Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jackson County Mountain Music, Part One

I made it a point to visit Aunt Samantha Bumgarner’s final resting place on a hill near the Tuckasegee River, but I never got around to posting a story on that notable Jackson County musician, “the first recorded female country music artist.” I did listen to some of her early recordings.



How can I put this without references to fingernails on a blackboard? Allow me to resort to a Bill Nye quip recycled through Mark Twain:

"I have been told that Wagner's music is better than it sounds."

Today’s story is not about Aunt Samantha anyhow. (And I don't pretend to be qualified to make judgments about old-time musicians.)

Instead, it concerns recordings of other Jackson County singers in the 1920s, recordings included in the Robert Winslow Gordon collection, Folk-Songs of America, reissued by the Library of Congress. Robert W. Gordon became the founding head of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress in 1928.



Prior to that, Gordon had moved to Asheville, a home base for field trips to collect old songs. On October 28, 1925 he dragged his bulky cylinder recording device to Cullowhee and Dillsboro, collecting two songs included in the reissue.

For musical context, this came a year after Aunt Samantha's recording sessions with Eva Davis in New York City and almost two years before the Bristol Sessions, the “Big Bang of Country Music,” conducted by Ralph Peer for the Victor Talking Machine Company in the summer of 1927.

At the Dillsboro session, Gordon recorded Julius Sutton singing “Single Girl.”

From the liner notes:

Gordon recorded "Single Girl" by Julius Sutton (d. 1947) of Dillsboro, near Cullowhee in Jackson County, on the same day that he recorded the previous song. The song has been collected in a number of parts of the South; both Brown (III, pp. 54-56) and Belden (p. 437-39) report versions and give references to other published collections of the song. Gordon's Adventure correspondents sent him four versions of the song in manuscript (2744, 2779[2], 3237), and he recorded another version from a North Carolina singer on cylinder (A93, NC137). Kentucky singer Cousin Emmy made a commercial recording of it in the mid-forties. Sutton's version is textually and melodically similar to most of the other versions of the song, and is distinguished by his fine performance in classic mountain style.



Come all you young ladies, let me tell you right,
Oh, I'd never marry, I'd live a single life.
Chorus:
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl,
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl again.
When I was single my shoes they did squeak,
But now I am married my shoes they go leak.
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl,
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl again.
When I was single I dressed very fine,
But now I am married I go ragged all the time.
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl,
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl again
There's dishes to wash and spring to go to;
There's no one to help me, I have it all to do.
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl,
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl again
When I was single I dressed like a lady,
But now I am married I go ragged all the time
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl,
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl again
When I was single I dressed very fine,
But now I am married I go ragged all the time.
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl,
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl again
Yonder he comes with a bottle in his hand,
Wishing I was dead and he had another dram.
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl,
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl again
One thing I do hate and one I do dread,
To hear my little children crying for bread.
One says to Papa, "I want a piece of bread,"
The other'n says to Mama, "I want to go to bed."
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl,
O-o-oh, I wish I was a single girl again


I can’t tell you much about Mr. Sutton. Born April 16, 1881. Died August 29, 1947. Married three times. The first “single girl” he married was 14-year-old Laura Bell Ledford (b. 1885). Next was Annie Buchanan (b. 1895). And finally, it was Rose Lee Hensley (b. 1904).


Variations on “Single Girl” by Keith Whitley and Ralph Stanley II

One week before his trip to Jackson County, Robert W. Gordon recorded Bascom Lamar Lunsford. From October 19, 1925, here's a recording of Hesitation Blues.

2 comments:

Jim Parker said...

One of the trademark songs of the Carter Family was a variation of this song, titled Single Girl, Married Girl.

GULAHIYI said...

That's interesting. And I think there might have been an Aunt Samantha / Carter Family connection through another famous Jackson Countian, Dr. John R. Brinkley, who hosted them on his XERA radio station.