The Simones (Vocal: Lori Fassman; Guitar: Chris Felknor; Harmonica: Kathryn Kaufman; Fiddle: Jeanne Wildman)
This brief, wistful number seems like the distilled essence of the stranger-far-from-home theme. The song has so much in a few lyrics: yearning for home, tearstained letter, train, train whistle, all in a melancholy minor tune. Found in the low-tech Old Town School of Folk Music Songbook that a much younger Jeanne bought at an Evanston, Illinois street fair. It’s said to have been collected by Woody Guthrie.
The Simones (named after Lori’s cat) first got together to perform at the annual FSSGB Members' Concert in 1995 and haven't missed one since. They perform their own arrangements of contemporary singer-songwriter material, traditional folk, blues and jazz.
Paul Beck (Vocal, acoustic 12-string guitar, electric 6-string guitar, bass)
One of the best known American “bad boy” ballads, there are many versions of Stagolee, with many different spellings of his name. The song is based on a historical incident from 1895 in St. Louis, in which a cab driver named Lee Shelton murdered William Lyons on Christmas Eve. As the song tells it, the killing was indeed about a hat, but in real life, Shelton was sent to prison, not executed. The tune for this version of the song comes from the singing of Daisy Nell. I’m not sure where the words came from.
A former president of FSSGB, Paul plays a range of music from original songs to Celtic, bluegrass, and traditional. He has played in several groups (Folk Process, Friends of Poor Howard, Granite Grass) and is currently a member of the duo Ergo Canto with Leslie Bryant. Paul’s music website is at http://music.pbeck.com .
Over the Mountain
Brian Cartwright (Vocal and guitar)
Brian picked up the guitar and harmonica at age 15 to join an amplified group of friends emulating the Lovin' Spoonful and Stones, found classical music as a music major in college and was preparing for Jimi Hendrix's discovery of 12-tone techniques when Jimi exited, and dealt with the great disillusionment of the disco era by discovering contradance music while living in New Hampshire in the 80's. He is a carpenter in his spare time.
Brian has softened the rough edges of Uncle Dave Macon's rendition of "Over the Mountain" and assigned the yodel part to his guitar. He used to wonder why there weren't more verses in Macon’s recording until he heard the mawkish verses he wisely omitted.
The Baltimore Fire
Celeste Frey (Vocal and banjo)
Charlie Poole recorded this classic of early country music in 1926. The song tells the story of the great Baltimore fire of 1904. Published in a 1905 song book called “Mowry’s Songster,” the song’s origins and writer are unknown. The final verse does not comes from Poole’s recording, but from my researches on the Internet. Its origins too are unknown. Celeste included it because it nicely completes this all-too-short song.
Celeste has had a love affair with songs and ballads most of her life, perhaps starting with her first 45rpm record, Burl Ives’s “Big Rock Candy Mountain” (sanitized for children no doubt). She started playing guitar and singing in high school. In 2003 she took up the 5-string banjo and has been happily immersed in Old Time music ever since.
The Ward Line
The Graybeards (Vocals: Dan Frey, Peter Hamlin, Richard Taylor)
This stevedoring shanty comes from the Ivan H. Walton Collection of Great Lakes songs, most notably recorded previously by The Boarding Party (Too Far From the Shore, Folk-Legacy CD-131). Walton obtained most of the lyrics in 1933 from Captain Harvey Kendall of Marysville, Michigan, who served as mate for several seasons in the early 1890’s on the “Sam Ward,” the “Old Black Sam” of the song. The steamer would stop at Detroit and ship a team of twenty or more black men to load copper pigs in hand trucks at the Keeweena Peninsula and unload them at their destination. They pushed the hand trucks along as they walked in a slow shuffling gate in a loose circle between the warehouse and the vessel. It took two or three days on both ends of the trip, and the men sang shanty type songs the whole time. There are many more verses written in dialect that we have pared down and cleaned up. Captain Kendall remarked that he probably remembered this song because of the choruses. The men were paid at a rate of about fifteen dollars a month. He said, “Even they knew they wasn’t goin’ anywhere on the wages they received and the kind of life they led.”
Dan, Peter, and Richard had been members of Webster Hall and decided to work up some songs on their own starting in 2006. In addition to a cappela singing as a group, Dan plays guitar and autoharp, Peter plays mandolin and concertina, and Richard plays harmonica. They trade off leads on songs of all kinds from the British Isles, from across the USA, and from Australia. They have performed at NEFFA in 2008, at the FSSGB Annual Members’ Concert and Fall Getaway Weekend Campers’ Concert, and have featured at open mikes in the area.
This Little Light of Mine
Highland Station (Lead vocal: Pam Haran; Back-up vocals: David Godkin, Eric Hanson, J. Johnson, Suzanne Mrozak, and Gretchen O’Neill; Acoustic bass: Chris Reckling)
Set to an old gospel tune, this song is inspired by the verse in the book of Matthew in the Christian bible: “Don’t hide your light under a basket. Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all.” Many verses and variations have been written, and the song was popular among workers in the civil rights movement. This jazzy version, arranged by singer/songwriter Jim Scott, uses the humanist lyrics from the Unitarian Universalist hymnal Singing the Living Tradition.
Highland Station coalesced five or six years ago at the Theodore Parker Unitarian Universalist Church in West Roxbury. Its members perform an eclectic repertoire of traditional and contemporary acoustic music on a variety of instruments, including (but not limited to) guitar, mandolin, autoharp, flute, dobro, fiddle, banjo guitar, and psaltry. They performed in the 2007 and 2008 FSSGB members’ concerts.
Diggin’ in the Dirt (by Ellen Schmidt) © Ellen Schmidt 1998
(Vocal: Ellen Schmidt; Guitar, bass, banjo: Seth Connelly; Fiddle: Al Gould)
Ellen’s family has a great tradition of gardening. Her seven children all had their own gardens when they were growing up. Ellen says she loves gardening – the feeling of earth running through her fingers – nature’s progress through the season!
Ellen, a former FSSGB president along with her husband Allan, is an award-winning songwriter with four albums to her credit. She has directed and performed in FSSGB Woody Guthrie “Bound for Glory” shows since the mid-70’s. She also performs with Jake Kensinger in the duo “Two for the Show”.
Alison Lee Freeman (Vocal and 12 string guitar) Recorded by Ducky Carlisle
The origin of "Buckeye Jim" is obscure. According to the Library of Congress, Fletcher Collins collected "Buckeye Jim" (aka "Limber Jim") from Mrs. J.U. (Patty) Newman in 1939, at Elon College, in North Carolina, which is the first documented version. Alison learned the song listening to Burl Ives on his album, "Little White Duck".
Alison Lee Freeman is a 21st century chantey singer with an extraordinary voice easily heard over gale force winds. In performance the vivacious balladeer mixes traditional songs of the sea with newly renovated folk songs. You can find out more about Alison on her website, www.chantey.net
Death and the Maiden
Merle Roesler and Deb O’Hanlon (Vocals)
This song, which is more frequently titled “Death and the Lady,” falls under the general category of “conversations with Death” – that is, conversations between Death and its victims. Those fated to die try to bargain with Death, offering wealth and other bribes and generally pleading for just a little more time on earthly soil. But beauty and riches hold no sway, and escape is impossible. Most of the British versions poignantly feature an innocent maid who is “cruelly betrayed” by the hand of Death (it’s in the job description). Death takes pity on no one.
Merle and Deb have sung together over the years in a capella duos, trios, quartets, and more. They take intense pleasure in creating and developing beautiful two-part harmonies, and extending that experience with their friends.
She Moved Through the Fair
Nancy Mulrey (Vocal)
This is a traditional Irish song. The melody is thought to have medieval roots, with modern lyrics by Padraic Colum, who wrote all but the last verse. There are several variations on the lyrics. This version is a darker take, by Margaret Barry. It has a decidedly less happy outcome than some of the more romantic versions of the song.
Nancy Mulrey is a singer-songwriter who also specializes in traditional Celtic music. She sings in English, Irish and Scottish Gaelic. Nancy has studied the Irish language and music locally and in Ireland.
Last Days of Summer © Neal MacMillan 1996
(Concertinas: Ann Schunior and Joanie Bronfman; Fiddle: Neal MacMillan)
Neal wrote this tune during the last days of summer of 1996.
Ann, Joanie, and Neal have performed together for the last 35 years sharing their passion for traditional music and music written in traditional styles. They have developed a reputation for playing lush arrangements of slow airs.
Poor Orphan Child
Kathy Moore and Tyler Buck (Vocals: Kathy Moore and Tyler Buck; Guitar: Kathy Moore)
“Poor Orphan Child” is described in an Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music as “a gospel song from the old songbooks.” The Carter Family recorded it in 1927, and it appeared on their first release, a double-sided 78 with "Wandering Boy." Kathy originally learned it from the singing of Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin.
Tyler and Kathy first combined to sing Celtic music at NEFFA in 2004. Informed by Tyler’s many years in Scotland, they focus on Scottish music but branch out at the slightest whim.
Mississippi Sawyer / Soldier's Joy
Donald Duncan (Banjo)
Mississippi Sawyer is a southern dance tune of indeterminate origins, although I've seen references to it in puns from the early 20th century. It was one of the first tunes I learned on the banjo. Soldier's Joy is an old English dance tune which migrated - with some evolution - to the south. I'm indebted to John Cohen of The New Lost City Ramblers for the fun pull-off riff in the second part and the high variation of the first part.
Don is a past president, and currently treasurer, of FSSGB. Raised in rural Northern New York, he started playing folk music in the ‘60s at Cornell. He worked with FSSGB and other area folk groups to put on the two Down East festivals in the early ‘70s. He plays fiddle, guitar and banjo (and whatever else seems interesting), contradances, and sings material ranging from sea shanties to country and western. For the last 10 years, he has sung and played in the theatrical performances of Revels and as a member of Revels Repertory Company.
Cindy Primett (Vocal and guitar)
Two Soldiers dates back to the American Civil War, collected in Kentucky and Arkansas. In a few simple verses, it paints a vivid portrayal of young soldiers heading into battle. The song is derived from a longer version often called "The Last Fierce Charge" (or “Custer’s Last Fierce Charge”).
Cindy is a singer-songwriter who has grown musically over the years through voice lessons and through involvement in FSSGB activities and relationships formed there. She performs traditional and contemporary songs with the group October’s Dream.
Suzanne Mrozak and Brian Cartwright (Lead vocal and autoharp: Suzanne Mrozak; Vocal and guitar: Brian Cartwright)
Suzanne heard ukulele lady Evy Mayer perform this traditional Hawaiian lullaby in 2006 during Pinewoods Folk Music Week and fell in love with it. Evy’s version had only one verse, though, and that just didn’t seem enough, so Suzanne added a few words here and there until suddenly there were two verses. She hopes the owls don’t mind.
Suzanne fell in love with traditional music when she was introduced to it as part of her elementary school education in Ontario, Canada and it continues to be one of the great joys in her life. She has been active in the folk community for many years – the last 25 of them with FSSGB. She and Brian met through a mutual friend and member of Highland Station and have been making sweet music together ever since.
Webster Hall (Vocals: All; Guitar: Kathy Moore and Dan Frey; Banjo: Celeste Frey; Mandolin: Peter Hamlin; Harmonica: Richard Taylor)
McKinley’s Rag is a version of the White House Blues as sung by Riley Puckett. We were inspired by the Anne Hills and Cindy Mangsen recording on Never Grow Old.
Webster Hall formed as a group in 2005, already well acquainted through FSSGB. As a group, they’ve belonged to FSSGB for a total of 95 years. They enjoy trading off leads and singing in various combinations, and their repertoire includes acapella singing as well as songs with instrumental accompaniment. They performed at NEFFA in 2006 and 2007 and have performed at FSSGB Annual Members’ Concerts and a Fall Getaway Weekend Campers’ Concert.
Peter Fischman & Deb O'Hanlon (Vocals)
This is one of Peter & Deb’s favorite songs about death. It’s presumed to be a Camp Meeting song, a genre sung at revival gatherings. Angel Gabriel, in Biblical tradition, is sometimes referred to as the Angel of Death.
Peter and Deb have been singing together since they met in the early 1980's. They are known for their tight harmonies and beautiful treatment of songs old and new. Peter has written many songs, some of which have started "falling into the tradition." You can find out more about them at PeterFischman.com.
The Lakes of Pontchartrain
Michael O'Leary (Vocal: Michael O'Leary; Harmony vocal and guitar: Janice Fullman)
A traditional American song, likely from the late 19th century, that uses a melody of Irish or Scottish origin and appears to be set at the close of the Civil War. It's a song of unrequited love unlike so many others in the tradition in that it ends not with a lament but a lift, of both the glass and the heart. Michael imagines this having been composed by someone like his great grandfather Cornelius Malone, one of many a poor Irish immigrant who worked as a laborer in New Orleans then fought as a soldier in the Confederate army. At the close of the war he's down on his luck and looking to start life anew.
Michael is a traditional singer of Celtic, English and American songs and ballads who has performed at numerous festivals and venues in the greater Boston area. He has sung with the groups The Beggar Boys, Corner House and Urban Myth. A native of South Dakota and long time 'landlubber', he has soaked up the sea air of Cape Ann for the past twenty years and now hosts Celtic music sails on the schooner Lannon out of Gloucester, MA as well as a Celtic music session at The Landing in Manchester, MA. A relative latecomer to singing, he is very grateful to the FSSGB for all the encouragement and support he has received from the society and its members along this path of traditional song.
My Darling Ploughman Boy
Jeanne Wildman (Vocal) and Chris Felknor (Guitar)
The voice of this British Isles lyric comes from a young lover who—in contrast to so many traditional lassies-- doesn’t lament having been deceived by the promise of marriage. She does sound a tad defiant, though. If anyone knows the significance of “the reaper bush,” we’d like to hear about it. Found in a Lomax collection in the dusty stacks of a college library circa 1981.
Jeanne Wildman and Chris Felknor play folk music with the Simones in additional to other musical ventures, sometimes in the jazz and classical genres, as time allows. They live in Arlington where they are raising a new generation of eclectic musicians.
Peter Hamlin (Vocal and mandolin)
Peter learned this song (or version) originally from the singing of Tom Rush on one of his early albums. There is, of course, an English song with a similar first verse, but the rest of this has nothing to do with it. The apparent source of this American "Cuckoo" (or "Coo-Coo Bird”) is Clarence Ashley, a southern singer and banjo player, recorded in the twenties, sixties and between. More information and a music video are at clarenceashley.com. The 4th verse Peter does is a "floating one", which he heard from Peter Donelly at a wedding reception.
Peter was introduced to traditional song by his parents, who, as was common in those days, were often trying to keep the children occupied in the car on long trips. He has continued the interest off and on since then, up to his current singing and playing with the Graybeards and the chorus of Christmas Revels in '08.
I Told the Cuckold © Paul Beck 1988
Ergo Canto (Vocal, 12-string acoustic guitar, 6-string electric guitar, mandolin, bass: Paul Beck; Flute: Leslie Bryant)
One of the best known of all English traditional ballads is Matty Groves, a song of adultery and vengeance. In most versions of the song, one minor character is the “little foot page” who brings the news of betrayal to the cuckolded lord and husband. In a few versions, the lord promises wealth to the foot page if his story proves true (and death if it is false). No version of the ballad ever says what happens to the foot page after that. Paul wrote this song as a “sequel” to Matty Groves, finishing the foot page’s story.
Ergo Canto are a folk music duo in the Boston area, playing original, traditional, and cover folk songs. Paul plays guitars and mandolin; Leslie plays fiddle, flute, zills, and other percussion. “I Told The Cuckold” is the basis for the title and cover of their first CD, “My Hand, My Sword, My Sin”. Ergo Canto can be found online at http://ergocanto.org or http://myspace.com/ergocanto.
The Whiteleys (Vocals: Will Whiteley, Anna Whiteley Huff and Catherine Whiteley)
Tina Sizwe (“We the Brown People”) is a Zulu song that was the favorite of Chief Albert Lithuli, head of the African National Congress and Nobel Peace Prize winner in the late 1960's. The basic sentiments of the lyrics are: "We, the brown nation, the children of Africa, are crying for our country, for Africa, which was taken by the white people. They must leave our land alone."
Will and his daughters Catherine and Anna have performed many concerts in the New England area over the years. Blessed with a singular mind and a very good memory, Will is a self-made folklorist who plays banjo and Highland bagpipes. Catherine Whiteley is a music collector who studied classical Indian singing before undertaking a journey to Nepal to collect devotional songs. A multi-instrumentalist, Catherine is also a gifted Middle Eastern dancer and teacher. Anna Whiteley Huff is also a music collector and multi-instrumentalist. She has recorded several CD's under her own label, Tollie Records, and has sung and played with many folk and rock bands over the years. The Whiteleys have always turned to music to get them through the hard times, and to share the happy times. It has been a unifying force for them over the years, and they are all pleased to present you with some of the fruits of their labors and love.
The Parting Glass
Donald Duncan (Vocal)
Since at least the 17th century, the Scots have traditionally ended parties and gathering with the pipe tune Goodnight and Joy Be With You All. Many people wrote words to it, and even though 19th century books of Scottish Songs often ended with one of those versions, the sung arrangement never was popular - perhaps because the pipe tune was difficult to sing. Over in Ireland, unconstrained by the pipe tune, both melody and words evolved into The Parting Glass, and became widely known in this country when the Clancy Brothers sang it to end their concerts.
Don is a past president, and currently treasurer, of FSSGB. Raised in rural Northern New York, he started playing folk music in the ‘60s at Cornell. He worked with FSSGB and other area folk groups to put on the two Down East festivals in the early ‘70s. He plays fiddle, guitar and banjo (and whatever else seems interesting), contra dances, and sings material ranging from sea shanties to country and western. For the last 10 years, he has sung and played in the theatrical performances of Revels and as a member of Revels Repertory Company.