October 22, 2014

Not-So-Contemporary Classics: Man Of Constant Sorrow [Updated]

As sung by Bob Dylan, Roscoe Holcomb, The Foggy Mountain Boys, The New Lost City Ramblers, Dan Tyminski and... wait for it... Limbotheque.

"I am a man of constant sorrow
I've seen trouble all my days
I'll say goodbye to Colorado
Where I was born and partly raised.

Your mother says I'm a stranger
My face you'll never see no more
But there's one promise, darling
I'll see you on God's golden shore.

Through this open world I'm about to ramble
Through ice and snow, sleet and rain
I'm about to ride that morning railroad
Perhaps I'll die on that train.

I'm going back to Colorado
The place that I started from
If I knowed how bad you'd treat me
Honey, I never would have come."

History of this traditional American folk song.

"It was first recorded by Dick Burnett, a partially blind fiddler from Kentucky. "Man of Constant Sorrow" is a traditional American folk song first recorded by Dick Burnett, a partially blind fiddler from Kentucky. Although he song was originally recorded by Burnett as "Farewell Song" printed in a Richard Burnett songbook, c. 1913. An early version was recorded by Emry Arthur in 1928 (Vocalion Vo 5208).
"On October 13, 2009 on the Diane Rehm Show, Dr. Ralph Stanley of the Stanley Brothers, born in 1927, discussed the song, its origin, and his effort to revive it: "Man of Constant Sorrow" is probably two or three hundred years old. But the first time I heard it when I was y'know, like a small boy, my daddy -- my father -- he had some of the words to it, and I heard him sing it, and we -- my brother and me -- we put a few more words to it, and brought it back in existence. I guess if it hadn't been for that it'd have been gone forever. I'm proud to be the one that brought that song back, because I think it's wonderful."
"There is some uncertainty whether Dick Burnett himself wrote the song. One claim is that it was sung by the Mackin clan in 1888 in Ireland and that Cameron O'Mackin emigrated to Tennessee, brought the song with him, and performed it. In an interview he gave toward the end of his life, Burnett himself indicated that he could not remember:
Charles Wolfe: "What about this "Farewell Song" -- 'I am a man of constant sorrow' -- did you write it?"

Richard Burnett: "No, I think I got the ballad from somebody -- I dunno. It may be my song..."

"If Burnett wrote the song, the date of its composition, or at least of the editing of certain lyrics by Burnett, can be fixed at about 1913. Since it is known that Burnett was born in 1883, married in 1905, and blinded in 1907, the dating of two of these texts can be made on the basis of internal evidence. The second stanza of "Farewell Song" mentions that the singer has been blind six years, which put the date at 1913. According to the Country Music Annual, Burnett "probably tailored a pre-existing song to fit his blindness" and may have adapted a hymn. Charles Wolfe argues that "Burnett probably based his melody on an old Baptist hymn called "Wandering Boy".

Bob Dylan stated,

"Roscoe Holcomb has a certain untamed sense of control, which makes him one of the best." Eric Clapton called Holcomb "my favorite [country] musician." Holcomb's white-knuckle performances reflect a time before radio told musicians how to play, and these recordings make other music seem watered-down in comparison. His high, tense voice inspired the term "high lonesome sound." Self-accompanied on banjo, fiddle, guitar, or harmonica, these songs express the hard life he lived and the tradition in which he was raised. Includes his vintage 1961 "Man of Constant Sorrow."

UPDATE: Dan Tyminski @ The Crossroads Festival

Posted by gerardvanderleun at October 22, 2014 12:56 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I like the Soggy Bottom Boys and Limboteque renditions.

And Steven Root's part!

Posted by: Sam L. at September 23, 2013 11:15 AM

Yeah I have heard many, many versions of this but the Soggy Bottom Boys is the best, I think.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at September 23, 2013 12:00 PM

I agree with Bob. Very happy you introduced me to Roscoe. That man is the authentic deal.

Well blogged, my friend.

Posted by: Casey Klahn at September 23, 2013 5:25 PM

The close-ups of Dylan are too painful. Youth, as my mother used to say, is wasted on the young. Never knew what that meant at the time.

Posted by: Steve at September 23, 2013 8:50 PM

In the High Lonesome Desert, the High Lonesome Sound speaks to me. Thanks.

Posted by: Gray at September 23, 2013 10:01 PM

Blues is not a matter of color. It's a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods cannot sing the Blues. Sonny Liston could have. Ugly white people also got a leg up on the Blues.

Posted by: chasmatic at September 24, 2013 1:53 PM


Posted by: Patvann at September 25, 2013 10:18 AM

Excellent find. Updated.

Posted by: vanderleun at September 25, 2013 11:37 AM

This song is the song that made me love Bluegrass, and in-turn has been my muse for learning the harmonica... GAWD how I love this truly American music!

Posted by: Patvann at September 25, 2013 7:03 PM

The Soggy Bottom Boys was just a name invented for the movie "Oh Brother Where Art Thou". The group actually doing the singing is Union Station. It sounds like it was taken from their live album done with Alyson Krauss - which is pretty phenomenal and worth twice the asking price

Posted by: JSCD3 at October 22, 2014 3:49 PM

It's fare you well, my own true lover,
I never expect to see you no more.
There is just one promise that's given,
I'll meet you on God's golden shore.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at October 22, 2014 4:42 PM

If Limbotheque was borned and raised in Old Kentucky, it was only because she was an anchor baby.
She doesn't exude sorrow as much as she does frolicsomeness.

Posted by: Jewel at October 22, 2014 5:54 PM

If Limbotheque was borned and raised in Old Kentucky, it was only because she was an anchor baby.
She doesn't seem as sorrowful as she does frolicsome.

Posted by: Jewel at October 22, 2014 5:55 PM

Hm. I coulda swored I edited that before I published it.

Posted by: Jewel at October 22, 2014 5:56 PM

The superb Patty Loveless did the song as "Soul of Constant Sorrow" on her wonderful "Mountain Soul" disc which also the great "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive."

Posted by: BlogDog at October 22, 2014 6:45 PM

Were we really that young?
5:30 in the morning and I'm crying.

Posted by: Deborah HH at October 23, 2014 3:26 AM

Thank you, Gerard, for this. I loved every version.

Posted by: Don Rodrigo at October 23, 2014 8:41 AM