02 Jun

Lovel (revisited)

RWP_A008 Lovel

As Lovel was a-walking a-walking one morning
He espied two peddlers two peddlers a-coming
He boldly stepped up to them and called them his honey
Saying “Stand and deliver boys for all I want’s your money.”
Lol te de a de um, Lol te de a dum.

“O we are two peddlers two peddlers are we sir
And you are Mr. Lovel we take you to be sir
O we are two peddlers that have lately come from Dublin
And all that we have in our box is our beddin’ and our clothing.” Lol te de…

As Lovel was walking up Kinsberry mountain
He espied two rich misers their guineas they were counting
First he cocked his blunderbuss and then he drew his rapier
Saying “Stand and deliver boys for I’m a money taker.” Lol te de…

“O Lovel, O Lovel my poor heart’s a-breaking
For little did I think my love you ever would been taken
And if I had’ve known that the enemy was a-coming
I’d have fought like a hero although I’m but a woman.” Lol te de…

“O Polly, O Polly my poor heart’s a-breaking
If it had not been for you my love I never would been taken
For while I was a-sleeping not thinking of the matter
You discharged my pistols and loaded them with water.” Lol te de…

As Lovel was walking all up the gallows ladder
He called to the sheriff for his Irish cap and feather
Saying “I have robbed money but never killed any
I think it hard that I must die just for grabbing money.” Lol te de…

We return this month to this wonderfully obscure and fun-to-sing variant of “Whiskey in the Jar” recorded in 1924 from Akeley, Minnesota singer Reuben W. Phillips (see N.S. Sep. 2014).  The Lost Forty recently arranged Phillips’ version of Lovel and the video above shows us performing it at the beautiful Stone Saloon building in St. Paul.

I am thrilled to announce that the original field recording of Phillips singing Lovel, along with many others, is now online on the new Minnesota Folksong Collection site! Visitors to www.minnesotafolksongcollection.org can access (for free) over 40 field recordings of Minnesota singers recorded in 1924. Many of the songs featured in Northwoods Songs over the past four years appear in the collection. The site is currently relatively bare-bones but over the next few months I will be adding features to help encourage visitors to learn songs from the collection and to learn more about the Minnesota-based source singers. The site does feature sheet music transcriptions of the song melodies (a labor-intensive feature for me to create but, hopefully, something that helps users decipher the very low fi recordings).

When folklorist Robert W. Gordon recorded Minnesotans Reuben W. Phillips and Michael C. Dean, he typically only captured one or two verses of each song—rationing out the valuable space on his wax cylinders. Luckily, both Phillips and Dean supplied Gordon with complete written texts for most of the songs they sang. I have combined their texts with the field recordings on the Minnesota Folksong Collection site just as I have done above and in previous Northwoods Songs.

Phillips’ handwritten manuscript of song texts is full of many nonstandard spellings of words which I have altered to more standard spellings above and on the website to help users access the texts more easily. I have also opted to shift some of the transcriptions into keys I feel are more suitable for sight reading.

I would love to hear some feedback from Northwoods Songs readers regarding the functionality of the new site! Please check it out at www.minnesotafolksongcollection.org and drop me a line to let me know what you think.

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This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

01 Mar

The Crafty Miss

The Crafty Miss.musx

O she on a little grey mare and he on a gelding also,
He whispered one word in her ear and straight to an inn they did go,
They soon had their horses put out, they called for a supper with speed,
They drank the full bumpers around, O the glass it went merry indeed.

This miss she arose the next morning two hours before it was day,
She called up the landlord with speed saying “Landlord what is there to pay?”
“Ten guineas” the landlord replied, she paid him his money indeed,
And then to obey her next order, “Go saddle the golden with speed.”

She hoodwinked this young man indeed, she showed him a trick for his gold,
Then mounting the gelding with speed, she left him the mare she had stole,
It was all done in Essex’s county, the truth of it there you will find,
The people they showed him no pity, they said he was served in his kind.
This month we have the second song of twelve that The Lost Forty (Randy Gosa and I) have arranged and videotaped as part of The Lost Forty Project. I learned last month’s song from a recording of Minnesota singer Michael Cassius Dean and this month’s comes from the other Minnesota singer strongly represented in the project: Reuben Waitstell Phillips.

Phillips was recorded at his home south of Akeley, Minnesota by Robert Winslow Gordon in September 1924—about a week prior to Gordon’s visit to Dean. Like Dean, Phillips had corresponded with Gordon prior to the collecting trip. The above song was one of 22 handwritten song texts Phillips sent to Gordon in March 1924 and one of at least 15 Gordon recorded during his visit to Akeley.

Listen to Reuben Phillips sing part of this song (or click here to view in the MN Folksong Collection):

Phillips titled this light and dancey song (in slip jig time) simply “A Lilt.” It is a version of an English broadside ballad entitled “The Crafty Miss, Or, An Excise-Man Well Fitted” that scholars date to the late 1600s. What is quite unusual for a song of that vintage recorded this far from its origin is that it seems to have been extremely rare in tradition. In fact, I have not been able to find a single collected version from anywhere. The longer broadside versions supply the information that the “hoodwinked” young man was a tax collector and that not only did she make off with his horse but the fact that he was left holding “the mare she had stole” resulted in his arraignment and a narrow escape from “the penalty of the law!”

As I have dug deep into the 47 songs featured in The Lost Forty Project, I have come to marvel at the differences and similarities between the two principle singers: Dean and Phillips. Though it is unlikely they knew each other, both men were born in the 1850s not more than 30 miles from each other in northern New York state and both migrated west to northern Minnesota where they lived just 120 miles apart at the time they were recorded. Still, where Dean’s repertoire is typical of lumberjack-singers of the region in that it is decidedly Irish-American, most of Phillips’ songs are more English/Scottish, quite a bit older and quite a bit more rare. Some of that has to do with their differing ethnic backgrounds but, I suspect, their occupations and routes west played a role as well. More on that in coming months!

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This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

20 Jan

A New Name and a New Project for 2016

Brian Miller and Randy Gosa will now perform under the name The Lost Forty. We have a new site as well: www.thelostforty.com.

This site, www.evergreentrad.com, will continue to be the home of this blog (Northwoods Songs) along with other information and updates about my research, performing and teaching work.

Also, this month marks the launch of an exciting northwoods folksong revival project that will run throughout 2016: The Lost Forty Project. The Lost Forty Project will celebrate and make accessible forgotten field recordings of Minnesotan traditional singers recorded almost a century ago.

A bit about the name(s):

In November of 1882, a surveying crew in the north woods of Minnesota accidentally plotted Coddington Lake a half-mile further north than it was actually located. Today, the happy result is the Lost 40 Scientific and Nature Area—a rare and wonderful stand of old growth pine, some trees now over 300 years old, that was overlooked by logging companies due to the error. It is a breathtaking time capsule from Minnesota’s past.

Much of Minnesota’s early folksong traditions (including some songs as old as those trees) have been similarly overlooked. For almost ten years now, I have sought out the forgotten songs of farmers, Great Lakes sailors, lumbermen and saloon-keepers that carried Old World ballads to the North Star State back in the 1800s. These songs are what Randy and I perform as The Lost Forty… and a very special group of these songs is the focus of The Lost Forty Project.

In September 1924, pioneering folksong collector Robert Winslow Gordon traveled from Berkeley, California to Cambridge, Massachusetts with his Edison wax cylinder recording machine in tow. A month after arriving in Cambridge, Gordon wrote a letter in which he gave a brief account of his trip:

I made a very leisurely trip east with many stop-overs and side trips collecting material. I got some immensely good stuff up in northern Minnesota, lumber-jack material…[1]

The “good stuff” Gordon recorded on this September 1924 trip was overlooked for decades—much like the pine trees north of Coddington Lake. Gordon’s 1924 recordings of singers from northern Minnesota, documenting 47 songs, were preserved by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress but not cataloged as having anything to do with Minnesota. Gordon did extensive recording in North Carolina, Georgia and California and must not have kept notes on his brief adventure “up north.”

Through my research, I was able to track down and identify Gordon’s forgotten “Minnesota” recordings. This spring I will be creating The Minnesota Folksong Collection—an online digital library for the songs Gordon recorded from Michael Cassius Dean of Virginia, Minnesota and Reuben Waitstell Phillips of Akeley, Minnesota. The recordings will be free to listen to for anyone with an internet connection. These are some of the only existing recordings of traditional folksong from Minnesota and some of the earliest from anywhere in the Great Lakes region. The 47 songs include regionally-composed songs about woods work, Irish come-all-ye’s, songs about sailing the Great Lakes, railroading songs, deer hunting songs and old British ballads dating as far back as the 1680s—a similar age to those trees up by Coddington Lake! In addition to the recordings and background on Dean and Phillips, song texts and transcriptions will be provided to encourage people to learn these songs and make them their own.

As part of the project, Randy Gosa and I (The Lost Forty) will perform and teach our arrangements of songs from the collection at concerts and workshops throughout the state. We will also post online monthly videos of us performing our arrangements. The first video will be posted here on February 1st! In addition, an online “song forum” connected to The Minnesota Folksong Collection will invite others to post their own videos of themselves doing songs learned from the collection.

This project has been a dream of mine since July 2012 when, late at night while scouring a set of digitized newspapers for information about singer Michael Dean, I found an article implying the existence of these recordings. Seventy-five percent of the funding for this project is coming from a Folk and Traditional Arts Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. In February, I will be launching a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to help make up the rest of the funding needed to make this dream a reality.

Please check back for more information on the launch of the Minnesota Folksong Collection site, the Kickstarter and to see the first song video when it posts on February 1st!


[1] Gordon, Robert W. Robert W. Gordon to C. L. Canon, October 31, 1924. Letter. From American Folklife Center, Gordon Manuscript Collections, Gordon Mss, #769.