A Song For Now, Verse 3 – “Hard Times Come Again No More”

“Hard Times Come Again No More” was written by Stephen Foster.

Firth, Pond & Co., Foster’s publishing company at that time, registered the title page for copyright on December 16, 1854. They deposited the music for the complete song on January 17, 1855.

Firth, Pond & Co. advertised the song as being “Just the song for the times!”

Stephen Foster was living in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania in 1854. (The municipality of Allegheny City was founded in 1788 and annexed by the City of Pittsburg in 1907.)

Ken Emerson described “the times” in Allegheny City at that time in his book, Doo-Dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture: 

Distress was widespread in Allegheny City and Pittsburg in 1854. Unemployment had reached unprecedented levels that spring, and in the summer cholera struck once again, killing four hundred people in just two weeks.

Hard times, indeed.

The 1855 sheet music presents “Hard Times Come Again No More” in the Key of E-flat major; four verses and a chorus with an elegant, but relatively simple piano accompaniment.

Thanks to the Library of Congress, we can all take a look.

“Hard Times Come Again No More” was recorded for the first time by the Edison Manufacturing Company in 1905. Edison Gold Moulded Cylinder #9120 captured a performance of the song by the Edison Male Quartette with “orchestra accompaniment.”

The recording has a spoken introduction followed by the orchestra. The Edison Male Quartette sings the first verse and then goes two times through the chorus. (Check out those changes on the second chorus!) The orchestra provides the instrumental coda.

Thanks to the Audio Archive of the University of California Santa Barbara Library, we can all give a listen!

 

I have two favorite contemporary covers of this exquisite song.

James Taylor, Mark O’Conner, Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer collaborated on a wonderfully re-harmonized rendition of “Hard Times Come Again No More” for their 2000 album Appalachian Journey.

 

That performance features:

  • James Taylor – Acoustic Guitar & Vocals
  • Mark O’Conner – Violin
  • Yo-Yo Ma – Cello
  • Edgar Meyer – Bass

Mavis Staples contributed a deeply heartfelt rendering of the song for the 2004 compilation Beautiful Dreamer – The Songs of Stephen Foster. (That collection won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album in 2005.)

 

The musicians on that recording are:

  • Mavis Staples – Vocals
  • Matt Rollings – Piano & Organ
  • Buddy Miller – Electric Guitar
  • Steve Fishell – Dobro

“Hard Times Come Again No More” has been recorded by a wide array of artists, including Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Check them out!

“Music is the best medicine.”

That line is from “Best Medicine” – a 2014 song by Maya de Vitry when she was with the wonderful acoustic trio known as The Stray Birds.

My thought behind this series is to offer up some songs that I’ve been thinking about, listening to and singing quite a bit these days.

It is my hope that these small doses of musical medicine will be a source of comfort, joy, hope and sanity for you as they have been for me.

Stay safe, take good care and now, more than ever, add some music to your day.

 

 

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A Song For Now, Verse 2 – “Worried Man Blues”

“Music is the best medicine.”

That line is from “Best Medicine” – a 2014 song by Maya de Vitry when she was with the wonderful acoustic trio known as The Stray Birds.

My thought behind this series is to offer up some songs that I’ve been thinking about, listening to and singing quite a bit these days. It is my hope that these small doses of musical medicine will be a source of comfort, joy, hope and sanity for you as they have been for me.

Give a listen and, if you’re so inclined, sing along!

“Worried Man Blues” is credited to A.P. Carter of The Carter Family.

Most likely, “Worried Man Blues” was a song that A.P. and his partner, Lesley Riddle, became acquainted with on one of the many song-collecting trips they made around their corner of Poor Valley, Virginia.

The Carter Family – A.P., Sara & Maybelle – made the first recording of “Worried Man Blues” in Memphis, Tennessee on May 24, 1930.

For you guitar players out there, Maybelle – the “lead” guitarist in The Carter Family –  is fingering chords in the Key of C (her favorite). But, since she has her guitar tuned down one whole step, the performance sounds in the Key of B-flat.

The chord progression is a standard 12-bar Blues.

||: 4/4  C     | C     | C     | C     | F     | F     | C     | C     | G     | G     | C     | C     :||

(In the picture below, that’s Maybelle on the left, A.P. in the middle and Sara on the right.)

 

In Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? – The Carter Family & Their Legacy in American Music, authors Mark Zwoniter and Charles Hirshberg wrote: “In ‘Worried Man Blues,’ a man goes across the river to sleep, wakes up a prisoner in chains, and has no idea what he’s done wrong. That song spoke a simple unjustifiable truth: Some men were born to the poor and lonesome class in America, and despite the national promise, that class was hard to escape.”

Thanks to the endless wonders of YouTube, here’s a somewhat blurry but still wonderful clip of Maybelle herself playing “Worried Man Blues.”

On June 14, 1969, Maybelle and her three daughters – June, Anita and Helen – performed as The Carter Family on Episode 2 of the television music variety program known as The Johnny Cash Show. They did this lively, syncopated 16-bar rendition of “Worried Man Blues” with Johnny Cash, himself.

(Maybelle is again using those Key of C fingerings but this time with her Gibson guitar in standard tuning and capoed at the 5th fret. Johnny is capoed at the first fret and fingering chords in the Key of E.)

 

There are dozens of cover versions of this song out there. My favorites are by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Lonnie Donegan. Check them out!

Stay safe, take good care and always, now more than ever, add some music to your day.

“Music is the best medicine.”

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A Song For Now, Verse 1 – “I Shall Be Released”

“Music is the best medicine.”

That line is from “Best Medicine” – a 2014 song by Maya de Vitry when she was with the wonderful acoustic trio known as The Stray Birds.

My thought behind this series is to offer up some songs that I’ve been thinking about, listening to and singing quite a bit these days. It is my hope that these small doses of musical medicine will be a source of comfort, joy, hope and sanity for you as they have been for me.

Give a listen and, if you’re so inclined, sing along!

“I Shall Be Released” was written by Bob Dylan in the summer of 1967.

He first recorded it with The Band (though they weren’t called that yet) sometime during what have become known as The Basement Tapes sessions. These legendary recording and songwriting sessions were held in a rented house called “Big Pink,” located in West Saugerties, New York, from June through October of 1967.

(The Basement Tapes recording of “I Shall Be Released” was not officially released until 1991. It was included in Bob Dylan’s The Bootleg Series, Vol.1-3 under the title “I Shall Be Released – Take 2.”)

The first commercially-released recording of the song was made by The Band at one of two studios in Los Angeles, California in 1968.

It serves as the stunning closing track of Big Pink, their extraordinary debut album, released by Capitol Records on July 1, 1968.

For the guitar players among you, this slow, stately rendering is in 4/4 time and in the Key of E. The chord progression goes: ||: E            | F#m          | G#m    A  B | E             :||

 

The members of The Band and their contributions to that recording were:

  • Richard Manuel – Lead vocals, piano & harmony vocals
  • Rick Danko – Bass guitar & harmony vocals
  • Levon Helm – Drums & harmony vocals
  • Garth Hudson – Rocksichord organ
  • Robbie Robertson – Acoustic guitar

Bob Dylan finally recorded his decidedly more up-tempo rendition of “I Shall Be Released” on September 24, 1971. The location was Studio B at the Columbia Records Recording Studios in New York, New York. Accompanying Bob was his friend and fellow musician, Happy Traum.

This performance is in the Key of A. Dylan has his acoustic guitar capoed at the 2nd fret and fingers chords in G. ||: G      | G      | Am    | Am    | Bm    | D      | G      | G     :||

 

That recording of “I Shall Be Released” was included on the 2-LP set: Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits – Volume 2, released on November 17, 1971.

The musicians and their contributions were:

  • Bob Dylan – Acoustic guitar, lead vocals & harmonica
  • Happy Traum – Acoustic guitar & harmony vocals.

There are dozens of cover versions of this song by a wide variety of artists. My favorites are by Nina Simone, Joe Cocker and Bette Midler. Check them out!

Stay safe, take good care and always, more than ever, add some music to your day.

“Music is the best medicine.”

 

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This Historic Day… My Mother – Take 2

Avis Louise Foss Sinclair, my mother, was born on this day, March 8, in the year 1914.

Avis was the daughter of George P. and Stella Foss and grew up in Center Strafford, NH. She graduated from Austin Cate Academy – Center Strafford’s high school – in 1932. She played cello in the school orchestra and center for the girl’s basketball team. In 1936, she graduated from the Exeter (NH) Hospital Training School for Nurses, eventually becoming a Registered Nurse.

In May of 1941, she married Francis M. Sinclair, my father, in Exeter, NH.

My mom was very supportive of my musical endeavors, even in my junior high and early high school years when I played the drums. (I believe there should be a special place in heaven for the mothers of young rock & roll drummers.) When I became a guitarist, singer and songwriter, mom and dad would often come to my gigs, especially when I played on Sunday afternoons in the Fall at Applecrest Farms in Hampton Falls, NH.

One of my mother’s favorite songs of mine was “The Ladies of Fairburn.” It was a song I wrote after a trip I took to England in the summer of 1978. I recorded “The Ladies of Fairburn” in 1988 for my self-produced, cassette-tape album, Anytime.

Around that time, an AM radio station in Exeter started a weekend-mornings Folk music show with a DJ named Rick Parry. I’d listened to Rick throughout high school when he was on WBCN-FM, out of Boston. Rick was a big supporter of all of the Seacoast NH Folk musicians, readily giving them airplay and promoting up-coming gigs.

I told mom about the radio show and that they had a copy of Anytime and the DJ took requests from listeners. Well, that was all she needed to know. She started to call the station every weekend and request “The Ladies of Fairburn.” Rick always played it, even after he figured out who she was. This went on – I learned much later – for many months.

1992

Avis Louise Foss Sinclair was 87 years old when she passed away on Sunday, August 5, 2001.

As she would always say, “God love you!”

If you would like to hear “The Ladies of Fairburn,” please go to the first “take” of this post: “This Historic Day… My Mother.”

 

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This Historic Day In Music: “Sweetheart Land” & “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame” – Take 2

82 years ago.

On March 1, 1938, singer/guitarist Big Bill Broonzy and singer/pianist Curtis Jones entered the NBC studios in Chicago, Illinois.

Big Bill Broonzy (1903-1958) was a popular Chicago-based Blues musician and prolific recording artist who’d cut his first record in November, 1927.

Curtis Jones (1906-1971) had started his recording career in Chicago in September, 1937 and was best known for his song “Lonesome Bedroom Blues.”

On this day – according to the invaluable reference book Blues & Gospel Records 1890-1943 (4th edition) by Dixon, Godrich & Rye – each of these artists recorded the same two songs in their respective sessions: “Sweetheart Land” and “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame.”

The common denominator of these recordings was the 16-year-old NBC session guitarist who played on all four tracks: George Barnes.

The significance of these recordings is that George Barnes (1921-1977) played an electric guitar and this would be the first time an electric guitar was used on a Blues recording.

Mr Broonzy went first, laying down a lively rendition of “Sweetheart Land.”

Mr. Barnes’ solo starts at the 1:51 mark.

 

When it was Mr. Jones’ turn, he started off with “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame.”

Mr. Barnes takes the opening solo and solos again at the 2:22 mark.

 

Both of those recordings were released in 1938.

Curtis Jones’ version of “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame” (b/w “Little Jivin’ Woman”) was released on Vocalion Records, #04027.

George Barnes was credited on that record under the name Hobson “Hot Box” Johnson.

Big Bill Broonzy’s performance of “Sweetheart Land” (b/w “I Want You By My Side”) was released in 1938 on Vocalion Records, #04041.

Mr. Broonzy’s recording of “It’s A Low Down Dirty Shame” was not released until 1990. (Didn’t they know it was one of the first Blues records to feature an electric guitar?!)

For some unknown reason, Mr. Jones’ recording of “Sweetheart Land” has never been released.

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Quotations Marked 9

I think that this is especially good advice.

“When someone asks me what kind of guitar to buy, I say one that makes you want to pick it up. That you’ll leave lying across the bed, on a chair, within easy reach. The one you’ll keep playing.”

That quote is from guitarist, composer, record producer and music journalist, Lenny Kaye.

It is taken from the foreward that Mr. Kaye wrote to Dangerous Curves: The Art of the Guitar by Darcy Kuronen and published in 2000 by MFA Publications, Boston, Massachusetts.

I rediscovered Mr. Kaye’s advice while doing some research for my last post, Three More Guitars.

He goes on to say…

“A decade or two down the line, the guitar that you bought new in a music store hanging on a rack with a dozen others will have opened up its resonance, stretched its wood in appreciation of the music that has been made, and accommodated all willing hands, or just yours alone.”

…and concludes:

“An instrument requires respect, give and take. You should get to know each other.”

That is very good advice indeed.

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Three More Guitars

Three Guitars was the title of the piece I posted back on August 13, 2019.

It featured three very cool instruments from Medieval to Metal: The Art and Evolution of the Guitar; an exhibit I saw at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire earlier that summer.

Three More Guitars highlights a trio of dazzling electrics that were part of Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll. That incredible exhibit ran from April 8 through October 1, 2019, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

(The Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll exhibit is on view now through September 13, 2020 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.)

I chose these instruments because of the new meaning they give the term: “The Art of the Guitar.”

More like “The Art On the Guitar.”

Take a look. (And let me know which one is your favorite!)

The first beauty is a 1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom.

This instrument belongs to Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. He painted the guitar himself – using “very early acrylic pens” – sometime in 1968. When trying to recall if his art had been inspired by what he was playing or a song he was writing, he finally admitted, “No, this is definitely acid, man. It’s a great inspiration.”

Keith performed with this guitar during the December 11, 1968 concert known as The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.

 

Guitar #2 is a 1961 Gibson Les Paul TV Special.

This double-cutaway electric belongs to Steve Miller. It was given to him by Leslie West of the band Mountain (Remember “Mississippi Queen?”) in about 1967-68. Miller used it extensively throughout the 1970’s and had it painted by Bob Cantrell, a surfboard artist, in 1973.

 

Finally, I give you “The Fool.”

That is a 1964 Gibson SG. It has belonged, in turn, to George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Todd Rundgren. The instrument is now part of the collection of Perry A. Margouleff.

Eric Clapton was a member of the band Cream when he owned it. He used it frequently in concert as well as on the trio’s albums Disraeli Gears (1967), Wheels of Fire (1968) and Goodbye (1969).

The decidedly psychedelic designs were created and applied to the SG‘s mahogany body using “oil-based enamel paint” by Marijke Koger and Simon Posthuma in London in 1967.

The World of Guitar is definitely a wild and wonderful place.

The information used in the writing of this post came from the Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll exhibition catalogue by Jayson Kerr Downey and Craig J. Inciardi. It was published in 2019 by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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“February 8th”

To my dear daughter,

Over the past ten years – along with cards and presents, video chats and phone calls – your birthday has been celebrated and commemorated twice here on sixstr stories.

Each time included a song: “Birthday” by The Beatles in 2014 and “My Daughter’s Eyes” (a song of mine) in 2012.

This year it seemed like it was about time to “present” you with the instrumental that I wrote almost half of your lifetime ago and titled in honor of the day of your birth.

I hope you enjoy it.

Happy Birthday!

T.C., H.F., E.W., D.T.A.W.N. & M.M.L.

Dad

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This Historic Day In Music: Sweet Baby James

In February of 1970, I was a high school student, a drummer and a passionate Led Zeppelin fan. (Led Zeppelin II had come out in October 1969!!)

Come the Fall, I was in my senior year, teaching myself how to play the acoustic guitar and listening intently to James Taylor.

“Fire And Rain” – the first single from Sweet Baby James, Taylor’s second album – was all over the radio, inching towards its October 31st peak of #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Sweet Baby James LP made it onto my Magnavox stereo around that time and soon became #1 on my listening chart.

The gorgeously intricate finger-style guitar playing that percolated across every track of Taylor’s album was hugely influential to me at a crucial time in my development as a guitarist.

“Sunny Skies” – Side 1, Track 3 – was the first song from Sweet Baby James that I somehow successfully learned how to play and sing. It still brings great joy.

Give a listen.

 

Bass guitarist John London, drummer Russ Kunkel and vocalist Carole King accompany James Taylor’s vocals and acoustic guitar on that recording.

Sweet Baby James also re-introduced me to the music of Stephen Foster, thanks to Taylor’s wonderful cover of “Oh Susannah” that closes out Side 1.

Check out the fabulous double-tracked fingerpicked acoustic guitar intro & coda!

 

James Taylor recorded Sweet Baby James at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles, California over the course of ten days in December 1969. Peter Asher was the producer.

The record received a nomination for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards in 1971. (Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel was the winner.)

William Ruhlmann wrote in the All Music Guide to Rock: “Sweet Baby James… launched not only Taylor’s career as a Pop superstar but also the entire singer/songwriter movement of the early 70’s.”

Sweet Baby James was released by Warner Brothers Records 50 years ago today, on February 1, 1970.

“Good music doesn’t get old.”

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The Ballad of “Wayfaring Stranger”

Ballad: “A poem or song narrating a story in short stanzas, or verses.”

Verse 1

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger, a traveling through this world of woe

But there’s no sickness toil or danger in that bright land to which I go.

I’m going there to see my father, I’m going there no more to roam

I’m just a going over Jordan, I’m just a going over home.

The melody those lyrics are set to is one of my favorites.

It is one of the pieces I play pretty much every time I pick up my guitar.

It is what I play when I’m trying out a new guitar; my test to determine the true quality of an instrument’s voice.

It goes like this.

 

Verse 2

Sheet music for “Wayfaring Stranger” first made its way onto my music stand decades ago in a songbook called Jerry Silverman’s Folk Song Encyclopedia, Volume 2.

Published by Chappell Music Company in 1975, this large thick paperback does indeed contain “Over 1,000 Favorite Songs Arranged For Voice And Guitar.”

“Wayfaring Stranger” resides in the Gospel section, sharing pages 76 & 77 with two other classics.

 

Verse 3

In 1941, the father & son song-collecting team of John and Alan Lomax published their third book of songs. Our Singing Country: A Second Volume of American Ballads and Folk Songs contained 205 songs. All but 13 of these were chosen from the thousands of field recordings made by the Lomaxes in the 1930’s and held in the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress.

The transcriptions of the songs in Our Singing Country were painstakingly and lovingly made from those recordings over the course of four years by the composer Ruth Crawford Seeger.

My copy of Our Singing Country is an “unabridged republication” released by Dover Publications in 2000. “Wayfaring Stranger” is on page 37 under the main title of “Over Jordan.”

 

I learned about Our Singing Country from reading Ted Anthony’s brilliant 2007 book Chasing The Rising Sun – his “biography” of the folk song “House of the Rising Sun.”

Verse 4

After playing and singing and teaching “Wayfaring Stranger” for so many years, the time came to find out from whence it came. So, in March of 2018, I paid a visit to the American Folklife Center at The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

In the Folklife Center Reading Room, I was most fortunate to gain the knowledgeable and patient assistance of Mr. Todd Harvey, Collections Specialist in Reference at the AFC and Curator of the Alan Lomax Collection.

Thanks to Mr. Harvey, I was able to listen to several field recordings of “Wayfaring Stranger.” Among them was the November 22, 1936 solo vocal performance by L.L. McDowell – collected by Sidney Robertson & Charles Seeger – that was the source for the Our Singing Country transcription.

I was also able to look through a collection of documents that Mr. Harvey presented to me in a plain manila folder simply marked “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.”

Among these papers was a copy of an article titled “Poor Wayfaring Stranger – Early Publications” by John F. Garst. This article had originally appeared in the April 1980 edition of The Hymn – a publication of the Hymn Society of America, based at Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio. (Mr Garst’s day job in 1980 was as a Professor of Chemistry at The University of Georgia.)

This article answered all of my questions about “Wayfaring Stranger.”

Verse 5

Mr. Garst states that during his research on “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” he “examined several hundred, perhaps a thousand, hymn and hymn-and-tune books of the 18th-20th centuries.”

The earliest publication that Mr. Garst found of the text of the song was under the title of “Going Over Jordan” in a 1858 book by Joseph Bever called The Christian Songster.

Mr. Bever presents Verse 1 of “Going Over Jordan” as…

I am a pilgrim and a stranger, while wandering through this world of woe;

But there’s no sickness, death nor sorrow, in that bright land to which I go.

…and these lines as the Chorus:

I’m going there to see my father, I’m going there to see my Lord;

I’m just a going over Jordan, I’m just a going over home.

Verse 6

The earliest publication of the words and music together were located by Mr. Garst in a hymnal called The Revival by Charlie D. Tillman, published in 1891.

The Reverend J.L. Tillman was Charlie’s father. Evidently, the elder Tillman sang “A Poor Wayfaring Stranger” in the key of E-flat major.

Here’s the tune to Rev. Tillman’s rendition.

 

Verse 7

Mr. Garst’s article also contained a reproduction of the first publication of “A Poor Wayfaring Stranger” with its melody as we now know and love it best: built (mostly) from the notes of a pentatonic minor scale.

This transcription was from Times of Refreshing, an 1893 hymnal compiled by W.T. Dale. Mr. Dale credits himself with this arrangement of “A Poor Wayfaring Stranger.”

This is what the melody of Mr. Dale’s E minor setting sounds like. (It’s my guess that the flat next to the eighth note D in the first measure of the last staff is a typo, but I played it anyway.)

 

Verse 8

Also tucked in that plain manila folder was a thin yellowed paper pamphlet containing the music for “Wayfaring Stranger” written out in something called “the four-shape notation.”

This paper was a “song sheet” – number 9 of a series of American songs – issued by the Special Skills Division of the Resettlement Administration circa 1938. The song sheets were the idea of musicologist Charles Seeger as a way to help resettled families carry their musical tradition with them.

Verse 9

The first commercial recording of “Wayfaring Stranger” was done by Vaughan’s Texas Quartet. This male quartet with piano accompaniment was recorded in Dallas, Texas by Victor Records on October 9, 1929. The Quartet called their song “The Wayfaring Pilgrim.” Their melody and lyrics are similar to those in the Dale transcription.

 

The most recent recording of “Wayfaring Stranger” that I have heard was released in May, 2019. It features the always wonderful Rhiannon Giddens on vocals and banjo with Francesco Turrisi on accordion.

If you’ve listened to nothing else in this post, please listen to this. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Coda

Music this good certainly does not get old.

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