By Wayne Erbsen
It was Saturday night, June 11, 1949, when 25-year-old Hank Williams walked onto the stage of the Grand Ole Opry for the first time and began singing Lovesick Blues. The audience was electrified. No other performer had ever been brought back to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry for six encores, as Williams was that night. With his debut of Lovesick Blues, a triumphant Hank Williams basked in the glow of his newfound fame. Meanwhile, Emmett Miller, who first recorded Lovesick Blues, sat at home, completely forgotten and down on his luck.
By Wayne Erbsen
Let’s take a look at one of the most notable labor songs of all time, Hallelujah I’m a Bum, and the man who wrote it,” Harry McClintock, whose nickname was Haywire Mac.
Mac’s life reads like the pages of a dime novel. Born October 8, 1882, he ran away from home when he was still a boy and joined the circus. Yielding to his itch to roam, he worked as a railroad man in Africa, a seaman, and a muleskinner in the Philippines. In 1899 he worked in China assisting a newsman reporting on the Boxer
Fans of traditional country and bluegrass music have always had a soft spot in their hearts for a good ole tear jerker. If you write a song about getting run over by a train while holding a baby on the way to your mother’s funeral, you’re bound to have a hit. Let’s take a little trip back in time and see where the idea of the tear jerker came from.
Mid 19th century America had a lot to cry about. If the high infant mortality rate didn’t kill you, any number of other hazards would. Anyone who lived to be
Rising to the top of the most well-known murder ballad in bluegrass music is “Pretty Polly.” Based on an actual murder, legends tell that the cruel murder of Pretty Polly was at the hands of a ship’s carpenter by the name of John Billson near Gosport, England. The ballad was first printed in about 1727 as “The Gosport Tragedy,” and sung to the tune of “Peggy’s Gone Over Sea.” It tells the chilling tale of Billson’s murder of his pregnant girlfriend and the flight aboard the ship M.M.S. Bedford. The story takes a haunting turn when the seaman Charles Stewart
Her real name was Frances Steward Silver, but they all called her Frankie. The words chiseled into her tombstone give us a chilling reminder of what this story is about: “Frankie Silver, Only Woman Ever Hanged in Burke County, Morganton, July 2, 1833.”
I first heard about this strange chapter of North Carolina folklore from a mountain man named Bobby McMillan, whom I met when I lived in Hickory, North Carolina in the mid-1970’s. Because he was the third cousin to Charlie Silver, the man Frankie was accused of killing, Bobby had been collecting stories, songs and lore about Frankie
No other old English or Scottish ballad even comes close to the popularity of “Barbara Allen.” Brought over to America by the earliest pioneers, its roots can be traced to at least the year 1666 when Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary on January 2, “In perfect pleasure I was to hear her [Mrs. Knipp, an actress] sing, and especially her little Scotch song of Barbary Allen.” Even Abraham Lincoln sang “Barbara Allen” while growing up in rural Indiana.
In America, “Barbara Allen” was sometimes called “Barbara Allen’s Cruelty or the Young Man s Tragedy.” It was also known as