Quotations Marked 4

“The real musician is not the one who can knock your eyeballs out with fast, difficult runs. A real musician can make the simple songs vibrate and sparkle with the life that is within them.”

That quote has been posted on the door of my teaching studio for some time now.

I found it on page 9 of my copy of the 1964 Oak Publication: The Folksinger’s Guide To The 12-String Guitar As Played By Leadbelly: An Instruction Manual” by Julius Lester & Pete Seeger.

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Page 9 is where Julius & Pete introduce the first song in the manual: “Skip To My Lou.”

As simple as a Folk song can be, there aren’t many that are simpler – or as much fun to play and sing – than this play-party song from America’s frontier days. A guitar player needs to only know two chords and a bit of basic strumming technique to provide a perfectly acceptable accompaniment and even the most melodically-challenged singer can easily master the catchy tune that both the chorus and verses are set to.

“Lost my partner, what’ll I do?

Lost my partner, what’ll I do?

Lost my partner, what’ll I do?

Skip to my lou, my darling.”

See what I mean?

(At one time, by the way, the word lou meant “sweetheart.” It was derived from loo, a Scottish term meaning “love.”)

So if even a musical novice can manage to pull off an adequate rendition of “Skip To My Lou,” what do you get when a “real musician” takes on this little number?

Vibrations and sparkles, of course. Vibrations and sparkles.

Hear for yourself.

 

That was recorded in New York City in July, 1941 for Asch Records. “Skip To My Lou” was first released as one of six songs on a set of three 78 rpm discs. This “album” was called Play Parties in Song and Dance as Sung by Lead Belly. Lead Belly accompanies his vocals on that recording with his 12-string acoustic guitar.

The song “Skip To My Lou” has its roots in the American West of the mid-19th century. According to the liner notes by Jeff Place and Guy Logsdon from Pete Seeger’s American Favorite Ballads – Volume 1 CD (Smithsonian/Folkways, 2002), the main source of entertainment for young and old alike in those days out on the frontier was something called the “play-party.”  Clapping and singing along to “Skip To My Lou” and other songs provided the “musical fun and frolic” in puritanical communities “where dancing was a sin” and “the fiddle, other musical instruments, and the dance caller were forbidden.”

Here’s Pete Seeger’s version of “Skip To My Lou” from that Smithsonian/Folkways collection. Pete cut this track in 1957 for the original American Favorite Ballads series on Folkways Records. He accompanies his vocals on this recording with his long-neck, 5-string banjo.

 

Clearly, to again quote Mr. Place and Dr. Logsdon, “Pete’s banjo accompaniment would not have been acceptable at a frontier play-party.”

There you go: Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, two versions of “Skip To My Lou,” a little American history and, in this post’s featured quote, the truth.

Say it again.

“The real musician is not the one who can knock your eyeballs out with fast, difficult runs. A real musician can make the simple songs vibrate and sparkle with the life that is within them.”   

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One Response to Quotations Marked 4

  1. Chuck Rhoades says:

    As Pete showed, vibrations and sparkles happen no matter what order or lyrical content. The song was in my head much of the morning, went away in the afternoon, and now as I write this, it’s back again! I need a play-party to go to.

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