Lyrics & Knowledge Personal Pages Record Shop Auction Links Radio & Media Kids Membership Help
The Mudcat Cafemuddy

Post to this Thread - Sort Descending - Printer Friendly - Home


Origins: See that My Grave's Kept Green (Williams)

Related threads:
Lyr Req: Make Sure My Grave Is Kept Clean (8)
Chord Req: One Kind Favor by John Hammond Jr. (8)
Lyr Req: One Kind Favor (8)
Lyr Req: See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (10)
One Kind Favor (2) (closed)
see that my grave is kept clean by jefferson (2) (closed)


Goose Gander 29 Apr 05 - 05:02 PM
PoppaGator 29 Apr 05 - 06:57 PM
Joe Offer 29 Apr 05 - 07:22 PM
Goose Gander 29 Apr 05 - 09:39 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 29 Apr 05 - 10:17 PM
Bobert 29 Apr 05 - 11:29 PM
Janie 27 Oct 09 - 08:45 PM
Art Thieme 27 Oct 09 - 09:38 PM
Janie 27 Oct 09 - 10:00 PM
Art Thieme 28 Oct 09 - 09:38 PM
Roger the Skiffler 31 Oct 09 - 07:52 AM
Bobert 31 Oct 09 - 08:15 AM
Share Thread
more
Lyrics & Knowledge Search [Advanced]
DT  Forum
Sort (Forum) by:relevance date
DT Lyrics:



Subject: Lyr Add: SEE THAT MY GRAVE'S KEPT GREEN (Williams)
From: Goose Gander
Date: 29 Apr 05 - 05:02 PM

I came across this while looking up something else. I think it's an excellent example of the degree to which recomposition of an original song can create a new (and in this case, better) song. I wonder if there are any variants (recorded, print or oral traditition) from the intervening decades between this print and Blind Lemon Jefferson's recording?


                   "See That My Grave's Kept Green"

Gus. Williams
(New York: Frederick Blume, 1876)

Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920 (Duke University)
From American Memory / Library of Congress



When I'm dead and gone from you, darling
When I'm laid a-way in my grave
When my spirit has gone to heaven above
To Him who my soul will save

When you are happy and gay no more
Thinking of days that have been
This one little wish I ask of you,
See that my grave's kept green

Though the hours of joy now are passing
Yet how soon alas they will fade
Though your glances of love are now meeting my own
Fair sunlight will turn into shade

When from the world and it's hopes I go,
Leaving for ever the scene
Though others are dear, ah, will you then
See that my grave's kept green

Will you keep me love in remembrance
Though the voice of chiding be heard
Others may speak in censure or blame
Yet breathe no unkindly word?

Tell me you'll think of the happy past
Think of the joys we have seen
This one little promise keep for me
See that my grave's kept green

Chorus:
Oh the days will come to you darling
When no more on earth I'll be
Oh the days will come to you darling
When no more on earth I'll be seen
One sweet little wish darling grant me
See that my grave's kept green
See that my grave's kept green


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: 'See That My Grave is Kept Clean'
From: PoppaGator
Date: 29 Apr 05 - 06:57 PM

This is much more "literary" and European in style than the familiar folk/blues song known from the singing of Blind Lemon Jefferson (and also of Bob Dylan), and it is dated much earlier than Jefferson's recording, but I still think it's an open question which came first.

It is certainly quite possible that BLJ ~ or some other blues artist ~ heard this number, fixated on the line "See that my grave's kept green," consiously or unconsciously changed the word "green" to "clean," and created a new and different song. This would be similar to John Hurt's adaptation (and truncation) of the J. Bodewalt Lampe composition "My Creole Belle," which we discussed back in February in this thread.

However, I am equally willing to believe that the blues song (in some form) is considerably older, that Gus Williams heard it, and that he was thereby inspired to write a reinterpretation, expanding considerably upon the notion of tending the narrator's gravesite and expressing sentiments befitting his own considerably different ethnic/cultural group. Blind Lemon's recording, then, would be an interpretation of an orally-transmitted traditional blues number predating (and unaffected by) Williams' published composition. Indeed, in this scenario, it's unlikely that Jefferson would ever have encountered the Williams song at all; he would have picked up the song, or at least the title phrase, from his own community's constantly evolving blues tradition.

Whether or not such an older "source" blues existed or not, it would not have been published or even written down, and no historical record can be expected to exist. (Certainly, no audio recording could not possibly have been made much earlier than the BLJ session.) If some scholarly collector happened to have heard it, we'd have some kind of historical record ~ however, the absense of such a record by no means proves that the song didn't exist in some form. There's simply no way of knowing the history (or, if you will, the "pre-history") of such a song.

The sheer simplicity of the blues version, and its very authentic "feel," just makes me want to believe that it grew out of the same tradition as other blues songs. Nothing about it sounds to me like an adaptation of a European-American composition like Wiliiams'. John Hurt's "Creole Belle," on the other hand, does sound like a blues songster's interpretation of a 19th-century music-hall/minstrel-show composition.

I assume that music as well as lyrics are available for the Gus Williams composition, and wonder if there is any similarity to Blind Lemon's rendition.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: 'See That My Grave is Kept Clean'
From: Joe Offer
Date: 29 Apr 05 - 07:22 PM

The entry for the Traditional Ballad Index may help a bit. Note the comment about Gus Williams:

See That My Grave Is Kept Clean

DESCRIPTION: Singer, dying, asks that his grave be kept clean, that his grave be dug with a silver spade, and that he be lowered with a golden chain.
AUTHOR: probably Blind Lemon Jefferson
EARLIEST DATE: 1928 (recording, Blind Lemon Jefferson)
KEYWORDS: death dying funeral nonballad religious floatingverses
FOUND IN: US(Ap,SE,So)
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Asch/Dunson/Raim, p. 92, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cohen/Seeger/Wood, pp. 114-115, "Sad and Lonesome Day" (1 text, 1 tune)
Courlander-NFM, p. 139, "(One Kind Favor)" (1 text)
Gilbert, p. 81, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (1 partial text)
Darling-NAS, pp. 300-301, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (1 text)

Roud #7382
RECORDINGS:
[Joe] Evans & [Arthur] McClain, "Two White Horses in a Line" (Oriole 8081/Perfect 182/Romeo 5081, 1931; on BefBlues1)
Blind Lemon Jefferson, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (Paramount 12608B, 1928; on AAFM3; improperly listed as "Two White Horses" on the CD reissue cover though not in the notes; also on Jefferson01, JeffersonCD01)
Mike Seeger, "Sad and Lonesome Day" (on MSeeger01)
Hobart Smith, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (on LomaxCD1704)

ALTERNATE TITLES:
Two White Horses In a Line
Notes: In 1870, Gus Williams composed an item "See that My Grave's Kept Green"; I have no idea whether it affected this song. - RBW
I've seen the sheet music for Williams's piece, and the only thing it has in common with this song is the title phrase. The rest is a sentimentally melancholy bit of Victoriana. - PJS
For those who want to hear the song itself, there are several 78 recordings, one by Bela Lam & his Greene County Singers (OKeh 45126, 1927) and a variety by the Carter Family (as "Sad and Lonesome Day": Victor 23835, 1933; Melotone 7-04-53/Conqueror 8735, 1937; Zonophone [Australia] 4379, n.d.). - RBW, PJS
File: ADR92

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions

The Ballad Index Copyright 2005 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: 'See That My Grave is Kept Clean'
From: Goose Gander
Date: 29 Apr 05 - 09:39 PM

I think the Ballad Index comment is overly dismissive regarding a possible connection between the two songs. In both cases, the 'title phrase' comprises the refrain, the 'tag line' of the song, so to speak.

"One kind favor that I ask of you,
See that my grave is kept clean."
Jefferson

"This one little wish I ask of you,
See that my grave is kept green....

"This one little favor keep for me,
See that my grave's kept green....

"One sweet little wish, darling grant me,
See that my grave's kept green.
Williams

The appalling sentimentality of the earlier song is stripped away in Jefferson's composition, but the essential theme remains. The relationship between Williams' and Jefferson's song is probably analoguous to the relationshipe between "The Unfortunate Rake" and "Streets of Laredo", or (possibly) "The Berkshire Tragedy" and "Wexford Girl".

And of course there may have been an oral or print antecedent to both. There may also have been a tradtional variant, derived from Williams's song, from which Jefferson borrowed. Hillbilly recordings from the 1920s and 1930s drew from various sources, both traditional and commericial and often both. I think it's not only likely but demonstrable that blues recordings from the same time period also borrowed freely from myriad sources.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: 'See That My Grave is Kept Clean'
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 29 Apr 05 - 10:17 PM

Lomax collected the song, but his recordings are post-Lemon Jefferson.
I think, as PoppaGator suggests, that some early 20th c. usage of the phrase may be out there. Maybe it is just that I remember, when I was a child, long trips to a family grave site which my grandmother insisted had to be cleaned once a year.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: 'See That My Grave is Kept Clean'
From: Bobert
Date: 29 Apr 05 - 11:29 PM

I do it in Double Dropped D tunin' purdy much that way Blind Lemon Jefferson did it....

Bobert


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: 'See That My Grave is Kept Clean'
From: Janie
Date: 27 Oct 09 - 08:45 PM

Here is a youtube video of Mavis Staples that I recently stumbled across with different lyrics (spiritual zipper verses that I assume she inserted herself) in a wonderful blues style with a resonator guitar, a bolon, and a large marching band bass drum played with hand.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: 'See That My Grave is Kept Clean'
From: Art Thieme
Date: 27 Oct 09 - 09:38 PM

Coincidence is all that connects the two songs--and both having the same title of course. It's a sentient that might be on anyones mind who is about to take the westbound.

Just how I see it.

Art


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: 'See That My Grave is Kept Clean'
From: Janie
Date: 27 Oct 09 - 10:00 PM

Art,

The version sung by Mavis Staples includes the "one kind favor" and "dig my grave with a silver spade" verses/refrain attributed to Jefferson. Do you agree that it is likely that she added/zippered the other verses she sang to turn it into a gospel tune, which I think is most likely? MIght it possibly have been a spiritual that Jefferson adapted?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: 'See That My Grave is Kept Clean'
From: Art Thieme
Date: 28 Oct 09 - 09:38 PM

Janie,
It's possible---but...

And there are tons of "buts" out there. ;-) For me, it sort of comes down to the chicken or the egg back and forth volley. These days, I just sit back and listen to the music without worrying about derivations and/or transmutations of songs. It has something to do with my needs as I age, I guess; time gets too dear to waste tying my head in knots searching for the exact truth of stuff.

An aside:

Sorry for the thread drift, but you've got me thinking back to 1970 or so---I was driving a Checker Cab in Chicago to help pay the bills for bringing our infant son into this world. A fellow flagged me down, and jumped into the back seat of my vehicle. After a block or so, I looked in the rear view mirror and, amazingly I recognized the guy back there. It was Roebuck 'Pops' Staples who I had seen at the University Of Chicago Folk Festival. We had a nice talk, and he was sort of shocked I knew him. He and daughter Mavis, and son, Pervis, and another daughter did a fine show at that festival.

What a good blend that family had. And Mavis' voice sure was special.

Just some good memories.

Art


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: 'See That My Grave is Kept Clean'
From: Roger the Skiffler
Date: 31 Oct 09 - 07:52 AM

On Paul Jones' BBC radio blues programme a couple of weks ago he had Dave Kelly in session who played this and commented that a UK band on tour in the US(whose name I've already forgotten!) visited the cemetary to see if Lemon's grave had been kept clean.
It hadn't so they set to work & tidies it up.


RtS
aka Tone Deaf Lime Clinton


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: 'See That My Grave is Kept Clean'
From: Bobert
Date: 31 Oct 09 - 08:15 AM

The Mavis Staples version is somewhat different that Blind Lemons but the feel odf the song is similar...

Baxck to what P-Gator was talkin' about a couple years ago concerning this song... We tend to give too much credit to the folks who recorded these songs when recording became more common in the 20's... I doubt that blues started because of the recordings but had been around going back to slavery when field hollers were used to brreak up the boredom of the work... The structure is not unlike marching chants that the military uses with a lead verses (or two) and an answer... It would be nice if we had been able to record these field hollars from those days... I think we would find many common verses that are found in songs that were later recorded in the 20's...

B~


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate
  Share Thread:
More...

Reply to Thread
Subject:  Help
From:
Preview   Automatic Linebreaks   Make a link ("blue clicky")


Mudcat time: 17 October 3:47 AM EDT

[ Home ]

All original material is copyright © 1998 by the Mudcat Café Music Foundation, Inc. All photos, music, images, etc. are copyright © by their rightful owners. Every effort is taken to attribute appropriate copyright to images, content, music, etc. We are not a copyright resource.