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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Songster Bob Songs you thought were trad (155* d) RE: Songs you thought were trad 27 Nov 04

I understand that when Gordon Bok went to record "Harbors of Home" (Joan Sprung's song), he assumed it was trad, from a little fishing village somewhere Down East. I think that some songs that are not trad sound "trad enough" because they incorporate the sensibilities of the folk whom we assume are "the tradition bearers," and non-trad-sounding songs are that because they don't incorporate these sensibilities.

I try to write songs "in the tradition," in that I try to keep tune and words in line with what I know about traditional song (not always easy as it sounds, I can tell you). One of mine that a few people have suggested sounds traditional is "Sea Wing," about a fatal paddle-steamer outing on the Mississippi. I don't think it sounds at all traditional, because it starts in the first person and sounds like a Bill Staines song for one or two verses, then switches to ballad narrative style and ends up sounding more traditional. Now, I know there are traditional ballads in the first person (most of Prof. Child's choice notwithstanding), but these tend to be murderers' good-nights (Captain Kidd, for example) or western songs (Texas Rangers), and sentimental opening lines not like mine.

But you see how my analysis of my own lyric works. I assume it's NOT traditional because of the first-person opening stanza.

(Here's that stanza:
Come with me, love, and we will take
A pleasant summer day's trip on the lake.
The steamboat is ready, and there'll be a band
A July Sunday so warm and so grand.)

I use my knowledge of typical traditional song (ballads in this case) to decide whether this sounds traditional. "Darcy Farrow," for example, sounds much more traditional in form, because the writers used what they'd learned about the forms of folksong in America to write a new "old song."

So it's sometimes hard to tell a real trad song from a new one, if the form is right.

But the sensibility of the song, the lyric, must be right, too, or it goes down as a fake right away. I wrote a song about a local graffiti artist using "Wabash Cannonball" as the tune, and, despite a trad tune, it would never pass muster as a trad song -- the comments and viewpoint are too modern, too urban, for it to work.

So sensibility is the key.

Bob Clayton

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