Mudcat Café message #3409687 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #145512   Message #3409687
Posted By: Richie
24-Sep-12 - 08:51 PM
Thread Name: Origins: Child Ballads: US Versions Part 3
Subject: RE: Origins: Child Ballads: US Versions Part 3

I've posted some info on Guthrie's version on my site:

Here an excerpt from: Woody Guthrie and His Folk Tradition
by Richard A. Reuss
The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 83, No. 329 (Jul. - Sep., 1970), pp. 273-303

Prior to 1939, and in some cases a fterwards, his utilization of themes, imagery, style, tunes, and form was so completely within the musical heritage from which he came that it is hard to tell where tradition ends and Woody Guthrie begins. A classic example is Guthrie's "reworking" of "The Gypsy Davy," which Alan Lomax and others long have held to be a unique recreation on the part of the Oklahoma balladeer. In his notes to Woody's recording for the Library of Congress, [63] released commercially in 1942, Lomax observed that Guthrie was responsiblef or interpolating a single stanza into the ballad, which had the effect of lifting the entire song out of what was essentially an English setting and placing it instead in the Southwest.

The verse in question depicts a campfire scene with the gypsy playing the guitar and serenading his lady with what presumably is a cowboy song:

Well, he had not rode till the midnight moon
Till he saw the campfire gleamin',
And he heard the gypsy's big guitar,
And the voice of the lady singin'
The song of the Gypsy Dave.

Lomax notes that Woody edited the song to reflect his "Oklahoma upbringing," the "milk white steed" becoming the buckskin horse, and so on. Guthrie himself is not so specific, but he also hints at having made major changes in the lyrics in his "Old Book" manuscript collection of songs. "This song changed when it come west. Because one nite in a saloon a feller said he'd give me four bits to sing it for him and I just remembered the first v erse- and so I needed the money for a flop and a slop- so here's what come out of it."

But the assumption that the western innovations of "The Gypsy Davy" were exclusively Woody's cannot go unchallenged. In "ClaytonB oone,"a I961 variant recorded by cowboy-artist Harry Jackson, the southwestern trappings are even more elaborate. The ballad is set on the Mexican border, the boss's horse (replacing the lord's steed) is a dun, the saddle is silver, leather chaps are worn, and the gypsy is a sweet-singing mandolin player.

I rode until the midnight sun
Till I seen their campfire burnin',
And I heard the sweetest mandolin
And the voice of young Dave singin'.[64]

Since Jackson learned his version of the song in Wyoming in the late 1930s from a cowboy named Ed Marchbank, and Guthrie elsewhere asserts that he heard a dozen different texts over the years, [65] one is left with the conclusion that the verse and its western ornamentation are in large part traditional rather than a product of Woody's creative imagination.

When composing his own material, Guthrie most often would create new lyrics using the framework of an old song. Generally, this meant simply writing new words to a standard tune, for while Woody reworked melodies freely he seldom wrote music on his own; he borrowed virtually all of his musical repertory from folk and hillbilly sources, notably the recordings of the Carter Family.

63 Anglo-American Ballads, (AAFS 1-5), n.d. [1942), Side 2A; reissued on LP as AAFS LI.
64 The Cowboy (Folkways FH 5723).
65 Liner notes to Songs by Woody Guthrie (Asch 347).