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Origins: Dark as a Dungeon

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DARK AS A DUNGEON


Related threads:
Chord Req: Dark as a Dungeon (Merle Travis) (5)
Lyr Req: slate miner (Dark as a dungeon) (12)
Lyr Req: Down in the Mine. (7)
Dark as a Dungeon--3/4 or 4/4 time? (25)
Chords Req: Dark as a Dungeon (Merle Travis) (13)
Lyr Req: Dark as a Dungeon (answered) (9) (closed)


alta@he.mirai.ne.jp 16 Dec 98 - 08:18 AM
Barry Finn 16 Dec 98 - 09:04 AM
Allan S. 16 Dec 98 - 10:01 AM
Mike Billo 16 Dec 98 - 11:17 AM
Ewan McV 16 Dec 98 - 12:22 PM
Zorro 16 Dec 98 - 10:56 PM
Ol Dad GAD 17 Dec 98 - 08:02 AM
Chris Williams 17 Dec 98 - 10:37 PM
Joe Offer 08 Feb 99 - 01:21 PM
Rick Fielding 08 Feb 99 - 06:58 PM
rangeroger 23 Dec 00 - 02:24 AM
GUEST,Q 31 Jan 07 - 11:41 AM
Scrump 31 Jan 07 - 12:03 PM
Scoville 31 Jan 07 - 12:08 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 31 Jan 07 - 12:13 PM
Leadfingers 31 Jan 07 - 12:20 PM
Mark Clark 31 Jan 07 - 02:47 PM
GUEST,guest Q 31 Jan 07 - 06:10 PM
Jon W. 31 Jan 07 - 06:24 PM
Hrothgar 01 Feb 07 - 04:34 AM
Scrump 01 Feb 07 - 04:49 AM
Padre 01 Feb 07 - 11:35 AM
Jon W. 01 Feb 07 - 12:26 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 01 Feb 07 - 02:50 PM
GLoux 01 Feb 07 - 04:21 PM
GUEST,Arkie 02 Feb 07 - 03:55 PM
Jayto 03 Sep 08 - 11:57 AM
GUEST,grindking 05 Aug 12 - 03:09 PM
The Sandman 05 Aug 12 - 04:12 PM
Don Firth 05 Aug 12 - 04:29 PM
Arkie 05 Aug 12 - 05:21 PM
GUEST,Ebor_Fiddler (Well-known pedant) 05 Aug 12 - 05:58 PM
MartinRyan 05 Aug 12 - 06:11 PM
GUEST,Lighter 05 Aug 12 - 06:16 PM
zozimus 05 Aug 12 - 07:38 PM
pdq 05 Aug 12 - 07:54 PM
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Subject: Dark as a Dungeon
From: alta@he.mirai.ne.jp
Date: 16 Dec 98 - 08:18 AM

I was trying to refresh my memory and noticed that credit was given to Merle Travis for this song. I thought that it was composed by Aunt Molly Jackson during the Kentucky coal miner's strike in the '30's or thereabouts. I had learned the song back in the '60's when I was in college in Denver. Can someone set me straight on this, please? Thanks, Chris Williams


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Subject: RE: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Barry Finn
Date: 16 Dec 98 - 09:04 AM

Chris, that's Merle's song. He's from a family of coal miners. Don't have alot of other info , I'm sure others will fill in the blanks. Good luck, Barry


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Subject: RE: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Allan S.
Date: 16 Dec 98 - 10:01 AM

Thought you would get a kick out of this. Back in the 50's we sang "Dark as a duengon" as a folk song. as it was written in the 30's at that time it was only 20 years old. At a hoot someone sang a song by the Beatles as a "Folk song" it was 30 years old. What a mixed up world. Allan


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Subject: RE: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Mike Billo
Date: 16 Dec 98 - 11:17 AM

Merle Travis said that he wrote it in response to a request from executives at Capitol records for some new folk songs. He told them you cant "write" a "new" folk song, and they told him to write something they could market as folk songs. The result was the album "Folk Songs of the Hills". The album includes"Dark As A Dungeon". and the original version of "Sixteen Tons".


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Subject: RE: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Ewan McV
Date: 16 Dec 98 - 12:22 PM

When my father heard me sing this song, in about 1956, he asserted that he recalled his mother singing it! The true test of a new song in the traditional style is that it immediately sounds like an old song. The problem of being successful in this is that you can lose your copyright payments. (See an old thread about this.)


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Subject: RE: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Zorro
Date: 16 Dec 98 - 10:56 PM

Everything I've seen, heard or read makes me believe it is a Merle Travis song. That is not to say that old Merle, like other folk-types, didn't take some literary or musical license and research a few lines from another song. My old folk music teacher, Ed Badeaux said: "If you steal from one person, it's stealing. If you steal from two or more, it's research." And if he didn't say that he should have... Z.........


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Subject: RE: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Ol Dad GAD
Date: 17 Dec 98 - 08:02 AM

From three, it's your original From two, it's research And if you steal from just one person -- an homage

(The Hollywood version)

Kind regards, ODG


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Subject: RE: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Chris Williams
Date: 17 Dec 98 - 10:37 PM

Thanks, all of you. I guess it came 'round to me in a sort of "Wag the Dog" Willie Nelson variety song.

Regards,

Chris


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Subject: RE: Dark as a Dungeon:Coal Mining Song
From: Joe Offer
Date: 08 Feb 99 - 01:21 PM

I see we have overlapping responses to this question. I think "Dark as a Dungeon" would fit in the "Songs that sound traditional" thread. It's a classic, for sure. It's hard to believe it's not a traditional. Here's a quote from Merle Travis in Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy:
The saddest songs are written when a person is happy. I was driving home after a date with a beautiful girl in Redondo Beach, California. I had a recording session to do the next morning and needed some material. I parked my car under a street light and wrote the verse to "Dark as a Dungeon." I got the idea from growing up around the coal mines in Kentucky. My father and brothers were coal miners.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Dark as a Dungeon:Coal Mining Song
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 08 Feb 99 - 06:58 PM

Merle Travis is one of my all time heroes and I suspect he borrowed liberally from the tradition for many of his songs, but does anyone have any further info on 16 tons? I bought a Folkways album years ago by a man named George Davis (the singing miner of Hazard Kentucky) He claims to have written the song - as "42 Tons", and sings it in a major key. It's pretty similar to Merle's, and any info would be appreciated.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Dark As A Dungeon
From: rangeroger
Date: 23 Dec 00 - 02:24 AM

John Cowan ( formerly of New Grass Revival) does a killer version of this on his CD from last year,"John Cowan".

rr


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Subject: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 31 Jan 07 - 11:41 AM

Hello,

I am new to this site, so would like to strart by saying what a lovely resource you folks have here. I thought maybe some of you might be able to help me with some research I am doing on the song Dark as a Dungeon. I know Merle Travis wrote the song, but I was wondering if it has any relationship to older folk songs (mabye from Ireland?) I know that there are a few older songs with similar lyrics, but I was wondering particularly about the melody: is it completely original, or is it inspired from some older source. (I have sung the song before to people in England who claim it is very close to a folk song from somewhere in the UK but they didn't know the title). I have been trying to research this to the best of my (limited) abilities, but have as yet come up with nothing. I thought mabye someone on this forum might know something.

Thanks


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Scrump
Date: 31 Jan 07 - 12:03 PM

Hey, I'm doing that tonight (accompanying a singer) - coincidence! We haven't done it for a while.

Sorry I can't help with your queries, Q, but I'll follow the thread with interest.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Scoville
Date: 31 Jan 07 - 12:08 PM

I don't know anything for certain, but I don't believe I've ever heard anything that was close enough to make me think that he used/borrowed heavily from a preexisting melody.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 31 Jan 07 - 12:13 PM

[Guest Q is not member Q].

An interesting website on songs from the coal mines here:
http://www.fortunecity.com/tinpan/parton/2/mines.html
Coal Mine Songs

Put titles of these songs in the Lyrics and Knowledge 'Search box', and one will find links to Mudcat threads on most of them (try several word combinations; some are listed with mis-spellings or odd titles; never use caps in search words. Use as few words as possible in the search box- longer lists show up but the likelihood of getting a 'hit' improves.). Do the same with the listed composers.

dark as a dungeon, or better, dungeon, yields links to threads with information, some good and some false.

Merle Travis was a fine song writer; as far as has been established, the song is original with him, both words and music. He, and a few others, like Jay Ungar, have written music that sounds traditional because of its beauty, aptness and simplicity.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Leadfingers
Date: 31 Jan 07 - 12:20 PM

The tie in with 'traditional' songs may well date back to the bad old days - Its scary the number of times in my early days in folk that I heard the song introduced as 'An old song from the eary days of the Indutrial Revolution' .


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Mark Clark
Date: 31 Jan 07 - 02:47 PM

Merle Travis lived among and learned to play from coal miners in and around Muhlenberg Co. Kentucky. Mose Rager, one of Merle's most important influences, was a coal miner who eventually became a barber. Merle's family were coal miners. I think maybe even Ike Everly, another of Merle's influences, spent some time in the mines before becoming a professional musician. Merle knew a great deal about miners and coal mining.

Merle was already an established country artist when his recording company (Capital?) asked him (ca. 1946) to record an album of folk songs. Merle's response was "I don't know any folk songs." "Then write some," he was told. Sixteen Tons and Dark As A Dungeon were among the songs he wrote and recorded for the project. The songs weren't commercially successful and Merle always claimed he never liked any of them; that is until Tennessee Ernie Ford made Sixteen Tons a million seller ten years after Merle's recording.

Merle was a gifted song writer as well as a monumental musician. I've never heard of anyone claiming that Dark As A Dungeon wasn't entirely original.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: GUEST,guest Q
Date: 31 Jan 07 - 06:10 PM

Well,

Thanks all for the information. I never doubted Travis wrote the song, but thought perhaps one could trace it musical influences. Also, I appologize for posting with someone else's name.

Thanks,

Guest Q


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Jon W.
Date: 31 Jan 07 - 06:24 PM

The first version I heard of this song was a rather silly version by Glenn Yarborough with a pop (circa 1960) arrangement. I guess he was trying to show that a folk song would work as pop (it didn't). How ironic that it wasn't really a folk song at all. Still enough of the song shone through that I recognized it as a pretty good song anyhow.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Hrothgar
Date: 01 Feb 07 - 04:34 AM

It is not a traditional song, certainly, but who says it is not a folk song?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Scrump
Date: 01 Feb 07 - 04:49 AM

I would call it a folk song - it's been sung in folk clubs for as long as I can remember, by some established folk artists.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Padre
Date: 01 Feb 07 - 11:35 AM

In late 1965, Merle Travis played at the NCO Club in Wildflecken, Germany - a border patrol kaserne between East/West Germany. There were only about 25 of us there that evening, because the 2nd Bn./15th Inf. had been alerted over some incident near Gersfeld. Merle played for over an hour - all the wonderful finger picking that made up the Travis style. Toward the end, he asked if there were any requests, and I said "Dark as a Dungeon." He smiled and asked if I was from Kentucky- I said, 'No, West Virginia,' and he laughed. But boy, he did play it!

Padre


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Jon W.
Date: 01 Feb 07 - 12:26 PM

I'll concede it's passed into the tradition now, but it was too new back when Glenn Yarborough recorded it to be a true folksong. But I don't really want to get into that argument.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 01 Feb 07 - 02:50 PM

It seems that if a composed song is called a folk song by the composer, or is sung by an artist who considers himself a folk singer, it becomes a folk song- even though the song is under copyright.
Everyone has his own definition; not worth arguing about.

"Dark as a Dungeon" - 1946, First recorded in Capitol album, Folk Songs of the Hills, 1947.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: GLoux
Date: 01 Feb 07 - 04:21 PM

This thread made me get out my old Merle Travis record and listen to Dark as a Dungeon after so many years. Thanks...what a great song.

-Greg


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: GUEST,Arkie
Date: 02 Feb 07 - 03:55 PM

Folk songs start somewhere and in this case Merle Travis was born in coal country, and knew people who went down in the mines, and knew people who relied upon mining. While I do not recall him ever speaking or writing of working in the mines it was a life that he knew firsthand, so the song came out of real life.


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Subject: RE: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Jayto
Date: 03 Sep 08 - 11:57 AM

Merle wrote Dark as a Dungeon. He grew up about 15 miles from me. His dad was a miner in the community of Drakesboro Kentucky. He was born in a small town of Rosewood Kentucky. If you want to know anything at all about Merle or the community don't be afraid to ask. Mose Rager taught Merle to play the guitar. Mose also taught my cousin who in turn taught me. I know all kinds of stories about Merle and Mose and the whole bunch. I also know some of the origins and tales behind alot of his songs. So if you have any questions let me know. Merle has always been a big time hero of mine. He is pretty much the reason I started picking.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: GUEST,grindking
Date: 05 Aug 12 - 03:09 PM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMov7kULmWM that is the song the original poster is referring to when people are saying it sounded similar. the melodies are almost identical. i have been scouring the internet trying to find information if it dark as a dungeon had roots to that melody but i found nothing. i had no other way to contact the original poster other than to reply to this and i know it's been 5 years since his post :D but i was just trying to help :D.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: The Sandman
Date: 05 Aug 12 - 04:12 PM

does it matter


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Don Firth
Date: 05 Aug 12 - 04:29 PM

I remember hearing the Glenn Yarborough recording of "Dark as a Dungeon." As I recall, at the end, he repeated "Way down in the mine" several times while some recording engineer kept boosting the echo.

Sounded like he was falling down a mine shaft!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: Arkie
Date: 05 Aug 12 - 05:21 PM

I've listened to the you tube version of Enduring Young charms and several other versions as well as several versions of Dark as a Dungeon and do not hear them as identical tunes but I also do not claim to be any kind of authority on such matters. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: GUEST,Ebor_Fiddler (Well-known pedant)
Date: 05 Aug 12 - 05:58 PM

The only connection between "Believe me etc" (is it one of Tommy Moore's tunes?) and Merle Travis' tune seems to be that both are in 3/4 and that both use notes from the gamut! :_)
I doubt by the way if there is any Irish connection as Ireland has no coal, and, as far as I know, no mines of any sort. This kept Ireland out of the major part of the Industrial Revolution and kept her poor, but on the other hand,it kept her clean!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: MartinRyan
Date: 05 Aug 12 - 06:11 PM

Ireland has/had a little coal - and a few lead/zinc mines - but its "Endearing Young Charms" bear no resemblance to "Dark as a Dungeon", to my ear.

Regards


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 05 Aug 12 - 06:16 PM

Great song - as is the unrelated and melodically dissimilar "Believe Me..."


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: zozimus
Date: 05 Aug 12 - 07:38 PM

Whether Ireland had much coal or not is insignificant. There were many Irish emigrants, along with other ethnic groups, working in the coal mines in America at that time, who would have sung or played their songs/tunes which could have influenced Merle's melody. In 1970 Tony Wales published "Songs of Soldiers, Sailors and Labouring Lads" for the EFDSS and included "Billy the Pit Horse", set to Merle's tune "Dark as A Dungeon". "Billy" was collected by a Geoff Drake in Manmouthshire, Wales, about 1960. It was finally presented to a Professor John O' Donnell in Canada as "an old traditional Welsh song "for publication in "And Now the Fields are Green" (1992), a collection of Canadian mining songs ! Alan Lomax sang the praises of Merle and his song "Dark as a Dungeon at a reception in 1947, yet Granpa Jones did a cover version for King records in 1950 and credited the song to Jones. In 1951, on a Folkways L/P, Cisco Houston retitled it "Down in the Mines" and gave no credit to Merle Travis. So thank God he got the royalties for "16 Tons"


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dark as a Dungeon
From: pdq
Date: 05 Aug 12 - 07:54 PM

The Merle Travis "Folk Songs of the Hills" was recorded in 1946 and released in 1947.

It was indeed an "album", consisting of 8 songs on 4 distinct 78 rpm records. Done by Capitol.

The following year, Columbia revolutionized audio by releasing the "microgroove" vinyl record which soon became known as an album.

Decca followed in 1949.

Most of the early LPs were 10" records, the size of the older 78s.

Burl Ives was in at the very beginning and recorded for both Decca and Columbia, causing some confusion among collectors.


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