Remembering the Old Songs:

"Clayton Boone" [Child #200]

by Bob Waltz
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, November 1999)

Last month, Lyle did a version of The Gypsy Laddie [Child #200], and we discussed it a bit back and forth. He mentioned last month that he had several favorite versions of this ballad, which was unusual for him. It's not unique for me; I know and sing three versions of The Golden Vanity [Child #286], and know and sing four versions of The Twa Sisters [Child #10].

But I think The Gypsy Laddie holds my record as well as Lyle's; I know eight different versions. The oldest, at least in terms of the internal references, is from Scotland:

Three gypsies cam tae oor ha' door,
And O! but they sang bonnie;
They sang sae neat and sae complete
That they've charmed the hairt o' a lady.

At least six of the others are American. But often only mildly American. The Mysterious Stranger, in most cases, is still a gypsy (or, in one case, a Gypsum Davy), and the jilted husband still seems a lot like a nobleman. The tunes are very different (alternating between duple and triple meter), and some have choruses and some don't, but all would sound perfectly at home in England if you just twisted the vowels a bit and got rid of the accompaniment.

Not this one. This is the cowboy version of the Gypsy Laddie. It could never have existed anywhere but in the American Southwest. And it's different enough that I decided it was worth "repeating" a song to let you have this version. It's not my favorite -- but it's sort of like the Riders in the Sky line: "There's the Right Way, the Wrong Way, and the Cowboy Way." This is the Cowboy Way.

I don't know the origins of this particular version; it goes back, at several removes, to a recording of cowboy songs by Harry Jackson. But I don't know Jackson's source.

Most of the background to this piece, naturally, matches that from last month's issue. But Lyle was able to help me out with a few things. A "proud-cut" horse is one which has been partially castrated, leaving it infertile but still with some of the mannerisms of a stallion. (Or something like that.)

We also agreed that this is the only time the gypsy ever played a mandolin. Apparently it's a bluegrass gypsy.

Clayton Boone

Complete Lyrics:

Out and along in New Mexico,
Down on the Spanish line,
Working for old Clayton Boone,
A man well past his prime.

He rides in and he asks of me,
"What happened to my lady?"
Says to him, "She's quit your range;
Gone with the handsome Davy."

"Go saddle to me the proud-cut dun
With coal-black mane and tail.
Point out to me their fresh-laid tracks
And after them I'll trail.

"I'll buckle on my leathern chaps
And tie my pistol over;
Step aboard that proud-cut dun,
Ride this wide world over.

"I'll ride upon a saddle fine,
Saddle made of silver,
With bridle reins of the beaten gold,
Not of your common leather."

Well, I rode till I came to the midnight moon
When I saw the campfire gleaming;
Heard the sweetest mandolin
And the voice of the young Dave singing.

"Come home, come home to your own sweet bed
With the sheets turned down so gaily.
Don't forget your silver and gold
And your darling baby."

"Oh, I'll not come home to my own sweet bed
With the sheets turned down so gaily,
And I'll forget your silver and gold,
All for the love of Davy.
But I can't forget my baby.

"Last night I slept in a goosefeather bed
In a golden room so stately;
Tonight I'll sleep on the hard, cold ground
By the warm side of my Davy.
And I'll ride along with Davy."


Cataloging all versions of this song is simply impossible; I know of versions from all parts of England, Scotland, Ireland, and the U.S., as well as eastern Canada. Bronson lists 128 tunes; if that's not enough, you're in even worse shape than we are.

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