Once again, The Banks of the Ohio. I just enjoy playing it, this time in a different key (A). Maybe you know the words well enough to sing along. If not, see below. As I say, I’ve always loved this song. It’s on my Up in the Bronx and Down in LA CD soundtrack album (recorded with Preston Maybank in 2011). The “soundtrack” album includes songs that I either wrote or played in the 1970’s – a parallel process to that of my guitar-strumming protagonist, Jack Isaacson, in my Up in the Bronx novel. The CD is a “companion piece” to the novel.
Now, you might ask how a Bronx boy like myself came to love country music. I don’t know myself. I do remember listening as a teenager to the Country Western station. and getting hooked on it. Late at night you could pick up WWVA from Wheeling, West Virginia on the AM radio. I liked Buck Owens and Johnny Cash right away. I remember seeing Flatt and Scruggs on TV. It was captivating stuff. And then there was Pete Seeger, who opened up all those doors to Woody, the blues, and to traditional folk music. I feel a great gratitude to Pete Seeger.
Over the years I’ve found that this music, what they’re now calling “roots music”, has been a great source of joy in my life. Although the vocabulary and culture is different from my own, some things, the basic things, are the same – if not universal. I believe that universality is a criterion for a great piece of art. Great art transcends cultural differences by its very nature. Great art is rare, of course, and most of what you hear on the radio and on the media isn’t much good – which is true in spades for Country and Western! My perception is that the pop music they’re marketing today is of a lesser quality. That’s to say, the stuff on the radio is even worse than the stuff they used to put on! So more and more I return to this “roots” music – simple country music whose roots I share by this time.
At the heart of this roots music is its unpolished, unamplified, non-commercial integrity. Folk music is played by real “folks”. The history and traditions of folk music go back thousands of years. Recorded music is only 100 years old. Before the advent of electronics people simply entertained themselves. They played the music of their fathers, they sang acapella. So, even today, it is not necessary to plug in or to be dependent on some electronic device to hear music. Make your own music. Join in. Sing your own song!
I asked my love to take a walk
Just a walk a little walk
And as we walk, we would talk
About our coming wedding day
Only say that you’ll be mine
In our home we’ll happy be
Down beside where the waters flow
On the banks of the Ohio
I held a knife against her breast
As into my arms she pressed
She said Willie, don’t you murder me
I’m unprepared for eternity
I took her by her lily white hand
I led her down that bank of sand
I pushed her in where she would drown
I watched her as she floated down
Very next day about half past four
The Sheriff walked right through my door
He said son don’t you try to run
You’re going to pay for this deed you’ve done