Wednesday, January 25, 2023

THE MESMERIZING GRIEF OF KAREN DALTON’S “KATIE CRUEL” & HOW THE APPARITIONS OF THE CHORUS RESEMBLED THE SINGER’S OWN DOWNFALL.



Up the alley of “a folk singer unlike anyone else you’ve ever heard before” we arrive (inevitably) at the complicated, complex figure of Karen Dalton. Virtually all her singing can pierce you, yet her most distinctive work, the traditional folk song “Katie Cruel,” will carve deep into your being. If you’re brave enough to give a damn, the tune will absolutely shatter your invulnerability. No small part of that reaction will owe to the song’s elusive, riddling chorus. Ascertaining its meaning may resemble the impossible feat of trying to catch echoes with your hands, yet may be crucial to comprehending the entireties of Dalton’s tragic demise.


an all-too-brief bio

After leaving Oklahoma in the early 1960s, the part-Cherokee, part-Irish Dalton became a fixture in the Greenwich Village folk scene. Bob Dylan famously referred to her as his favorite singer. Perhaps the most nourishing thing about Karen Dalton’s career is that she cut a reluctant pose when it came to “success” — unwilling or unable to clamber aboard the “ladder of fame.” Handfuls of tragedies (such as heartbreaking stories involving her two estranged children) contrast with the irresistible virtuosity of her music, though ultimately, she drifted into obscurity. Dalton passed away in 1993 near Woodstock, New York. A heroin addict, she had likely acquired AIDS through sharing needles. Some of her recordings and live performances from the 1960s and 1970s have been reissued, underscoring their persistent vitality. Over the last several years, at least three documentaries (film and audio) have accompanied a resurgence of interest in her music.


more on “katie cruel”

The traditional American folk song “Katie Cruel” (sometimes titled “Katy Cruel”) may date back to the eighteenth century. A 1939 work, Folk Songs of Old New England, as presented by folklorist Eloise Hubbard Linscott, situates the tune among the region’s historical “ballads, folk songs, and ditties.” Linscott further describes “Katie Cruel” as a marching song favored during the Revolutionary War. She offers notated music alongside an array of lyrics.

Dalton recorded the song at least five or six times, often accompanying herself on banjo. In some of these versions, she whistles. The most famous rendition of “Katie Cruel,” however, pairs Dalton’s vocals and banjo with the violin of Bobby Notkoff. This recording, captured on the 1971 album In My Own Time, ought to puncture the thickest, most world-weary veneers. Where Dalton may have whistled on solo renditions, Notkoff instead enters on violin, just bursting with reverence for the song’s elegiac carpentry. It could be argued that both he and Dalton understood the song equitably.

A few critics have approached Dalton’s performances of the song. One writer, Rick Moody, correctly characterized “Katie Cruel” as Dalton’s “signature tune,” yet misapprehended Notkoff’s role in the song. He deems the effort “an intrusive fiddle.” Another writer, Barney Hoskyns, offers a welcome improvement. In designating Dalton’s recording of “Katie Cruel” as being both “darkly chilling” and “terrifying[ly] beautiful,” Hoskyns acknowledges the accompaniment of Notkoff’s “spooky electric violin.” And by “electric” he may suggest “plugged in,” or reminiscent of high voltage, or both.


dalton’s lyrics

Here are Dalton’s lyrics for your consideration as you absorb the song. We suggest you especially meditate on the two iterations of the chorus.

     When I first came to town
     They called me the roving jewel
     Now they’ve changed their tune
     (And) call me Katie Cruel

     Through the woods I am going
     Through the boggy mire
     (And) straightway down the road
     Till I come to my heart’s desire

     [Chorus]
     If I was where I would be
     Then I’d be where I am not
     Here I am where I must be
     Where I would be, I cannot

     When I first came to town
     They bought me drinks aplenty
     Now they’ve changed their tune
     (And) hand me the bottles empty

     [Chorus]
     If I was where I would be
     Then I’d be where I am not
     Here I am where I must be
     Where I would be, I cannot

At first appearing in town as an attractive drifter, namely, “the roving jewel,” the speaker subsequently traverses the woods and bogs as an outsider. No longer receiving free “drinks aplenty” at the tavern, the speaker has been callously nicknamed “Katie Cruel.” In an equally damaging turnabout, she is the recipient of empty bottles, a gutting twist of mockery. “Katie Cruel” traffics in both estrangement and the tides of isolation. The potent mystery of the song revolves around whatever led to the “changed tune” of the townspeople. What had the speaker done, to deserve the withdrawal of their kindliness? She’s not being stoned to death, as in Shirley Jackson’s famous short story, “The Lottery,” but she is being shunned to death. 


and the chorus?

The oppositional values of the lyrics may correlate with Dalton’s own clashing presences. She was Dylan’s favorite singer, on the one hand, yet didn’t succeed as a popular musician. As “the roving jewel,” Dalton arrived in Greenwich Village and became a fixture during the American folk revival, but years later, by then largely forgotten by her community, she grappled with the vagaries of addiction and terminal illness. Her physical appearance, though marred by missing teeth, was undeniably beautiful. Dalton therefore resembles the character she sings about, in “Katie Cruel.” That she listed too deeply into the fictional world of the song and began to resemble (or embrace) its outcome, cannot be conclusively thrown aside. The lyrics are mournful without specifically mentioning death, yet the tune obviously conjures the acids of loss through the devastating grief of the music.

Dalton, of course, did not invent “Katie Cruel.” She adapted the lyrics from the tune’s traditional form. It may be helpful to compare the 1939 anthologized chorus (from New England) with the chorus that Dalton frequently recorded, as there are minor differences:

      Oh, that I was where I would be
     Then should I be where I am not
     Here I am where I must be
     Where I would be, I cannot
     —Linscott, 1939

     If I was where I would be
     Then I’d be where I am not
     Here I am where I must be
     Where I would be, I cannot
     —Dalton, 1971 (among other times)

The most important word in both renditions — given its repetition — might be the indistinct locator, “where.” The speaker, accordingly, searches for footing. “If I was where I would be” relies heavily upon the conditional word, “would.” It imagines an impossible alternative journey, or era, and in doing so, confers an obvious sense of darkness on the ensuing line: “Then I’d be where I am not.” Dalton alleges a certain inescapability when she sings “Here I am where I must be,” that is, in the world of being dubbed Katie Cruel and trudging the desolate landscape as an outcast. “Where I would be, I cannot” trails off, cementing the singer’s demise. Since Dalton “cannot” situate herself in the place “where [she] would be,” the listener, of a sudden, apprehends the doom, the blow the singer cannot overcome.


coda

“Katie Cruel” drifted towards Karen Dalton perhaps from the distant days of the Revolutionary War. She embraced the tune and made it the “jewel” of her repertoire. She may have even resembled the “roving jewel” she sang about, enduring multiple tragedies akin to those revealed in the lyrics. The chorus itself doesn’t merely reinforce these tragedies, but deals in multiple presences. It may conjure the way Dalton’s song hovers about us now, preparing each of us for that solitary “going,” the way we would be and the way we must be, as the late-day sunshine glances off our fingertips and the love, like a fierce echo, escapes our grasp.


sources of information:

BBC audio documentary Sweet Mother KD (2016).
The Guardian article on the 2021 Karen Dalton documentary film.
Barney Hoskyns. Small Town Talk. Da Capo Press, 2016.
Eloise Hubbard Linscott. Folk Songs of Old New England. The MacMillan Co., 1939.
“Rick Moody on Karen Dalton.” icon. Amy Scholder, editor. Feminist Press, 2014.
Washington Post article on Dalton’s mysterious life (and 2021 documentary).
Wikipedia page for Karen Dalton.

Discographic information for “Katie Cruel.” Karen Dalton, In My Own Time, fourth track. Traditional lyrics, arranged by Karen Dalton. Recorded in New York, 1970-1971. Released 1971 on Paramount Records. Dalton: banjo, vocals; Bobby Notkoff: violin. Dalton recorded other versions of the song at other times and performed it often during live appearances.

Karen Dalton was also featured in our “Unassailable Vocalists” post from 2017.


Thursday, December 8, 2022

MANIFESTO & SUPERMANIFESTO.



This manifesto begins with love. For my mentor and close friend, Faye Moskowitz, who passed away in February. A love that can no longer be expressed, directly, to the person whom I love. Faye changed my life, through hundreds of interactions. Teaching, listening, sharing, crying, singing, even smoking weed once, yep. What does one do with grief that keeps ringing outward? Understandably, loss can turn to outrage, given the subtractions we must endure.

 


I listen to “In My Head” quite often. I’m jealous of the group, Gilla Band (or “Girl Band”), who hail from Dublin. This song is emblematic of the music I’d like to make: short, powerful, and aggressive. It’s the group’s first single, from 10 years ago. When the vocalist, Dara Kiely, screams toward the end—well, that’s how I feel, about losing Faye. You transport your feelings to a song and make them fit.

 

I did something similar on a piece, “Uh Huh,” I recorded with Joy on Fire, the band I collaborated with to produce States of America, an album which we released in June. In the middle of the tune, when our saxophonist Anna Meadors (above, left) tears the building down, I do some shouting. But it’s not like Kiely in Gilla Band. I think he means it a bit more. And it’s something, frankly, I need to work on.


I listen to John Coltrane’s composition “Equinox” (recorded in 1960) every day. He’s more famous for other compositions but I keep returning to this blues because of the gravity established by the pianist, McCoy Tyner, and Coltrane, too, when he enters the song on tenor sax. Of course, Coltrane’s notes become brighter, the brightness of grief, because he was a cerebral and sweet individual, I would imagine. Don’t take my word for it, though. Go listen to “In a Sentimental Way” released in 1963 by Trane and Duke Ellington. 


You could look upon the1963 Ellington & Coltrane album as a “super-group” effort. I do. Together with my friend, Emily Cohen, I’m assembling a “super-group” to help tell the story of the folk song “Liza Jane.” (Above: find a conceptual trailer featuring harmonica player Phil Wiggins.) It’s not public yet, the super-group, so I can’t reveal the identities of the musicians, but they’re amazing. We’re going to film them, extensively, in performance, in 2023. The group is older and younger, men and women, Black and white, folk and blues and rock, banjo and fiddle and violin and slide guitar and quills . . . .




2023 will also see the release of POOR GAL: The Cultural History of Little Liza Jane, forthcoming from University Press of Mississippi. I wrote the book during a torrid six months, while the pandemic raged. Above, I say “the folk song ‘Liza Jane’” but it’s a family of songs, an extremely unruly lot at that. This book’s the hardest thing I’ve ever written, and undoubtedly, flawed. But I mean it, the writing. Just as much as Kiely means his yelling in Gilla Band. The story of this family of songs, well, is bigger than me. And that’s part of the supermanifesto. Writing is not about “me.” Rather, it’s bigger than “me.” 



I did okay as a writer in 2022. A book of poems, Metacarpalism, appeared from Unsolicited Press, out yonder in Portland, Ore. The Washington, D.C. press Primary Writing Books produced my prose-and-photography collection, The Fox Who Loves Me. Grantmakers, literally, kept me afloat: the Maryland State Arts Council and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County (Md.) I am indebted to the kindness and professionalism of these presses and organizations.


A few weeks ago, my close friend Doug Lang (above) passed away. Doug was a poet, and a teacher, who inspired people with his writing, Welsh wit, and comprehensive knowledge of American culture. We grew especially close after his childhood football team, Swansea City, climbed into the Premier League for a few years. A group of us became hooligans upon this development, often getting tight off stout at 10 am in pubs, and listing out into the sunshine, to crow about our worldview. Doug enjoyed this “bloke” activity quite a bit, and now, once more, there’s love that can no longer be expressed, directly, to the person whom I love.



I will always be Swansea, “O City Said I.”



One of the Swansea City hooligans (Casey) turned me on to Gilla Band and another (Rod) turned me on to Dry Cleaning, a group from London. I’m a bit obsessed with “Magic of Meghan” and with the singer, Florence Shaw. She projects so much tragedy at the microphone, and of course, the lyrics are often spoken, which is what I tried to do with Joy on Fire. She has amazing timing, and often delivers scathing satire. The “whoops” (all three of them) are quite nourishing.



I was once at a reading facilitated by the English department where Faye and I taught. Since students were there, it was a “dry” event, but I’d bootlegged-in a bitteen of the spirits, and, having extensive knowledge of the domicile, I snuck through some secret passageways and doorways, where I would situate myself in a private enclave, where I could partake of a “nip.” Privately, or so I thought, because once I stepped-through into the ostensible safety of the enclave, there was Faye, smoking a joint(!)



At a party once (but not the one depicted above.) Doug with an “ass pocket of whiskey.” I have to put it like this: an “English aristocratic sort” had insisted that Doug’s hometown of Swansea had not been bombarded during World War II. Doug retorted that he’d lived through said bombardments as a very young boy. (Wikipedia, et cetera, confirms Doug’s account.) Anyhow, this “English aristocratic sort” had attended the event with his trousers rolled very high, and Doug made sure that the fellow understood the folly of the trouser-rolling, as we were on the second floor, in a city that wasn’t bracing for a flood. It wasn’t even raining.  



When your best friend from the animal kingdom emerges from the mist. The scoundrel. The trickster. The beautiful vixen. She knows she’s a good-looking fox because I tell her as much every time I jog with her after sunset.



It wouldn’t be a true “Blood And Gutstein” without an old R&B number that will rattle your windowpanes. Behold: “Big Bo’s Iron Horse” from 1962. This has been a longish, searching, raking post, one that expressed despair, and yet, there is much vitality ahead of us, in 2023 and beyond. Let us jump. Let us flounce. It’s hard to know where the manifesto leaves off, and where the supermanifesto begins. Where our hands touch, and where we embrace. Most of all, let us acknowledge the love that’s still around us. Even in sorrow, the love we feel for those we’ve lost will inform the very next love we develop with a new soul, and if that soul is you, my friend, then I want you to know how much I love you, and maybe, in some small way, you can see just where I’m coming from.


discographic information for “Big Bo’s Iron Horse”

Big Bo and the Arrows. Willie “Big Bo” Thomas, Jr. (tenor sax). Other musicians, potentially including organ, bass, drums, guitar, horns: unknown. Gay-Shel Records, 1962, Dallas, Tex. “Big Bo’s Iron Horse” 701A b/w “Hully Gully” 701B.


Saturday, September 10, 2022

THE EMBERS BURN HOT AS THEIR 1963 STOMPER “ALEXANDRIA” FUSES AVANT JUMPS WITH BLISTERING R&B.

 



what we know

“Alexandria” drives forward immediately: clapping, scratching, and thumping. The drums circle at about the one-minute mark, at which point, the saxophone madness begins in earnest. And does not cease. This 1963 “instro” grinds in all the best ways.

“How should I respond?” you might ask. Well, we advise you to jump. “How should I execute the jump?” you might ask. Squat down low, we suggest, and propel yourself into the air. Repeat. Vary the frequency and height as you see fit.

If you have a sweetie pie, you can wave hello on the way up, and on the way down. Do you have two sweetie pies? Well, you can wave to both on the way up, and both on the way down. Of course, they may have two sweetie pies themselves. You get the idea. Lots of sweetie pies. Lots of jumping. That’s not a bad worldview, now, is it?

Some may say “jazzy” and others may say “exotica” and still others may declare “northern soul.” Okay with us. We might add rock, R&B, and the “undisciplined blowing” of the soloist. (A compliment.) Thank the heavens for those saxophonists who blow mad jumps.


This may be the five core members of The Embers ca. 1962.

what we might know

A lot of bands called themselves The Embers, but this group likely hailed from Philadelphia. In addition to their work on Newtime, The (Philadelphia) Embers recorded on Newtown Records, also in Philly. The two labels were likely related.

As part of their output on Newtown, the group may have appeared as Ricky Dee and The Embers, a band that cut a few dance-pop sides in 1962. Their song “Work Out” will call to mind the 1962 Sam Cooke single “Twistin’ The Night Away.” Another ditty, “Tunnel of Love,” will recall the 1962 Nathaniel Mayer hit “Village of Love.”

The same group may have also appeared on the Sunset label as Pete Bennett and The Embers. This group cut two sides in 1961 — “Fever” and “Soft” — that were arranged by Bobby Martin, a Philadelphia-based producer. In fact, The Embers, if they are the same group across these three different labels, may have helped form a somewhat forgotten R&B sound pioneered by Mr. Martin in the Town of Brotherly Love.

As a “house band,” The Embers may have backed Patti LaBelle, who was associated with Newtime and Newtown. It is also possible that The Embers recorded on the New York City label, Wynne Records, in 1959. In all, they may have produced ten to twelve sides.


what we don’t know

We know very little, of course. “Alexandria” as in Egypt? We don’t know.




getting into the weeds: discography

The Embers featuring Geo. “Terror” Narr. “Burning Up The Airways.” Newtime 513A. Songwriting credit: A. Levinson, Rick Spain. b/w The Embers featuring Joe “Mack” Lackey. “Alexandria.” Newtime 513B. Songwriting credit: A. Levinson. Philadelphia, 1963.

[Comments: never underestimate the B-side. Ahem. “Rick Spain” represents the nom de plume of the songwriter / producer Richie Rome, born Richard V. Di Cicco. He apparently arranged the Inez & Charlie Foxx top-10 hit “Mockingbird” in the same year. Of “Burning Up The Airways,” we will note that it offers a mischievous and prowling score, with bari sax adding some gravity. We recommend it, too. As for “A. Levinson” — not too shabby, mate.]

The core band members may have been: Anthony Corona aka Bobby Arnell (tenor sax); Paul Longyhore (guitar); Tony Gasperetti (bass); Orlando Capriotti (organ); Rick Wise (Drums).


extended discography

Ricky Dee and The Embers. “Work Out (Part 1)” b/w “Work Out (Part 2.)” Newtown 5001. Philadelphia, 1962.

Ricky Dee and The Embers “Work Out” b/w “Tunnel of Love.” Newtown 5001. Philadelphia, 1962.

Pete Bennett and The Embers. “Fever” b/w “Soft.” Sunset 1002. Philadelphia, 1961.

The Embers. “Peter Gunn Cha Cha” b/w “Chinny-Chin Cha Cha.” Wynne W-101. New York, 1959.

Gloria Hudson with The Embers. “Hawaiian Cha Cha” b/w “I’m Glad For Your Sake.” Wynne W-104. New York, 1959.

sources of information

45cat entry for “Alexandria
45cat entry for Ricky Dee and The Embers (primary release)
45cat entry for Ricky Dee and The Embers (second release)
45cat entry for Pete Bennett and The Embers
45cat entry for The Embers on Wynne
Discogs entry for Gloria Hudson and The Embers
Billboard May 5, 1962
Billboard June 23, 1962
Billboard March 23, 1963
Wikipedia entry for Bobby Martin
Wikipedia entry for Richie Rome
Various blogs & speculation, etc. 


Thursday, July 28, 2022

CONFLICT RESOLUTION: THE BUCK STOPS HERE.

 


Two bucks demonstrating why they have antlers. Not wanting to see either of them get punctured, I applied some time-tested conflict resolution techniques. That is, I flattered them. (In my silly accent.) Told them they were a couple of good looking deer and why battle one another? By the way, I praise all the animals in my orbit. Tell them all they are good looking. This seems to work. They seem to perk up, do the beasts, when they hear a touch of the old flattery. By the end of the clip, these two blokes do appear to be a wee bit bewildered. They are, therefore, bewilder-beasts. Oi!


Friday, June 10, 2022

JOY ON FIRE RELEASES AN ALBUM -- STATES OF AMERICA -- THAT WILL THROTTLE YOU (AS IT SHOULD) WITH SOME HARD-CHARGING JAZZPUNK.


 
We don’t say “throttling” anymore, but if we do, we mean giving you a good, solid “rattling.” These songs have hands. They will reach out, through the streaming device, and “throttle” you. They will “rattle” you in your waistcoats & petticoats. Normally, we’d urge you to flee, but we believe that, after a good, solid throttling & rattling, you will want to play States of America again.


Click [here] to purchase States of America at Bandcamp

Click [here] for the Joy on fire website / more info 

Personnel: John Paul Carillo (bass, guitar, songwriting); Anna Meadors (sax, vocals, lyrics on “Dangerous Whimsy”); Dan Gutstein (vocals and lyrics; backup vocals and lyrics on “Dangerous Whimsy”); Chris Olsen (drums).

Some recent press:

Bob Boilen noted the band’s “fiery sound” when debuting “Thunderdome” and its video on NPR’s All Songs Considered.

American Pancake cited the jagged punk eruptions for song and video “Happy Holidays.”

Jammerzine described the Joy on Fire song and video “Selfies” as being “sonically decadent in all the right spots.”

Kendra Beltran posted a great interview with the group at ZO Magazine.

The video for “Uh Huh” has been an official selection, or better, at more than a dozen international film festivals, including Obskuur Ghent Film Festival, where it won.



Thanks for your support! Oi. 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

CUB LIFE: THE RED FOX KITS ENGAGE IN NUTTY MAYHEM & WE HAVE THE FOOTAGE.



My fondness for foxes knoweth no boundaries. In fact, I have befriended a wild red fox and these are her cubs. Some days, I count seven of them. Some days, eight. It’s like, one day, there’s an extra kit, somehow. They leap, do the kits. They tussle. They careen ahead. On the nuttiness scale, I give them a 10 out of 10. Their nutty mayhem exceeds the norms, by several standard deviations! My friend, the mother fox, must shake her head at all this mayhem. She has more kits than the woman who lived in that funky old shoe. Clearly, the mother fox digs all of these offsprings, because all of them look good. At the end of the clip, you can see that I’ve made a new buddy. Li’l fella. Li’l critter. Oh yeah




Yes, I know about the flamingoes. Please don’t tell me that a wild red fox (allegedly) broke into the zoo and ate two dozen flamingoes. (And one duck.) I concede this alleged mal-pheasants (sic). Some of you eat meat. Some of you, like me, are vegetarians. (Or okay, they cook me a fish once in a while, where “they” equals salmon canneries.) Did the squash ask to be harvested? Did the salmon leap willingly into the net? Did the flamingo hanker to see the wild red fox (purportedly) squeezing through some kind of preposterous hole in the fence? We all want to eat. Nobody wants to be eaten. These geese seem to be gradually reaching a state of awareness concerning such matters. As do the kits. 




The shadows of the little ears in late day sun motes. The pouncing! I mean, with seven (or eight) siblings, that means seven (or eight) pouncings, daily, hourly, momentarily. Lo, the pouncings. The game of tag around the tree. The chases. The tail-bitings. Lo, the tail-bitings. Occasionally, you’ll view the solitary kit, the introspective kit, the sensitive soul, the tortured artist! But not for long. Because they pounceth anew. They tail-biteth anew. Lo, the little ears in late day shadows. I think it is a perfectly defensible position in life to want, to be, one of these kits. I know I want, to be, one of these nutty cubs.


Further Reading: 

For more information on the chapbook that chronicles my relationship with the mother of these kits, please see this here post, and thanks again to Phyllis Rosenzweig at Primary Writing Books, for publishing said chapbook.

Moreover, this is the post that started it all. 

The videos are titled: (1) Red Fox Kits Nuttiness! (2) Fox Kits Organize a Delegation to Meet the Geese. (3) Cub Life -- The Red Fox Kits. Oi. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

I DON’T LOVE NOBODY: EARL JOHNSON & HIS DIXIE ENTERTAINERS STRIKE A DEFIANT TONE ON ‘AMOUR’ BUT NOT WITHOUT SWINGING THE PARTY MAAAAADLY.

 


Our deep dive into historical old-time fiddle music continues. Behold one Earl Johnson, fiddler, and his walloping tune “I Don’t Love Nobody” from 1927. Our musicology team has been working overtime, and below, Dear Reader, you can find biographical details, beguiling analyses, full lyrics, and session details, amidst our usual incitements to drink and dance. We suggest that you have a few sips of swamp gas (aka moonshine), turn up the volume, and yes: jump around.

We’re talking some greasy, rowdy, electric, filthy fiddling. One imagines the strings of Johnson’s instrument fraying after every “hoedown.” However it goes, it goes madly. Whoever sings the high falsetto novelty stuff in the chorus — well, that fellow will understand your loneliness, Pilgrim, and he’ll make you feel A-okay about the lack of love in your life. It’s a standoff, basically. “I don’t love nobody, nobody loves me.” Might as well hop in concert to the bedlam. Might as well laugh and cry all at once. “Boop” goes the cap on the moonshine.

Johnson was born into a musical family, in 1886, near Atlanta. Early on and throughout his career, he played with luminary Georgia musician Fiddlin’ John Carson. [Nota bene: It is possible that Johnson is ‘second fiddle’ on Carson’s version of “Goodbye Liza Jane,” a tune that is part of the “Liza Jane
” family of songs.] A virtuosic performer himself, Johnson became state fiddle champion (in Georgia) in 1926, a year before he cut this side for OKeh Records. In all, he recorded more than 50 tunes for a variety of labels, toured broadly, and was eventually enshrined in the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame.


Earl Johnson

Like many musicians of his era, including Carson and African American guitar player Peg Leg Howell, Johnson repurposed songs that had been mainstays of burnt cork minstrelsy. “I Don’t Love Nobody” was written by minstrel performer Lew Sully and dates to at least 1896, if not earlier. The lyrics of the original Sully version are horrendously racist, while, mercifully, the Johnson version is much milder, almost to the point of being a completely different song: in fact, the ‘speaker’ of Johnson’s song is probably meant to be white and not a white person pretending to be Black. Nevertheless, the singing style of Johnson and his bandmates may blend old-time and minstrel traditions. It is important to acknowledge this type of difficult archaeology, even as we can appreciate Johnson’s fiddling skills and the upbeat rowdiness of the music.

Here, now, we offer instructions on how to proceed. Scroll up to the top of the page and click “play” on the video. That would be number one, and after that — well — allow yourself to be swung maaaaadly.

Lyrics, session details, and sources of information follow. Enjoy.

lyrics:

I Don’t Love Nobody (1927)
Earl Johnson & His Dixie Entertainers


Met Miss Martha Johnson down at a colored ball
Tried her best to shake me, that wouldn’t work at all
She told me her troubles, she asked me for a dime
G’wan now honey, you ain’t no gal of mine

Chorus:
I don’t love nobody, nobody loves me
You’re after all my money, you don’t care for me
Gonna live single, always be free
I don’t love nobody, nobody loves me

Went out with [a matron]* down on Peter Street
Met some tall li’l lady, she smiled at me so [mean]**
She told me she loved me, and marry me to git away
G’wan now honey, you ain’t gonna talk with me

Chorus

Down in Alabama, settled down for life
Met a girl named Dinah, I choosed her for my wife
See that gal every Sunday, and I asked her to marry away
See that gal on Monday, and this is what she said:

Chorus

Met Miss Martha Johnson down at a colored ball
Tried her best to shake me, that wouldn’t work at all
She told me her troubles, she asked me for a dime
G’wan now honey, you ain’t no gal of mine

Chorus


Notes:
*Second verse, first line: “matron” is what we hear. Other possibilities include “Mabel” or some half-slurred version of “promenading”
**Second verse, second line: “mean” is what we hear. Another possibility might be a half-slurred version of “sweet”


session details:

Earl Johnson & His Dixie Entertainers. Earl Johnson, fiddle; Byrd Moore, guitar and lead vocal; Emmett Bankston, banjo; Ensemble chorus; Other musicians, if any, unknown. Recorded March 23, 1927 in Atlanta, Ga. Released as OKeh 45101.

 
sources of information:

--Daniel, Wayne W. Pickin’ on Peachtree: A History of Country Music in Atlanta, Georgia. University of Illinois Press, 1990
--Discography of American Historical Recordings page for “I Don’t Love Nobody”
--Earl Johnson biography at AllMusic Guide
--Sully, Lew. “I Don’t Love Nobody.” Howley, Haviland & Co. (New York: 1896). This burnt cork minstrelsy sheet music publication can be accessed at its Library of Congress page; be forewarned that the content is offensive