Peggy Quotes

There are names that are synonymous with folk music; Guthrie and Lomax come quickly to mind. Seeger is another such name. Its mere mention conjures a mental laundry list of talented, politically active, musical personalities who are woven into the fabric of American folk music. Seeger family members have been studying — and making — folk music history for more than seven decade.... Dirty Linen

Peggy Quotes 2

I was at Cambridge Folk Festival this year, and you were my highlight!  Listening to you talk and sing about the importance of making conscious life decisions and the impact our seemingly isolated, individual decisions have on the rest of the world really resonated with me, as did your quiet approach to advocating for justice.  I was deeply moved, and it was a joy to listen to you.
Thank you so much.
- Leah x


Bring Me Home Notes & Text

Notes are by Elisabeth Higgins Null


(words, music, ©: Aunt Molly Jackson)

As I was a-walking down Peacock Street
No clothes on my back, no shoes on my feet.
I was cold, I was hungry, it was late in the fall
I knocked down some old big shot, took his money, clothes and all.

Yeah, I took everything that old big shot had
And they called me a robber, they called me bad.
They called me a robber, they called me bad
But misery and starvation done drove me mad.

Tell me how long must I look for a job?
I don't want to have to steal,
I don't want to have to rob.

They put me in jail for a year and a day
For taking all that ol' big shot's money and clothes away.
They turned me loose 'bout a hour ago
To walk these ol' streets again in the rain and snow.
I got no money for room rent, I got nothing to eat
You just can't live by walking the street. (Chorus)


"Peacock Street" is Peggy's title for "Crossbone Skully," a song by Aunt Molly Jackson (1880-1960). Jackson was a midwife, a labor activist, and a singer, as well as the wife and daughter of eastern Kentucky coal-mining men. When Theodore Dreiser and John Dos Passos "discovered" her during a fact-finding tour of the region, she was encouraged to come north in 1931 to write and perform her songs. Along with Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and her half-siblings: Jim Garland and Sara Ogan Gunning, Jackson performed regularly for union rallies and radical gatherings. According to Shelly Romalis in Pistol Packin' Mama: Aunt Molly Jackson and the Politics of Folksong (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1999) Jackson was a "culture broker," who linked poor, rural workers with the left-wing movements of America's urban centers. "Crossbone Skully" also links the past with the thirties, building on traditional thematic structures and images and using the old tune, "Cumberland Gap," to deliver a social critique as timely during the depression as it previously had been through generations of oral tradition. Woody Guthrie created the notes to "Crossbone Skully" in Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People (New York: Oak Publications, 1967, a compendium of folk-based protest songs by Alan Lomax with notes by Guthrie and transcriptions by Pete Seeger). In it, he shines his own inimitable light on the lyrics:

This is about an actual feller named Bascom Skully that kept a getting' in jail for holding up people. Well, looks like most of the jails are full running over. Looks like they make up more silly laws every day to get you in. You break the law and you don't know it, cause they pass 'em so fast you can't keep up with 'em.

All I got to say is this, if it keeps up, keeps a goin' that a way, the day and time will soon come when we'll just have to build a big cement wall around the world and all of us go and get in it. Dam' near it that a way now. (p. 70)

Peggy sings "Peacock Street" very much in the singing style Aunt Molly Jackson used when recording "Crossbone Skully" for Mary Elisabeth Barnicle and Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress (1930s). This song and others were eventually released on Aunt Molly Jackson, Library of Congress Recordings (Rounder Records 1002, 1972).


words, music: traditional USA
arrangement: Peggy Seeger, Calum and Neill MacColl
(long-neck 5-string banjo, C-tuning)
supporting vocals: Calum and Neill MacColl

My daddy was a gambler, learned me how to play
My daddy was a gambler, learned me how to play
Said, Son, don't go beggin' while you got your ace and trey.

Way down in old Missouri, sick as I could be (2)
'Long comes a letter: Dear Son, come home to me.

Well, if I'd a-listened to Momma, I wouldn't been here today (2)
But I was young and foolish and easy led astray. So

Hang me, O hang me and I'll be dead and gone
Hang me, O hang me, I'll be dead and gone
Well, I don't mind hangin' but you lay in the grave so long
Lay in the grave so long.

Momma and Poppa, little sister make three (2)
Marchin' up that hangin' hill for to see the end of me.

Go send for my two babies to come and see me die (2)
Go send for my two babies for to hang their heads and cry. (Chorus)

They'll put that rope around my neck, they'll pull me very high (2)
Very last words I'll hear 'em say, Won't be long till he die. (Chorus)


"Hang Me," an American song sometimes known as "I've Been All Around this World," is related to "Working on the New Railroad" and has been a favorite of popular and folk revival singers since Bing Crosby (How the West Was Won, RCA Victor, 1959). Roger Abrahams recorded a version in the late 1950s (Make Me A Pallet on the Floor, Prestige: PR-INT 13034,) and Sam Hinton recorded it a few years later (The Song of Men, Folkways 1961, FA-7100). Hinton's version was transformed into Dave Van Ronk's later version (Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger, Prestige 13056,1963) and no doubt evolved into those sung by The Grateful Dead (Bear's Choice, 1970) and Bob Dylan (live performance, 1990). Today the song and its variants have become standard fare in bluegrass as well as revival repertoire.

Peggy's rendition has several verses rarely found in other recorded versions and closely resembles a version in Louise Pound's American Ballads and Songs (New York City: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1922). Pound calls her song, "The Gambler," and says it was collected in 1917 from the singing of Minnie Dogs, Arlington, Phelps County, Missouri by Frances Barbour, who submitted it to the folklorist Henry Marvin Belden. Another version even more closely resembling Peggy's was collected in 1917 from Billy Laws of Argenta, Arkansas by Vance Randolph. Laws described his version, "My Father Was A Gambler," as only one small part of a long ballad about a murderer who was sick in "Old Missouri" and was hanged in Fort Smith during the 1870s. Minnie Dogs' version describes the condemned man as sick in Fort Smith, but Peggy's version, like that of Billy Laws, has him sick in "Old Missouri."

As with many other execution songs that take the criminal's viewpoint, both the Laws and Peggy Seeger versions express regret that the murderer disregarded the advice of his mother. Peggy also includes a verse in which the condemned man asks to have his children attend the execution, if only to hang their heads and cry. Peggy's tune parallels Laws' melody (as transcribed by Randolph) except for a flatted seventh towards the end of the second phrase. This gives it a strongly mixolydian feel.

Fran Majors, recorded a fuller version ("The Blue Ridge Mountains") for the Missouri collector Max Hunter in 1959. Her version has a decidedly western feel and the protagonist is a cattle thief. One can hear it at the fully digitized Max Hunter Collection.


words, music: traditional USA
arrangement, Peggy Seeger and Calum MacColl
(2 guitars, one in tuning D-A-D-G-B-E)

O hard is the fortune of all womankind
They're always controlled, always confined
Controlled by their parents until they are wives
Then slaves to their husbands for the rest of their lives.

O I am a poor girl, my fortune is sad
I've always been courted by the wagoner's lad
He's courted me highly by night and by day
Now his wagon is loaded and he's goin' away.

Your parents don't like me, they say I'm too poor
They say I'm not worthy of entering your door
But I work for my living, my money's my own
And if they don't like me they can leave me alone.

Your horses are hungry, go feed them some hay
Come sit down here by me as long as you may
My horses ain't hungry they won't eat your hay
So fare you well, darlin', no longer to stay.

Your wagon needs greasing, your whip is to mend
Come sit down here by me as long as you can
My wagon is greasy, my whip's in my hand
So fare you well, darlin', no longer to stand.

The heart is the fortune of all woman kind
We're always controlled, always confined
Controlled by our parents until we are wives
Then slaves to our husbands for the rest of our lives.


Peggy first recorded the "Wagoner's Lad" in 1955 on a Folkways album, (Folksongs of Courting and Complaint, FA 2049). That year, she also recorded a variant of the same song, "My Horses Ain't Hungry," with her brother Mike on American Folk Songs for Children, issued on Folkways (reissued Rounder 1801, 1977) and consisting of songs from Ruth Crawford Seeger's book, American folk songs for children in home, school, and nursery school : a book for children, parents, and teachers (Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1948). The countermelody that serves as a turnaround between verses on this recorded version of "My Horses Ain't Hungry" is echoed here in her solo guitar. Peggy's tune for the "Wagoner's Lad" repeats the first line twice and moves on to a related and higher third line before recapitulating the first line. This AABA pattern is structured differently than the typical ABBA pattern more widely associated with the song.

"The Wagoner's Lad" and "My Horses Ain't Hungry" belong to a larger family of tunes ranging from "Rye Whisky" to "Farewell to Tarwathie." Many of its floating verses appear in a variety of songs such as "Bachelor's Hall" or "On Top of Old Smoky." "The Wagoner's Lad" is found primarily in the United Sates although its opening verse appeared as early as 1728-1732 in a British theatrical piece "The Ladies' Case" and was later set to music by William Boyce (1711-1779), the English classical musician:

Oh Hard is the fortune of all womankind
They're always controlled, always confined
Controlled by their parents until they are wives
Then slaves to their husbands the rest of their lives.

Bruce Olson, in a guest post on the Mudcat Café, an online folksong forum associated with the Digital Tradition, gives a partial history of the song, "Hard is the Fortune of All Womankind." He tells us it was printed in the eighteenth century and quotes the text from a single song sheet with music published in 1730. Henry Carey is credited with creating the lyrics of the verses that seem originally to have constituted the complete song:

How hard is the fortune of all womankind,
Forever subjected, forever confined,
The parent controls us until we are wives,
The husband enslaves us the rest of our lives.

If fondly we love, yet we dare not reveal,
But secretly languish, compelled to conceal,
Deny'd every freedom of Life to enjoy,
We're sham'd if we're kind, we're blamed if we're coy.

If fortune we have Oh! then we must be joyn'd,
To the Man that is by our Parents Design'd,
Compel'd for to have the Man we never see,
No matter if Ugly or Handsome he be.

Then who would be Wealthy or Strive to be great,
Since so many Dangers upon them does wait,
That Couples most happy that Love uncontroul'd,
That marries for nothing despises the Gold.

The lyrics bear the earmarks of a popular song designed for genteel company, but their sentiment has been distilled and emotionally compressed in Peggy's version. These are stylistic hallmarks of Anglo-American oral tradition. Olson also shares something about the song's printed history:

The song was printed without credits and without music in a book of 1734, 'The Vocal Miscellany', II, p. 159, and noted in a book with music, 'The Universal Musician', [1737], to have been sung by Miss Raftor (trained by Carey) at the Theatre Royal. She made her debut in 1728 and became Mrs. (Kitty) Clive in 1732. Mr. Gouge (whose first name seems to be unknown) was credited with the music in later printings, e.g., 'The Muses Delight', p. 143, Liverpool, 1754 (slightly revised and retitled 'Apollo's Cabinet', 1757). The song then can be definitely put as 1728-32. The verses here [above] are from the single sheet issue, c 1730.

Peggy's version closely resembles the seminal rendition by Buell Kazee, first recorded in 1928 (Brunswick 2138, 064); on Harry Smith's compilation Anthology of American Folk Music (3 vols., 6 LP) (FA 2951/2952/2953, 1952). Kazee's version has been covered by artists ranging from Joan Baez to Bruce Molsky.


words, music: traditional USA
arrangement, Peggy Seeger and Calum MacColl
(two guitars; backing guitar tuned to open G with strings tuned down a whole tone: C-F-C-F-A-C)

Old Boney is away from his warring and his fighting
He has gone to the place that he ne'er can take delight in
He may sit down and tell of the battles he has been in
While forlorn he does mourn on the Isle of St. Helene.

No more in St. Cloud is he seen in such splendour
Nor follow with the crowds like the great Alexander
For the prince of Rome and the young prince of Ghana
Say they'll bring their father home from the Isle of St. Helene.

The rude rushing waves all around the shores are washing
And the wild billows heave and the great rocks are dashing
He may look to the moon over great Mount Diana
With his eyes on the waves that surround St. Helene.

Ye Parliaments of England and your Holy Alliance
To the prisoner of war you may now bid defiance
For your base intrigues and your baser misdemeanours
Have caused him to die on the Isle of St. Helene.

Those of ye who have got wealth, pray beware of ambition

For but one degree in fate may reverse your condition
Be ye steadfast in faith for what is to come ye know not
For fear you be betrayed, like him on St. Helene.


"Napoleon" is Peggy's title for a song known alternatively as "The Isle of St. Helena," "The Lament of Bonaparte," "Bonaparte's Lament," or by it's first line, "Boney has Gone From the Wars of All Fighting" (the first word,"Boney," is sometimes preceded by "Now"). In the United States, the best known version comes from the singing of C.K. "Tink" Tillett, who was recorded in 1922 at Wanchese on Roanoke Island, for the Frank C. Brown collection, North Carolina Folklore, (Durham: Duke University Press, 1957). It was collected again in 1940, from the same singer by Frank Warner (Anne Warner, Traditional Songs From the Anne and Frank Warner Collection, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1984). The song also appears in the American collections of Cecil Sharp, Henry Belden, and Gale Huntington and has been collected in Newfoundland, Ireland, and Sussex, England. Print versions appeared William Chappell's Folk Music of the Olden Time (London: 1859, 2 vols.), the Forget-Me-Not Songster, as well as various broadsides.

The song contrasts the loneliness of Boney's exile with his former grandeur, advising those with wealth to beware of ambition as fate is unpredictable. There is also a curious intimacy about the song and a focus on Bonaparte's family. As with most Bonaparte songs circulating in America and the British Isles, implicit sympathy is expressed for the emperor Napoleon. Boney was a symbol of hope for Irish nationalists and others for whom a French dictatorship seemed more attractive than the home-grown variety. This was, after all, a period in which brutal conditions were experienced by the impressed British sailors who served for years without leave while enforcing the embargoes of the Napoleonic Wars.

Peggy's tune has shifted from those found in other collected versions- her second phrase repeats the first rather than the third phrase (AABA). She says the tune she sings most closely resembles that found in Mary O. Eddy's Ballads and Songs from Ohio (Hatboro, Folklore Associates, 1964, orig. ed. 1939), which indeed follows the AABA structure.

Some words, as in the first line, "Old Boney Is Away From His Warring and His Fighting," also depart from better-known versions. In once instance, Peggy heard an English singer draw out the last syllable of each verse's last line: "The Isle of St. Helen-eeeee." "Eee is a pure vowel," she says, "and you can hold it better than the closed 'uh' of Helena." Her other textual changes clarify or intensify rather than alter the meaning. This can be seen in her last verse:

Those of ye who have got wealth, pray beware of ambition
For but one degree in fate may reverse your condition
Be ye steadfast in fate for what is to come ye know not
For fear you'll be betrayed like him on St. Helena.


words, music: traditional USA

If all the girls in London City was placed in a row
Molly Bond she would glitter like the moon in the snow.

She was going to her uncle's when the shower come on.
She sat down under a green tree till the shower pass on.

Her lover was a hunting, a-hunting for swan
In the forest near the green tree when the shower come on.

He went on a-hunting, a-hunting in the dark
And he shot his own true love and he missed not his mark.

With her apron wrapped around her he took her for a swan.
But alas, for all sorrow, he shot Molly Bond.

Then he ran to his father and threw down his bow
Father, dear father, I've shot my dear girl.

With her apron wrapped round her I took her for a swan
But alas, for all sorrow, I've shot Molly Bond.

Down came his father, his hair hangin' grey.
Jimmy, dear Jimmy, don't you run away.

Stay in this county till your trial come on
They never would hang you for shooting of a swan.

If all the girls in London City was placed in a row
Molly Bond she would glitter like the moon in the snow.


Peggy learned this ballad, in which a hunter shoots his sweetheart for a swan, or occasionally a deer, from Michael E. Bush's Folksongs of Central West Virginia (Ripley, W. Va.: The Author, 1969). Bush collected it from Rita Emerson of Cox's Mill in Gilmer County. It is found widely throughout North America. Ireland, and England, and infrequently in Scotland. In many of the versions, a ghost of "Molly Bawn" or "Polly Vaughan" appears at a trial and exonerates her lover. Some think the victim, in archaic versions of the ballad, may be one of those swan maidens found in Celtic, Scandinavian, or Russian mythology, but the ballad's first appearance in print is relatively late: Robert Jamieson's Popular Ballads and Songs (Edinburgh:1799).

Jennifer J O'Connor's article, The Irish Origins and Variations of the Ballad 'Molly Brown' " (Canadian Journal for Traditional Music, 1986), says the Irish folklorist Hugh Shields posited that a factual incident in a part of Ireland once known as Kilwarlin (north-west of County Down) may have given rise to the ballad. He based this assumption on an examination of area surnames and place names. On the other hand, O'Connor suggests the ballad originated in seventeenth century Ireland. In doing so, she looks at a few traditional legal ramifications of such a killing:

According to early Irish law, crimes were not committed against the state, but against the individual; therefore, the penalty always took the form of a fine to be paid to the family injured. Homicide or bodily injury was atoned for by a fine called "eric," which was determined by a "brehon" (judge). The criminal's family was responsible for the eric if he did not pay; moreover if they chose not to pay, they were required to hand him over to the victim's family who would then kill him, use him or sell him as a slave.

In Peggy's version the male lover's father assures his son that he will not be punished at the trial, suggesting that the family will assume responsibility for his accident. The exotic elements: "swan," "mountain of snow," add a trace of supernatural myth, but the haunting impact of Peggy's version comes primarily from an eerie tune.



words, music: traditional USA
arrangement: Peggy Seeger
(5-string banjo tuning: lowC-G-middleC-D-middleC)

I am a roving gambler, gambled all around
Whenever I meet with a deck of cards I lay my money down.

I've gambled down in Washingtown, gambled over in Spain
I'm on my way to Birmingham to knock down my last game.

I had not been in Birmingham many more weeks than three
Till I fell in love with a pretty little girl, she fell in love with me.

She took me to her parlour, she cooled me with her fan
Whispered low in her mother's ear, "I love the gambling man."

O daughter, dearest daughter, how could you treat me so
To leave your dear old mother, with a gambler go?

O mother, dearest mother, you know I love you well
But the love I bear for the gambling man no human tongue can tell.

I would not marry a farmer, he's always in the rain;
The man I want is the gambling man who wears a big gold chain.

I would not marry a doctor, he's always away from home
All I want is a gambling man, he'll never leave me alone.

I would not marry a railroad man, here's the reason why:
I never seen a railroad man a-wouldn't tell his wife a lie.

I hear the train a coming, coming round the curve
A-whistling and a-blowing and a-straining every nerve.

Hear the train a-coming, she's coming round the bend
Prettiest girl as ever I saw's gone with the gambling man.

O mother, dearest mother, forgive me if you can
If ever you see me a-coming back it'll be with the gambling man.


This rollicking banjo arrangement, which Peggy herself describes as "compulsive playing," puts her own stamp on a folk classic widespread in American folk tradition. She says she learned the "Roving Gambler" from John A. and Alan Lomax's American Ballads and Folk Songs (New York: Macmillan, 1935) and her version is quite faithful to that source. In Peggy's version, the gambler courts his girl in Birmingham whereas the Lomax version situates the romance in Washington.

John Lomax acquired this song from one of his star informants, Slim Critchlow, who sang with the Utah Buckaroos, a cowboy band, on Salt Lake City radio stations KDYL and KSL. Apparently Critchlow and George "Hen" Fehr, who programmed and arranged music for the group, made a deliberate effort to collect and perform older forms cowboy and western material being edged out by the newer cowboy music of Hollywood movies. Critchlow's version is similar to those collected in many other parts of the United States and closely resembles a variant called the "Guerilla Man." Common British, Irish, or Australian variants ("The Roving Irishman," "The Rambling Irishman," "The Roving Journeyman," "The Rambling Journeyman," "With My Swag All on My Shoulder," and "True-Born Irish Man") bear little musical or textual resemblance to the "Roving Gambler," but some describe a young girl defiantly telling a disapproving mother than she will marry her footloose suitor. One verse of "The Roving Journeyman," from The Corries, a popular Scots singing group, resembles verses in the version Peggy sings:

I hadna' been in Glasgow toon a week but barely three
Before the provost's daughter went and fell in love wi' me.
She asked me for tae dine wi' her and took me by the hand
And she proudly told her mother that she loved the journeyman
"Ach, away ye go, ye silly maid, I'll hear ye speak no more,
How can ye love a journeyman ye've never seen before"
"Oh mother sweet, I do entreat, I love him all I can
And around the country I will go to see my journeyman!"

American antecedents are easier to trace. "The Gamboling Man" appears in "Delaney's Song Book No. 23" around 1900 and was republished, with repeated lines eliminated, by Carl Sandburg in his American Song Bag (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1927). Sandburg assumes it was disseminated by the minstrel shows through the south and west, and stresses that the gambling motif is an American introduction: "while gamblers may gambol and gambolers may gamble, the English version carries no deck of cards." Sandburg includes three variants including "Yonder Comes My Pretty Little Girl," which concludes with:

I've gambled in the wildwoods
I've gambled in the lane
I've gambled in the wildwoods
And I never lost a game

The narrator shifts from male to female in the Roving Gambler and in some versions two narratives of a headstrong daughter and an adventurous gambler's are intertwined. Peggy foregrounds the girl's story, and her inclusion of an extra floating verse (before the last verse) emphasizes the girl's bold departure from home. This verse is sung from an onlooker's point of view and suggests the girl is rupturing ties not only with her family but her larger community:

See that train a-coming, she's a-coming round the bend
The prettiest girl as ever I saw is gone with the gambling man.


words, music: traditional USA
arrangement: Peggy Seeger and Neill MacColl

In Newlyn Town I was bred and born
On Stephen's Green I die in scorn
I served my turn at the weaving trade
But I always was a roving blade.

At seventeen I took a wife
I loved her dearly as I did my life
All for to keep her fine and gay
I went a-robbing on the King's highway.

I robbed Lord Gould and I do declare
I robbed Lady Mansfield in Grosvenor Square
I robbed them all of their gold so bright
And I took it home to my heart's delight.

To Coving Garden we went straightaway
Me and my wife went to the play
Ned Fielding's gang there did me pursue
Taken I was by that cursed crew.

My father cried, I am undone!
My mother wept for her only son
My darlin' screamed and tore her hair
What shall I do? I'm in deep despair.

When I am dead and go to my grave
A decent funereal let me have
Six highwaymen for the carry me
Give them broadswords and sweet liberty.

Six blooming virgins to carry my pall
Give them white gloves and sweet ribbons all
When I am gone they will tell the truth
Here lies a wild and a wicked youth.


Newlyn Town is a song Peggy says she learned in her Radcliffe days from the singing of Bob Kepple, an MIT student "who was the folksong nerd of our group." She believes it is an English version:

Bob got his songs from all over the place and he adored English versions. Bob whistled the last line after each verse, which is what I normally do in concert.

Other English and Irish versions of the song are variously known as " A Wild and Wicked Youth," "In Newry Town," "The Robber's Song," "The Roving Blade," or "The Flash Lad," and the American variants go by "The Rambling Boy" or "The Wild and Rambling Boy." This is an archetypical eighteenth-century English broadside of the bold highwayman familiar to anyone who has seen The Beggar's Opera. As the century progressed, a severe penal code resulted in an increasing number of people hanged for crimes, petty or violent, at public spectacles. The condemned person's purported last words were captured in song and sold on broadsides during and after the event. "Tyburn ballads," as these were sometimes called, ordinarily focused on the events of a robber's life, narrated impartially with emotional display reserved for parents and sweethearts. At a time when criminal corpses were frequently claimed for medical research or allowed to rot on gibbets for all to see, these songs often expressed the criminal's wish for a decent funeral.

Peggy's version is faithful to all these elements and closely resembles the version sung by the Norfolk singer, Harry Cox. The song also names places and people that evoke the flash life of eighteenth-century London: "Ned Fielding's crew" refers to the Bow Street Runners, a proto-police force founded by author Henry Fielding, a magistrate whose office was at 4 Bow Street. We know Fielding yielded this position to his brother John in 1754, and this helps us date the ballad historically. The condemned highwayman also takes his wife to the theatre in Covent Garden, an urban playground where, in the eighteenth century, high life and low life intermingled. In this rich evocation of place, Stephens Green seems an anomaly as it is associated with Dublin. Newlyn itself, where the robber was born, is a fishing port along Cornwall's coast near Penzance.

In most versions, the "wild and wicked youth" started off in the saddling trade, but in Peggy's, he "served his turn at the weaving trade." He was probably an apprentice and no doubt violated the terms of his apprenticeship by marrying at age seventeen. Peggy is thus singing about an unemployed youth who blew off his future prospects and then resorted to crime. At the end, he envisions a gangland-style funeral attended by his posse of armed highwaymen still at liberty and accompanied by a group of blooming virgins. The scene is as timely now as it was then.



words, music: traditional USA
arrangement: Peggy Seeger and Neill MacColl

If I had wings like Norah's dove
I'd fly upriver to the one I love
Fare ye well, my honey, fare ye well.

I got a man, he's long and tall
He move his body like a cannonball
Fare ye well, my honey, fare ye well.

One of these days and it won't be long
You'll call my name and I'll be gone
Fare ye well, my honey, fare ye well.

I went to the river, sat down and cried,
Heard you singing on the other side
Fare ye well, my honey, fare ye well.

Late last night it was drizzling rain
Round my heart felt an aching pain
Fare ye well, my honey, fare ye well.


Sometimes called by its chorus, "Fare You Well, Oh Honey," this has become one of the enduring classics of folk repertoire since it was originally collected in 1908 by John A. Lomax from "Dink," a woman "washing her man's clothes outside their tent on the banks of the Brazos River in Texas. " (John A. Lomax, Adventures of a Ballad Hunter, New York: Macmillan Company, 1947). The song is more often known as "Dink's Song," one of those rare occasions when an informant is forever linked to the collected song and has assumed an iconic status.

Dink arrived in Texas with groups of contract laborers shipped down from Mississippi to build levees to protect the Brazos's rich bottomland soil for area cotton plantations. The women traveled from Memphis "along with the mules and iron scrapers." The men, skilled levee-builders, arrived from Vicksburg. According to Lomax:

The two groups of men and women had never seen each other until they met on the river bank in Texas where the white levee contractor gave them the opportunity presented to Adam and Eve-they were left to mate after looking each other over. While her man built the levee, each woman kept his tent, toted the water, cut the firewood, cooked his food, washed his clothes and warmed his bed.

It was a short-term arrangement, mediated by white economic power and prevailing racial stereotypes. As the white overseer put it, this was a way to control and pacify the black male laborers lest "they hunt all over the bottomlands for women" which could mean "trouble, serious trouble. Negroes can't work when sliced up with razors." "Today ain't my singing day," Dink told Lomax as her little son played at her feet. "He ain't got no daddy... I ain't had no time to hunt up a name for him."

Plied with gin from a plantation commissary, Dink finally shared her great song of emotional ambivalence, ending each refrain, as Lomax puts it, "with a subdued cry of despair and longing -the sobbing of a woman deserted by her man." In Dink's lyrics the woman is pregnant, wearing her apron high when it once was low. By the same token, it is the woman herself who actually says she will leave the man. Her decision may well be fed by economic despair, emotional estrangement, and endless drudgery. At one point, Lomax asked Dink, "Do you love this new man of yours?"

Dink erupts with the resentful comments Lomax transcribed as follows:

Some o' dese days I'm a goin' to take all dat man's clothes an' put 'em in dis washtub an' get 'em good an' soakin' wet. Den I'm goin' to roll up dese clothes in a gob an' cover de pile up right nice in de middle o' de' bed, smooth down de covers, and stick 'em all in 'round de edges. 'Den I'm goin' off up de river. [sic]

No onsite recording was made to show us what Dink, "reputedly the best singer in the camp," actually sounded like. It has been up to each succeeding singer to create this song afresh. Peggy does exactly that, eliminating the verses about pregnancy or about listening to the advice of one's mother. She adds a new verse which either underscores earlier hints of resentment in Dink's song or sets them in another light by introducing a possible premonition of death:

I went to the river
Sat down and cried
Heard you singing
On the other side

Peggy's version, backed by a finger-picking blues accompaniment, is stark and reserved. It is a hook on which all women can hang their sorrows and frustrations.


words, music: traditional USA
(banjo tuning from the playing of Roscoe Holcombe, Daisy, Kentucky;
from 5th string downward: E-lowC-G-A-D)

Little birdie, little birdie,
Come sing to me your song;
Got a short time to stay here
A long time to be gone.

Little birdie, little birdie,
What makes your wings so blue?
It's nothing but that old grievin',
Grievin' over you.

Little birdie, little birdie,
What makes you fly so high?
Well, I know that my little lover
Is a-waiting in the sky.

Well, I'd rather be in deep darkness
Where the sun don't never shine,
Than for you to be another one's darling
And to know that you'd never be mine.

Well, I'd rather be a little birdie
Sailing over the deep blue sea
Than for to be a married girl
With a baby on my knee.

A married girl sees trouble
Single girl sees none.
You've caused me so much sorrow
Lord, you caused me to do wrong.

Fly down, fly down, little birdie,
Sing to me your song.
O, sing it now while I'm with you
I can't hear you when I'm gone.


"Little Birdie" is a well-known staple of American bluegrass and old-time music that, according to the Traditional Ballad Index ,was first collected by Frank C. Brown in 1909, as part of his collection of North Carolina folksongs. Peggy says she first heard a recording of the song played by Roscoe Holcomb from Daisy, Kentucky as collected by John Cohen. She then started playing it with her brother Mike, singing it in harmony but following his text and having him play the banjo. Holcomb was first recorded in the late fifties, but Peggy began consciously to sing "Little Birdie" like Holcombe did in the early 1970s. She remains fascinated by Holcomb's unusual banjo tuning for this song and there are echoes of his shifting rhythmic accents and driving pulse in her own version. The instrumental breaks and the turnarounds at the ends of her phrases show her own special taste for counter-melody, however, and her signature melodic improvisations are much in evidence. The banjo's tempo is swift as her voice stretches out the words in a sustained legato characteristic of much Appalachian singing.

The words she uses are not the same as either those of Holcomb or her brother Mike Seeger. She has not replaced them so much as she has expanded them with lines from other variants. Her "Little Birdie" is an accumulation of traditional floating verses that migrate from song to song. It shares some of its verses with "East Virginia" (or "Dark Hollow"), "I Wish I was Single Again," "Single Girl," and has been compared to and associated with "Kitty Kline." Frequently there is a thread of adultery running through the common verses. Both Mike Seeger's version (Southern Banjo Sounds, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings SFW40107, 1998) and Pete Seeger's version (Pete Seeger's Children's Concert at Town Hall, Legacy 2000, reissue) are laments that mourn transient love, pure and simple. Peggy's version is decidedly female and adds floating verses that express a complex variety of sentiments: anticipation, perhaps for someone deceased ("I know that my little lover is a-waiting in the sky"); jealousy (the singer would prefer to be in darkness rather than to know that her lover would be someone else's darling); despair over being saddled with marriage and parenting responsibilities; nostalgia for the single life; and blame for much of her trouble on someone else. All of these verses exist in a related form elsewhere, but through her process of selection and interpretation, Peggy has made them uniquely her own.


words, music: traditional USA
arrangement: Peggy Seeger, Calum and Neill MacColl

Worked in a town away down south
By the name of Buffalo
Worked in the mill with the rest of the trash
As we're often called you know.

You factory girls who hear this song
Will surely understand
The reason why I love you so
Is I'm a factory hand.

I get up early every morn
I work all day real hard
To buy our little meat and bread
Our sugar, tea and lard.

We work from weekend to weekend
We never lose a day
And when that awful payday comes
We draw our little pay.

We then go home on payday night
And sit down in our chair
The merchant knocks all on the door
He's come to get his share.

When all our little debts are paid
And nothing left behind
We turn our pockets wrong side out
But not one penny can we find.

Our children they grow up unlearned
No time to go to school
Almost before they have learned to walk
They have learned to spin and spool.

The boss man jerks them round and round
And whistles very keen
I'll tell you what, our factory kids
Is really treated mean.

We work from weekend to weekend
We work from soon to late
We got no time to primp and fix
Or dress right up to date.

The folks in town who dress so fine
And spend their money free
They won't look at a factory girl
That dresses like you and me.

As we go walking down the street
All wrapped in lint and string
They call us fools and factory trash
And other low down things.

Let them wear their watches fine
Their rings and pearly strings
But when the day of judgment comes
We'll make them share their pretty things.


This song was first recorded commercially by Pete Seeger in 1956 and is currently available on "American Industrial Ballads" (Smithsonian Folkways, #40058). In the notes for that album, Irwin Silber says the song was heard by actor Will Geer from a West Virginia mountain singer who made it up herself to the tune of "Warren Harding's Widow." The full story is more complex.

Jacqueline Dowd Hall, in her article "Women Writers, the 'Southern Front,' and the Dialectical Image" (Journal of Southern History 69.1, 2003) says that the southern writer Grace Lumpkin heard the traditional song, "A Southern Cotton Mill Rhyme," while researching the Gastonia, North Carolina textile strike (1929) for her novel, To Make My Bread (1932). She published its lyrics in The New Masses (May, 1930). Lumpkin believed it had never before appeared in print and describes the night she first heard the song, sung to the tune of "John Hardy," while singing before a meeting at the North Carolina's National Textile Workers Union Hall in Charlotte:

In the group was a woman named Daisy McDonald, a Gastonia worker who supported a sick husband and seven children on $12.90 a week. Like Ella May [Wiggins], McDonald had a gift for putting new words to familiar tunes, and she had transformed the "Wreck of the Old 97" into a stirring union song. At the end of one of the ballads, McDonald asked her husband to lead the group in "A Southern Cotton Mill Rhyme." Years before, he said, "he had worked at the loom next to a man in a mill in Buffalo, South Carolina.... [T]his weaver had spoken out the words of the Rhyme under the noise of the looms, making them up as he worked. And the song has gone from one worker to another and now it is known to hundreds of cotton mill hands....

The song usually ends as it does in Peggy's version, with a millenarian vision:

Just let them wear their watches fine.
And rings and golden chains
But when the Day of Judgment comes
They'll have to shed those things.

For the Gastonia strike, however, the term "Day of Judgment" was changed to the "Great Revolution."

Grace Lumpkin's To Make My Bread was transformed into Let Freedom Ring, a Broadway play that opened in New York City and toured labor halls throughout America. Will Geer, who had a starring role, had previously heard the song at a Huntington, West Virginia Baptist church social (1933). He remembers it being sung by one Edith Mackie of Parkersburg to the tune of "Poor Boy." Archie Green, devotes a chapter to this song in Wobblies, Pile Butts, and Other Heroes: Laborlore Explorations (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), and tells us that Geer remembered "Poor Boy" when he shaped his own satirical song, "The Ballad of the Wives and Widows of Presidents and Dictators," (sung for a Library of Congress recording in 1938). Trying out for his role in "Let Freedom Ring," he also set "A Southern Cotton Mill Rhyme" to this tune -- hence the somewhat distorted tune title, "Warren Harding's Widow." "The Ballad of the Mill Hand" (as "A Southern Cotton Mill Rhyme" was known in its theatrical version), was heard by two Birmingham labor activists in the New York audience, Joe and Esther Gelders. TheGelders in turn adopted it for an Alabama labor song, "The Ballad of John Catchings" (1936), which they later recorded for the Library for Congress (1937). Pete Seeger told Archie Green (1974) that he had never heard Will Geer sing the song, but he did hear the Library of Congress recording of the Gelders, with whom he later became friends. Somewhere along the line, Seeger must have made the connection between those two songs set to the same tune.

Peggy says she learned "Let Them Wear Their Watches Fine" (as "A Southern Cotton Mill Rhyme" is now called) from Pete. She sings it less as a rousing labor anthem than as a solemn indictment of class injustice and exploitation.


words, music: traditional USA
arrangement: Peggy Seeger and Calum MacColl

Early one morning in the month of May
O, the wind and rain.
Two sisters went fishing on a hot summer's day
Cryin' the dreadful wind and rain.

Two sweet sisters, side by side
O, the wind and rain
Both of them want to be Johnny's bride
Cryin' the dreadful wind and rain.

Johnny gave the young one a gold ring, (etc)
Didn't give the older one anything (etc)

The sisters went a-walkin' by the water's brim (etc)
The older one shoved the younger one in (etc)

Shoved her in the river to drown
And watched her as she floated down

She floated on down to the miller's dam
Father, father, there swims a swan

The miller ran for his driftin' hook
And pulled that poor girl from the brook

He laid her on the bank to dry
A fiddler man come walkin' by

He saw that poor girl lyin' there
He took thirty strands of her long yellow hair

He made a fiddle bow of her long yellow hair,
He made fiddle-pegs of her little finger bones

He made a fiddle of her little breast bone
With a sound that could melt a heart of stone,

And the only tune that fiddle could play
The only tune that fiddle would play was

Yonder's my sister sittin' on a rock
Tyin' my Johnny a true-love's knot.


Peggy says she learned this American version of ancient ballad, The Two Sisters (Child #10) from her brother Mike Seeger. "The Two Sisters" first appeared in print as a broadside in 1656 as "The Miller and The King's Daughter" and related folktale types one can group loosely as "The Singing Bone" have been collected from many countries, especially in northern Europe. Mike picked the song up from Kilby Snow, the Appalachian autoharp master, whom Mike recorded in the mid-sixties and introduced to the broader folk revival. If you listen to Mike's version, his autoharp certainly captures the spirit and much of the technique of Snow. On the other hand, Mike's words are quite different.

Kilby Snow's song, sung quickly and dispassionately to a lively accompaniment, omits a key part of "The Two Sisters:" he eliminates the sororicide and, in a typical "murdered sweetheart" rendition, tells us how a lover murdered his girl friend when they went "fishing on a hot summer day." The lover proposes and then batters his sweetheart to death, throwing her in the river where she floats to the mill pond. The miller fishes her out and makes a fiddle from portions of her body. The fiddle, as it always does when appearing in this ballad, plays just one tune, "Crying The Dreadful Wind and Rain." Snow says he learned the song from his grandfather, a Cherokee, when he was very little. He reconstructed what he heard from memory. This may help explain the atypical elimination of the sisters from the plot.

Mike Seeger restores the sororicide motif and has the oldest sister pushing the youngest into the river because a suitor gives the younger girl preferential treatment. As the victim drifts down to the mill pond someone cries "father, father there swims a swan." The miller retrieves the corpse and lays it on the bank to dry. A fiddler comes along and fashions a fiddle "with a sound that would melt a heart of stone" from parts of the girl's body.

Peggy's version takes the tune of the other two versions and retains most of his story. She sings it as a modal dirge set against a drone with soft touches of harmony on the refrain. The focus is on sibling rivalry and the descent of "two sweet sisters side by side" into jealousy and murder. After the fiddle is built and plays its woeful tune, we suddenly view life from the drowned woman's perspective: "Yonder is my sister sitting on a rock/tying my Johnny a true lover's knot." The fiddle has not specifically alerted others to the crime, ultimately bringing the murderer to justice. It rarely does so in American versions of "The Two Sisters." In a song where evil is unavenged, Peggy increases our discomfort by having the murdered girl witness her sister's amorous victory.

How does a modern performer come to grips with the horror of a ballad like this? Lydia Hammesley, in her "A Resisting Performance of a Traditional Appalachian Murder Ballad; Giving Voice to 'Pretty Polly,' " (Women & Music, Vol. 9, 2005) talks about how a singer can resist the violence against women, so common in traditional songs, not by rewriting or doing away with it but by "taking on the violence on its own terms and in its own context." She underscores this point:

Resistance to a traditional song, or any song from outside of our present context, does not necessarily come about by performing it in a way that reflects a contemporary reality or aesthetic. Indeed, performing a traditional ballad in this way runs the risk of being misunderstood as a parodic or patronizing rendition. Rather, the possibility for real resistance and dialogue emerges when a performer explicitly works within the reality that the song reflects and within the context from which the song comes.

When we listen to Peggy here, we see that she has done exactly that. As an interpreter of tradition, Peggy has chosen to sing this song straight, with few dynamics and a near drone for accompaniment. By adding a traditional verse or two, she has shifted the focus to the women themselves and has re-sensitized her listeners to the atrocity that has taken place. She does not insert herself into the song as so many modern singers do but has empowered the words to tell themselves with maximum impact.


words, music: traditional USA
arrangement: Peggy Seeger, Cary Fridley, John Herrman, Rosemary Lackey, Vollie McKenzie

The sailor being weary, he hung down his head,
Called for a candle to light him to bed
She lit him to bed as a maiden ought to do
He vowed and declared she should come to him too.

And it's home, dearie, home, and it's home you ought to be
Home once again in your own country
Where the oak and the ash and the fine willow tree
Are all a-growing greener in the North Amerikee.

She jumped in beside him to keep herself warm
Thinking, now, a sailor couldn't do her any harm.
He hugged her and he kissed and he called her his dear
Till she wished the short night had been as long as a year. (Chorus)

Early next morning the sailor arose
Into her apron he put hands full of gold
Saying, 'Take this, my dear, it will pay for milk and bread,
It may pay for the lighting of a sailor to bed.' (Chorus)

If I have a baby, what am I the worse?
I've gold in my pocket, I've silver in my purse,
I'll buy me a nurse and I'll pay the nurse's fee
And I'll pass for a maiden in my own country. (Chorus)

If it be a girl, she can wear a gold ring
If it be a boy, he can fight for the king
With his little quartered shoes and the roundabout so blue
He can walk the quarterdeck the way his daddy used to do. (Chorus)


For anyone familiar with "Bell Bottom Trousers," popularized by Guy Lombardo ("written" by Moe Jaffe and recorded by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, 1945) at the end of World War Two, the antiquity of earlier and related versions may come as quite a surprise. Not to college kids, naval men, and tavern carousers perhaps, for in their multiple off-color versions, they have kept alive familiar verses that achieved wide currency as "Home Dearie Home" in the nineteenth century. In this typical version, a girl lights a sailor to bed, spends the night with him, receives money to take care of any child they might have, and is deserted. A portion of Peggy's chorus for "Home Dearie Home:"

The oak and the ash and the bonnie willow tree
Are all growing greener in the North Americkee.

echoes a chorus found in the 17th- century broadside, "The Northern Lasses Lamentation," according to Bruce Olson's posted comments on Mudcat Café forum:

Oh, the Oak, the Ash, and the Bonny Ivy tree
Doth flourish at home in my own Country.

Some variant of the oak/ash choral fragment is a regular part not only of "Home Dearie Home," but of its cleaner, more sentimental cousin "Ambletown," modern versions of "The Northern Lasses Lamentation," and variants called "The Oak and The Ash."

"Home Dearie Home" has had a modest but decided impact on British poets: "O Falmouth Is a Fine Town," by William E. Henley (1878) has the following chorus:

For it's home, dearie home--it's home I want to be.
Our topsails are hoisted, and we'll away to sea.
O the oak and the ash and the bonnie birken tree,
They're all growing green in the old countrie.

Cicely Fox Smith, in her poem "The Long Road Home" (1914), has a sea voyager singing for joy when reaching home at last:

And it's "home, dearie, home" when the anchor rattles down,
In the reek of good old Mersey fog a-rolling rich and brown:
Round the world and back again is very far to roam
And all the way to England it's a long way home!

Peggy adds her own little twist to the chorus, momentarily taking on the voice of a watchful narrator:

Home, dearie, home its home you ought to be
Home, once again in your own country

But she sings it gaily with a couple of youthful female voices. Peggy says she sees her female chorus as:

sisters, not parents or advisers- sisters, who've all been through the same thing. I've noticed in 'girl left pregnant' songs that she's either drowning in self-pity or she's saying 'so what? I'm still me!'

Here the woman-to-woman chorus precedes a traditional verse common primarily to the older broadside version:

If I had a baby, what ill am I the worse?
I've gold in my pocket, I've silver in my purse
I'll buy me a nurse, and I'll pay the nurses fees
And I'll pass as a maiden in my own country.

Peggy is still singing from a female viewpoint, but in this case, it's the voice of the seduced girl, cheered by the money she has been given and assuming it will let her pass responsibility for a child onto someone else. The girl looks forward to resuming her life as a maiden all over again, but the listener wonders if she really understands the full consequences of one, brief night of pleasure.

For a broader range of versions of this song and its variants, consult the entry for "Rosemary Lane" at The Traditional Ballad Index (California State University at Fresno).


words, music, arrangement, ©: Peggy Seeger
administered by Bucks Music
(guitar tuning: lowD-G-middleD-G-B-highD)

I heard my mother's birthing cry
The day that I was born
I saw the light in my father's eye
And knew that I was home
And knew that I was home.

My brothers' hands took hold of mine
They never did let go
When trees were tall - they helped me climb
And they always brought me home
Even now they bring me home.

Songs of love, tales of grace,
Of flesh and blood and bone
The first time ever I saw his face
His heart became my own,
Then his heart became my home.

Long, long-gone family time
Honey on the comb
So many treasured hands in mine
All those years of home
Now all those years are gone.

The reaper left an empty chair
An endless, silent song
I sat and cried on the topmost stair
And lost the way back home
I lost my way back home.

A woman's hand took hold of mine
In comradeship - until
We poured a glass of sweeter wine
And learned to drink our fill
O, we drank our fill,

Long nights while the watchful moon
Lit the shadows in our room

All that I have loved so long
And the loves that I have known
You bring me back where I belong
You always take me home
Bring me home, bring me home
You always bring me home.

Peggy writes about this song: Its first draft saw the light at a songwriter's session. which I was teaching. Everyone had to write, overnight, a personal song. I decided to do as I said and came next morning with my own personal song. I presented it, accompanied by fast, monotonous single-string guitar picking, for the group to critique. They gave me excellent suggestions which resulted in my alleviating its sentimentality. Then, thinking it was finished, I sang it to my friends Judy and Dennis Cook (Judy of the unbelievable repertoire and Dennis the Unbelievable Singer's Companion). They commented that the complex accompaniment masked the words. I simplified the accompaniment to more or less what it is now. Then, thinking it was finished, I took it to my Second Son, Calum, and my Second Life Partner, Irene. Between them they subtracted two verses, changed words and pared the text down. Then I changed more words myself and reduced the accompaniment even more. It's been a communal effort. Thanks to all. I sing it now with even less accompaniment. So far, it's finished.

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