Showing posts with label God Bless Her. Show all posts
Showing posts with label God Bless Her. Show all posts

Friday, August 28, 2009

On the Trail of "Let Her Go, God Bless Her"

Just when I thought we were done with tracking the "Let her go, God bless her" lyric from St. James Infirmary, correspondent Richard Matteson sent me a number of emails. Thanks to Richard I have purchased a copy of the 1902 Harvard University Songs. It arrived in the mail today.

In an introductory note the compiler E.F. DuBois wrote that he "has tried to make a collection of songs that are actually sung at Harvard, by the Glee Club, by the crowds at the football games, and by the undergraduates and graduates." The result is a collection of twenty-seven songs starting with "Fair Harvard" and ending with "The Marseillaise." Sprinkled in between are titles such as "The Levee Song," "Jolly Boating Weather," "Bring the Wagon Home, John," and "The Mulligan Musketeers."

"She's Gone, Let Her Go," with its chorus that is so familiar from SJI, appears on page 72. The melody is utterly ordinary, a kind of parlor ditty that one could imagine being sung by hearty fellows in argyle sweaters, gathered around a piano with drinks in their hands. The lyric is the same as that identified in a March 21st entry on this blog, from the 1909 Harvard song book. The fact that it has appeared in at least two of these books, and that it is joined by only twenty-six others in this 1902 book, attests to its popularity at the time - at least among students at Harvard.

If you click on the music sheet here, you should view a larger copy that is easier to read.

While in "St. James Infirmary" this lyric gives the song a sinister quality, here it is as if the singer is saying about a woman who has left him, "It's your loss, Toots." Regardless of the fickleness of love, the singer remains constant: "There may be a change in the weather . . . but there'll never be a change in me." One can get the impression that this verse was indiscriminately, to use modern terminology, cut and pasted into SJI - and that the sinister shadow it casts is little more than a careless mistake. Had "St. James Infirmary" waited another ten years for its first recording, perhaps this verse would have dropped away, or been altered.

Of course, the 1902 date of this song does not help in tracking the birth of "St. James Infirmary." In that case, even circumstantial evidence does not take us much further back than, say, 1916.

Many thanks to Richard for this. (Mr. Matteson has a number of interesting areas on the web, including a series of entries on different versions of SJI - one of those pages can be found here: St. James Infirmary - Version 4 Jimmie Rodgers 1930.)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

And yet another "Let Her Go, God Bless Her" post

Over the past three months I've written at least six posts focusing on songs containing the "Let her go, God bless her" lyric so famous in "St. James Infirmary." These have ranged, chronologically, from their appearance in a 1909 university song book to a recording by the Louvin Brothers in 1958. Thanks to readers of this blog, I have two more examples to share in this, yet another posting about "Let her go, God bless her."

Reader Jesse said "Nelstone's Hawaiians recorded a song called 'You'll never find a daddy like me' which has the same chorus and is contemporary to or earlier to the Burnett & Foster recording." Jesse added that s(he) had only heard it on 78 rpm record.

The Rutherford and Foster song, "Let Her Go, I'll Meet Her" was recorded in 1929. The song Jesse referred to, by Nelstone's Hawaiians, was recorded September 21, 1928. Neither Hubert Nelson nor James Touchstone were Hawaiian. They came from Alabama, they sounded like they came from Alabama, but their music featured wonderful Hawaiian-style guitar playing. Our friend "The Old, Weird America" has an excellent article about them, which you can access here. You will also be able to listen to "You'll Never Find a Daddy Like Me;" keep an ear out for:
There's been a change in the ocean
There's been a change in the sea
If they'll give me back my sweet mama
There'll probably be a change in me

Reader Root Hog Or Die informed me about the version by Rutherford and Foster, which I covered in an earlier posting. He also mentioned "J.E. Mainer and his Mountaineers (pictured here), of North Carolina, who did a version of 'Let Her Go, God Bless Her,' from 1935, that also bore the 'Sometimes I live in the country ...' verse, but otherwise employed all different - although equally common - floating verses."

One of those "floating verses" again includes mention of the ocean:
She may ramble on boats on the ocean
She may ramble on boats on the sea
She may travel this wide world all over
But she'll never find a friend like me

According to liner notes for the JSP CD J.E. Mainer - The Early Years, as a teenager Mainer labored in the cotton mills. He was an experienced banjo player, but one day watched a man playing fiddle while leaning against a telegraph pole at a railway crossing. As he walked across the track, the man was hit by an incoming train. Mainer returned to the scene that evening to find the broken fiddle lying in a ditch. He got it repaired and learned to play it - that might be the same fiddle he's holding in this photograph. Fiddle, guitars and banjo - those are the Mainer Mountaineer instruments. Mainer's fiddle playing is one of the highlights of "Let Her Go, God Bless Her."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

One more "Let Her Go" lyric

Over the past couple of months we have looked at several turn-of-the-twentieth-century songs that contain the infamous "Let her go, God bless her" lyric. Here's one more. (Many thanks to Root Hog or Die for telling me about this one!)

In 1929 the fiddler Leonard Rutherford and the guitarist/singer John D. Foster teamed up to record a handful of tunes for Gennett Records. One of those songs bumps into "St. James Infirmary" at least a couple of times.

The chorus of "Let Her Go, I'll Meet Her" sounds familiar:

Let her go, go, I'll meet her
Let her go, go, I'll meet her
Let her go, go, God bless her so
She is mine wherever she may be

The song is also one of the few that reflect the odd sailor verse that appears now and again in versions of SJI. Mattie Hite, for instance, phrased it like this:

I may be killed on the ocean
I may be killed by a cannonball
But let me tell you buddy
That a woman was the cause of it all

The Rutherford & Foster variation puts it like this:

I have a ship on the ocean
A boat that sails on the sea
A pretty girl that lives in the country, boys
Has sure made a fool out of me

Admittedly, those are fairly far apart, but close enough to be entered into the list of possible influences in the early evolution of "St. James Infirmary."

As with the Louvin Brothers version (see below), "Let Her Go, I'll Meet Her" contains the "Sometimes I live in the country" verse which is most famous as part of Leadbelly's "Goodnight, Irene."

To hear this song click on: "Let Her Go, I'll Meet Her" MP3

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Let Her Go, God Bless Her" mp3 - Willie Trice

Willie (or Welly, depending upon your source) Trice made two recordings under his own name in 1937, and then not again until 1970. His take on the "Let Her Go" theme is from 1937, with both he and his brother Richard playing guitars.

Document Records had a CD called Carolina Blues (1937-1947) that featured a couple of songs, including this one, by "Welly" Trice - but that's a rare find nowadays. The four disk Blind Boy Fuller Volume 2 from JSP records features the two songs by Welly and eight by Richard Trice.

Although the recording quality is good, the lyrics can be difficult to make out. One verse, for instance, sounds something like, "Oh Scarbird wants your body / And Megalon wants it too / Oh Scarbird turned his long-headed since / She was gone and she won't come back." If you can make more sense of this, please drop me a line.

To hear this song, click on "Let Her Go, God Bless Her" MP3.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Let Her Go, God Bless Her" mp3 - the Louvin Brothers

This is a bit of fun. The Louvin Brothers once recorded a song called "Let Her Go, God Bless Her." It's from a 1956 album titled Tragic Songs of Life, and completely different from the song posted above. From some of the recent posts here, one gets the impression that the "Let Her Go" chorus from "St. James Infirmary" served as the structural cornerstone for a number of songs.

Well, that SJI chorus is here in full, and you will also recognize, unchanged, a verse from Leadbelly's "Good Night, Irene."

This is an infectious little ditty. To hear this song click on: "Let Her Go, God Bless Her" MP3.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Let her go, God bless her - dated 1909

I've had a number of conversations in the past about those lines from St. James Infirmary, "Let her go, let her go God bless her . . ." and so on. They combine with the rest of the song to tell a very strange story. Where did these words come from, at what point did they enter the song? Were they original sentiments, placed there deliberately, or imported from elsewhere as the song evolved?

John Garst is an organic chemist and amateur folklorist, professor emeritus at the University of Georgia. He has recently (and very generously) sent me information about several songs that we shall discuss in upcoming posts, but I wanted to share this lyric as soon as I could.

John tells me that this song, "She's Gone, Let Her Go" comes from the Song Book of the Harvard Club of San Francisco, dated 1909. I'm not sure we could find a more Caucasian collection of people. There is no music, but here are the lyrics:


They say true love is a blessing,
But the blessing I never could see,
For the only girl I ever loved
Has done gone back on me.


She's gone, let her go, God bless her,
For she's mine wherever she may be,
You may roam this wide world all over,
But you'll never find a friend like me.

There may be a change in the weather,
There may be a change in the sea,
There may be a change all over,
But there'll never be a change in me.

It's easy to think of this as the likely inspiration for the song discussed in the entry below.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"God Bless Her" - Echoes of SJI in a WW1 song

Buried on the 348th page of American Air Service historian Edgar S. Gorrell's book Gorrell's History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917-1919 (stored at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration - NARA) is a song with some resemblance to "St. James Infirmary." Gorrell assembled a few pages of songs enjoyed by the World War One airmen. These words introduce this section of the document (obviously written by someone with less than expert proficiency on a typewriter):

"One of the pleasantest recollections which the officers of the Ninetieth will carry with them from France back to the States is of the convivial evenings spent in the mess hall after the dinnerplates had been removed, cigarettes and Pierson's cigars lighted, and the cares of the day forgotten. With Conover at the head of the table leading the songs, assisted by Rohrer's dramatic tenor and Lakes melodious bass, the hours passed quickly. Sweethearts gone but not forgotten and the ties which bound us to the Ninetieth were the favorite but by no means the exclusive themes of our songs.

"We were particularly fortunate in having not only a glee club of such high ability, but also writers of such merit as Capt. Schauffler and Harvey Conover proved to be. Yet this collection does not pretend to be comprised of exclusively original songs. We have disregarded all copyright laws both as to words and music. For some of our songs we owe a debt of gratitude to the Ambulance Corps. Others will be recognized as mere naked parodies on well-known college songs. Our object has been merely to make a collection which would in future years refresh our memories of those merry evenings at Souilly and Bethelainville, and incidentally preserve from oblivion the genius of our aviator poets."

The song, "God Bless Her" looks as if it had been cobbled together, perhaps using the refrain of "St. James Infirmary" as its inspiration. This is one of the few concrete references to SJI that precede the 1920s. I am convinced there were many variations about, some of them probably quite daring - but these fell by the wayside, forgotten, after Irving Mills secured the copyright.

Lyrics to "God Bless Her"


Oh she turned me down last summer
For she said she didn't love me anymore;
But now she has written that she'll be my wife
An I've gone and joined the Flying Corps.

She has gone, let her go, God Bless her

She is mine wherever she may be

She may search this wide world over
But she'll never find another like me.

Oh there may come a change in the weather
And there may come a change in the sea.
And there may come a change all over
But there will never come a change in me.

She has gone, let her go, God Bless her.

She is mine wherever she may be

She may search this wide world over
But she'll have to fly to France to catch me.

Oh I've looked at the girls in New York
In London and gay Paris
And there’s one conclusion that I have got
There are other little fishes in the sea.

She has gone, let her go, God Bless her

She is mine wherever she may be

She wanted to marry a tin soldier

But a home-guard I never would be.

Inquiries into the early years of SJI