This song is most frequently associated with the Great Depression
(this video uses depression era photos), but was actually written by
Stephen Foster and first published in 1854, 7 years before the Civil War.
It became very popular for expressing the sentiments of those who suffered
in that war.
In his 2019 8-part docuseries "Country Music", noted filmmaker
Ken Burns entitled episode 2, covering the period of 1933-1945, "Hard
Times" with a mournful rendition of this song in the early part of
the soundtrack. Elsewhere in the series, this song was proclaimed one of
the most significant in American history.
The first audio recording of this song was a wax cylinder by the Edison
Manufacturing Company in 1905. It has since been recorded by many, many
artists, including Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash,
Bruce Springsteen, and many who are lesser known.
Sinking of the Reuben James
This is a song that I learned back in the early '60s that described events in the not so distant past at that time.
It was just over 20 years since the beginning of World War II and many of our parents had served in that war, so it
The air war over Great Britain, remembered as the "Battle of
Britain," became the first major defeat for the German war machine. So Hitler turned his attention
to putting Great Britain under siege to starve her out. The German Navy included a huge fleet of U-boats (submarines)
deployed to attack any merchant ships that carried supplies for Britain. For protection, merchant ships traveled in
convoys. The U.S. Navy provided destroyer escorts for these convoys as far as Iceland, where the British Navy took over
for the rest of the way to British ports.
The World War I destroyer USS Reuben James joined the ships on Atlantic convoy escort duty in March 1941. On October 23
she joined four other destroyers to escort Convoy HX156 leaving Newfoundland for England. On the morning of October 31 she was near Iceland when a German
"wolfpack" (group of U-boats) appeared. The Reuben James positioned herself between the known position of the wolfpack
and a munitions ship. The U-552 fired a torpedo that blew the entire bow off
the Reuben James when it hit a magazine. The bow went down immediately, but the rest of the ship survived for 5 minutes
before also sinking. Of the 144 on board, 100 perished and 44 were saved, all of whom were enlisted; no officer survived.
The Reuben James became the first American warship sunk in combat in World War II, just five weeks before the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor.
The song "The Sinking of the Reuben James" was written by singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie, first published in 1942.
Guthrie is best known for the popular folk songs "This Land is Your Land" and "Pastures of Plenty" among the many he
has written. For this song, he used the melody of the antebellum song "Wildwood Flower"
and added his chorus.
"The Sinking of the Reuben James" has been recorded by many folk singers and groups. I learned it from the Kingston Trio
(on their 1961 album Close Up) and the Chad Mitchell Trio (on their 1963 album Reflecting).
Oh Come, Angel Band
This beautiful old gospel song was first a poem titled "My Latest Sun is Sinking
Fast," written by Jefferson Hascall. Because it was written in what is
called "common metre," it could be sung to many hymn tunes.
The tune now universally
associated with it was written by William Batchelder Bradbury, and was
first published in 1862. I'm most familiar with versions by the
Oak Ridge Boys and Johnny Cash.
This recording was taken from the live-stream
video of the Pineda Presbyterian Church (Palm Shores, FL) service of October 23,
2022, featuring Johnny Kee as the soloist.
Hymn Book Hymn 87
to tune of Just a Closer Walk With Thee
This song is generally regarded as the "Cherokee Amazing Grace," because its lyrics are
widely recognized when sung to the tune of "Amazing Grace". In reality, The Cherokee lyrics have nothing to
do with John Newton's original lyrics. The Cherokee version tells of Christ's second coming, how he spoke
when he rose to tell us that. In the last 2 verses, it tells how the world will end and the good will live
forever in heaven, in peace.
The origin of the English version of this song is somewhat
uncertain. Personally, I like to think
it is another of the great gospel songs that became immortal, rising from the oppressed souls suffering in
slavery before the Civil War.
I discovered that the Cherokee lyrics of Hymn 87 fit this
tune, and adopted it to my repertoire, as performed here at the 2021
Native Rhythms Festival.
(Fought the Battle of Jericho)
The story of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho comes from the old testament book of
Joshua (Joshua 6:15-21), providing the story line for this old gospel songs. This song is believed to date
to southern plantations in the early 19th century, although a precise location or date of creation is
impossible to determine. The earliest publication of this song was probably in 1882 in a book Jubilee
Songs by M.G. Slayton and in A Collection of Revival Hymns and Plantation Melodies by Marshall W. Taylor.
Hidden in many of these old gospel songs was a subliminal message of hope for those enslaved. In this song,
it was a message that faith in the Lord can bring down walls.
For me to tell a more complete story, I created a few original verses that I added to those commonly sung.
I did this to put the battle in context. The Bible describes the battle that brought the
city walls down followed a weeklong siege that doesn't appear in common
versions of the song.
I also felt the need to summarize the moral of the story.
BTW, there's a lot of flute playing in my interpretation
of this song.
This is another of those old spirituals believed to have originated from those enslaved on antebellum
plantations in the south. Forbidden by law to be taught to read and write, but still forced to adopt Christianity,
many bible stories were told in music. This particular song tells the story of Christ's crucifixion. It first appeared
in print in 1899 in William Eleazar Barton's Old Plantation Hymns. This song has been recorded by a
wide range of performers; from large choirs to country singers.
All versions that I know of have a very simple structure. The verses consist of a single line repeated 3 times and have
3 verses that tell of (1) nailing Christ to the cross, (2) placing him in the tomb, and (3) rising from the dead. First
I wanted to tell more of the story, including all that happened in the week preceding the crucifixion. Then I decided to add more information to each
of the verses, so there are two or three different lines in each. That also applies to the three
most common verses. However, I do the first verse in its traditional form. So this is my interpretation of this old song to
tell a more complete story.
Hymn Book Hymn 17
to tune of What a Friend We Have in Jesus
In 1855, the preacher Joseph M. Scriven wrote the English lyrics as a poem for his mother, who was
living in Ireland while he was in Canada. Scriven first published the poem anonymously, but was given credit for it in
the 1880s. Charles Crozat Converse, an American attorney who also worked as a composer of church songs, gave the poem
its familiar tune in 1868.
The Cherokee lyrics (from the Cherokee Hymn Book) describe a song of love and praise. The song starts out identifying
the object of our adoration, "Yi ho wa" (Jehovah). Throughout the song you hear, "e di lv quo de sdi i" - Let us honor
him. And each verse and chorus end with the line, "e di ge yu se sdi i" - Let us love Him. Listen to this song a few
times and you'll find yourself singing along with these lines.
I created this video as "special music" used
during one of the broadcast services while our church was locked down
during the COVID crisis.
I first became aware of the "Great Galveston Storm" from the Chad Mitchell Trio
song "Mighty Day" on their '61 album, "Mighty Day on Campus". After researching this storm, in
2011 I wrote a song to tell the
story from a different perspective. With work on my Storyteller CD in 2020, I reworked the song some for inclusion
on that album, the track presented here.
In 1900, Galveston, Texas was an important port city,
financial center, and year-round vacation destination. It was situated on
an island off the Texas Gulf Coast, with a rail trestle connecting it to
The Galveston Daily News of Tuesday, September 4th reported that a tropical disturbance was
"moving westward over western Cuba" and was expected to turn north with high winds over the eastern
Gulf and Florida coast. The storm strengthened some and moved northward passing near Key West and
disappeared into the Gulf. On Saturday morning, September 8th, signs of
an approaching storm began to appear, but nothing unusual. Rain began
pouring by mid-morning. By 3PM, telegraph and phone lines to the mainland
were down. The high point on the island was under 9 ft, but the storm
surge was over 12 ft. In the end, between 6,000 and 12,000 people died,
with the "official" count considered 8,000.
There are many photos archived from the aftermath of the storm,
some I've used here to try to capture the abject destruction and death.
Hymn Book Hymn 39
to tune of I'll Fly Away
I'll Fly Away was written in 1929 by Albert E. Brumley and published in 1932.
Ithas been called the most recorded gospel song ever, and the list of singers
and groups who have recorded it is long and impressive. In interviews, Brumley has told how he was inspired to
write this song... He says the idea came to him while he was picking cotton in Rock Island, Oklahoma and humming
an old ballad that had the line, "If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly,"
It occurred to him that he could use this concept for a gospel style song. It took 3 years for him to flesh out
As with all the songs on my Echoes From the Trail CD, the Cherokee lyrics are completely independent of Brumley's original English
version. The Cherokee translates as a call to Jesus, starting out calling all with heavy burdens to listen to
Jesus, who has mercy on them. In the end it urgently says that Jesus alone can help sinners, including you.
2020 was a troubling year for many people, and was especially so as we approached Christmas.
I made this video in the hopes that its message will bring some peace to those who watch it.
This timeless classic was composed in Austria in 1818 by Franz Gruber for lyrics written by Father Joseph
Mohr ("Stille Nacht") in 1816. Father Mohr took the lyrics to Gruber, a schoolmaster and organist, and asked
him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the 1818 Christmas Eve mass.
I recorded this as it was originally intended with guitar
The lyrics were translated
into English in 1859 by Episcopal priest John Freeman Young in New York City. Since then it has been translated
into about 140 languages.
"Midnight Special" may be the greatest mosaic of lyrics from many traditional folk songs.
For example, the first verse lyrics "Get up in the mornin' when the ding dong rings" may come from a song
that appeared in print in 1905. Reference to a train and a light didn't show up until later, appearing in
print in a 1923 issue of Adventure magazine. Carl Sandburg published two separate versions of
"Midnight Special" in the 1927 American Songbag. The first commercial recording was made in 1926 as
"Pistol Pete's Midnight Special".
Even though there were several earlier recordings, Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter's version recorded at
Angola Prison in 1934 gave the song widespread popularity. Ledbetter added several verses that referred to a Houston
jailbreak. This recording was captured by John and Alan Lomax, collectors of authentic folk songs at their
source, who attributed the song to Ledbetter. Even though that has been debunked, some collections still
show Ledbetter as the song's creator.
Johnny Kee and my good friend, Ken Holt, were featured performers at the 2017 Native Rhythms Festival at the amphitheater in
Wickham Park, Melbourne, Florida, and performed this song as depicted
in this video. There is a studio version of this song on my 2020 Johnny Kee, Storyteller CD.