Remembering The Old Songs:


by Bob Waltz
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, August, 2010)

As you've probably noticed by now, MBOTMA is trying to build a new dance floor at El Rancho Mañana — which means raising money. Read more about that in Jed Malischke's Executive Director article in this issue.

Of course, we could just build it and try to pay for it over the years -- but debt has its problems. Surely, if there is one thing the current economic mess should have taught us, it's "don't go in over your heads"!

Of course, this is by no means a new discovery. I suspect no one knows who was the first person to get in debt trouble -- probably Oog the caveman who promised his potential father-in-law a certain number of spearheads as a bride price and couldn't deliver. Certainly it has been a recurring theme in history.

Hence songs like this one. It's usually listed as "traditional" -- but it seems as if every known version goes back to the 1931 recording by the "Arkansas Woodchopper" (a pseudonym for Luther Ossenbrink) on Conqueror 7887. Most of Ossenbrink's songs are attested by other sources, but I think in this case we have to admit at least the possibility that he wrote the song himself -- note that the tune is a rather monotonous wandering around on the notes of the rarely-varying chords1.  I didn't really represent the tune fully (there are, in a way, A and B parts plus a slight variation in the final verse), but you can certainly figure it out from this.

I have never heard the Arkansas Woodchopper recording; I learned the song mostly from Bob Bovee and Gail Heil's recording For Old Time's Sake, with some New Lost City Ramblers mixed in. Bob and Gail added a final verse, updating the song to conditions circa 1985 -- but I thought it better to leave that off, partly for copyright reasons and partly so that you (or they) can come up with your own verses for circa 2010....


Complete Lyrics:

A friend of mine bought a radio
For a dollar down and a dollar a week.
He said, "It's the easiest trap I know,
For a dollar down and a dollar a week.

So he bought a rug and a fountain pen,
A runabout car right here and then
A set of the lives of the famous men
For a dollar down and a dollar a week.

Then he bought him a shirt and a suit and shoes
For a dollar down and a dollar a week.
He joined a lodge and he paid his dues,
'Twas a dollar down and a dollar a week.

Then he bought him a ring that was fair to see
For the lily-white hand of his bride to be,
And when he got married, the minister's fee
Was a dollar down and a dollar a week.

When the baby came, the doctor got
A dollar down and a dollar a week.
My friend, he clothed and fed that tot
On a dollar down and a dollar a week.

At last, said his wife, I must be free.
These weekly payments are killing me,
So he got a divorce, and the alimony
Was a dollar down and a dollar a week.

1. [Note by Lyle]: The words are probably original, but the tune is very close to the verse part of Golden Slippers.

Return to the Remembering the Old Songs page.