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Lyr Add: Tennessee

Joe_F 05 Feb 02 - 09:31 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 05 Feb 02 - 10:25 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 06 Feb 02 - 03:48 PM
Joe_F 06 Feb 02 - 09:53 PM
Joe Offer 29 Mar 21 - 05:06 PM
cnd 29 Mar 21 - 08:46 PM
Joe Offer 29 Mar 21 - 09:22 PM
Joe_F 29 Mar 21 - 09:57 PM
cnd 29 Mar 21 - 10:34 PM
GUEST,# 29 Mar 21 - 11:15 PM
GUEST,# 30 Mar 21 - 11:27 AM
cnd 30 Mar 21 - 04:45 PM
GUEST,# 30 Mar 21 - 06:16 PM
Joe_F 30 Mar 21 - 06:36 PM
cnd 30 Mar 21 - 08:04 PM
GUEST,# 30 Mar 21 - 08:44 PM
GUEST,# 31 Mar 21 - 10:30 AM
cnd 31 Mar 21 - 03:03 PM
Joe_F 31 Mar 21 - 05:57 PM
GUEST,# 31 Mar 21 - 06:02 PM
cnd 28 Feb 22 - 10:55 AM
leeneia 02 Mar 22 - 11:58 AM
cnd 21 Nov 22 - 10:11 AM
NightWing 23 Nov 22 - 10:07 PM
cnd 23 Nov 22 - 10:41 PM
NightWing 23 Nov 22 - 11:29 PM
cnd 26 Nov 22 - 11:09 AM
Joe Offer 27 Nov 22 - 01:07 AM
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Subject: Lyr Add: TENNESSEE
From: Joe_F
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 09:31 PM

TENNESSEE

I learned this song from a classmate in 1954. I think he said he got it from his grandmother. I have since met only a couple of other people who have heard it. I would be glad to know where it came from. Is it propaganda?

----------------------------------------------------------------------TENNESSEE

In Tennessee where I was born,
Don't go talkin' 'bout a frosty morn,
Cause the month was June and the day was hot.
The whole dang cabin was a deal upsot.
The cornfield burned and the spring ran dry.
The sweat ran down in my grandpap's eye.
The sun was tarnal and the yard was dust,
And mammy hollered like her heart would bust.

Who's gonna rustle up the biscuit bread?
A man-child's lucky if he ain't born dead,
And if he's born he's a mouth to feed.
Who'll help us in our time of need?
When mammy's thinking of a grave new-dug
And pappy's suckin' on the whisky jug.
You miss book learnin' when you're in your teens
But you reckon on the value of the pickled beans.

Grew to the stature of a rifle-gun,
Learned to lie quiet in the turkey run.
Listened to the tappin' of the peckerwood,
Thought to have a woman would be powerful good.
I learned with reason that in Tennessee
When two gets together there soon is three.
For all my reasonin' I'm in a fix,
Six years married and my brats is six.

Tennessee, you're a river fair,
Brown in the spring as a cinnamon bear,
Born in the laurel at a crystal spring
Up Clinch Mountain where the redbirds sing.
You grew up and so did I
Pickin' up dirt as ya passed it by.
You and me have a wrestlin' match
To settle our score by the bottom patch.

Plowed my bottom for to seed my corn,
Sweated in the sun that was hot at dawn.
Worked my critter till his withers bled,
Ma and the younguns pulled the plow instead.
It's come on rain and the stream's in flood,
Furrows all filled with sand and mud.
The water's rising to the slaunchwise ground,
Bottom's flooded and the corn's all drowned.

River's down and again it's June,
Mudflats shining in the silver moon.
Seed corn's gone and my critter's dead,
Children all crying for their gritted bread.
A man-child's fixing to be born this night,
The moon on the river makes a lonesome sight.
I sits and listens to the katydid
While my woman hollers like my mammy did.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Tune in solfa (scale is DRMFSLTdrmfslt; dots mean continuation for half a beat):

S|S.m.m..m|m.r.r...
|S.r.rrrm|r.d.d.
dd|d.l.l.ll|l.s.s..
s|f.f.fmfs|f.m.m..

(repeat last two lines twice)


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Subject: RE: LYRICS ADD: TENNESSEE
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 05 Feb 02 - 10:25 PM

Checked Levy, American Memory and cufresno ballad index. The first two lines suggest Dixie, but the rest is different. I would suggest a date about 1920 by the general content. A good song!


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Subject: RE: LYRICS ADD: TENNESSEE
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 06 Feb 02 - 03:48 PM

Any more information yet? Looking at it again, it may be something by one of the singer-songwriters of the Depression era or later.


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Subject: RE: LYRICS ADD: TENNESSEE
From: Joe_F
Date: 06 Feb 02 - 09:53 PM

The second line is surely an *allusion* to "Dixie", and I would say a pretty bitter one.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: Joe Offer
Date: 29 Mar 21 - 05:06 PM

Anybody have information on this song?

Melody - similar to "Hush Little Baby"


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: cnd
Date: 29 Mar 21 - 08:46 PM

I read it more to the tune of John Prine and Iris DeMent - In Spite of Ourselves (though obviously that song is much newer).

I haven't found anything at all about this song.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: Joe Offer
Date: 29 Mar 21 - 09:22 PM

On mystery songs like this, I may have to contact the singers and record them, and then post the recording on YouTube with a link to Mudcat. I've learned how to do that quite easily.
But this is one heck of a great song, and we need to research it further.
-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: Joe_F
Date: 29 Mar 21 - 09:57 PM

I have at times guessed that it was TVA propaganda.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: cnd
Date: 29 Mar 21 - 10:34 PM

I feel like it's too pessimistic to be propaganda, personally. And while someone up-thread suggested a date of 1920, it just feels very 50s to me. I have nothing to justify that, but I really strongly get that impression for some reason.

But, if you find and answer, I'd love to know. I really like this and think it could make a great song.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: GUEST,#
Date: 29 Mar 21 - 11:15 PM

The Clinch River flooded in January, 1918 and again (I think) in 1959. It affected the Tazewell area in Claiborne County.

The word 'tarnal' went out of vogue near 1790 after about 60 years of usage, so I wonder if it might not be [e]ternal sun ??

Just a few thoughts before I hit the hay.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: GUEST,#
Date: 30 Mar 21 - 11:27 AM

"I learned this song from a classmate in 1954. I think he said he got it from his grandmother." Assuming we can believe the informant, then the song comes from early in the 1900s before the TVA (1933) was created. Some of the lyrics (terms/words/phrases) that attract attention are peckerwood (woodpecker), slaunchwise (slantwise), gritted bread (made from corn that's "too hard for the table and too soft for the cow"), upsot (past participle of upset), brats and dang hearken us to older times. But many of the phrases are still used today in southern states--including Tennessee.

I can hear the words being sung to a cadence of about 80 beats per minute--and that would work with a banjo backing the singer. If it's much faster than that a person would start tripping over the lyrics.

"Tennessee, you're a river fair,
Brown in the spring as a cinnamon bear,
Born in the laurel at a crystal spring
Up Clinch Mountain where the redbirds sing."

That piece of the stanza is interesting because the Tennessee River is not near Clinch Mountain. Also, please note that there is a Tazewell in Virginia as well as in Tennessee. (I don't know that that means anything of significance to the song, but it's a matter of interest nevertheless.)

Various searches on Google have rendered no trace of the lyrics anywhere other than the post by Joe_F here in Mudcat, so I'm hoping some of the heavy hitters can turn up something.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: cnd
Date: 30 Mar 21 - 04:45 PM

Unfortunately, I ran into the same problem, even modernizing some of the words and substituting them.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: GUEST,#
Date: 30 Mar 21 - 06:16 PM

cnd, you're one of the heavy hitters I was talkin' about. ;-)


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: Joe_F
Date: 30 Mar 21 - 06:36 PM

The year in which my classmate typed it out for me was 1954, so it is a good deal older than. Alas, I learned recently from the alumni magazine that he is dead, so we can't check it with him. His name was Ed Dreier.

The OED has a citation of "tarnal" from 1922 (James Joyce), so it is a good bet that it is still alive.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: cnd
Date: 30 Mar 21 - 08:04 PM

Aww, thanks #

Well, I guess that solidly debunks my 50s estimation


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: GUEST,#
Date: 30 Mar 21 - 08:44 PM

Joe_F, you'd mentioned that a few other people had heard the song. Any chance to find out more there? Even if not, you are in possession of a document that is worth preserving. And that's pretty cool. :-)


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: GUEST,#
Date: 31 Mar 21 - 10:30 AM

cnd, here's a link you may not have. It's a gold mine. Once again, sorry to put it here, but . . .

http://oldtimeabq.com/Tractor-Master.pdf


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: cnd
Date: 31 Mar 21 - 03:03 PM

Thanks for that, I'll have to bookmark it, too


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: Joe_F
Date: 31 Mar 21 - 05:57 PM

GUEST,#: No, I do not remember any of the (maybe 2 or 3) people who recognized the song. Or even when it happened.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: GUEST,#
Date: 31 Mar 21 - 06:02 PM

Thanks, Joe. It happens that way sometimes. I'm glad you posted it. It'd be a shame to lose it :-)


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: cnd
Date: 28 Feb 22 - 10:55 AM

I recently finished reading I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, an interesting (if sometimes troubling) take from 1930 on the South and agrarianism vs industrialization in the south. It's a series of 12 essays about various topics impacting the south in the early part of the 20th century. As I was reading the post-script of my edition, it mentioned a collective of poets called "The Fugitives." Wikipedia has a good write-up on the individuals, but the gist is that it's a group of poets, chiefly centered around Tennessee, who were active in the 1920s.

I bring this up because several wrote about the Civil War and the South in general in similar sentiments to this poem. I've had a hard time finding any complete list of their works online, but it's certainly a place to start. I'm still not convinced the song is of antique origin, but I really have no proof for that.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: leeneia
Date: 02 Mar 22 - 11:58 AM

If the references to a woman hollering are references to a woman giving birth, then I agree with you, cnd. That's a modern poem.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: cnd
Date: 21 Nov 22 - 10:11 AM

To give an update to my poets theory earlier:

I skimmed through the beautiful complete collection of John Crowe Ransom's works at the library last night (link) and didn't see anything. I think we can officially cross him off the list of suspects. Shockingly, I don't think any of his poems actually dealt more than metaphorically with the Civil War.

I've also skimmed through several books of poetry by other members of the group. Robert Warren Penn dealt primarily with literary works, but did put out some poetry as well. Though several of his novels are set in Tennessee, very few of his poems seem to be on the subject.

I skimmed through every book of Allen Tate's I could find and turned up blank.

Merrill Moore can be almost instantly written off as he wrote sonnets almost exclusively.

Work of the comparatively minor members of the group has been nearly impossible to locate. I haven't been able to look at either of the novels William Ridley Wills put out, and other than a clearly-unrelated play about Greek mythology, I can't even find a list of works by Sidney M. Hirsch, Alec B. Stevenson, or William Frierson. The works of James Marshall Frank (link) don't look promising, as does a list of poems by Jesse Ely Wills (link). Though Walter Clyde Curry was described frequently as a poet, I haven't found any evidence his works were ever distributed (though he does have some clearly non-fiction contributions, see here). It may be worthwhile to investigate the 1922-25 poetry journal run by Stevenson, The Fugitive, however, it is not indexed or available digitally.

Donald Davidson is my favorite suspect, partially because he does have several poems written about the Civil War and its changes and impacts to Southern culture and society (see Lee in the Mountains), and experience making fake dialect songs (see Big Ballad Jamboree), but also because he wrote an entire two-part book about the Tennessee River. Though I doubt it's the write lead, I'm working towards reading his folk opera, Singin' Billy -- though it's set in South Carolina, I don't think it's unreasonable to imagine the song cropping up in it.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: NightWing
Date: 23 Nov 22 - 10:07 PM

cnd: I'm not sure I understand what you see in the poem that references the Civil War? To me it looks like the same issues that have plagued the small farmer since LONG before the 1860's. I just don't see anything in the poem to make me suspect that it's post-Civil War. It certainly COULD be, but I don't see anything that makes me think that straight off.

leeneia: I think I recall the "hollerin' woman" being a euphemism for a woman in childbirth from documents I've seen from the late 1800s and early 1900s. What do you mean by "modern"?

Guest: The Tennessee River begins at the confluence of the Holston and the French Broad Rivers, at the southeastern edge of Knoxville. Its first major tributary is the Clinch River, which joins it about 10 miles west of Knoxville, near Tazewell, Tennessee. Thus, the Tennessee River's nearest approach to Clinch Mountain is at its head, immediately upstream of Knoxville, about 25 miles southwest of the southwestern end of Clinch Mountain, northeast of Knoxville (between Luttrell and Blaine). Clinch Mountain is a ridge nearly 150 miles long and its northeastern end is near (oddly enough) Tazewell, Virginia.

The Clinch River's headwaters are a short distance east of Tazewell, Virginia. For most of its length, it runs near and parallels the northern face of Clinch Mountain. The North Fork of the Holston runs along the southern face of Clinch Mountain and its headwaters are near the OTHER side of Clinch Mountain from Tazewell.

So, I suspect that line about Clinch Mountain is talking about the headwaters of the Clinch and North Holston Rivers, two of the first three tributaries of the Tennessee, which do indeed come off of Clinch Mountain.

The geography here gives another clue about the likely age of this poem. The Holston, the French Broad, the Clinch, and the Tennessee River were all dammed by the TVA, starting in the '30s. Before that, floods along them were quite frequent: not major floods, but bad enough to flood out the poor dirt farmer along the banks. After that, the floods would have become much less common. So, probably before the '30s, which definitely includes cnd's The Fugitives, but also lots of time before that.

BB,
NightWing


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: cnd
Date: 23 Nov 22 - 10:41 PM

NightWing, I don't think the poem is directly about the Civil War, but certainly references it bitterly via the allusions to Dixie in the opening line as Dicho and Joe_F referenced back in 2002. Beyond that, I don't see any direct reference to the Civil War. You are right to point out that otherwise the poem is not clearly related to the war. My comments to that effect were moreso comments on the nature of the poetry -- lovey-dovey or religious in nature, vs social or historical commentaries.

In my opinion, the song is an anachronistic but ironic look at former life, somewhat mocking of the vaunted "olden days gone by," so to speak. Your point about rivers is a good one -- I hadn't thought of that. However, if the song is anachronistic like I think, perhaps the references to now-slash-then-gone river systems was another device to give it cachet.

As a note, I found an online edition of The Fugitive and glanced read through the poems a day or so ago. This poem was not found in it, though there is some good material. If you're interested, click here (note, it takes a *loooong* time to download)


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: NightWing
Date: 23 Nov 22 - 11:29 PM

I had completely missed the reference to "Dixie" in the first lines. Now I see it. *blush*

BB,
NightWing


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: cnd
Date: 26 Nov 22 - 11:09 AM

Haha, no worries, it's a fairly subtle reference.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Tennessee
From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Nov 22 - 01:07 AM

I really want to hear this song, and I'd like to post it on YouTube with a link to (and from) this thread. Joe Fineman, can you sing this one for me, either at the Mudcat Singaround or in a private session? I can record it from Zoom and post it on YouTube.
#, how about you?
I can post it on YouTube with or without video, whichever you prefer.
Anybody know of a YouTube video of this song that already exists?
-Joe-


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