"Did they beat the drum slowly…"

So a post on Waylon Jennings on William’s blog got me thinking about the link between folk music and older forms of country. I think it was the Lomaxes, who discovered that pure strains of European folk music can be found in Appalachia, possibly purer forms of the same songs sung in Europe. (it was in the Journal of Ethnomusicology…I had the article, but it’s still packed away somewhere.)

Anyway, my nieces referenced a song done by Johnny Cash. Now, I’m not a huge fan of country, and my nieces don’t care for older country. (They prefer the newer stuff, where I can actually listen to the older stuff.) So I took a listen to it:

And it sounded really familiar. The melodic contour is very similar to this one, a song done by the Dropkick Murphys:

Right before the chorus (“Did they beat the drum slowly”), you can hear how the melody still follows the contours of “Streets of Laredo.” When “Streets of Laredo” has the same lyrics as “No Man’s Land,” the two are almost identical.

Here is a version of “Streets of Laredo” that’s even closer melodically to “No Man’s Land.” This version is closer to “The Unfortunate Rake,” an earlier ballad, than “Streets of Laredo.”

“No Man’s Land” was composed in 1976 by Eric Bogle. Here’s another version of it, done by the Fureys.

It turns out that “The Bard of Armagh” got recycled into the 19th century song, “The Unfortunate Rake.” Ta-da! Eventually it changed from ballad form to the verse-chorus-verse form and got a bit more complex melodically. And guess what? “The Unfortunate Rake” becomes “St. James Infirmary Blues,” when it goes to New Orleans.


~ by Jen on October 10, 2008.

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