I first planned to post about "Frankie and Johnny", but Glenn at the musical blog So Well Remembered made an excellent post about the Harry Smith anthology including a review of Mississippi John Hurt's "Frankie". You have to check it out !
According to a good Wikipedia article, "In The Pines" dates back from at least the 1870s and may be of Southern Appalachian origin.
It was first published by Cecil Sharp, founding father of the folklore revival in England. His story is very interesting and this man had a crucial role, even though it is an indirect one, in the emergence of country music. I will come back to his story in a future post.
Sharp collected the following lines :
Black girl, black girl, don't lie to meWhere did you stay last night?
I stayed in the pines where the sun never shines
And shivered when the cold wind blows
The wikipedia article gives a big list of people who performed that song, including the Monroe Brothers, great Georgia bluesman Peg Leg Howell, and Louisiana Cajun accordion player Nathan Abshire who recorded a French version (I really should hear that one).
But the version I want to play you is not part of the list. It's by Darby and Tarlton and it's from 1927, so it's probably one of the earliest versions of the song. Darby and Tarlton, a hillbilly duo featuring Hawaiian-style guitar, played in such a bluesy manner that people often mistook them for Afro-American performers.
Darby & Tarlton – Lonesome In The Pines (buy) (apr. 1927)
And then, of course, the Leadbelly version, "Black Girl", made famous by Nirvana's cover. Leadbelly was from West Louisiana / East Texas, home of the piney woods, and I've always found his version menacing and mysterious. But I'm a Leadbelly fanatic…
It seems that Leadbelly took from Darby & Tarlton, because he also recorded a song called "On A Monday", that may originate from D & T's biggest hit, the great "Birmingham Jail".
Leadbelly – Black Gal (Where Did You Stay Last Night ?) (1944) (buy) (NYC, feb.1944)
Links and sources :
Wikipedia article about "In The Pines"
On Darby & Tarlton, see this intersting post on American String Conspiracy
On Leadbelly, see AMG bio
On Harry Smith's anthology, see this great blog dedicated to the Anthology
And Glenn's posts on So Well Remebered