For my second CD, I wanted to return to my musical roots. My first interest in playing guitar came from time I spent at a friend’s home, when he showed me a few chords on his guitar. My parents presented me with my first guitar that Christmas. They probably had no idea about the lifelong attachment I’ve had for the guitar. But this was just as the so-called folk music revival was gaining popularity in the late ’50s. I was immediately drawn to it. 

In early ’62 our church youth group decided to stage a talent show. Another group member and I discovered a common interest in the guitar and folk music. So we decided to do a couple numbers for the show. We called ourselves the Bayou Brothers. We had so much fun that we continued playing together and soon added another voice and guitar to become a trio. We played together for about a year and a half, until we graduated from high school and went our separate ways to higher education.

The photo here is the Bayou Brothers, Bob Cross (on the right), Dave Petersen (in the middle), and me (on the left), on the auditorium stage at Custer High School (Milwaukee, WI) in March 1963.

Johnny Kee, Storyteller

One of my attractions to folk music was the many songs that told a story. Popular groups of the time, like the Chad Mitchell Trio, the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul, and Mary, the Limelighters, and many others, had hit songs on the pop charts. Mostly these songs hinted at a story, but were condensed to a couple verses to fit the 3 minute length standard for radio. Many of these songs selected the disjointed verses that didn’t make much sense if you thought about them. Prime examples were Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair and Peter, Paul, and Mary’s The Three Ravens. It was exciting to research and discover the verses that turned these songs into true stories. You will find a complete story version of these, and other songs, on this CD.

For other songs, the existing verses only told part of the story. For these I rewrote some verses and added others to make more complete stories. Even if you have followed folk music, on this CD you will hear versions you’ve never heard before. 

One of the songs I played since the ’60s was the ’61 song by the Chad Mitchell trio about the 1900 Galveston (Texas) hurricane called Mighty Day. In 2010 I decided to write my own impression of that horrific event and now I introduce it here as the Great Galveston Storm. (Be sure to check out the video on the videos webpage…)

This has been a fun album for me to create. They are mostly songs I have known and loved in some form for over 50 years. I’ve enjoyed researching these songs to better understand their histories and learn more versions and verses, from which to come up with my arrangements. These are my first recordings of these songs, so it has been fun to blend my playing multiple instruments on the same song, including 6- and 12-string and nylon-string guitars, banjo, and autoharp. About 15 years ago I discovered the Native American flute (that’s another story altogether) and came to love playing an instrument without strings. So I’ve included at least one solo and/or duet on the flute with each song.

One advantage I have in recording folk music is that almost all of the songs I do are old enough to be in the public domain. Several of the songs on this CD date back 400 years, with many from the mid-18th century. However, on this CD is one song still under copyright protection for which I had to purchase rights. That song was The Sinking of the Reuben James written by Woody Guthrie in 1942. That is a story I just felt I had to share on this CD.



Back Story

Track Title & Description


Jesse James – A glamorized but mostly factual account of the life of the outlaw Jesse James (September 5, 1847 – April 3, 1882). Adapted from some of the many known versions with my lyric changes. Featuring Laura Swartz as the mournful voice of Jesse’s widow.


The Three Ravens – A tale from ~1600 of scavenger ravens looking at a scene centered around a slain knight. The knight’s body is protected by his hawks and hounds until his lover comes to bury his remains.


Joshua (Fought the Battle of Jericho) – The story from the old testament book of Joshua. Tells of Joshua leading the Israelite army against the walled city of Jericho. I added new verses to add context and biblical detail not in existing versions of this song.


Frankie & Johnny – The classic story of a scorned woman taking out her anger by shooting her lover. This song is said to be based on actual events in St. Louis in October, 1899. My version includes new verses that I added. Featuring Laura Swartz as Frankie at two points in the song.


The Great Galveston Storm – A Johnny Kee original song describing the hurricane that hit the island city of Galveston, Texas on September 8, 1900, killing an estimated 8000 people. Storms were not named at that time and there was no system to categorize their strength, so it was normally referred to as the Great Galveston Storm.


Scarborough Faire – The whimsical tale of a man who asks a friend to approach a former lover in the town of Scarborough (England) and challenge her with 3 impossible tasks to see if she is worthy of his love again.


The Sinking of the Reuben James – After Hitler’s air attacks on London failed to bring surrender, the strategy changed to cutting off supplies to England. America provided many of England’s needed goods and personnel. Convoys of American merchant ships were protected by destroyer escorts as far as Iceland. On October 31, 1941, The USS Reuben James was sunk off Iceland’s coast by a German U-boat, the first American warship sunk in combat in World War II. This Woody Guthrie song tells the story.


Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down and Out) – A bluesy song about the changes of fate from abundance to total poverty and back again, and how people you know react. This song is sometimes associated with the great depression, but was actually written in 1923 (just recently entering the public domain).


Were You There? – The classic gospel song about the crucifixion of Jesus. I added three verses at the start to extend the story to a week earlier with Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and proceeding through the Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest in the garden. 


The Skye Boat Song – On April 16, 1746 the Jacobite (mainly Scottish highlander) army under Prince Charles was soundly crushed by a vastly superior English army at Culloden Moor. Prince Charles escaped by sea to the Isle of Skye. This song tells the story. This 1884 tune was recently made popular when it was used, albeit with different lyrics, as the theme for the Outlander TV series.


Exodus Medley (Go Down Moses/Mary Don’t You Weep) – The old gospel song Go Down Moses comes from the old testament book of Exodus, telling of Moses admonishing Pharaoh to allow the enslaved Israelites to leave Egypt. I felt that song left the story hanging. So I added a verse & chorus from the gospel song Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep to close out the story as Pharaoh’s pursuing army was destroyed at the parting of the sea.


Midnight Special This song has been done in many styles. Although credited to blues/folk singer Lead Belly, the actual origin is uncertain. Different versions suggest it refers to different states, it is most likely about a prison in Texas. My version is more bluesy, with a final verse localized to our county sheriff and jail here in Florida.


I wish to acknowledge the help I’ve received from some very talented people. First, there have been Annette Abbondanza (Painted Raven) and Ken Holt (Who I Am) who have critiqued and offered suggestions for all of the tracks as I completed initial mixes. Their fine ear and experience in producing and recording CDs of their own have been invaluable. As with my first CD, my special gratitude to Joyce Bugaiski, a very talented artist and dear friend, for adapting a photo by my friend, Lou Seiler, for the artwork on the cover of this CD. I also must express my appreciation to my friend, Laura Swartz from our church praise band, for contributing her sweet voice on a couple of the tracks.  As always, I appreciate my wife, Claire, for her support and understanding when I get wrapped up in projects like this.