I was first introduced to “The Wagoner’s Lad” rather late, compared to any of the other tunes I’ve collected here, on The Duhks’ eponymous CD. (At one point in time they were my favorite band. I tried very hard to still like them when Jessee Havey left and when Fast Paced World came out, and no offense to Sarah Dugas who is an amazing singer, but I couldn’t get into it. But it seems that  both Jessee Havey and fiddler Tania Elizabeth are back, and they’re recording again as of 2013, and I *cannot wait* for their next record. After that, the Carolina Chocolate Drops was probably my new favorite band.) But anyway, this is supposed to be about the Wagoner’s Lad, sorry 🙂 Fortunately, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Duhks both do versions of songs in this “song family.”

Most versions of this song tell the story at least partially from a woman’s perspective, with the central message relating to “hard is the fortune of all womankind.” But it’s not a song of betrayal, nor of the losses to war, which is what you often find when you find a woman’s story being told in these old tunes. It’s a lot more personal, simple, and I suppose domestic and quiet:

I am a poor girl, my fortune is sad
I’ve always been courted by the wagoner’s lad
He’s courted me daily, by night and by day
And now he is loaded and going away

As the editors of the Traditional Ballad Index note, The Wagoner’s Lad has “produced many non-ballad offspring,” including “On Top of Old Smokey.” Other variations include:

  • Farewell, Sweet Mary
  • Rye Whiskey
  • An Inconstant Lover
  • Jack o’ Diamonds
  • O Lily, Dear Lily

Some versions for your listening pleasure:

  • Ed Kuepper – Pretty Mary (unfortunately incomplete, but it’s the only Kuepper version on youtube I could find when I posted this page)

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After starting this project, I discovered The Old Weird America: Gael David Hayat’s Exploration of Harry Smith’s Anthology. Hayat provides a nice varied array of versions across time, and the project is much more organized and thorough than anything I could ever hope to do, but since I’m focusing on versions available for anyone to be able to listen to online – which means mostly youtube –  I haven’t let the existence of Hayat’s (much better and also much more focused) blog stop me from my piecemeal work here yet. But you should definitely go have a look.

Here’s Rye Whiskey at the Mudcat Cafe, including some verse variations that might help you see the connections between, say, the Duhks’ version of “The Wagoner’s Lad” and the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ “Jack o Diamonds,” which might not be immediately apparent. Here’s a snippet:

O Mollie, O Mollie, it’s for your sake alone
That I’d leave my old parents, my house, and my home.
I’ll eat when I’m hungry, I’ll drink when I’m dry,
And when I get thirsty I’ll lay down and cry.

I’ll think of you, Mollie. You caused me to roam.
I’m a rabble soldier and Dixie’s my home.
But the ocean ain’t whiskey, and I ain’t no duck,
So I’ll play jack o’ diamonds and try to change my luck.

I’ll eat when I’m hungry, I’ll drink when I’m dry.
If those Yankees don’t kill me, I’ll fight till I die.

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last link check: 20 May 2013

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