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Origins: Deep River Blues (Doc Watson or trad?)

DigiTrad:
DEEP RIVER BLUES


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Joe Offer 22 Jun 16 - 03:58 AM
GUEST,Hootenanny 22 Jun 16 - 04:27 AM
Joe Offer 22 Jun 16 - 04:28 AM
Richie 22 Jun 16 - 08:13 PM
gillymor 22 Jun 16 - 09:01 PM
Richie 22 Jun 16 - 09:16 PM
Richie 22 Jun 16 - 10:09 PM
Richie 22 Jun 16 - 10:22 PM
gillymor 23 Jun 16 - 10:47 AM
Richie 23 Jun 16 - 03:49 PM
Joe Offer 23 Jun 16 - 05:44 PM
Richie 23 Jun 16 - 09:58 PM
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Subject: Origins: Deep River Blues (Doc Watson or trad?)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 22 Jun 16 - 03:58 AM

This song has always been the essence of Doc Watson for me. But is it a Doc Watson composition, or a traditional song adapted by Doc Watson?
From this video (click), I gather that he learned it from somebody else. But I can find no sources for the song that are older than Doc Watson.
There is no Traditional Ballad Index entry for this song. Here are the Digital Tradition lyrics - any corrections?
-Joe-


DEEP RIVER BLUES

Let it rain, let it pour
Let it rain a whole lot more, cause
I got them deep river blues,
Let the rain drive right on
Let the waves sweep along, cause
I got them deep river blues.

My old gal's a good old pal,
And she looks like a water fowl, when
I get them deep river blues,
Ain't no one to cry for me,
And the fish all go out on a spree when
I get them deep river blues.

Give me back my old boat
I'm gonna sail if she'll float, cause
I got them deep river blues,
I'm goin' back to Mussel Shoals,
Times are better there I'm told, cause
I got them deep river blues.

Let it rain, let it pour
Let it rain a whole lot more, cause
I got them deep river blues,
Let the rain drive right on
Let the waves sweep along, cause
I got them deep river blues.

If my boat sinks with me
I'll go down, don't you see, cause
I got them deep river blues,
Now I'm gonna say good-bye
'N if I sink, just let me die, cause
I got them deep river blues.

Let it rain, let it pour
Let it rain a whole lot more, cause
I got them deep river blues,
Let the rain drive right on
Let the waves sweep along, cause
I got them deep river blues.

Recorded by Doc Watson
@blues @river @flood
filename[ DEEPRIVR
RG


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Subject: RE: Origins: Deep River Blues (Doc Watson or trad?)
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 22 Jun 16 - 04:27 AM

Joe,
Have you tried listening to the Delmore Brothers Alton and Rabon?

"Big River Blues"

Hoot


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Subject: RE: Origins: Deep River Blues (Doc Watson or trad?)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 22 Jun 16 - 04:28 AM

Ha! Here it is: Delmore Brothers: I've Got the Big River Blues. Oh, and we have a thread on it here (click).
Here's a 1933 Delmore Brothers recording of "I've Got the Big River Blues"

The lyrics are almost the same as Doc Watson's DEEP RIVER BLUES:

I'VE GOT THE BIG RIVER BLUES (1933)
(Alton & Rabon Delmore)

Let it rain, let it pour
Let it rain a whole lot more, cause
   I've got the big river blues.

Let it drive, let it fall
Let the waves make a wall, cause
   I've got the big river blues.

Give me back my old boat
I'm gonna sail if it will float, cause
   I've got the big river blues.

I'm goin' back to Mussel Shoals,
Times are better there I'm told, and
   I've got the big river blues.

My old gal's a good old pal,
But she looks like a water fowl, and
   I've got the big river blues.

There's no one to cry for me,
And the fishes have a grand old spree when
   I get the big river blues.

If my boat sinks with me,
I'll go down, don't you see, cause
   I've got the big river blues.

Now I'm going to say goodbye,
And if I sink, let me die, cause
   I've got the big river blues.

Manfred Helfert has a definitive answer in a quote from Doc Watson on his website:
    This blues was introduced to me in the late thirties by a Delmore Brothers recording ["Big River Blues"] When I first began to hear the tune, I was fascinated by the sound they got out of the little tenor guitar -- the four-string -- and the regular flattop box. I never could figure a way to get even a resemblance of the sound that they got until I began to hear Merle Travis pick the guitar. When Merle plays the guitar, he gets a rhythmic beat going by bouncing his thumb back and forth on the bass strings, which he mutes with the edge of the palm of his hand. I worked out that little back-up part first, but it took me about ten years before I got the whole thing sounding the way I wanted it.
    DOC WATSON, reprinted in The Songs of Doc Watson, New York, 1971, p. 34


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Subject: RE: Origins: Deep River Blues (Doc Watson or trad?)
From: Richie
Date: 22 Jun 16 - 08:13 PM

Hi Joe,

I asked Doc where he got the song and he said The Delmore Brothers "Big River Blues." I asked him if I had permission to use his version and he said "yes." So my publisher OK'ed it and I put "Big River Blues" as Doc's source.

Apparently there was some controversy over this song and the ownership of it back in the 1930s- someone else claimed ownership as with a similar Delmore song, Brown's Ferry Blues. The Delmores also claimed ownership for "Beautiful Brown Eyes" and other songs they obviously did not write but played with Fiddlin' Arthur Smith and others.

I can't remember the details and probably did not write them down.

Richie


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Subject: RE: Origins: Deep River Blues (Doc Watson or trad?)
From: gillymor
Date: 22 Jun 16 - 09:01 PM

Doc gives a brief explanation of his arrangement
here from the LP Doc Watson on Stage which, to me, is his finest recording. It also includes a ripsnorting version of the Delmore Brother's "Brown's Ferry Blues" that Richie mentioned above, as the lead off number.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Deep River Blues (Doc Watson or trad?)
From: Richie
Date: 22 Jun 16 - 09:16 PM

Hi,

Yeah, Doc can play, and he only uses one finger with his thumb- hard to believe. I learned my version of Deep River from Doc. But I cheat and use other fingers.

And- I just remembered --the controversy over the song was with one of the McGee brothers- Sam and Kirk but I doubt I'll remember what happened :)

Richie


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Subject: RE: Origins: Deep River Blues (Doc Watson or trad?)
From: Richie
Date: 22 Jun 16 - 10:09 PM

Hi,

Doc's rendition is how he thought Merle Travis would play it. Merle also played with thumb and basically one finger (not like his son Thom Bresh).

Merle got his start playing for Georgia Skillet Licker Clayton McMichen after he moved to Louisville. Merle was just 17. When Merle got married both he and his bride were too young so Clayton posed as Merl's father and Bert Lane posed as the girl's father.

Both Doc and Chet loved Merle. So when Doc had a child he named his son Merle and now we have the Merle Watson Festival in North Wilkesboro, NC. And when Chet had a child he named his daughter, Merle and. . . that's all!!!

Richie


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Subject: RE: Origins: Deep River Blues (Doc Watson or trad?)
From: Richie
Date: 22 Jun 16 - 10:22 PM

Hi,

Now that I remembered it, Merle's first fiddle player was Sleepy Marlin out of Indiana, just across the Ohio from Louisville. They were called the Drifting Pioneers and after playing with McMichen, Merle went back to the Pioneers for a spell.

Sleepy gave me their book, c. 1939, and they all have coon-skin caps. I learned a couple of Sleepy's songs and we played a concert for him when he was 95!!!

Sleepy has some stories to tell!!! He and McMchen squared off several times at the Louisville Fair. Funny how things come full circle.

Richie


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Subject: RE: Origins: Deep River Blues (Doc Watson or trad?)
From: gillymor
Date: 23 Jun 16 - 10:47 AM

Interesting stuff, Richie. I didn't know that the McGee Bros. had recorded "Brown's Ferry Blues" but I pulled it up on Spotify and they did a good job of it in 1934, the year after the Delmore's superior (IMO) recording of it.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Deep River Blues (Doc Watson or trad?)
From: Richie
Date: 23 Jun 16 - 03:49 PM

Hi,

Brown's Ferry was one of the disputed songs, I think it was Slim Bryant one of the late Skillet Lickers around 1929 that played with Mac in Louisville for the Wildcats who told me about Big River, we talked about hundreds of songs- and he would say "Oh yeah I know who really wrote that song- but don't tell anyone I told you :)"

He was 103 when I started interviewing him- and he still played guitar. I called him at least 8 times, he was very patient with me because I didn't know many of the people he knew or the venues.

Slim played some of the last Jimmy Rodgers sessions and Mac played on one.

Richie


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Subject: RE: Origins: Deep River Blues (Doc Watson or trad?)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 23 Jun 16 - 05:44 PM

When I was working on the Rise Again songbook, I often got lost trying to find out where to get rights and authentic lyrics to many of the songs from the 1920s and 1930s. We did the best we could, but I'm sure we made many mistakes.

I wonder who owns the rights to Deep River/Big River Blues. Are we certain that it was a Delmore Brothers composition, or did they get it from an earlier source?

Whatever the case, for me it will always be Doc Watson's signature song.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Origins: Deep River Blues (Doc Watson or trad?)
From: Richie
Date: 23 Jun 16 - 09:58 PM

Hi Joe,

I'm sure Doc had the song copyrighted as Deep River Blues and probably at someone suggestion changed the name. At the time I knew him in the early 1990s his manager/booking agent was Mitch Greenhill and it could have been copyrighted by Greenhill Music. It was probably copyrighted before Mitch by StormKing Music back in the 60s.

W.C. Handy's daughter or maybe W.C. and someone else had a different song with that title if I remember it was about a Mississippi River flood- anyway- their song was copyrighted under that title first.

This should be an arrangement by Doc Watson.

Deep River Blues arranged and adapted by Doc Watson circa 1965

Whether Big River Blues was written by Sam McGee or Alton Delmore is unknown. I'd say the Delmores own the copyright.

Richie


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