Remembering The Old Songs:


by Lyle Lofgren
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, March, 2009)

On March 21st, I intend to light a candle for Bascom Lamar Lunsford: it's his 127th birthday. Lunsford (1882-1973) was an Asheville, NC, lawyer and musician who collected and performed a lot of music that would otherwise have been lost. For a time in his youth, he sold fruit trees, a job that took him far back into the hollers of western North Carolina. He was already a proficient fiddle and banjo player, and he learned old ballads and songs from his customers. He reproduced some of them in 1922 on wax cylinders for the collector Frank C. Brown, and, from 1924 - 1930, recorded 18 sides for commercial record companies. He continued learning old songs, and in his later years, performed many of them for the Library of Congress collection. His most enduring contribution, though, was in 1927, when he started the Asheville Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, which, remarkably, still happens at the end of July every year.

I know of no other source for Dry Bones than Lunsford's 1928 recording (reissued on the Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music). Lunsford said he learned it from an itinerant Black preacher named Romney. I don't know how much Lunsford modified the song, but he uses a typical mountain banjo tradition for a slow song: play fast and sing slowly. The result is a very free rhythm that I could only approximate on the sheet music; you really need to listen to the record to learn it.

This song is odd in another way: most religious songs that retell bible stories concentrate on only one, such as Jonah and the Whale. This is an anthology of bible stories, but I can't find any connecting theme. For those of you who want to do more research, Bob Waltz, in the Ballad Index has compiled a concordance for the verses:
(1) Genesis 5:21-24;
(2) Acts 16:25-26;
(3) Exodus 3:2ff;
(4) Ezekiel 37:1-10;
(5) Genesis 3:13.
It's interesting that, in this last story, Yahveh's main fear is that the serpent (only later connected with Satan) will show Adam and Eve the secret to living indefinitely (Genesis 3:22). Coincidentally, in the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh, (circa 2700 BCE), the hero attains the boon of eternal life, but a snake steals it and slithers off into the grass, leaving its old skin behind.


Complete Lyrics:
1. Oh Enoch, he lived to be three hundred and sixty-five
When the Lord came and took him back to heaven alive.

I saw, I saw the light from heaven a-shining all around,
I saw the light come shining, I saw the light come down.

2. When Paul prayed in prison, them prison walls fell down.
The prison keeper shouted, "redeeming love I've found."


3. When Moses saw that burning bush, he walked it 'round and 'round,
And the Lord said to Moses, "you'se treadin' on holy ground."


4. Dry bones in that valley got up and took a little walk.
The deaf could hear and the dumb could talk.


5. Adam and Eve in the garden under that sycamore tree.
Eve said to Adam, "Satan am a-temptin' me.


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