17 May

Cole Younger

I am a noble-minded man, Cole Younger is my name,
Of my many a depredation my friends I brought to shame,
For robbing of the Northfield bank and the same I will never deny,
And it leaves me a life’s prisoner in Stillwater jail to die.

The first of my many robberies I mean to let you know,
Was a poor Californian a miner lad and for the same I rue,
We took from him his money my boys and we bade him go his way,
For which I will be sorry until my dying day.

Then after getting his money my brother Bob did say,
“It is now we’ll buy fast horses and from home we’ll ride away,”
——-[no text for third line of melody, Green skips to fourth line]——
And we’ll chase the mountain guerrillas until our dying day.

Then we started out to Texas to that good old Lone Star state,
And on the Nebraska prairie the James boys we did meet,
With knives and revolvers we there sat down to play,
A-drinking lots of good old brandy for to drive the blues away.

And the Union Pacific Railroad was the next we did surprise,
And robbing with our bloody hands would take tears on to your eyes,
A-robbing with our bloody hands would take tears on to your eyes,
And on the Nebraska prairie their mouldering body lies.

And then we left that pretty place and northward we did go,
To that God-forsaken country called Minnesot-i-o,
Our mind was fixed on Mankatah [Mankato] bank but brother Bob did say
“Oh if you undertake that job I fear you’ll rue the day.”

Then we stationed out our pickets and up to the bank did go
And there behind the counter, I struck the deadly blow,
“Oh hand me out your money boys and make no long delay,
For we’re the noted Younger boys who gives no time to pray.”

In ten years of searching through archives and old song books for Irish-influenced songs from the Great Lakes region, I have found only a handful of texts that include Minnesota place names. Of the few I have found, I consider this one the best! It is about one of our state’s most notorious historical events: the raid by the James Gang and the Younger Brothers on the Northfield Bank in September 1876. Cole Younger survived the shots fired by citizens of Northfield that day and then 25 years in the Stillwater prison before being released. His celebrity as a real outlaw helped him make a living after release and he attempted to cash in with his own “wild west show” and a published memoir. Today, there are many resources online and in print that tell the fascinating stories of the James Gang, Cole Younger and the Northfield raid-gone-wrong.

I came across the ballad “Cole Younger” in a few books but fell in love with it when I heard it sung by Beaver Island, Michigan singer John W. Green. Versions of the ballad were collected all over the US but Green’s is by far the most Irish-sounding treatment I have found. Green was a prolific traditional singer and the focus of Alan Lomax’s field recordings during his visit to Beaver Island in 1938. You can hear Green singing the song online thanks to the Library of Congress’s recent digitization of Lomax’s Michigan recordings. It is impossible in a transcription (such as mine above) to do justice to the lovely variations and ornamentations that Green puts into each verse as he sings. He was an older man at the time of the recordings and not always in command of his voice but his singing includes many flourishes that hint at the masterful singing community, full of first generation immigrants from Donegal, that Green grew up in on the island in the late 1800s.

05 Jul

My Dear Irish Boy

My Dear Irish Boy

My Connor’s cheeks are as [a] ruddy as morning,
The brightest of pearls but mimic his teeth,
And nature with ringlets his mild brow adorning,
And love’s* Cupid’s bow strings, and roses his breath.
Smiling, beguiling, cheering, endearing,
Together oft over the mountain we strayed,
By each other delighted and fondly united,
And I’d listen all day to my dear Irish boy.

Now the war is all over and my love has not returned,
I’m afraid that some envious plot has been laid,
And that some cruel goddess has him captivated,
And left me to mourn a dear Irish maid.
And smiling, beguiling, cheering, endearing,
And together oft over the mountain we strayed,
By each other delighted and fondly united,
I would listen all day to my dear Irish boy.

*most broadside versions have “his hair” instead of “and love’s”—makes a little more sense to me.

This month I chose a Beaver Island, Michigan version of a song that is often played as an air by instrumentalists: “My Dear Irish Boy.” This version comes from the prolific singer Johnny W. Green of Beaver Island who sang it for Alan Lomax in 1938. The Lomax recording was recently digitized and made available online by the American Folklife Center (along with all the other fascinating recordings made by Lomax in Michigan that year). You can listen to Green himself sing it here.

The recordings made by Lomax in Beaver Island include a wealth of rare Irish songs. They also include chat about local singers, travelling to the “main land” for lumbering and other work and family connections to Ireland (mostly Donegal). It is a collection well worth checking out!

There’s a beautiful video of Clare fiddler Joe Ryan playing the air version of this song here. The air has some extra parts to how Green sang it.

21 Aug

Down in a Salley Garden

Down In a Salley Garden

It was down in a salley garden where me and my true love did meet.
I took her in my arrums and embraced her with kisses sweet,
Saying, “Love, tell me the reason Oh why you were so severe.
You must have some other suitor that’s more pleasing to your mind than me.”

And it’s not the time to go, boys, for to go my boys, to go away.
It’s not the time to go, brave boys, we’ll boast about it until day.

Well I called for a bottle of brandy for to drink in my true love’s company,
But she felt so proud and sassy she would not take one drop from me.
She bade me take love easy and not be so severe.
She bade me take love easy like the dew drops falling off yonder trees.


Oh landlady, my darling, come fill us one bottle with speed.
I will pay you to a farthing, my darling indeed, indeed.
I will pay you to a farthing, my darling indeed, indeed,
Here’s a health to all my sweethearts who cause my poor heart to bleed.


Oh once I had the money plenty even when I roamed about,
But now my pockets are empty and most of my credit’s out.
(skip 2nd half of verse melody)

Last Chorus:
And now’s the time to go, boys, for to go my boys, to go away.
Oh now’s the time to go, brave boys. We’ll boast no more
[spoken:] it’s breaking day.

I had an amazing week researching traditional songs collected in the Upper Midwest at the American Folklife Center in Washington, DC at the end of last month. This month’s song comes from the AFC’s incredible holdings of material collected in Beaver Island, Michigan. Beaver Island was once a stronghold of Irish traditional song thanks to a high concentration of families with roots in the island of Arranmore, County Donegal (see N.S. Apr. 2013).

The AFC has two sets of recordings made on Beaver Island: one was made in 1938 by Alan Lomax, the other was made in 1940 by Ivan Walton. Both collecting trips focused on largely on one singer, John W. Green (1871-1964), who had a remarkable repertoire of over 200 songs. Green sang “Down in a Salley Garden” for both collectors and the above transcription is a composite of the two versions as sung by Green. Green’s singing is characterized by very short phrases and odd breaks that may have resulted from him being short of breath. Still, I like the effect in some spots and marked all the breaks in my transcription.

Though the song does share some poetry with the more famous “Sally Gardens” song, it is quite different in both form (it has a chorus) and sentiment.