The Water Is Wide, also known as Waly Waly, is a scotch/Irish ballad that’s probably close to 300 years old. It’s one of the songs I sang in my Of Time & Rivers Flowing concerts and one of my all time favorites. I’ve sung it for at least 40 years! For me, it’s right up there with Shenandoah as one of the great classic folk songs.
At one point I formed a trio with two of my friends from the Of Time & Rivers Flowing band, violinist, Hollis Taylor and bass player, Forrest Moyer. The Water Is Wide was one of the tunes in our repertoire.
In July of 2003 I went to Nashville as an honored guest of The Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS). The award I received was, in essence, from the guitar teachers associated with CAAS. They said Classical Gas has inspired so many students to play classical guitar, they felt it was a major reason for increased interest in classical guitar.
I saw, heard and met so many great guitar players there, I couldn’t begin to name them all. I did see a couple of true legends of music, Louden Wainwright III, and Earl Scruggs. Earl played a short set on guitar. He’s great on guitar as well as banjo. I also saw and hung out a lot with Tommy Emmanuel, an absolutely amazing player.
I played a short set there and one of the tunes I played and sang was The Water Is Wide. Just before I left, John Knowles, who writes a column for Fingerstyle Guitar magazine and publishes his own John Knowles Fingerstyle Quarterly asked me if he could print my arrangement of The Water Is Wide in one of his upcoming issues. I gave him the music. Later, he mentioned that there was a CD that goes along with his quarterly and asked if I had a version of it he could include. I had some live-on-concert versions of it, but they were spotty (vocally) in a few places, so I looked in my recording archives of never finished, never released material and found these tracks. They were done live in the studio in January of 1997. I added the new vocal and mixed it for John’s CD.
I love Hollis Taylor’s wonderful violin counter-melodies and her solo is orchestrated so beautifully for the fiddle. Forrest Moyer’s bass, more jazz than folk, gives it the rhythmic energy it needs to move things along.
Since everybody knows this tune so well, I sang it fairly straight ahead. The arrangement is the key to my version. I play it in D (capoed up two frets) on the guitar and sing it in E. The added ninth chords give it a rich harmonic setting, perfect for the jewel of a song that it is.
--Mason Williams 10/31/03