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Wednesday night, I was listening to  different versions of the standard bluegrass fiddle tune "Arkansas Traveler", from the database of such things at the Digital Library of Appalachia,  trying to learn how to sing it.

 

Oh once upon a time in Arkansas

An old man sat in his little cabin door,

And fiddled at a tune that he liked to hear,

A jolly old tune that he played by ear.

It was raining hard but the fiddler didn't care
He sawed away at the popular air,
Though his roof tree leaked like a water fall
That didn't seem to bother that man at all

 

A traveler was riding by that day,
And stopped to hear him a-practicing away
The cabin was afloat and his feet were wet,
But still the old man didn't seem to fret.

So the stranger said: "Now the way it seems to me,
You'd better mend your roof," said he.
But the old man said, as he played away:
"I couldn't mend it now, it's a rainy day."

 

The traveler replied: "That's all quite true,
But this, I think, is the thing for you to do;
Get busy on a day that is fair and bright,
Then pitch the old roof till it's good and tight."

But the old man kept on a-playing at his reel,
And tapped the ground with his leathery heel:
"Get along," said he, "for you give me a pain;
My cabin never leaks when it doesn't rain."

 

I got the lyrics from another website, but it's always played as an instrumental piece, at breakneck speed and with endless variations that make it difficult to fit the frenetic fiddle sawing and the simple rhymes together. Music beats art all hollow. Oh, well. You've got to go for whatcha' know.

 

 

also by Bill Davenport
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