Saturday, October 16, 2010

"If You're Ever In Houston, Boy, You Better Walk Right..."

Swingin' from the gallispole on guitar, banjo, drums...

Huddie Ledbetter is best known for his ballad, “The Midnight Special,” a song he wrote about a Southern Pacific freight that cut through the cane and cotton fields of the Texas penitentiary at Sugarland every night around midnight.

They say it often clocked better than 100 miles per hour on its way to the valley. One can only imagine the spectacle of this oil-fired, smoke-belching, hissing, screaming, fire-breathing dragon zooming and rumbling through one's exhausted slumber in the middle of the night - every night.
The song is all about putting on the world, the color of Miss Lucy's apron and the shirt she wore, back sassing a free man and making him think he likes it.

Mr. Ledbetter spent more than one term in the pen, once gaining his pardon from Governor O.K. Allen by writing a song about him.

He got international recognition in a cross-over hit picked up by The Weavers and many other post-war artists, “Good Night, Irene.” Woodie Guthrie and he had a special relationship that often saw them traveling, performing and recording together.

But “Leadbelly” was also known for just knocking on school house doors and asking if he could play a few numbers for the kids, tunes like “Jump Down, Turn Around, Pick A Bale Of Cotton."

A lesser-known song of his, “Gallispole,” is about the tenuous nature of justice in our world, “Did you bring me silver; did you bring me gold? What did you bring me, brother, to keep me from the gallows pole?”

Most people never heard the tune until, like Pat Boone and Elvis before them, who covered many tunes born of the cat house and the cotton patch, Led Zeppelin picked it up and gave it the traditional see-saw cut time, hillbilly treatment between the guitar and banjo.

In medieval times, it would have been done with the dulcimer and lute accompanied by penny whistle, stomping feet and clapping hands.

Listen to the desperation in these lyrics telling the story of the final hours of a condemned man whose last hopes are withering away.

No comments:

Post a Comment