15 June 2015

'Danny Boy' revisited

On 13 Nov. 2013 the BIB commented on the broadcasting of 'Danny Boy: the ballad that bewitched the world' on RTÉ One TV two nights earlier. Viewers could hear at one point the voice of the Father of Bluegrass singing the song, and at the same time see film footage of Roscoe Holcomb of Daisy, KY, playing a dance tune on banjo on his porch. One speaker in the programme suggested that this recording of the song illustrated the affinities between Ireland and hillbillies. As the programme is scheduled for repeat on RTÉ One TV tonight (15 June 2015), it may be worth recalling our comments of nineteen months ago.

As to the appeal of the song for 'hillbillies', a check on Tony Russell's Country music records: a discography, 1921-1942 gave no indication that any country artist recorded it in that period. The idea that Bill Monroe should record 'Danny Boy' seems to have come from the Decca producer Owen Bradley. Pop recordings of the song by Conway Twitty and Andy Williams had already sold well, and Bradley apparently thought that Monroe's intense, high voice would be right for a country version. Bill Monroe recorded 'Danny Boy' on 30 Nov. 1961, and it was first released in June 1962 on the LP Bluegrass ramble.

Although Rachel Liebling used it in the soundtrack of her film High lonesome about Bill Monroe, it remains something of an oddity among his recorded work and is not generally seen as part of bluegrass repertoire. It serves, however, as an example of how to use the discography in Neil V. Rosenberg and Charles K. Wolfe, The music of Bill Monroe (University of Illinois Press, 2007). The photo on the jacket of this book (above left) was taken at the session at which 'Danny Boy' was recorded.

The Somerset man Frederic Weatherly (1848-1929), who wrote the words of the song, lived in the same village as Henry John 'Harry' Patch (1898-2009), one of whose uncles was a banjo-player.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home