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Origins: Late Last Night When Willie Came Home

Larry The Radio Guy 05 Sep 10 - 08:21 PM
beeliner 05 Sep 10 - 10:37 PM
Larry The Radio Guy 06 Sep 10 - 12:13 AM
12-stringer 06 Sep 10 - 01:16 AM
Larry The Radio Guy 06 Sep 10 - 12:34 PM
Steve Gardham 06 Sep 10 - 06:42 PM
GUEST,Fred Harms 13 Feb 18 - 11:43 AM
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Subject: Origins: Late Last Night when Willie Come home
From: Larry The Radio Guy
Date: 05 Sep 10 - 08:21 PM

I just came back from the wonderful Sorrento Bluegrass festival and Workshops in B.C., and listened to a performer talking about the notoriety of "Willie" in so many bluegrass and old timey songs.

Now in the song "Late Last Night When Willie Come (came) Home" (aka Way Down Town)he doesn't seem like such a bad sort, but who knows, since the song doesn't seem to make a great deal of sense.

I know there's a great version by John Hartford (who I think referred to it as traditional), and I've also seen it credited to Uncle Dave Macon. Does anybody know anything about the origins of the song?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Late Last Night when Willie Come home
From: beeliner
Date: 05 Sep 10 - 10:37 PM

Sounds like it might be a variation of "Three Nights Drunk" aka "Our Goodman", aka "The Old Fool", etc.

The words you quoted seem to fit the meter of the song:

"Saturday night and I come home, drunk as I could be..."


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Subject: Chords Add: LATE LAST NIGHT WHEN WILLIE CAME HOME
From: Larry The Radio Guy
Date: 06 Sep 10 - 12:13 AM

Nope, It goes like this:

E7             A             E                                  E
It was late last night when Willie came home
B7                         E
Heard him a-rapping on the door
A                               E
Slipping and a-sliding with his new shoes on
B7                      E
Willie don't you rap no more

Chorus:
A          E             B7                                    E   
Oh me, oh my    What's gonna become of me
A                           E   
I's down town just fooling around
B7                           E
No one to stand by me


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Subject: RE: Origins: Late Last Night when Willie Come home
From: 12-stringer
Date: 06 Sep 10 - 01:16 AM

Macon's version was recorded in 1926. About a year later, Frank Blevins' Tar Heel Rattlers cut "Late Last Night When Willie Came," a cover if not an independent version, I would think, but it was never released and is not known to be extant.

The Smoky Mountain Ramblers did a version for Vocalion at Knoxville in 1930. This was basically a pickup group, with some of Vocalion's session men backing Walt McKinney, a steel guitarist. Hugh Cross sang lead on the Vocalion take, which was called "Ain't It Hell, Boys." Overall it's pretty similar to Macon's version, with a different chorus:

Ain't it hell, hell, hell, oh, boys
To love one that don't love you
Ain't it hell, hell, hell, oh boys,
To love one that won't be true.

Skip James, a black artist from the Delta, recorded the song for Paramount in 1931 as "Drunken Spree." It's possible this is a consciously rewritten version of the hillbilly song, though it sounds more like an independent variant to me.

Love my darlin', yes I do,
I'll love her till the seas go dry
And if I thought she didn't love me
I'd take morphine and die.

It was late last night when Willie came home
He made one rap on the door
Is that you darling, I would like to know,
Darling, don't you rap no more.

The last good word I heard my mother say
Sonny, come hold my head
Oh me, oh my,
Never let a dollar by.

I sold my watch and I sold my chain
I pawned my gold diamond ring
If that don't settle my drunken spree
I'll never drink no more.

You hand me down my [???]
And all my girlish clothes

It was late last night when Willie came home
She made one rap on the door
Is that you Willie, I would like to know
Honey, don't you rap no more.

Repeat first verse

Skip plays this in E, with a fingerpicked instrumental between verses. Melody is pretty much the same as the hillbilly versions, and Willie changes sex in the 1931 take (in a 60s remake Willie is a girl throughout, "Miss Willie"). (NB that Cryin' Sam Collins, also of Mississippi, uses a cousin-like verse in a song from his 1931 final session that is otherwise a mix of "Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy" and a train song similar to "Reuben" -- "I got up in my stockings, tripped across the floor/Hyah them bloodhounds rappin' up my door.")

See also "What Will I Do When My Money is All Gone" by Uncle Eck Dunford and Hattie Stoneman, from Victor in 1927. Song is actually a member of the "Cold Icy Floor" family but has a couple of familiar sentiments in the lyrics:

I dreamed last night that Josephus came home (x3)
Knocking and banging at the door.

I jumped out of bed and tripped across the floor (x3)
Josephus, don't you knock no more.

Roy Acuff cut this in the late 30s on ARC as "One Old Shirt."

One old shirt is all I got
And a dollar is all I crave
Oh I brought nothing to this whole wide world
Gonna take nothing to my grave.

(cho)
Ain't it hard, hard, oh Lord, ain't it hard
To love a girl that don't love you.

Now come my little pink and tell me what you think
You're a long time making up your mind.
You tell more lies than the stars in the skies
Oh baby, your heart ain't mine.

My baby come home late hours of the night
She just keeps rapping on the door
I wake up in my stocking feet
My baby, don't rap no more.

I love you sweet baby till the sea runs dry
The rocks are at the sun
I love you sweet baby till the day I die
Then you may know I'm gone.

I wish I was on some rocky mountain top
Sitting in my big arm chair
With one arm around my liquor keg
And the other one around my dear.

Acuff uses a melody significantly different from the standard Macon-derived model and, as with Skip James, this sounds like an independent variant to me. It has one verse straight from "Pretty Little Pink," and another from the "Rocky Mountain Top" family. Of course, "Pink" and "Late" both employ the same melody.

There are some songs called "Dollar's All I Crave" in the OTM repertoire, the only one of which I've heard is the Cliff Carlisle version from the 1930s. It's a straight hillbilly blues, with the "one old shirt" verses found in "Late Last Night." Instead of a I-IV-I-I-V-I melody, Carlisle does it as a 12-bar blues.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Late Last Night when Willie Come home
From: Larry The Radio Guy
Date: 06 Sep 10 - 12:34 PM

Wow 12 Stringer! Thanks so much for the detailed recording history. Now I'm wondering if any folklorists have any information about the significance of the lyrics and any reference to it prior to Uncle Dave Macon's 1926 recording.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Late Last Night when Willie Come home
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 06 Sep 10 - 06:42 PM

The line 'It was late last night when ------ came home' derives from American versions of Child 200, The Gypsy Laddie. American versions go under such titles as 'BlackJack Davy', 'Gypsy Davy'.

'Till the seas run dry
Till the rocks melt in the sun' is a universal commonplace, part of a large family of stanzas sometimes known as 'impossibilities', used to denote when something will never happen. Or in the above case to show eternal love.

Other lines are borrowed from earlier American songs. There is a strong and early tradition, in the English-speaking world, of forming medleys from snatches of different songs, which may be similar to what has happened here.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Late Last Night When Willie Came Home
From: GUEST,Fred Harms
Date: 13 Feb 18 - 11:43 AM

We were jamming around a campfire one night when an old-timer who'd had his fair share from the jar stumbled from being tipsy, and said, "Whoa, I got my new shoes on." I realized that phrase was a euphemism not being able to walk straight when one is drinking.


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