Story Folk Songs (Day Twenty-Four of Homemade Music)

Welcome to 31 Days of Homemade Music! This month we are exploring how and why everyone can benefit from being an active participant in music making. To read more posts in this series, click here.

Yesterday we had a brief introduction to folk music. The thing is that “folk” is a very broad category that encompasses many styles. Today, I want to share with you a few of my favorite folk songs that tell a story. There are a gazillion and one to list, but I’ll start with three.

For each song, I’ll share the lyrics, a video, and a link to the chords so you can give these a whirl yourself. Don’t play an instrument? No problem. Try singing them, improvising harmony along with the video, or writing your own additional verses. Feel free to vary the melody or change the strum patterns. (If you listen to 10 different artists play these songs, you will hear 10 different versions.) That’s the beauty of a folk song- you can make it your own.

Ready or not, here we go!

Bird’s Courting Song– A beautiful little song in which several birds (and a bat) disclose in clever verse how they came to own the characteristics that mark them. And should it surprise us that they all came through love gained or lost?

Lyrics:

Hi! says the blackbird, sitting on a chair,
Once I courted a lady fair;
She proved fickle and turned her back,
And ever since then I’m dressed in black.

Hi! says the blue-jay as she flew,
If I was a young man I’d have two;
If one proved fickle and chanced for to go,
I’d have a new string to my bow.

Hi! says the little leather winged bat,
I will tell you the reason that,
The reason that I fly in the night
Is because I lost my heart’s delight.

Hi! says the little mourning dove,
I’ll tell you how to gain her love;
Court her night and court her day,
Never give her time to say “0 nay.”

Hi! said the woodpecker sitting on a fence,
Once I courted a handsome wench;
She proved fickle and from me fled,
And ever since then my head’s been red.

Get the chords for Bird’s Courting Song here.

I Ride an Old Paint- This is an old western song that outlines a sorrowful cowboy’s tale, but highlights the comfort and familiarity of riding his horse throughout life’s many troubles.

Lyrics:

I ride an old paint, I lead an old dan
I’m goin’ to Montana to throw the hoolihan
They feed in the coulees, they water in the draw
Their tails are all matted, their backs are all raw

Ride around little dogies, ride around them slow
For the fiery and snuffy are rarin’ to go

Old Bill Jones had a daughter and a son
One went to college, the other went wrong
His wife, she got killed in a poolroom fight
But still he’s a-singin’ from mornin’ till night

When I die, take my saddle from the wall
Place it on my old pony, lead him out of his stall
Tie my bones to my saddle and turn our faces to the West
And we’ll ride the prairie we love the best

Read Cowboy Poetry’s commentary on the song for more info on all the cowboy lingo in this song. Get the chords for Old Paint here.

The Lily of the West- A man meets lovely Flora and falls in love with her. Flora cheats and the singer is so enraged that he murders Flora’s lover. Ultimately the author serves time, but still he loves his Flora, the lily of the west. This is a classic murder folk song, of which there are many.

When first I came to Louisville, some pleasure there to find
A damsel there from Lexington was pleasing to my mind
Her rosy cheeks, her ruby lips, like arrows pierced my breast
And the name she bore was Flora, the lily of the west.

I courted lovely Flora some pleasure for to find
But she turned unto another man whose sore distressed my mind
She robbed me of my liberty, deprived me of my rest
Then go, my lovely Flora, the lily of the west.

Away down in yonder shady grove, a man of high degree
Conversin’ with my Flora there, it seemed so strange to me
And the answer that she gave to him it sore did me oppress
I was betrayed by Flora, the lily of the west.

I stepped up my rival, dagger in my hand
I seized him by the collar, and bodly made him stand
Seing mad by desperation I pierced him to the breast
All this for lovely Flora, the lily of the west.

I had to stand my trial, I had to make my plea
They placed me in the witness box and then commenced on me
Although she swore my life away, deprived me of my rest
Still I love my faithless Flora, the Lily of the west.

Grab the chords for Flora here.

If you enjoyed these songs, you can also have a listen to other story songs like Barbara Allen and Frankie and Johnny, for starters. For fun before you go, you can also check out our own “murder ballad” played with friends. I’ll also be posting more songs on my Facebook page. I just can’t decide which ones I want to share with you because I love so many! Looking forward to having you come back tomorrow.

 

 

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