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Lyr Req: The Cuckoo (from 'Andersonville')

Joe Moffa 21 May 98 - 09:26 PM
Art Thieme 22 May 98 - 08:30 PM
Anne Moffa 23 May 98 - 11:09 AM
Harald 23 May 98 - 11:35 AM
Roger Himler 23 May 98 - 12:02 PM
Joe Offer 23 May 98 - 01:05 PM
Barry Finn 25 May 98 - 06:33 PM
Anne (me again, on my quest) 13 Jun 98 - 11:46 PM
Joe Offer 14 Jun 98 - 12:22 AM
GUEST,Herb Superb 13 Aug 13 - 07:55 PM
Joe_F 14 Aug 13 - 03:34 PM
GUEST,MikeG 27 Aug 17 - 06:01 AM
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Subject: Andersonville
From: Joe Moffa
Date: 21 May 98 - 09:26 PM

Looking for source material on the "cuckoo" song sung in the movie "Andersonville". Is this a variation on one of the many similar old English ballads, or was it created for the film?


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Subject: RE: Andersonville
From: Art Thieme
Date: 22 May 98 - 08:30 PM

Clarence (Tom) Ashley, the great laid-back North Carolina banjo frailer and minstrel show performer, came to the University of Chicago Folk Festival in 1962 along with Doc Watson (his first trip north) and Clint Howard and Gaither Carlton and Fred Price. Many of the tracks on the current Smithsonian=Folkways CD, __The Original Folkways Recordings Of Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley 1961 & 1962__, were recorded at that amazing festival!

It was in a panel discussion with John Cohen as the moderator and participants like D.K. Wilgus, Doc Watson, Clarence Ashley, Archie Green and others (just amazing) that Clarence said that he had written his song "The Coo- Coo Bird". Many of us in attendence that day in Ida Noyes Hall were pretty sure the song was much older than Clarence Ashley, but we loved the man and his music so very much that we just let it go. I'm certain Clarence thought that he had actually written HIS VERSION! But who knows? Could be he DID write it!

Some things we simply can't know for sure. As Iris Dement said in her great song, "Let the mystery be"! But a coo-coo song was sung in England for a l-o-n-g time; maybe other places too. Wish I'd seen _Andersonville_ & heard that version so I could say a few more things here with some insight, but, alas, it's time to go to dinner...

Art Thieme

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Subject: RE: Andersonville
From: Anne Moffa
Date: 23 May 98 - 11:09 AM

I'm forcing my dad to help me with this search, but I can offer more than he can. I was able to catch some of the lyrics, though not all, and probably not correctly. This is what I might have, though.

Oh, the cuckoo She's a pretty bird And she warbles When she flies

She don't ever ************* ************* Out to fly

Old Johnny He done got me (or don't, or doesn't) And he has me Here to die

Well that sentry He ain't no fear Like a cuckoo I will fly

Gonna build me An ol' cabin On a mountain Far away

Gonna live there With my true love Till we both do Pass away

The song is very simple, with a range of maybe five notes, and sounds minor. I don't know if all that I have here is correct. For anyone who wants to check out the movie, it's Andersonville, made for TV in 1996, and first aired on TNT. The movie is very well done, was nominated for three awards, received one of them, and is--to the best of my knowledge--historically accurate. Please tell me anything that might be of assistance.

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Subject: RE: Andersonville
From: Harald
Date: 23 May 98 - 11:35 AM

The first lines are similiar to The Cuckoo from Ramblin´ Jack Elliott. (Sung by him.. I mean, I know this tune from his singing. Phooey, damn copyright stuff. Anyway, it´s on one of mine "American Folk CDs", so, I guess it´s trad. Not created for a film, though I don´t know it. But from the style I´d say, it definitely is not english (The fact, it´s on an "American" Folk CD doesn´t mean anything, I even found patriotic "Off to Dublin in the green" on a British Folk CD).
cheers, Harald

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From: Roger Himler
Date: 23 May 98 - 12:02 PM

"No creature is more common in Southern English love songs than the cuckoo..." so says Alan Lomax. The Andersonville version is similar to "The Cuckoo" in Folk Songs of North America. He follows that song with another he calls "The Fourth Day of July." He credits it as song by Clarence Ashley. It was/is a popular banjo tune. I first learned it in "D Modal" tuning, better known now as DADGAD tuning. This gives it a flavor that is a mix of minor and major keys.

The cuckoo, she's pretty bird,
She sings as she flies,
She brings us glad tidings
And she tells us no lies.

She sucks all the pretty flowers,
To make her voice clear,
And she never sings, 'cuckoo',
Till the Spring of the year.

Come all you young women,
Take warning by me,
Never place your affections,
On the love of a man.

For the roots they will wither,
The branches decay.
He'll turn his back on you,
And walk square away.

A meeting, it's a pleasure,
And a parting is a grief.
but an inconstant lover,
Is worse than a thief.

A thief he'll but rob you,
And take what you have,
While an inconstant lover,
Will lead you to your grave.

The grave will decay you,
And turn you to dust,
Not a man in ten thousand,
That a poor girl can trust.

He'll hug you and kiss you,
And call you his own,
Perhaps his other darlin'
Is a-waitin' at home.

O, the cuckoo is a pretty bird,
She wabbles as she flies,
She never hollers 'Cuckoo'
Till the Fourth Day of July.

And I see, and I see, and I see,
On the Fourth Day of July.

Gonna build me a castle,
On the mountains so high,
So I can see Willie,
As he goes on by.

I often have wondered,
What makes women love men.
Then I've looked back and wondered
What makes men love them.

Jack o'Diamonds, Jack o'Diamonds,
I know you of old,
You robbed my poor pockets,
Of silver and gold.

Definitely two related songs. I would be curious if movie reconstructed the song, or if it was collected from the prison camp. Lomax says the banjo was primarily a post-Civil War instrument, so I suspect the movie people "imposed" their own folk process.

Roger in Baltimore

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Subject: RE: Andersonville
From: Joe Offer
Date: 23 May 98 - 01:05 PM

Joe, you might have a hard time finding the song here because "cuckoo" can have some spelling variations. Put [pretty bird] in square brackets in the search box in the upper-right corner of this page, and you'll be amazed at all the variations of this song that you will find. Here is a link to the usual form of this song, but you really need to do a search of our treasure chest of songs here - the results will amaze you.
-Joe Offer-

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Subject: RE: Andersonville
From: Barry Finn
Date: 25 May 98 - 06:33 PM

Edna Ritchie of Viper, Kentucky, recorded this back in 62 for Folk-Legacy Records, Lomax also gives the Rictchie family as one of his sourcesJean Ritchie also recorded this a number of times, twice for Elektra. Edna's notes are as follows;"The cuckoo is symbolic of a number of things in western Europe. It's habit of laying it's eggs in the nests of other birds has made it a symbol of adultery &, in a none too clear way cuckold seems to derive from cuckoo (cuculus). The cuckoo is also the harbinger of summer in Britain. It would be quite easy to insist that this song deals only with the seasonal symbolism & is unrelated to such symbolism as that in the bawdy 'The Cuckoo's Nest'. Yet stanzas from this song are found as a part of 'false true lover' lyrics in both Great Britain & North America, indicating that even if this song has no sexual implications, singers have been aware of another symbolism. The line 'She sucks all the sweet flowers' may be ultimately derived from the cuckoo's less pleasant habit of sucking the eggs of host birds".
Ewan MacCoill collected a version from Caroline Hughes & quotes a few verses from Alfred Williams's "Folk Songs Of The Upper Thames, 1923.
It's found as a version to the "magpie's Nest" in Peter Kennedy's collection, which he says "in it's instrumental version as a dance tune, this mouth-music jingle is called 'The Cuckoo's Nest & is well known as a hornpipe in England, Ireland & Scotland", of which he gives Jeannie Robertson as a source of that version. He also mentions that a printed version of the Magpie's Nest, collected by Ford in 1899, was the "Bonnie Brier Bush" rewritten by Robert Burns, Lady Nairne.
Sorry to ramble, just trying to be helpful, Barry

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Subject: RE: Andersonville
From: Anne (me again, on my quest)
Date: 13 Jun 98 - 11:46 PM

Just a quick thanks to all of you for your many helpful suggestions. Does anyone know how I could best go about contacting the people who made the movie (mail, computer, etc.)? I want to clear up the origin of this song once and for all, and hopefully get a decisive version of the lyrics. In response to the banjo being primarily a post-civil war instrument . . . Well, that fact doesn't make it improbable that three or four people in a camp of over 45,000 would know how to play a banjo. Certainly one man owning a banjo wouldn't be changing the actual history of folk music.

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Subject: RE: Andersonville
From: Joe Offer
Date: 14 Jun 98 - 12:22 AM

Anne, I think the answer is that there is no "decisive version" of the lyrics of this song. It was probably many centuries old by the time the Civil War came along, and it evolved through time into many different versions. The various versions in the database here were probably all in existence at the time of the civil war.
Nowadays with recordings and with books that are readily available, we are much more likely to have a definitive version of a song. At the time of the Civil War, most people learned songs by hearing live people sing them - so there was a lot more room for variations on a song. In some ways, it's a bad thing that our modern books and recordings and copyrights tend to stifle the evolution of a song. Songs are almost like living things - they need to be allowed to grow, to become an organic part of the poeple who love and sing them.
-Joe Offer-

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Cuckoo (from 'Andersonville')
From: GUEST,Herb Superb
Date: 13 Aug 13 - 07:55 PM

Oh the Cuckoo, She's a pretty bird
and she warbles, when she flies

She don't ever, holler cuckoo
till the fourth day, of July

Oh Johnny, he dun got me
and he had me, here to die

Oh that sentry, he ain't no fear
like a Cuckoo, I will fly

Gonna build me, an old cabin
on a mountain, far away

Gonna live there, with my true love
till we both do, pass away

Beautiful little diddy. I love old American folk tunes. Far as I know this is a composition unique to the film. A combination of a couple of old songs with the lyrics adjusted some. That's the way folk music should be. Ever changing.

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Subject: Lyr Add: THE CUCKOO
From: Joe_F
Date: 14 Aug 13 - 03:34 PM

I can't remember for sure where or from whom I learned this version, but I believe it was in oral circulation at my highschool (Putney School, Putney, VT) in the early 1950s.

The Cuckoo

Oh the cuckoo, he's a pretty bird, he sings as he flies.
He brings us glad tidings and tells us no lies.
He sucks all sweet flowers to make his voice clear,
And he never sings cuckoo till the spring of the year.

Oh come all you young women, take a warning by me.
Never place your affection on a green-growing tree,
For the roots they will wither and the branches will die.
If I am forsaken, I know not for why.

If I am forsaken, I'll not be forsworn,
And he's surely mistaken if he thinks that I'll mourn.
I'll get myself up in some right high degree
And pass as light by him as he can by me.

My Johnny's in the water, let him sink or let him swim.
If he can live without me, I can live without him.
Oh Johnny is a young lad, still younger am I,
And he often has told me he'd wed me or die.

Oh the cuckoo, he's a pretty bird, he sings as he flies.
He brings us glad tidings and tells us no lies.
He sucks all sweet flowers to make his voice clear,
And he never sings cuckoo till the spring of the year.

Tune in solfa (scale, minor, LTDRMFSltdrmfs):

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Cuckoo (from 'Andersonville')
From: GUEST,MikeG
Date: 27 Aug 17 - 06:01 AM

Interesting thread. I, too, play banjo and happen to be a History buff. My grandfather (long passed) had an uncle that died in Andersonville. Actually both he and one of his cousins died there. (We know their markers). Ironically, and believe it or not, he played banjo. The banjo, somehow, probably through his friends in the regiment who survived, made it home here and is now in the possession of one of my cousins. It has been passed down through the family now on that side for a long, long time. I actually got to hold it once. It was very heavy, short (what I would almost call a Tenor Banjo)and, as you would expect, had had the daylights beat out of it. I caught onto that song some years ago in the movie and have always wondered the same things. Sometimes in those movies the actor isn't even the one singing the song. My own quest in regards to that song in the movie is to try and find out WHO actually sang it for the movie. It may very well have been the actor himself. If you can find that, many questions may be answered. Great subject. I wish everyone luck. Thanks.

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Mudcat time: 13 August 8:41 AM EDT

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