Thursday, December 4, 2014

We're all bums now

Here is the first of my CD Baby album notes for my CD When Hymns Bled Red: Words of Joe Hill in Red.

How many of us wondered 'Who is Joe Hill?' when we first heard Joan Baez sing "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night?" The great Swedish immigrant was only one of many songwriters who took melodies from popular hymns and other songs of the day and turned them into anthems for worker's rights and economic justice. Joe Hill, the martyr I read about first, but when I encountered Joe Hill the songwriter he came to life in my mind.
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a singing union. The story goes that early members of the IWW, the Wobblies, sang their own lyrics when the street Salvation Army bands were playing their hymns. Now both the popular folk songs and the hymns are now fading from our culture, so what will become of the great International Workers of the World (Wobbly) songs? Looking online I see IWW union activities are ongoing worldwide. Are they singing? Surely.
I’d like to see the songs evolve so they can stand alongside new songs and new Wobbly parodies. About as much of a folklorist as I am anymore boils down to this:
I believe that knowing the original song helps appreciate the parody. On Top of Old Smoky deserves to live out it’s truth independently of On Top of Spaghetti, not just as “the source melody of …” I believe authorship and copyrights are to be honored but that, in the Public Domain, Mr/Ms Anonymous can tear it up!
I begin each song with the first verse of the original hymn. If you detect from my singing that I love the old hymns, you are right. I grew up singing them in the Southern Baptist Church. "Power in the Blood" is one old hymn that is, in my mind, a rock song! It is fun to sing. All these songs have gone into the public domain and any changes I have added are not copyrighted. If my performances of these songs ever make money, I'll happily donate it to the still-active IWW. My most hoped for reward?  To see the lyrics in the Little Red Songbook attributed to Anonymous, USA, heralded only by my own horn, just duly blown. (elephant trumpeting sfx)
This is my second album recorded at Elephonic Studios in Albuquerque, New Mexico with Jesse Korman, engineer and Jared Putnam on that fine upright bass. It's my sixth album since turning 60 in 2010.
I rarely perform; that's a long story, but if these songs make it to any union who wants to pay my expenses I'll bust my ass (one weeks notice at the least) to get your membership singing along with these American classics from an age when workers fought like hell for the rights workers enjoyed in the 20th century before Ronald Reagan divided and conquered.
My introduction to the IWW and Wobblies songs was through the albums of Pete Seeger. I came late to the knowledge that the IWW is still going strong. I finally got some Little RedSongbooks and started out on songs based upon my favorite old hymns. 
I have no use for the Southern Baptist Convention and it’s affiliated churches; my last tie to them would be the hymns. It was through these hymns and my early Christian faith that I connected with the Civil Rights Movement and came to love and honor Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. It was through his later speeches that I came to understand what the battle between rich and poor was all about and the relationship between war and capitalism. So, let's keep the hymns and let them live out their own truth.
I left out some verses and added whole verses or words to these songs. I will not go into the kind of documentation that is readily available in the Little Red Songbook (Check out used book sources for reprints of older editions) and the Big Red Songbook. Here is the way I sing:

Revive Us Again
(Revive Us Again, William P. Mackay)

Hallelujah, I’m a Bum
Harry “Haywire Mac” McClintock

We praise Thee, O God, for the Son of thy love         
For Jesus, who died and is now gone above.

Hallelujah! Thine the glory! Hallelujah! Amen!
Hallelujah! Thine the Glory! Revive us again.

Why don’t you work like other men do?
How the hell can I work, ain’t no jobs to do.

Hallelujah, I’m a bum, Hallelujah, bum again;
Hallelujah, give us a handout to revive us again!

Oh why don’t you save all the money you earn?
If I didn’t eat I’d have money to burn.

Whenever I get all the money I’ve earned,
The boss will be broke and to work he must turn.

Oh I like my bosses, tell ‘ya how nice they are,
They drive me to the food bank ‘cause I can’t afford a car.

Why don’t you use that degree you earned?
They don’t want to pay - they hired an intern.

"Burl Dunn" on Spotify and Pandora

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