Willie Watson
Folksinger Vol. 2

Anyone who knows folk music and blues knows that Samson And Delilah comes from Reverend Gary Davis. When you hear him play, it stops you in your tracks and makes a guy like me question every musical thing I’ve ever done. It’s one of those songs I wouldn’t have thought I could pull off, but thankfully I had The Fairfield Four to help me out. Don’t blame Delilah. She did her best with what she had and the world she lived in. Don’t think Samson a fool. After all she was too beautiful to resist. I would have given it up the first time around. Either way it all worked out in the end.

Francis Child called Gallows Pole “The Maid Freed from the Gallows.” Leadbelly called it “Gallis Pole” and I’ve also heard a version called “Lord Joshuay” from Bascom Lamar Lunsford. These are only a few of the countless versions of this popular ballad. Sometimes it’s a beautiful girl, sometimes a guilty son, and sometimes it’s the maiden’s father. In every case mom, dad, sister, and brother didn’t bring any money to buy the freedom of their condemned kin. They either think that death is deserved or they’re just too poor to afford it. Hanging on for dear life. Pleading for one last chance at buying redemption and at last, true love proves itself. These things really happened long ago. Maybe you stole a silver cup or maybe you slept with the wrong person. Times ain’t like they used to be.

When My Baby Left Me. Elvis did his best and I love it, but Furry Lewis cuts deeper with a sharper edge and a softer touch. It’s blues at its purest. It grabs your heart and tightens its grip. Especially the last verse. It reminds me that I’m truly on my own in this world. It’s a bad feeling and it chokes me up. Shoots straight to my soul and there we commiserate. The blues sure are a selfish thing.

Bascom Lamar Lunsford probably heard Dry Bones from African-American minstrels. It was too comical for the church house. To me though it sounds far more serious and severe than “Whispering Hope.” Basically God isn’t messing around here. Eve puts Adam in his place and flips the story on its head. Prayer brings down prison walls, a valley of skeletons comes to life, and the crippled are healed. The light from heaven shines down and you can’t help but want to believe. It makes me wish I lived in a simpler time and I didn’t have all this useless knowledge. I could just give in. Who knows… maybe one day I’ll see that light come shining down too.

Walking Boss. One of the two songs here I got from Clarence Ashley. A railroad song about loyalty, repression, resentment, independence, and self-worth. This silent looming foreman is not a welcome presence among these track liners and jack-ballers. There’s some debate as to what exactly “ball a jack” means. The term can be heard in other songs as “ballin’ the jack” where it refers to a provocative dance step. My guess is that this was an adaptation of the term originally used by railroad workers, which to them simply meant operating a jackhammer.

On The Road Again. Once in a while you come across a song that slaps you upside the head, laughs in your face, then dances you around the room with a menacing grin. This Natural Born Eastman couldn’t care less what you think and is making no apologies. He’s pounding on your door with a .44 and a bottle of rye. Getting the party started. The song is related to Furry Lewis’ “Casey Jones,” but I got this from The Memphis Jug band. Maybe the other Willie did too.

The second song from Clarence Ashley, The Cuckoo Bird is probably the oldest song here. I’ve read that it dates back to the 13th century. An ancient English song that made its way to the Appalachian Mountains to be changed, rearranged and married to “Jack of Diamonds.” In its earlier forms it was a “take warning” song told from a woman’s perspective about false-hearted or inconstant lovers. It’s said the cuckoo was a symbol of infidelity, and in another version, the chorus tells how she sucks the eggs of other birds to “keep her voice clear.” Songs like this put into perspective how inarticulate and dumb we’ve become. Sure we can go to Mars and replace kneecaps but can anyone go this deep? The answer is no. No one can even come close, even the greats like Bob Dylan and Eminem, and they’re as good as it gets these days. I guess it’s been a lost art for about 800 years.

Things are getting tense out there. Everyone wants to be first. Get the hell out of my way, don’t look at me like that, don’t step out of line, don’t forget your place. I want everything I don’t need and I want it now. George Harrison Said “ I, Me, Mine.” Blind Alfred Reed said, “Always Lift Him Up And Never Knock Him Down.” This world is already vicious enough. Try to remember he’s some mother’s son, that she’s some child’s mother. Maybe he just lost a brother in a war; maybe she’s about to breathe her last breath.

John Henry is one of the greatest American heroes that most people seem to have forgotten about. Maybe it’s because they didn’t have television back then. It’s too bad he doesn’t have an Instagram page. He didn’t sell cereal and kept his charity to himself. He gave it all away and didn’t ask for anything. He’s intangible but absolute. There’s no way he’s just a myth. He’s still here today. Maybe he’s your janitor, or your chauffeur. He could be the bum you didn’t buy a sandwich, or maybe you kicked his ass at the bar last night. Keep your eyes peeled and let me know if you see him around.

Leavin’ Blues. Things are looking pretty rough for this guy. Down and out without his gal and nowhere to go. Can’t eat, can’t sleep, and his money slips out through the holes in his pockets. Lost, confused, and full of sorrow, he’d rather die than live without her. Thank you Huddie Ledbetter for this quintessential blues full of longing and self-pity that a romantic like me loves to wallow in.

I keep Take This Hammer close by at all times. Carry it with me wherever I go. For me it’s about freedom. Freedom from chains I didn’t even know were there. Or maybe I did but just ignored the weight. When I was young my mother always told me I had a strong will. I believed that and it took me far in life. It did a lot of good but sometimes nearly tore everything down. These days I’ve learned to use it wisely but mostly I leave it at the door. I’m letting it all go. This hammer is a little too heavy. Here captain… you take it. I’m outta here. Finally free… for now.●

For more information, please contact Asha Goodman 615.320.7753 or Carla Sacks 212.741.1000 at Sacks & Co.