues, it is pretty frenetic and exciting.  The more you listen to him, though, the more you realize just how controlled his playing actually was.  He has some nice variations on common verses here.



   I woke up this mornin', blues all 'round my bed
   I woke up this morning, mama, blues all around my bed
   Thinkin' about the words that my brown had said

   'Cause I'm poor boy here, long ways from home
   Poor boy here, long ways from my home
   Ain't got nowhere, Lord, to lay my head

   Cold frosty ground was my bed last night
   Cold frosty ground was my bed last night
   Thinkin' 'bout the kind words that my Mama had said

   What my Mama told me, honey, done come to pass
   Mama told me, it's done come to pass
   Whiskey and women, poor boy, be your ruin at last

   Now, my Mama's dead, so is my Daddy, too
   My Mama's dead, so is my Daddy, too
   Reason I tried so hard, honey, get along with you

   So many days, I stoled away and cried
   So many days, I stoled away and cried
   Poor boy's been mistreated, can't be satisfied

   Gonna write a letter, mail it in the air
   Gonna write a letter, gonna mail it in the air
   When that wind blows, blow news everywhere

   SOLO

   Lord, Lord, ain't gonna moan no more
   Lord, Lord (guitar finishes line)

All best,
Johnm

Offline waxwing

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Re: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« Reply #11 on: May 13, 2014, 11:01:53 PM »
That is a pretty interesting connection between Powell and Gus, Johnm. I suppose there could have been a common antecedent to both? Could have been a common medicine show song. But they are certainly closely related.

I really love this song, this is my favorite of the song family threads you've started, John.

Wax
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline frankie

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Re: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« Reply #12 on: May 14, 2014, 02:56:04 AM »
Then there's Gus Cannon's famous slide banjo version, backed by Blind Blake on guitar. I'm assuming Gus was in a banjo tuning similar to Vastapol. I play it on a guitjo in Vastapol and get some bass licks in there kinda like Blake's, but I haven't really sussed what position he's playing in.


Cannon is playing in the banjo equivalent of spanish, tuned to about F. Blake is playing in G, tuned down a whole step to match Gus's pitch.

Offline btasoundsradio

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Re: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« Reply #13 on: May 14, 2014, 08:35:55 AM »
johnie lewis Hobo Blues
http://youtu.be/lz68PUwMBMY?t=20s
« Last Edit: May 14, 2014, 08:38:58 AM by powerlinehorizon »
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Offline waxwing

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Re: Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
« Reply #14 on: May 14, 2014, 12:25:07 PM »
Thanks for the correct info, Frank. Makes total sense, since I never seem to touch the top string and Vastapol at E was only a half step down (using Transcribe!) from Spanish at F.

Wax
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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