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These 19 traditional ballads, folk songs and tunes feel like they belong to me, though in truth they belong to all of us. Most are them are very well known, though they won't stay that way unless we play them. Since people rarely make their own music now, entertainment has become big business; and because there's no big money or status in traditional music it isn't getting heard. Every so often it's time to play the old songs again; to make them new and alive and young again. Some of these were left plain and simple; others I dressed up with fancy picking. There was a great temptation to invite my musician friends to help; but I felt that folk songs are preserved properly only in the memories of individuals, and that the right way to present this music in its purest form was completely solo. So it went straight into the digital recorder- no tricks, no makeup, just me and my hands, feet, voice and various instruments- with essentially nothing between you and the music except two microphones chosen and placed by me and two speakers chosen and placed by you.


Harvey Reid 6-string, 12-string & slide guitars, autoharp, 6-string banjo, foot, vocals
Arrangements, Production, Engineering, Mixing Harvey Reid
All tracks recorded at The Cottage, near Bath, Maine, September & October 1991
Guitars 1984 & 1990 Taylor model 810 6-strings, early 1970's Metal-body Dobro, 1987 Taylor maple jumbo 12-string, 1965 round-neck Dobro on "Red River Valley"
Banjo 1988 Deering maple 6-string, in guitar tuning
Autoharp 1973 Oscar Schmidt 21-chord Appalachian
Design, Type & Graphics Aphro-Graphics
Cover Art & Illustrations Duane Bohlman
Liner Notes Harvey Reid
Special Thanks Dawn Richardson,The Reidclan, especially my mother, whose love of music apparently started it all.
(^) A partial capo was used on the guitar.


This album was recorded in "living stereo" by the artist, direct-to-digital, using only a pair of Audio-Technica AT-4051 microphones, a Panasonic SV-255 DAT recorder, and a Lexicon digital reverb unit. No overdubs, splices or edits were done, though the temptation was great at times.

This music came from and still belongs to the people, and as such, no copyright claims of authorship, composing or arrangement are made by the artist. What royalty monies that ordinarily would be paid to a songwriter will be duly computed and used to purchase guitar strings that will be donated to worthy and struggling folk musicians.

About The Songs...

John Henry (4:38) Unlike Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, John Henry was a real man and he did swing two 20lb. hammers and he really did drill 14 feet while the steam drill only drilled 9. And he did die that night of a burst blood vessel in his head and his grave does say "Here lies a steel drivin' man". This event most likely occured at the Big Bend tunnel in West Virginia in about 1870. A shaker is the boy who holds the drill or spike while the man hits it. If there is a modern-day John Henry he might be a musician, since mechanized entertainment is everywhere. Even as a child I felt strongly about the drama of this story, although as one who lives happily with many machines that do unpleasant things for me, it might be better to let machines drill holes in rocks and let us do more interesting things. Metal Dobro + vocal
Arkansas Traveler (2:30) There are references to this tune dating back hundreds of years, (it's traditionally performed in between bouts of "Howdy stranger..." jokes.) I know some funny words to it, but spared you and thought I'd just play the tune with a flatpick. 6-string (^)
Otto Wood (4:04) It's hard not to like these outlaw guys that tote their 44's around, even though they do kill people. This has become my favorite "bad man ballad", and it's not as well known as it should be. I love the rhythm of the words, though I have no idea where or when he lived. 6-string (D tuning)
Ain't No More Cane (3:34) The Brazos River in Texas was the site of a prison camp where the inmates were leased by the state to cut cane, and this beautiful song somehow came from that ugly situation. I recently spent a few days on the river and couldn't keep from thinking about this song. Old Hannah is the sun. This was recorded during a wild storm at the cottage that almost took it out to sea. 12-string
Great Speckled Bird/Wildwood Flower (2:36) The first tune is the most overworked melody in country music, having been 5 songs already and the 2nd is one of the best-known and loved. The lyrics to both these tunes are kind of dumb, so they don't get sung much, at least by me. Autoharp
Railroad Bill (2:46) This has been a fingerpicking standard for some time, and though it is not clear who this Bill guy is from the song. According to the Lomaxes (folklorists), he was one Morris Slater who became a fugitive in the woods of Alabama. He killed a few people including a Sheriff MacMillan, and became a local bandit-hero,until he was killed in 1896. I never was all that curious who he was from hearing the song; and knowing doesn't change my feeling that it's just a feel-good pickin' tune. 6-string
Blind Fiddler (4:04) A mournful Appalachian song and another primal banjo song I have been playing a lot the last few years. Some pretty stark songs came out of the coal mining regions of Appalachia when the miners had almost nothing to enjoy but the music they could make. Before there were any special education programs, a lot of blind people became musicians, since there weren't many other ways to earn a living. 6-string banjo (^)
Frankie & Johnnie (5:43) There are more versions of this than you could count, and as mentioned in the song, they have many different plot variations and outcomes, though the story remains pretty much the same. It's a timeless story, and juries have been in the difficult spot over and over again of deciding if a crime of passion is punishable. 6-string
Jack Tarr the Sailor (5:29) Learned from a local woodworker, David Behm, who says he learned it 30 years before while working on the canals in Canada. Jack Tarr is the English generic name for a sailor, and this song is obviously English, but if cuckoo songs are now American, why not Jack Tarr songs? All the American music I do has roots elsewhere, since I don't play any Native American music. This one really makes me think about what it was like before 800 numbers and faxes. People didn't know for years what happened to their young men who were sent off to war, and the emotional strain is probably something us modern people cannot even imagine. Autoharp+ vocal
The Water is Wide (3:14) This song has beautiful words and deep roots in folk music, making up almost a whole branch of the ballad tree. I couldn't resist just playing it as an instrumental, though it makes me want to sing when I hear it. 6-string, tuned low (^)
The Fox (2:36) Learned when I was a kid, and it is still as much fun to sing as it was then. It was my dog's favorite song. Luckily we haven't killed or run over all the foxes, though I'm not sure if the wily critters are confounding farmers quite like they used to. 6-string + vocal
Duncan & Brady (2:23) Even though there is a Cadillac in it, this is traditional. It gets a near-rock &roll version here; I used to play it in bars years ago when I wanted to shout and stomp. I get the impression that this took place during the gangster era, though the plot is hardly anything new. To be honest, I don't think anything about the meaning of the song when I play it- just the groove. Metal Dobro Eb tuning
Texas Rangers (5:17) One of my very favorite American ballads, and not a well-known one. It is classic storytelling, and always makes me really think about what it would have been like to be suddenly caught in the middle of a nighttime battle with no radios or air support, limited ammunition, and a lot of second thoughts about the value of leaving home to go adventuring. 6-string + vocal
Camptown Races/ Oh Susanna (2:14) Steven Foster songs have become folk music, and though his music is loved all over the world, he never profited financially from it and died penniless while some music publishers made a bundle. Out of respect for him, I don't feel right changing his words or singing his now-racist lyrics, so he gets an instrumental. 12-string (^) tuned DFCFAD
Rising Sun Blues (3:47) This song apparently started out as a woman's blues in New Orleans, and somehow got a new tune and chords and became a 60's rock + folk classic. This bluesier version feels like it fits the words better than the popular version, though I like both. Metal Dobro, Eb tuning
Danville Girl (3:54) This has always been a favorite hobo song, and back in my street music days I remember singing this a lot for no apparent reason, since there are a lot of good ones. I never liked doing anything fancy to this song, so I didn't. The Danville I think of is a pretty town in Virginia near the North Carolina border, though there is a Danville, New Hampshire and several others I know of. 6-string
The Cuckoo (6:53) There are no cuckoos in America except in zoos and clocks, but the family of cuckoo songs is widespread, so who am I to change that? The word has a musical sound. The foot is important in this cut, and after some years of performing with a foot for a drummer and trying to record without it I realized it's better to look at it as part of the music. Sort of primal banjo. 6-string banjo (^)
Streets Of Laredo (2:58) There is a whole family of these ballads where the dying guy asks for 6 guys to carry the coffin and 6 women to sing the song, although I think I'd like some sturdy women to carry my coffin, and only 4 sturdy cowboys to sing me the song, rather than 6, which makes for confusing harmony parts. This is the cowboy version, sometimes called "Cowboy's Lament" or "The Dying Cowboy". This was the first song I ever learned on guitar when I was 13 or 14. Autoharp
Red River Valley (1:49) At the Cottage, the rain on the roof often plays cat & mouse with me. I released a cut years ago with some rain noise on it that people said they weren't sure they could hear. Well it happened again; this was clearly the best take, and 15 seconds into it the rain started. Just a mostly cowboy, slightly Hawaiian version. Wood- body Dobro guitar

About the Public Domain (P.D.)

You may have seen (P.D.) or (Trad.) on album covers and wondered what it meant. (Trad. is short for traditional). The U.S. Copyright, Patent and Trademark laws provide a period of ownership for creative works, inventions and product names, after which ownership is supposed to expire and pass into the Public Domain, which means that they are available for any use by anyone without threat of infringement lawsuits. However, law allows the copyright of an "arrangement" of a public domain work, and there are thousands of arrangements on file for well-known P.D. works, and it is unclear exactly what is privately or publicly owned.

ASCAP and BMI are private licensing organizations that monitor radio,TV, movie, restaurant, store & live performances of copyrighted music, and require users to pay yearly license fees to create a fund (now a yearly amount of about $320 million), from which royalty payments are made according to statistical samples of airplay and various calculations. If an arrangement of a public domain piece is sampled during such a survey, the copyright owner receives less money (about  1/5) than an original work.

Many of us feel that the current system is not ideal, for several reasons. It discriminates statistically in favor of major artists, since money is paid out based on very small samples, when the computer power exists to actually log airplay, as is done in many countries. It prevents popular artists and record companies from recording and disseminating traditional music because they will make a lot less royalty money, thus making it hard to find traditional music on mass media. (If you play your own songs on TV, you make a lot more money) There are also many songs (including some extremely well-known songs) that have traditional melodies, but that are registered as original music. The copyright owners receive royalty money for music that belongs to everyone. Many familiar songs that were learned as folk music or collected as folklore were copyrighted by folklorists and musicians in the 1920's and 1930's. Club owners and promoters who hire traditional music performers must pay license fees to ASCAP and BMI that are paid out based on sampling of radio airplay and thus tend to end up in the pockets of the rich rather than the actual authors of the music. (ASCAP samples public radio at a rate of .000066 or only 27.6 minutes a year per station!) Many of us feel that public domain music has been used for personal profit rather than to benefit the public, much like our public lands and resources, yet the system is set up such that there has never been legislation passed (except by irate states that tried to outlaw ASCAP and lost in federal court) by elected officials to regulate it.

For more information or suggestions as to what you might do to help our traditional arts, send a SASE to me c/o Woodpecker. I am currently researching the issues of public domain copyrights, and will gladly pass along my findings. Our national musical treasures must be cared for and remain available for all of us to enjoy, just like our natural resources and parks.