THE DANCE OF DEATH AND OTHER PLANTATION FAVOURITES

Wine And Roses
JF : “Wine and Roses is mistitled, it is actually The Red Pony. Well, okay, but why was it mistitled on the album? And is The Red Pony named after the novel by John Steinbeck?
Lee Gardner: According to Fahey, swinging soundtrack composer Henry Mancini deserves a nod for inspiration for the opening Wine and Roses, a moody minor-key testament to the powers of syncopation. After hearing Mancini’s Days of Wine and Roses on the radio, Fahey tried to play it from memory later and came-up with this tune, which he later retitled The Red Pony. (from the notes to the reissue of The Dance of Death)
How Long
Many versions of this to choose from: Leroy Carr, Tampa Red, Kokomo Arnold… open G tuning.
On The Banks Of The Owchita
Duet with Bill Barth and on the first pressing of this record credited to “Fahey/Barth”. The Ouachita River (sic) passes through north Louisiana and Arkansas.
From the sleevenotes: “At its first performance, given at a private party of select people in a suburb of the nation’s capitol, the hostess was so overcome that she gave John and his friends 3/4 of a chocolate cake, 2 plates of spaghetti, a fifth of bourbon, and 8 penicillin pills.”
This piece is an expansion of the theme music to Pather Panchali by Satjajit Ray (1955) which was composed by Ravi Shankar. The theme copied by Fahey & Barth crops up at various times, firstly as a plaintive flute melody. Fahey & Barth try for a restrained interpretation, but syncopation gets the better of them and they can’t resist “rocking it up”.
JF : “I went to see [The World of Apu] a number of times the year I was flunking out of Berkeley. I was severely depressed because I couldn’t find a girlfriend and I couldn’t pass philosophy exams.”
Worried Blues
The first pressing gives the credit as “Hutchison/Fahey”. From Frank Hutchison. Open G tuning. Cf also Hutchinson’s Cannonball Blues.
This piece became the most recycled of all Fahey’s classic themes – tiresomely so, some might say.
What The Sun Said
Open G tuning. An overlooked gem.
Lee Gardner writes “To fill out the original record Fahey played a series of variations of his own composition On the Sunny Side of the Ocean which ED Denson later edited into the de facto suite heard here.”
This editor goes a little further:
0:00 - 3:30 Variations on Sunny Side of the Ocean
3:30 Special Rider Blues – I’d prefer to say Banty Rooster Blues/It Won’t Be Long since it reminds me more of that; also the bass run is a quote from Hambone Willie Newbern’s Rolling and Tumbling. But all of the above tunes may share a common ancestor. Steve Calt says Special Rider is a copy of Vicksburg Blues
5:15 More variations on Sunny Side, incorporating motifs from Great San Bernadino Birthday Party
8:20 - end: more Patton licks, mainly from Heart Like Railroad Steel.
Revelations On The Banks Of The Pawtuxent
Fahey continues to misspell his rivers. The Rand/McNally road atlas gives the name as “Patuxent”. From its source near Claggettsville, this river runs south, ending in a long estuary and Chesapeake Bay. Part of its course forms the boundary between Anne Arundel County and Prince George’s County in Maryland. The song quotes from Charlie Patton’s You’re Gonna Need Somebody When You Die.
“What was the revelation?” asked Barry Hansen.
“I was hoping for one, but there wasn’t one,” said Fahey, celebrator of disappointment. See track 9 for a similar experience. (See the story Fish in HBGMDML for another example).
JF: “ Open G. Later I played it in open C and rerecorded it that way.”
Poor Boy
A variant of the same song by Bukka White as recorded for the Library of Congress in the late 1930’s. JF in 1982: “It’s a very popular song because Leo Kottke recorded it. Now the way the song originated was in the following fashion. Bukka White, the blues singer, he played it in a different tuning, he played it in the open G tuning, but he didn’t play the melody. So I got hold of a recording of him singing it and changed it to a D tuning where I can play the melody on the top string. Bukka sang the melody. I also wrote the bridge.”
The song became a Fahey standard, first incarnated as Over the Hill Blues on Fonotone, and reappearing on Volume Five and Railroad. See also versions of this song by Banjo Joe (Gus Cannon – who perversely calls it Poor Boy Long Ways From Home), and Barbecue Bob. Both those predate Bukka White. Gus Cannon’s version has lyrical parallels with Hank Williams’ My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It which, melodically, is a direct ancestor to Rock Around the Clock. But that’s a different story. Folk song families, eh?
Variations On The Coocoo
This is an extended variation of one phrase of the banjo accompaniment to Clarence Ashley’s great version of The Coo Coo (AAFM). “Belongs in anyone’s top ten,” says one IFC member. Fahey or Ashley? “Both.”
DADGAD (open D modal) tuning.
The Last Steam Engine Train
JF in 1982: “I wrote this song in Hope, Arkansas, one night. I was down there canvassing for old records and I was sitting on the back of my car and didn’t have anything to do, beside the Missouri railroad tracks, and I like to watch trains, and no trains came along. Three or four hours I sat there and waited for a train, and instead of a train coming by I wrote this song”. JF said elsewhere that he took a phrase from Railroad Blues by Sam McGee.
Bill Clinton came from Hope, Arkansas. Maybe the 16 or 17 year old Bill was around that day to notice the guy just sitting on his car by the railroad, doing nothing for hours. Maybe Bill wandered up to him.
“Whatcha doin’, buddy?” “Nothin’ much,” says Fahey. “Well, whatcha bin doin’ in Hope?” asks Bill. “Canvassing,” says Fahey. “Oh, right, canvassing. Get many votes?” “Votes?” says Fahey. “I was canvassing for records. Not votes. Old records.” “Huh? Records?” Bill doesn’t get it. “Yeah, you know, blues and stuff…” says Fahey, helpfully. “You got any? Carolina Tar Heels maybe, or Tommy Johnson, Willie Brown, you know, old stuff…” “Well, “ says Bill, “we got a few. I like some of em too. One of them old ones I like is by the Blue Boys. Called The Easy Winner – do ya know that one?” Fahey looks at the kid. “Give you two dollars for it,” he says. “Five.” “Four” “Okay.”
Give Me Corn Bread When I’m Hungry
Based on Willie Brown’s Future Blues although the descending bass run (in key of G: F/E/Eb/D) is also used by Patton in Screaming and Hollering the Blues, and variants.
On certain early pressings of Volume 3 there is either an extra uncredited track after Give Me Corn Bread or it’s a final section of Fahey’s composition which later became separated. In any event the tune is Country Blues by Dock Boggs.
Dance Of Death
Open G minor tuning.
JF: “It was kind of an imitation of a swing band piece by Benny Goodman called Sing Sing Sing – an imitation of a swing band playing the blues."