Remembering The Old Songs:


by Lyle Lofgren
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, July 2000)

Gypsies may not be the only outcaste group wandering around in the world, but they're certainly the most famous. Linguistic evidence says they came from somewhere on the Indian sub-continent. They first appeared in eastern Europe in the 1300's, where they were identified as "Egyptians," from whence "Gypsy." Some of them were forcibly turned into serfs, but enough remained nomadic to keep the legend going about the talents of the men as coppersmiths, tinkers and musicians; and the women as palmists, sorcerers, fortune tellers, and pickpockets. Colorful folklore, mainly of European origin, about their lifestyles and habits makes truths about them extremely elusive. A random example of the Gypsy legend, presented as fact, from the 1952 Encyclopedia Brittanica:

The large silk kerchief, worn over the head by married women, the necklaces of gold coins, the gay dresses, are distinctive. They travel by train and motor car and live by the fortune-telling of the women. Formerly most of them were coppersmiths. A few are professional musicians, and nearly all have a talent for music. They have preserved many stories and songs in their own language. In summer they live in tents; but during the cold months they move into the cities, where they live in (abandoned) stores. Prosperity is tending to Americanize them; but like all Romanies, they readily revert to age-old traits.

Fear of nomadic outsiders might seem harmless, and maybe conducive to community cohesion, except the Gypsies of Europe were continuously persecuted by the locals, culminating with the Nazis, who exterminated them with almost as much zeal as they applied to the Jews. That's a high price to pay for the possession of a deck of Tarot cards and an unwillingness to settle down and assimilate.

Most traditional American songs about Gypsies, all of British origin, faithfully follow the fears about their threats to community stability. They include child killers (The Fatal Flower Garden, published here in the Dec. 1997 issue); wife-seducers (The Gypsy Davy, Oct. 1999 issue); and women who warn the innocent about untrustworthy men (The Gypsy's Warning, a possible future topic).

My Gypsy Girl is unusual in that the story is told from the outcaste's perspective, she did not pick the squire's pocket, and she seems to have no trouble adapting to the high-class sedentary life. The song originated in England, and has been collected there, as well as several locations in the American Midwest and South. This version was recorded by Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers in 1930. As always, learn these songs from the original recording if you can. It is re-released on CD by County Records in Volume 2 of their Charlie Poole series. We don't know Charlie's source for this version, but he probably heard it in his youth, and he performs it in a traditional manner. It does not have the ragtime rhythms he used on the more modern Tin Pan Alley songs the North Carolina Ramblers produced.

The musical notation is for the second verse, which is complete. The truncated first and last verses use the tune from lines 1, 2, 5 and 6 given in the music.

My Gypsy Girl

Complete lyrics:
Once I was a gypsy girl, but now I'm a rich man's bride,
With servants to wait on me while in my carriage ride;
While in my carriage ride, while in my carriage ride,
With servants to wait on me while in my carriage ride.

When I was strolling one day down a London street,
A handsome young squire was the first I chanced to meet;
He viewed my pretty brown cheeks, which now he loves so well,
He says, "You, my gypsy gal, will you my fortune tell?
Will you my fortune tell, will you my fortune tell,
He says, "my little gypsy girl, will you my fortune tell?"

"Yes sir, kind sir, please hold to me your hand.
You have many fine mansions in many foreign land.
But all those fine young ladies, you've cast them all aside,
I am the gypsy girl who is to be your bride.
Who is to be your bride, who is to be your bride,
I am the gypsy girl who is to be your bride."

He took me, he led me, to a pleasant quiet shore,
With servants to wait on me and open my own door.
And open my own door, and open my own door,
With servants to wait on me and open my own door.

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