In 1962 Bobby Bare stood in RCA’s Nashville Studio and recorded his first hit “Shame on Me." That song was a hit in both the pop and country fields; it rose to number 18 on Billboard’s Country Chart and number 23 on the Hot 100 Chart.
During the ensuing years, Bare won a Grammy (for “Detroit City”), had 70 chart records, including landmark recordings of Shel Silverstein songs, hosted a TV program and performed in concerts all over the world.
Fifty years after his first RCA recording, Bare stood in that same studio—now named Historic RCA Studio B—and recorded this album. During the half-century between those two recording sessions Bare has had one of the most incredible, enduring careers in American music.
Bobby Bare recorded a number of folk songs in his early years and was labeled “folk country.” For this album, he wanted to do some old folk songs—not as “folk music” but as great songs. There are songs that were sung by Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, The Weavers, Eddy Arnold, Tex Ritter, The Kingston Trio as well as songs by U2, Merle Travis, Shel Silverstein and Dennis Linde. Additionally, Bare had a hand in writing several new songs.
“Going Down the Road” is part of Woody Guthrie’s legacy of songs. John Ford, director of the film The Grapes of Wrath asked Guthrie for a song that Dust Bowl migrants might know and Woody suggested “Going Down the Road,” a song he had heard from his fiddle playing Uncle Jeff Guthrie. Uncle Jeff had learned those lines, “goin’ down the road feelin’ bad” and “they fed me on corn bread and beans” with the refrain “and I ain’t gonna be treated this a-waym” around 1910 in Olive, Oklahoma.
Many folk songs began as sea shanties and “Shenandoah” probably began this way. The first time “Shenandoah” was printed was in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1882.
“John Hardy” was first recorded by Eva Davis in 1924 for Columbia Records. The lyrics changed through versions done by artists including Leadbelly and the Carter Family. The real John Hardy was a railroad worker in West Virginia who killed a man during a craps game and was hanged on January 19, 1894.
The origin of “The Banks of the Ohio” may be traced back to the nineteenth century. First recorded by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers in 1927, the song tells the story of a young man who kills the woman he loves after she rejected his marriage proposal.
“Dark As a Dungeon” was written by legendary guitar player, singer and songwriter Merle Travis. His “Travis picking” guitar style influenced Chet Atkins. Capitol Records signed Travis and he recorded “Dark As a Dungeon” and “Sixteen Tons” on his album Folk Songs of the Hills, which was released in 1946.
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was written and recorded by the Irish group U2 on their Joshua Tree album, released in May, 1987.
Bob Dylan wrote “Farewell Angelina” and it was the title of a 1965 Joan Baez album. This song came during a very productive period of Dylan’s life, just before his motorcycle accident.
“House of the Rising Sun” is about a New Orleans brothel. The most popular version of the song was recorded by The Animals and became a number one hit in 1964. The earliest recording of this song came in 1934 by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster. The origin of the song is unknown but it probably came from the British Isles with the New Orleans setting adapted by American singers. Folklorist Alan Lomax recorded the song in Kentucky, sung by Tilman Cadle.
The boll weevil was a bug that fed on cotton; it migrated from Mexico to the United States and wreaked havoc on the cotton industry in the South. In 1929 Charley Patton recorded a version and in 1934 Alan Lomax recorded Leadbelly’s version. The song became a pop hit for Brook Benton in 1961. Bobby Bare learned “Boll Weevil” from Tex Ritter, who recorded it and used to sing it during his show.
Dennis Linde (1943-2006) wrote “Lookout Mountain.” Linde was one of the premier songwriters in Nashville and Bare knew him for a number of years. Linde wrote classics such as “Burning Love” for Elvis, “Bubba Shot the Jukebox” and “It Sure Is Monday” for Mark Chesnutt, “Goodbye Earl” for the Dixie Chicks, “Had a Dream (For the Heart)” for The Judds, “Tom Green County Fair” and “Where Have All the Average People Gone” for Roger Miller and “John Deere Green” for Joe Diffie.
“Tom Dooley” is about a man named Tom Dula who murdered Laura Foster in Wilkes County, North Carolina in 1866. The most popular version of this song was recorded by the Kingston Trio and became a number one pop hit in 1958; however, the first recording of this song goes back to 1929 when Grayson and Whitter recorded it. It was also recorded in 1939 by Frank Proffitt.
“I Was Drunk” was written by Alejandro Escovedo. Born in Texas, Escovedo was a member of the Austin-based group “Rank and File.” He began his solo career in 1992 with his album Gravity. He was named “Artist of the Decade” by No Depression magazine in 1998 and has recorded with Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen.
Escovedo's harmony vocal was added at the Quonset Hut, another historic studio in Nashville, about a block away from Historic RCA Studio B.
Arkansas native Jimmie Driftwood's most famous songs are “The Battle of New Orleans,” which won a Grammy for the recording by Johnny Horton, and “Tennessee Stud.” The son of a folk singer, Driftwood played a guitar whose neck was made from a fence rail with the head and bottom from his grandmother’s bed. The guitar was made by his grandfather. Eddy Arnold’s version of “Tennessee Stud” was a hit in 1959 and is Bobby Bare’s favorite version of that song.
“The Devil and Billy Markham” was a poem written by Shel Silverstein and first appeared as a six part series in Playboy beginning in January, 1979. It was later presented as a play at Lincoln Center and as a short film.
“Woody” was written by Bobby Bare and is a fictional account of the singer meeting Woody Guthrie.
“I Was a Young Man Once” was written by Don Cusic and Bobby Bare.
– Don Cusic