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Sunday, May 17, 2015

New Lost City Ramblers Song Book

Seeger, Mike, and John Cohen, eds. 1964. The New Lost City Ramblers Song Book. New York: Oak Books.

Here's a brief list of tunes in the NLCR songbook that Garcia is known to have played. This does not include the Elizabeth Cotten tunes (I have considered them separately) and has not been carefully vetted, since pre-Dead is beyond my ken. Sharp-eyed readers may spot more.

I Truly Understand
When First To This Country
Red Rocking Chair
Little Maggie
Billy Grimes, the Rover
Nine- Pound Hammer
Walking Boss
Hopalong Peter
Man of Constant Sorrow
Hot Corn
Three Men Went A-Hunting
I'll Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms
Salty Dog Blues
Shady Grove
Crow Black Chicken
Arkansas Traveler
Ain't No Bugs on Me
White House Blues

Note also:
Lady of Carlisle
Don't Let Your Deal Go Down

I am not saying the NLCR Song Book, records or combination of them was the only source that Garcia would have encountered for lots of these songs – everybody knew and did a bunch of these. In my rummaging around some, well, folkways, I have come across all kinds of "floaters", fragments of idea, characters, narratives, or scenes that appear and reappear throughout the folk tradition. But an awful lot of Garcia et al.'s pre-Dead repertoire is reflected in the NLCR Song Book, a lot more than the Smith Anthology. Whether it was Hunter, Nelson, Leicester, Pigpen, Garcia, any or all of them together, they were certainly drawing from this source.

They'd continue to do so: it looks like David Grisman had a copy handy when he and Jerry were working up the material that would appear on Not For Kids Only (Acoustic Disc ACD 9, 1993): of the twelve songs on that release, one of the finest explicitly white roots engagements of Garcia's career, seven figure in the list above. But, really what we see here is the core of Garcia's acoustic repertoire, as played from folkie days before the Dead through Old And In The Way, Great American Music/String Band, Garcia-Kahn, Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band (JGAB), and Garcia-Grisman.

BTW, love these headings: Old Love Songs, Dance Tunes, Take Warning, News & Occupational Hazards, Lonesome Blues, Bible Tales, Wild Men & Murder, Songs, Whoop 'Em Up, Rave On, The Great Depression.


  1. What a cool artifact! And that's an interesting observation that the NLCR were a much stronger direct influence on Garcia and Grisman than the Harry Smith anthology. I dug out my old copy of G/G's Shady Grove CD with John Cohen's liner notes: he points out that Not For Kids Only draws heavily on the NLCR's Old Timey Songs for Children LP, and makes the case for how important an influence his group was: "In 1960, the New Lost City Ramblers (Mike Seeger, Tom Paley, and myself) played in Palo Alto, where 19-year-old Jerry Garcia and his friends first experienced a performance of old-time string band music. The Ramblers were perhaps the first urban revival band to perform rural traditional folk music in authentic styles. Although some viewed us as musical archaeologists, we introduced the idea that it was all right for city folks to sing like their traditional counterparts." As entrancing as the Harry Smith anthology must have been (and still is!), actually seeing people like the NLCR sing and play this music in the flesh must have been absolutely pivotal in Garcia's young life.

    Cohen also says that NLCR records included discographies of the old 78's that were their sources for the original music -- no doubt Garcia was paying close attention to those lists as well.

  2. Thanks so much for bringing that forward - Corry also wrote about a co-billing in August 1969, and suggests that Garcia and the New Riders guys might have shared the stage with the NLCR.


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