Today's post looks at a song I've come across, identified simply as the "Hunting Song."
The version discussed below comes from Elbert Miracle, a source singer I'm still hoping to learn more about. He knew a good deal of older English pieces with his singing repertoire including a rare version of Gypsy Laddie (mentioned in the previous post), Loving Henry (Young Hunting, Child #68) and Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender, (Child #73).
Several times when going through written collections, I've been intrigued by a variant, to find in many cases that the source is, once again, Mr.Miracle. I'd like to know who he learned so many songs from. In interviews, he mostly says it's been over 40 years since he sang most of these pieces. In any case,
he has a piece, a variation on Darby's Ram, that I'll explore here.
I do not know how well this piece is known, and would like to know if others have heard it. My apologies if I've simply missed the boat on this incredible song, and folkies out there are already enjoying it!
As I said, it's a variant on Darby's Ram (or the Derby Ram), an English song with many different origin stories. The song tells about a marvelously large ram, and each verse using similes to describe the qualities of this ram (the song can get very dirty- use your imagination). The version I know comes from Sheila Kay Adams in Western NC, and one verse, as an example goes:
"The horns on this ram's head, they reached up to the moon
A man clumb up in January and didn't come down 'til June
To my fah, to my fah, diddle day."
"There come one summer morning, there come a falling snow
I shouldered up my musket and a hunting I did go sir,
A hunting I did go."
The song begins with a humorous contradiction. Snow in the summer time? The narrator's acceptance of the circumstances tells the audience that we need to accept them too.
The narrator tracks the deer for several verses, finally finding them at a lake. Rolling up his britches, he goes in after them:
I shot her round the heel and I killed ten thousand deer sir
And I killed ten thousand deer."
Weighed down with so many deer, what does the narrator do? Why, hop a ride home on the sun!
"I tied my vans n’ hams n’ skins to my side
And as the sun come passing by I jumped on to ride sir
I jumped on to ride.
It bein’ right late in the evening she give a sudden whirl
I cannot stick any long sir, I’m a comin’ to this world sir
I’m a coming to this world."
Since the sun is setting, our hero looses his ride. He falls through the sky, and finds another vehicle:
"I bein’ right quick and active I caught on to the moon
Less than half an hour longer she carried me safely home sir
She carried me safely home."
The narrator takes all the money from his sales of the skins to the barn, where he can't fit all his money through the door. The song concludes:
"The man that owned this farm thought himself very rich
Whoever made this song is that lying- you guessed at the rest."
"The man who owned this sheep must have been awful rich.
And the man who wrote this song was a lying- son of a gun.
To my fah, to my fah, diddle day."
In both cases, the last line implies that the singer is going to say "son of a bitch"- but veers off out of modesty, and let's the audience imagine the words.
Despite this being the only cross-over verse, the melody of Hunting Song is similar to other versions of Darby's Ram, and has the same rhyming structure as the one I know from Sheila. And Hunting Song uses comparison and exaggeration to tell its tale.
I have heard one other person sing Hunting Song in Roberts' collection. A man named Jonathan Wilder knew a similar version, and said he had learned it as a child from an African-American boarder in his community, who played it on the banjo. In Roberts' written collections, just a few folders are devoted to specifically African-American traditional songs. But I feel Roberts was classifying, in part, by popularized ideas of African-American song styles.Undoubtedly, there is a good deal of material in the collection that is passively identified as "white" that has a much more complex heritage. Who wrote this song? How was it traded around? I'd like to know more. Whatever the origin, the author showed great ingenuity in adapting a traditional song to the circumstances of his or her surroundings.
That's all for today. Please leave a comment if you know more about this piece!