Tag Archives: carter family

Over the Border Wall

When a wall goes up there’s so many ways to get to the other side. You can go over it, under it, break it down and go through it, jump it, fly it, pole vault it. Doesn’t even matter if it’s a border wall or a house wall or a city wall or a hotel wall or a wall in your head or heart. Just bust on through.

Get over the border wall at all costs.I’ve been think about this song for a long while now. Not just days and weeks and months, but years. It’s a old Carter Family tune that I first heard probably about a decade ago. Their tune is called Over the Garden Wall. Ten years ago I was thinking a lot about immigration. A lot about Mexico and all the countries south of Mexico. I wrote one called On the Banks of the Old Rio Grande. And another called Brown-skinned Woman. And I started reworking this one, replacing garden wall with border wall. Just fits good. But I must have gotten distracted or something because I never finished it or recorded it.

Who knew, 10 years later…

And, of course, now I’ve been thinking about it again. With so much talk the past months about building a damn wall between the US and Mexico how could I not. Locking people out. Locking people in. I didn’t really need to change much from the Carter Family version. I did almost changed the line “while the old feller was snoring asleep” to “while the old feller was writing a tweet” but I felt that was too easy a jab. And also only pointed a finger at one man. If a wall goes up who’s fault is it really? Some bigot elected official? Some racist sheriff? Someone else? You? Me? Has nothing been done in 10 years? In 20 years? In 200 years? Who’s fault is that?

If a wall gets built, climb it. Both ways. Then move the Statue of Liberty to the mouth of the Rio Grande and let everyone in and out.

Like a very wise man once said:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
-Woody Guthrie, This Land Is Your Land

Get Up & Shout (Version 2)

I’ve gone and rewritten another of my old songs. This time Get Up & Shout form all the way back in 2012. After you’ve had a chance to listen to the new tune, go ahead and click on over to revisit the original.

Pretty big difference, huh?

It’s that Carter Family again

Just like the tune from a couple week’s ago, Trump is Working on a Building, for the updated version of Get Up & Shout I used an old Carter Family melody. This time I went for an old favorite of mine The Cannonball (or Cannonball Blues).

Didn’t really have any reason for using it other than I thought it would be easy for the words from my original tune to be squashed into that melody. Of course that didn’t work out as smoothly as I figured it would.

Made me get up and shout

Lyric work for Get Up & Shout (Version 2)For whatever reason I really got bogged down in what the new version of the song was about. What the meaning behind it would become. With these rewrites I really try not to do that because then as I force old words I’ve rewritten, that were about something completely different (usually that I’ve forgotten), into some kind of new meaning the song gets harder and harder to write. And I get frustrated. So this version had many multiples of rewrites. But I think I finally got it where I want it this morning.

From revival to protest

It’s now a little bit Cannonball Blues and a little bit Woody Guthrie’s Baltimore to Washington and a little bit protest song against Donald Trump. Now, he’s not specifically named, but I think I threw in some key words and phrases that alert you to the Orange One’s presence. So the tune went from being a tent-revival-church-happening-type song in the original recording to something that’s a little more contemporary in subject.

Not sure Get Up & Shout is completely done. Might even need a new title now too. Something like the Donaldbald Blues or the Orange Express Blues or the Trump Hump. But at some point you just have to shrug your shoulders and move on to the next thing. Not sure if this version is an improvement or not on the original, but it’s at least some kind of movement on the original and that’s really all I was going for.

Trump Is Working On A Building

Super-Classy Un-buh-leev-able Amazing Failure

Donald Trump's hair is just so super-great.
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind.

Remember when Google set up search results for “miserable failure” to link to George W. Bush? Apparently that was called a “Google Bomb” and miserable failure isn’t linked to Bush any more. But don’t you think there’s another miserable failure lurking around these days? Or maybe an amazing failure? Or super-classy failure? Or unbelievable failure? Yes? Me too. So I wrote a song about lumpy bag of moldy clementines Donald Trump. Have a listen:

Woody and the Carter Family

Now, you may notice, if you’re familiar with old folk tunes, that this new song I wrote about Trump is very similar to the Carter Family song I’m Working on a Building. There’s a few very good reasons for that.

First is, it’s one of my favorite tunes. I play it often and, so, it pops up in my head a lot at random times during the day.

Second, it has some good phrases that I figured I could update to be relevant about today. That’s the best thing to do when writing a folk song. Find an old one that you like, that has a catchy melody and an interesting message and then replace a few words to make it relatable to something currently in the news or your life. I barely even had to change the repeating chorus because Trump does work on buildings. Only thing different is that instead of building a house of good and a structure of hope and faith, he bankrupts everyone and everything he comes in contact with.

Like Father Like Son

Trump and his father Fred
Two severely balding orange men standing close together.

Now, the last reason, and maybe the reason that got me writing this new song is closely linked to the idea of creating new songs by rewriting old ones. Last week I was thinking a lot about Donald Trump because of the Republican National Convention and I remembered a news article I read about how Woody Guthrie had written a song about Trump’s crooked landlord father Fred Trump (read all about him here). So I went in search of that article to listen to the song because I thought maybe I could update it to be about Donald.

Only problem is, when I found the article, it turns out Woody didn’t so much write a song about Fred Trump, he just maybe reworked a verse of his tune I Ain’t Got No Home. His “song” about Fred Trump amounts to little more than a few scribbled ideas in his notebook. Not much for me to use. Plus, Woody’s song I Ain’t Got No Home was already a rewrite of the Carter Family song Can’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore. Do you see where this is headed?

Woody took a lot of ideas from Carter Family tunes (and from a lot of other people) and that’s something I picked up on really fast when I started writing my own songs. I didn’t have to try and come up with something completely new and different. I could just update old songs to fit my times and the troubles and triumphs I saw around me. So that’s what I did with I’m Working on a Building.

But that’s STEALING

Yeah, it probably is. I admit that. Although, folk music (and maybe most music) is all stolen. Every new song rests on the shoulders of something that came before it. You might go as far to say that everything rests on the shoulders of what went before it. As we move into the future the past is what we have to stand on. Forgetting that, you fall into a pit of nothing and may never take another step in any direction. I guess it’s only really stealing if you take complete credit for all the words in a song and say all the ideas were yours alone and no one  ever did anything like you ever before. No one does that, though, right?

The Mortgage Blues

Songs About America Week

Here’s a song I’ve never recorded: The Mortgage Blues. I’ve played it out probably only 2 times. And those two times were completely improvised. I didn’t even write down any official lyrics for this until about a month ago when I started getting some news songs together for to play in the jugband and to record.

My song is a complete rip-off of the Carter Family song the Coal Miner’s Blues. Check out the similarities here. I don’t care if it’s the same. It’s folk music. And, besides, both songs are just as relevant today…coal mining disasters are just as likely as foreclosures. It’s just that foreclosures affect more people now, not just coal miners and such.

I hope I don’t have to explain why this is an American song. It’s in the form of a traditional American blues and/or early country style. The lyrics were written in approximately the middle of 2008.

Here’s what a mortgage looks like:

Don't you just love your mortgage?!