Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bonnie George Campbell / Cumberland Gap

Bascom Lamar Lunsford, in his spoken intro to the song on a Library of Congress recording, says "Cumberland Gap" is a speeded-up southern Appalachian verison of "Bonnie George Campbell."

Well, maybe. Tune families are hard to sort out sometimes, and I think this is one of those times.

But it's a fine old Scottish ballad, No. 210 in Francis James Child's collection. Very understated, and boiled down to the hard kernel of the story. Bonnie George Campbell goes riding out one day, and his horse comes back without him. There's blood on the saddle. His wife and mother understand what's happened, and so do we. So do we.

Bonnie George Campbell - Traditional Ballad (Child 210) - Russell Malcolm

Several threads in Mudcat Café -- one, at, transcribes Lunsford's intro (and outro):

"This is a text of 'Bonny George Campbell' as sung in the southern Appalachian region. Very seldom you hear it except in terms of a fiddle tune called 'Cumberland Gap.' The slower tune 'Bonny George Campbell'..."


Now, of course, the mountain boys speed it up, play it on a higher pitch, and use it for a country dance tune 'Cumberland Gap'."

The other, at, has this bit of dialog:
Back in the early seventies at Mike Henry's club in Oxford (when it was still at the Gardener's Arms) we had one of those nights when every song seemed to be about death - often multiple, always gory. Not in any way wanting to be left out I sang Bonny George Campbell. At the break I went for a Guiness and had the following conversation with a large Scotsman at the bar, whom we had never seen before:

LSATB - I'll get that for you. You cheered me up. Yours was the only cheerful song all night.
SM - Thanks, but I think you are mixing me up with someone else. I sang Bonny George Campbell.
LSATB - I know. And my name is McDonald.

(GUEST, Suffolk Miracle, 04 Jun 08 - 05:46 AM)

Remembering the Old Songs ... a monthly feature of INSIDE BLUEGRASS, the publication of the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association: lead sheet with the traditional air that Malcolm sings above and background by Bob Waltz (Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, February 2002). Waltz has Bascom Lamar Lunsford's words with it. He explains:
... I put the transcription in Braid Scots because it flows best that way, but -- allowing for changes in accent -- this survives in almost that pure form in the old-time tradition. It's been recorded by, among others, Bascom Lamar Lunsford (whose text I print below, and which fits this tune) and Frank Proffitt. The problem with both those latter recordings is that they're by banjo players (Lunsford played fiddle also, but you can hear the "banjoishness" in his playing). And the song is in triple meter in all the old and most new versions. Lunsford (as the transcription in Bertrand Bronson's Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads shows) hacked out a really complicated thing in which no two verses are the same, while Proffitt, or his sources, wormed it into 4/4 time. But if you're going to sing this as a song, as opposed to a complex recitation, you have to have a standardized tune. That's this. It's commonly sung (at least, I seem to recall at least three very similar recordings), though all such versions all seem to go back to the tune printed by Robert Archibald Smith in The Scottish Minstrel (1820-1824). I've printed that tune, correcting it slightly toward the version I've heard.
Waltz is editor of the Traditional Ballad Index and Inside Bluegrass, which "document[s] links between bluegrass and old-time music and the traditional music of Appalachia, the British Isles, and elsewhere." A lot of folk-ish Anglo-Celtic tunes and ballads I don't usually associate with bluegrass are discussed. Looks like a good resource.

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