—— folk family and jam


What is folk anyway?


lying 1

The Oral tradition 2
Or what do you do with a line like
                      Fire your bundooks right over my coffin
Bundooks?  Nobody hearing the song will know if they have heard you correctly, what bundooks are if they have, or if the word is a mistake from further back in the chain of transmission.  Mudcat Café claims it is from the Hindustani bundak meaning musket,  plausible if still rather unlikely, but folk songs do not have footnotes.  So either you preserve it (and leave the audience wondering) or take it upon yourself to change it.  To muskets for example.  (I have kept it.  Slight textual puzzlement is the norm here.  And anyway my audience is mostly only me.)

Another example of what happens is the song Black Girl (also known as In The Pines and Where Did You Sleep Last Night).  Leadbelly recorded it in the forties and it became quite popular.  Later it was rerecorded a number of times notably by an unplugged Nirvana. 

Kurt Cobain credited Leadbelly with authorship, because that was where he had heard it, and presumably Leadbelly wouldn't have objected. (He was wrongly cited as the author of Midnight Special by Alan and John Lomax, and he didn't choose to tell them any different.)  But the song is from before his time.
The song appears in many versions – Zydeco to hillbilly: train crashes, soldiers, rapes, infidelity and God knows what.  The origin – and the story behind the song – is not known; but anybody is free to use them in what really becomes a whole new song.   

And that is what I have done.  Since there is really no original to be loyal to I have sung the songs more or less the way I would like them to be. There are limits.  I don't write new stuff – I'm not good enough to get away with it anyway. I haven't changed the tunes by design, although for other reasons they may come out differently, even disappointingly so.  Most of the songs represent for me a feeling, an attitude or a story; I have tried to preserve that.


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