Remembering The Old Songs:


By Bob Waltz
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, April 2001)

I'm ashamed to say that I know virtually nothing about this month's song, except that it strikes me as more suitable for Easter than anything else I'm likely to pull out of my hat. It's not a traditional song, except perhaps in the Bahamas. It's not part of the standard Old-Time repertoire. But it's been done by Tom, Brad, and Alice; what more could you really want?

I first heard this song over twenty years ago, sung by Bill Staines in a version derived from Joseph Spence. Spence called it I Bid You Good Night. It almost doesn't qualify as the same song; the Spence version has pretty much the same melody (close enough for folk music, anyway), but keeps only the first verse, and hacks on that -- then repeats it, with variations and a bit of call-and-answer. The result went something like this:

Lay down, dear brother,
Lay down and take your rest,
Lay your head upon the Savior's breast,
I love you, but Jesus loves you best,
And I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
Chorus: And I bid you goodnight....

[Repeat for sister, mother, father, with leader interspersing remarks such as "Chariot's coming, see the waves a-rolling."]

That was enough for me; I learned the song, and never really worried about it much. I assumed it was traditional in the Bahamas, and that was that.

But Tom, Brad, and Alice are more curious than I am. They dug around until they found the original in the Cokesbury Hymnal. Turns out that, instead of one verse, there are seven. The song is credited to F.A. and J.E. Sankey, and is properly titled The Christian's 'Good-Night'. Whatever it's called, and however it's played, it's a great melody, and unlike many hymns, the lyrics are tolerable, if only barely.

Apparently Tom, Brad, and Alice felt the same hesitation about the lyrics, since they sing only four of the seven verses. I'll follow their example.

This piece just cries out for fingerstyle guitar, and indeed, that's what Tom Sauber plays. But he retunes the guitar to an open D tuning (DADF#AD), while Brad Leftwich tunes the fiddle ADAD. All those special tunings give the song an incredibly rich sound -- but they also make it harder to play. Turns out that you can get almost the same sound by transposing up to G and playing the guitar in standard tuning. It's harder to harmonize in that case (you need a tenor who is really a tenor), but some things are worth it.

This is one of those songs that just gets into your head and sticks there. I played the Staines/Spence version for years. I expect to be playing the TBA version just as long.


Complete lyrics:
Sleep on, beloved, sleep and take your rest;
Lay down your head upon the Savior's breast.
I love you well, but Jesus loves you best,
Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
Lord, I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.

Long is your slumber as an infant's sleep,
But you shall wake no more to toil and weep.
Thine is a perfect rest so pure and deep.
Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
Lord, I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.

Until the shadows from this earth are cast,
Until he gathers in his sheaves at last,
Until the twilight gloom be overpass'd,
Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
Lord, I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.

Until, made beautiful by love divine,
Thou in the lightness of the Lord shall shine
And he shall bring that golden crown of thine,
Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.
And I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.

Note from Lyle, 2005:The Bahamas recording was actually by The Pindar Family, who presumably were a Bahamian gospel group. Joseph Spence played guitar behind them on the record. I can't imagine what the song would have been like if Spence had done it solo, because he had a unique singing style, and that's an understatement. You can hear the Pindar Family's rendition of this song, along with a lot of other terrific material, on The Music Never Stopped, Schanatchie CD 6014. There's also a fine rendition of the Pindar version by the Any Old Time String Band on Arhoolie CD433, I Bid You Goodnight.
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