I remember one time a woman showed up at one of the meetings of the
Texas Folklore Society ... the one founded by John and Alan Lomax,
J.Frank Dobie, Ruth Seegar et al. She sang a version of "The Gypsie
Rover", and nearly everybody knew a somewhat different version ...
mostly different verses not everybody knew, but there were even a
couple of different melodies.
The one I knew was called Blackjack Davy, and had apparently come out
of the Blackjack Oak forests in East Texas.
If you are into ethnic folk, as opposed to professional folk like
Peter Paul & Mary, check out The Mudcat Cafe <http://www.mudcat.org/>
I just did a search there and found a blog entry that says: "I think
I may have this song on an album I picked up in Trinidad - the real
version and not the Harry Belafonte or the rock version. I've been
meaning to transcribe it and will try to dig it out. It's really
funny - starts out "If you want to be happy and live a king's life,
never make a pretty woman your wife"."
.... That sounds like what I thought Harry Belafonte sang, but it was
a long time ago, and I listened to lot of folk singers. Some of them
had spent time in the West Indies and brought back all sorts of
great music. There was a trio who harmonized on one called The Sweet
Sugar Cane, where they sang as farm animal characters.
That was back in the McCarthy era; The House Unamerican Activities
Committee was blacklisting musicians because a lot of folk singers
had joined the Communist Party during the depression. They were
mostly idealists who thought it sounded like a good idea. Not the
National Socialist kind like they had in Germany and Russia. Some of
them even went to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Pete did,
and some of his first songs were about it.
Anyway, we tried to put on a concert for him in the Dallas City
Library, and they got bomb threats. That really pissed us off. We
figured they were not real threats, just nuisance calls .. we had
never heard of such a thing, and we were going to go ahead anyway,
but Pete didn't want to endanger people and backed out. Not long
thereafter, The Weavers quietly quit performing and vanished from the
Years later, after that particular insanity had subsided, I think it
was the old Weavers manager, arranged a Weaver's reunion concert in
Madison Square Garden. People drove clear across the country to
attend, and I think I read that it was sold out for three nights
running. They were that popular, and that good, and even though it
had been a couple of decades since they disappeared and they had
gotten pretty old by then, it was a success, and just in time. Lee
Hays was in a wheel chair. He died soon after. A friend told me they
started with with Pete shouting the first words of "Weemoweh" and the
crowd went wild.
But just one more memory. I don't think there was ever an entertainer
like Pete Seegar. You could like his kind of music or not, but he was
always himself. No fancy airs. He didn't seem to ever have the idea
he was better than anyone else. He was fun, too. He radiated fun. I
went to a concert he put on in the park in Woodside (I think that was
the name of it) on the San Francisco Peninsula in the late 60's.
Probably about 67 or 68. He performed with a banjo and a guitar all
alone on a wooden outdoor stage. No backup. He didn't need any. A
whole bunch of folk singers showed up, as well as a thousand of more
general public. He held the audience there until it started getting
dark, by which time there were half a dozen singers sitting on the
platform with him and they were making music, and he obviously was
enjoying himself immensely. He just did things like that. The crowd
was not going to go home. The park police came in and nearly started
a riot by trying to shove people out, and Pete just took over and
thanked them all for coming and asked the crowd to be so good as to
let him end the concert and we'd all go home now, and we all did.
He had a hell of a fine voice back then. Clear and strong. He lost it
after he got old, and sounded like a frog croaking, but he still sang
with all he had. I guess you can tell I liked him.
Damn, I'm tearing up. Better shut up now.