Saturday, September 15, 2012

Black Jack David and the Gypsy King: The Mythic Roots of a Folk Song

Not long ago, I left these Louisiana swamps to go home for the weekend, back to the Arkansas Ozarks where I grew up.  I guess I was a little homesick, because I loaded my MP3 player with traditional songs; mostly old Anglo-Americans tunes from the southern hills.  Some those songs strike primal chords in my emotions, because I've heard them as far back as I can remember.

I can't play a lick on any instrument, but my great-grandfather, Neal Morris, was a singer and recollector of old songs, and he can be heard singing on some of the field recordings collected by the great folk music collector Alan Lomax.  Neal's son (my great uncle) was the folksinger and folklorist Jimmie Driftwood.  My great-grandfather died before I was born, but Jimmie Driftwood lived until I was in my mid-twenties.  I never got to know him that well, but I went to his house many times as a kid; and listened to him and the rest of my extended family sing into the night.  Sometimes, I would fall asleep, and have to be carried out to the car.  That twangy mountain music would run through my dreams all the way home.  No wonder I still have an Arkansas accent.