Some American Folk Songs

I hope here to introduce you to some folk songs. I put three on this post that Maybank and I were playing the other night. Most people don’t listen to very much folk music, so check out these songs. If you have heard these songs before, maybe you won’t mind listening and singing/tapping/humming, etc along with them again. I hear Ken Burns is coming out with a documentary series on Country Music, which I’m sure will be good. Thankfully, every couple of years, the Coen brothers or someone else makes a movie that features some bluegrass music or roots music, and there is a brief revival. A couple of CDs come out, but after a year or two, it’s back to the electric, computerized sounds.

I worry that these songs and these traditions will be forgotten. Not that I lose a great deal of sleep about it, but it does bother me somewhat. The erasure of history by the music marketing machine just can’t be a good thing. Folk music, or roots music, is a great treasure and shouldn’t just be tossed away, People should remember a little bit of their cultural history, too. I think that’s a good thing in general, remembering history. So, one of my goals on this blog (as an American and as a citizen of the world) is to do my part and try to keep some of these folk songs and the tradition of active participation alive. So try these country songs on for size ….and “keep playin that Country Music”

Banks of the Ohio, a traditional folksong about love and murder. I learnt it years ago from a Joan Baez record. Baez and the Greenbriar Boys did it great, but I think Doc Watson and Bill Monroe do the finest versions of this folk song – which tells a full, graphic story in just a few verses.


Here’s Streamline Cannonball, a bluegrass classic with the sweetest lyrics in the world

It’s a long steel rail and a short cross tie
I’m on my way back home

Here’s Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms, an old folk song about a sweet life of shameless indolence narrated by a fellow who’s sitting in the county jail. A strange combination. In a lot of folk songs, the words, and sometimes even the tune undergo changes as the song passes from generation to generation. It’s kind of like that whispered “Telephone” game that the kids liked to play (I never did). So, anyhow, there are lots of lyrics, and it’s no great crime if you change them anywaze. We love to play this one, but do it here with a very unbluegrassy style. For which no apology is offered, because it’s still a bluegrass song and anyhow it’s just a very fun song.

6 thoughts on “Some American Folk Songs

  1. Keep, keeping on, Bumba and Maybank. You’re right. We need to treasure our folk songs – the people’s history after all. And that’s great news about a new Ken Burns series. We own his huge Jazz opus, and keep going back to it. Brilliant fusion of social history and music history, and apart from that, some damn fine jazz.

    1. Great to hear. Of course, recorded music circumvented most of the folk traditions, and today’s sophisticated marketing has influenced all areas of our lives.

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