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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
600 of 700 total Free Home Page Stories & Photos
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The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
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Old-Timey Pioneer songs and big-band standards

Cow-Cow Boogie
Out on the plains down near Santa Fe
I met a cowboy ridin' the range one day
And as he jogged along I heard him singing
A most peculiar cowboy song
It was a ditty, he learned in the city
Comma ti yi yi yeah
Comma ti yippity yi yeah

Get along, get hip little doggies
Get along, better be on your way
Get along, get hip little doggies
And he trucked them on down the old fairway
Singin' his Cow Cow Boogie in the strangest way
Comma ti yi yi yeah
Comma ti yippity yi yeah

(Chorus) Singin' his cowboy song
He's just too much
He's got a knocked out western accent with a Harlem touch
He was raised on loco weed
He's what you call a swingin' half breed
Singin' his Cow Cow Booogie in the strangest way
Comma ti yi yi yeah
Comma ti yippity yi yeah

(Instrumental interlude)
Get along little doggie, better be on your way, your way,
Get along little doggie
And he trucked them on down the old fairway
Singin' his Cow Cow Boogie in the strangest way
Comma ti yi yi yeah
Comma ti yippity yi yeah

Yip Yip singing his cowboy song
Yip Yip As he was joggling along
Yip Yip he sings with a Harlem touch
Yip Yip that guy is just too much
Singing his cow cow boogie in the strangest way
Comma ti yi yi yi yi yi yeah.

      This humorous jazz take on singing cowboys was written by Benny Carter, Gene DePaul and Don Raye for the wartime Abbott & Costello film, "Ride 'Em Cowboy", 1942; Ella Fitzgerald was a cast member. It was first recorded was by Freddie Slack and his Orchestra, featuring vocalist Ella Mae Morse, in that same year. Historically, the record was the first release by Capitol Records.
      It subsequently became a hit for several artists, but the most-famous recording was the 1944 duet by The Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald. That collaboration was the first million-seller for Capitol and resulted in a number-one hit on the Harlem Hit Parade and a number ten hit on the pop chart. You can hear her version here from the original 78 rpm record and here in a shorter version with better acoustics. And here is a soundie version, featuring Dorothy Dandridge who sang the song in the movie.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain
Written by and performed by Harry "Haywire Mac" McClintock
in the movie, O Brother, where art thou?
One evening as the sun went down
    And the jungle fires were burning,
Down the track came a hobo hiking,
    He said, "Boys, I am not turning
I'm heading for a land that's far away
Beside the crystal fountain
I'll see you all this coming fall
    In the Big Rock Candy Mountain

Oh the buzzin' of the bees
    In the cigarette trees
Near the soda water fountain
    At the lemonade springs
Where the bluebird sings
    On the big rock candy mountain

In the Big Rock Candy Mountain,
    It's a land that's fair and bright,
The handouts grow on bushes
    And you sleep out every night.

The boxcars all are empty
    And the sun shines every day
I'm bound to go
    Where there ain't no snow
Where the sleet don't fall
    And the winds don't blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Repeat chorus:
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain
    You never change your socks
And little streams of alkyhol
    Come trickling down the rocks
O the shacks all have to tip their
    And the railway bulls are blind
There's a lake of stew
    And ginger ale too
And you can paddle
    All around it in a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain

Repeat chorus:
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain
    The cops have wooden legs
The bulldogs all have rubber teeth
    And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs
The box-cars all are empty
    And the sun shines every day
I'm bound to go
    Where there ain't no snow
Where the sleet don't fall
    And the winds don't blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Repeat chorus:

In the Big Rock Candy Mountain,
    The jails are made of tin.
You can slip right out again,
    As soon as they put you in.
There ain't no short-handled shovels,
    No axes, saws nor picks,
I'm bound to stay
    Where you sleep all day,
Where they hung the jerk
    That invented work
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Repeat chorus:
      This is one of our very favorite songs, played as an intro into the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which reintroduced a whole new generation to the joys of Old Timey music. Harry McClintock popularized it in a 1928 recording when he was known as "Haywire Mac." This Wikipedia site reviews the tune, which is believed to be a early 20th century hobo ballad based on another song, "An Invitation to Lubberland," a ballad first printed in 1685.
      McClintock first sang an original version when he was a street busker in 1897, and he tried to copyright the song but failed. He even added an additional verse from the original, which was considerably bawdier . . .

(Movie poster)
The punk rolled up his big blue eyes
And said to the jocker, "Sandy,
I've hiked and hiked and wandered too,
But I ain't seen any candy.
I've hiked and hiked till my feet are sore
And I'll be damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo's whore
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

. . . but he did not include that verse in his 1928 version for obvious reasons. In later versions, especially in children's songbooks, "cigarette trees" become peppermint trees, the "streams of alcohol" trickling down the rocks become streams of lemonade, the lake of gin is not mentioned, and the lake of whiskey becomes a lake of soda pop. The version in the film includes the original references to "cigarette trees," "streams of alcohol," and the lake of whiskey as well. Some may remember the 1949 recording by Burl Ives, but for those who equate Burl's voice with fingernails on a chalkboard, they may prefer the vastly more popular 1960 version by Dorsey Burnette.
      Your humble editor notes here that he once bought a Chrysler Van that was owned by Ives's farm manager when Burl lived near Anacortes and the historic site of Ship Harbor. We should also note that Wallace Stegner, often referred to as the master writer of the Western experience, named his 1943 autobiographical novel, The Big Rock Candy Mountain, and named his 1992 autobiography, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs, 'Living and writing in the west.'

I am a Man of Constant Sorrow
(In constant sorrow through his days)
Also called the Farewell Song
I am a man of constant sorrow
I've seen trouble all my day.
I bid farewell to old Kentucky
The place where I was born and raised.
(The place where he was born and raised)

For six long years I've been in trouble
No pleasures here on earth I found
For in this world I'm bound to ramble
I have no friends to help me now.

[chorus] He has no friends to help him now

It's fare thee well my old lover
I never expect to see you again
For I'm bound to ride that northern railroad
Perhaps I'll die upon this train.

[chorus] Perhaps he'll die upon this train.

You can bury me in some deep valley
For many years where I may lay
Then you may learn to love another
While I am sleeping in my grave.

[chorus] While he is sleeping in his grave.

Maybe your friends think I'm just a stranger
My face you'll never see no more.
But there is one promise that is given
I'll meet you on God's golden shore.

[chorus] He'll meet you on God's golden shore.

      Lyrics by Dick Burnett and performed by Dan Tyminski, in the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Dan is a member of Allison Krauss's band, Union Station. You may recall this song sung by Ralph Stanley, who had a 50-year career, originally singing with his siblings as The Stanley Brothers and then with the Clinch Mountain Boys. Or you may remember it in Bob Dylan's early repertoire.
      The lyrics are generally attributed to Richard Burnett from Monticello, Kentucky, who was born in 1883, married in 1905 and blinded in 1907. This excellent website explains the song's and Burnett's roots. Burnett hawked the song as early as 1913, but in an early interview, Burnett said: "No, I think I got the ballet [sic] from somebody — I dunno. It may be my song." He originally called it the "Farewell Song" and the second stanza of the original lyrics mentions the singer has been blind six years, which would date it at 1913. Emry Arthur made the song a standard with his 1928 recording (Vo 5208). Also see this tremendous Bob Dylan website for an enlightening primer on bluegrass and folk music.
      As you will read in detail below in the notes on the song, "Didn't Leave Nobody but the baby," this movie is a very creative take on Homer's book-length poem, Odyssey. The name of the protagonist, Odysseus, translates closely to "man of constant sorrow."

Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby
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Go to sleep you little baby (Go to sleep you little baby)
Go to sleep you little baby (Go to sleep you little baby)
Your mama's gone away and your daddy's gonna stay
Didn't leave nobody but the baby.

Go to sleep you little baby (Go to sleep you little baby)
Go to sleep you little baby (Go to sleep you little baby)
Everybody's gone and the cotton and the corn
Didn't leave nobody but the baby.

You're a sweet little baby (You're a sweet little baby)
You're a sweet little baby (You're a sweet little baby)
Honey and a rock and the sugar don't stock
Gonna bring a bottle to the baby.

Don't you weep pretty baby (Don't you weep pretty baby)
Don't you weep pretty baby (Don't you weep pretty baby)
She's long gone with her red shoes on
Gonna need another lovin' baby.

Go to sleep you little baby (Go to sleep you little baby)
Go to sleep you little baby (Go to sleep you little baby)
You and me and the devil makes three
Don't need no other lovin' baby.

Go to sleep you little baby (Go to sleep you little baby)
Go to sleep you little baby (Go to sleep you little baby)
Come lay your bones on the alabaster stones
And be my everlovin' baby

      See this hilarious performance in the movie, where the Sirens "loved 'em up" and turned Pete (Turturro) into a horny toad. The voices of the sirens are those of the spectacular singers of blues and folk, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Allison Krauss, and here is their a capella version from the Down From The Mountain tour. As Krauss explained at a concert, their version for the movie is derived both from the old lullaby, Go To Sleep, You Little Baby, and an old prison work-song structure.
Annotations, humor and research for the Baby song
and the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou?,
and its allusions to Homer's Odyssey
By Noel V. Bourasaw, Publisher, Skagit River Journal
    In this movie, the Coen brothers load up the three ex-cons rapid-fire patter that anyone who has lived in a rural area will recognize. Set-up lines by the mentally challenged Delmar and the emotionally challenged Pete is usually followed the wit and overbearing wordplay of Everett, who often shares his "wishom" by showing off his book-larnin', from his days of being an ethically challenged lawyer, the act that put him in prison in the first place. That is, when he is not in quest of his favorite Dapper Dan pomade.
      Their conversation evokes side-splitting laughter from beginning to end. In an early scene, the cons are without funds and are forced to "live off the fat of the land." That common ethic of the Depression years personally reminded me of when, 40-some years ago, I played the character George, with my longtime friend Lawrence Harnden Jr. as Lenny in John Steinbeck's play, Of Mice and Men, which was set during the same period and the two characters attempted to live off the fat of the land. Here is an exchange with Everett and Delmore showing Delmore's generous nature.
Delmar O'Donnell: Care for a gopher?
Ulysses Everett McGill: No thank you, Delmar. One third of a gopher would only arouse my appetite without bedding it down.
Delmar O'Donnell: You can have the whole thing. Me and Pete both already et one. We found a whole gopher village.

      This song was performed in Joel and Ethan Coen's spectacular Depression-period movie, O Brother, where art thou by Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, and Gillian Welch. It was arranged by Alan Lomax, Mrs. Sidney Carter, Gillian Welch, and T-Bone Burnett, with additional Lyrics by Gillian Welch, and T-Bone Burnett, who was also the soundtrack producer.
      It won't take you long to realize that this Coen brothers film is the funniest remake imaginable of the blind Greek poet (8th century B.C.) classic work, The Odyssey . After all, the first visual line is "O Muse!/Sing in me, and through me tell the story/Of that man skilled in all the ways of contending,/A wanderer, harried for years on end", which is the first line of the book. I was able to pick up on nearly ten references, overt and oblique, in my first six viewings of the film, but you can read about many more in this Wikipedia website and this discussion site for people familiar with both the book and film. The film satisfies on several different levels, including the metaphysical, especially with the interplay of the cardinal elements, fire and water.
      The film is also a paean to one of the Coen brothers' personal heroes. The film's title is derived from a plot element in the 1941 movie satire considered to be one of the finest such films ever, Sullivan's Travels. Directed by Preston Sturges, the film features a movie-director protagonist whose current project is a film on the Great Depression called O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which he hypes as a "commentary on modern conditions, stark realism, the problems that confront the average man, with a little sex in it."
      The songs in the modern Coen movie are often as important as the prose dialogue, much as the songs were in O! Lucky Man, the British 1973 Lindsay Anderson masterpiece, starring a very young Malcolm McDowell and the blues music of Alan Price. In a hilarious O Brother scene, the three escaped cons on the lam, Everett (George Clooney), Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) are seduced by "sirens," whose plaintive song is heard by Pete as they speed towards Everett's promised fortune in a getaway Model-A. The lyrics are derived from a traditional mountain lullaby but T-Bone Burnett asked Gillian Welch to expand upon it. The result is a show-stopper, in which the very bad girls, Mia Tate, Musetta Vander and Christy Taylor, wash their clothes in a pond and sing their siren song. Those familiar with mythology will recall the Sirens from the poet Homer's classic, The Odyssey in which he described the Sirens, sea creatures that were birds in the bodies of voluptuous women, born of the sea god Phorcys and the Muse Calliope. In the book, Odysseus and the Argonauts avoid the Sirens' clutches but not so for poor Pete in the movie, as his ship is steered onto the rocks, and Delmar wakes up in horror after being drugged by the Sirens, thinking that the girls have turned the absent Pete into a toad. In another more subtle Homerian reference, the escaped cons prove themselves to be babes in the woods when they are mugged by the Bible Salesman Big Dan Teague, played by John Goodman, who has a patch over one eye — representing the one-eyed Cyclops.
      The sirens are not the most obvious Homerian reference in the film. The leader-convict Everett's full name, after all, is Ulysses Everett McGill; Ulysses was the roman name for Odysseus. Clooney proves once again that he has impeccable comic timing, setting himself up as a perfumed king of sorts who takes great risk to obtain pomade as his first civilian perk, post escape ("no, not FOP, I'm a Dapper Dan man"). You may recall that As Odysseus was the king of Ithaca, and it was a Greek practice for kings to be anointed by pouring olive oil over their hair.
      The character Delmar, hilariously portrayed by Tim Blake Nelson, is a hapless member of Odysseus's crew and he is maladroit at best ("you boys are dumber thans a sack of hammers"). Viewers will likely see in Delmar the same clueless naf with whom they could easily lift a beer with at Willy's Hi-Lead Tavern in Hamilton, the Lyman Tavern or a bar in Savannah. But Nelson is an accomplished character actor and director and probably the actor most intimately familiar with Homer. Like your humble editor, the brothers admit that they have never finished either of Homer's most famous poems. Brown explains the background of the film and his role, in this interview with the Brown University Alumni magazine:

BAM: How did you land the part in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Nelson [Brown 1986]: Joel and I are friends. We got to know each other through The 52nd Street Production, which works with kids from Hell?s Kitchen and is a bit of a hub in the theater and film community in New York. I knew vaguely that Joel and Ethan were doing a film with George Clooney, but at the time I was in Charleston, South Carolina, directing O, a modern-day adaptation of Othello.
BAM: Why do so many actors rave about working with the Coen brothers?
Nelson: Well I'm a character actor; I'm not going to win any beauty contests. Joel and Ethan write roles for actors who look like me. They make you feel that your presence in a role is essential to their vision. They achieve that by offering you quiet encouragement and by making you feel that you can do no wrong. Good roles are an incredibly finite resource. Good roles written by Joel and Ethan Coen are even more finite because they only make a film every two years.
BAM: How much did your interest in the classics influence your decision to do a Homer-inspired film?
Nelson: Well, I was a Latinist at Brown, more of an ancient-Rome classicist than someone who studied Greek. I read The Odyssey twice in different classes, but I have to admit I would have been even more excited if it had been an adaptation of the Aeneid.

      As the cons hustle off across a field that is not far from their prison, while still linked by their chain-gang shackles, they encounter a blind, black Gandy dancer (shades of Tiresias in Homer's Underworld) who is hand-pumping his hand car along railroad tracks, and they bum a ride. He sets up their odyssey by his all-knowing observation: "You seek a great fortune . . . you will find the fortune . . . but it may not be the fortune you seek," which also evokes Willy the Shake's admonition, "All that glisters is not gold" (Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice) as well as the forewarning by the Oracle at Delphi.
Ulysses Everett McGill: The treasure is still there boys, believe me.
Delmar O'Donnell: But how'd he know about the treasure?
Ulysses Everett McGill: I don't know Delmar. The blind are reputed to possess sensitivities compensating for their lack of sight, even to the point of developing paranormal psychic powers. Now, clearly seeing into the future would fall into neatly into that category; it's not so surprising then that an organism deprived of its earthly vision.
Pete: He said we wouldn't get get it. He said we wouldn't get the treasure we seek on account of our ob-stac-les.

      The other blind reference comes in the form of the radio station owner — O' Brother Lund, who pays the boys to "sing into a can," which starts their career as the "Soggy Bottom Boys." Remember Jimmy James from the TV comedy, News Hour Stephen Root, one of the most prolific actors today, is a shrewd con man himself but in his greed, he is "too cute by half," as the pioneers used to say. But even Root can not upstage the riotous Charles Durning as Mississippi Governor Pappy O'Daniel ("Moral fiber? I invented moral fiber!"). Note that O'Daniel's opponent is named Homer Stokes (Wayne Duvall).
      If any of you attended church in the South in the 1950s, when it seemed like almost all of us were dirt-poor and dressed in hand-me-downs, you will guffaw when you see the ample bellies of Pappy and his porky son and the unforgettable suspendered pants that reach up to their chests, especially those of Pappy's hapless, suck-up teenage son — "Shake a leg Junior! Thank God your mammy died givin' birth. If she'd have seen you, she'd have died o' shame." In another nod to Homer, the witty Coens gave Pappy the first name of Menelaus. Many people watching the movie will be unaware that Pappy is based on a real Texas governor with real flour-background, whose name was very familiar to pioneers. He is celebrated in a wonderful book — Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy by Bill Crawford:

      Long before movie stars Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger became governors of California, a popular radio personality with no previous political experience — who wasn't even registered to vote — swept into the governor's office of Texas. W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel was a 1930s businessman who discovered the power of radio to sell flour. His musical shows with the Light Crust Doughboys (which launched the career of Bob Wills) and his radio homilies extolling family and Christian values found a vast, enthusiastic audience in Depression-era Texas.
      When Pappy decided to run for governor in 1938 as a way to sell more flour — a fact he proudly proclaimed throughout the campaign — the people of Texas voted for him in record numbers. And despite the ineptitude for politics he displayed once in office, Texans returned him to the governorship in 1940 and then elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1941 in a special election in which he defeated Lyndon Johnson, as well as to a full term as senator in 1942. While the hit film O Brother, Where Art Thou? celebrated a fictional "Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy" O'Daniel, this book captures the essence of the real man through photographs taken by employees of the Texas Department of Public Safety, most of which are previously unpublished. Reminiscent of the work of WPA photographers such as Russell Lee and Dorothea Lange, these photos record the last unscripted era of politics when a charismatic candidate could still address a crowd from an unpainted front porch or a mobile bandstand in the back of a truck. They strikingly confirm that Pappy O'Daniel's ability to connect with people was as great in person as on the radio.

      The Coens leave no sacred cows in their wake nor do they forget the social institution that rose again briefly around the Depression era and then was felled — the Ku Klux Klan. Pappy's opponent in his reelection race is Homer Stokes who is not physically blind like his namesake, but he is blind to his own bigotry, which he reveals comically after the cons bust up a KKK lynching where Stokes acts as the KKK Grand Cyclops. The scene includes an oddly hilarious dance sequence with dozens of hooded klansmen whose intricate steps evoke Busby Berkeley, June Taylor dancers and the show-stopper "Springtime for Hitler" sequence in Mel Brooks's The Producers. During the ritual, Homer Stokes becomes as accidentally comical as Homer Simpson, whom he resembles physically, by urging his followers on to lynch the Soggy Bottom Boys' black guitar-accompanist; the boys foil the dastardly plan in comical retribution. Big Dan Teague suffers lethal karmic payback there, and Stokes, played by another great character actor Wayne Duvall, is the kleagle and he gets ridden out of a campaign rally on a rail while trying to halt the Boys' reprise of "A Man of Constant Sorrows," by that point the crowd's radio favorite song statewide in Mississippi. What a feast of a film and score.

Once upon a time
Once upon a time
A girl with moonlight in her eyes
Put her hand in mine
And said she loved me so
But that was once upon a time
Very long ago

Once upon a hill
We sat beneath a willow tree
Counting all the stars
And waiting for the dawn
But that was once upon a time
Now the tree is gone

How the breeze ruffled through her hair
How we always laughed as though
Tomorrow wasn't there
We were young and didn't have a care
Where did it go?

Once upon a time
The world was sweeter than we knew
Everything was ours
How happy we were then
But somehow once upon a time
Never comes again

      From the play, All American, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Lee Adams, sung by bandleader Jay McShann in the movie, Hanging up. Lee Adams was born on Aug 14, 1924, in Mansfield, Ohio and gained a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Ohio State University, and later, a Master's clegree from Columbia School of journalism in New York. Starting in 1950, he worked for ten years as a newspaper reporter, magazine writer and editor, and radio writer and interviewer. But he became famous as a lyricist for the Broadway musical classic, "Bye Bye Birdie" in the early 1960s, on which he collaborated with composer Charles Strouse. He recieved a Tony award for "Bye Bye Birdie," then wrote "Once Upon A Time" for the musical, "All American," with Ray Bolger in 1962 (credit shared with Strouse and Mel Brooks); wrote for "Golden Boy," with Sammy Davis Jr., in 1964; and later for "Applause," starring Lauren Bacall in 1970, which earned him his second Tony award. Hear this lovely version by Ketty Lester.

Story posted on Jan. 1, 2003; moved to this domain Dec. 6, 2010
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