The High Lonesome Sound, Transcription

Transcription by Daniel W. Patterson


THE HIGH LONESOME SOUND: KENTUCKY MOUNTAIN MUSIC

A FILM BY JOHN COHEN

(Random scenes from a mining community, ending with a railroad trestle where people have gathered to witness a river baptism.)

(Singing "Shall We Gather at the River"):
. . . saints at the river,
That flows from the throne of God,
Ere we reach the shining river. . .

PREACHER:
By the command of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by the command of our Lord and Savior, we now baptize this our sister in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

(Women in this Holiness group give loud cries as one is baptized and rises from the water shouting. Train cars rumble by.)

NARRATOR (over shots of miners in work clothes):
Music is the celebration of the hard life here in Kentucky. The home music and the church singing are a way of holding on to the old dignity. Music is not an escape. It gives a way of making life possible to go on. Life is hard here, and music is the celebration.

(Miners ride out of the mine at the end of their shift)

(Scenes in front of a courthouse)

NARRATOR:
Hazard, Kentucky, in 1962 is reminiscent of the Depression of the 1930s. People are in town looking for work. They say these are the worst times they have ever seen. In earlier years these hills of eastern Kentucky provided land for farming to raise enough food to live on. But now the mountains are about worn out. Farms gave way to mining, and now machinery is replacing the miners. Times are hard, and people don’t see how they’re going to get better.

(Men conversing. The scene changes. The camera pans down a hillside to a mountain home and a man seated on a porch.)

NARRATOR:
This is Roscoe Holcomb, an unemployed construction worker, who is no one different from his neighbors. He is faced with the same problems that they are—no work and no desire to move out of the mountains.

(Shots of Roscoe and then of the natural scene around him end focused on his banjo as he plays it.)

ROSCOE (singing a fragment of the broadside ballad “Jack Monroe” (Laws N7)—the first stanza is from some other source):

Across the rocky mountain I walked for miles and miles.
Across the rocky mountain I walked for miles and miles.
Say, I’ll never forget my mother’s looks—God bless her sweetly smile.

There was an old rich farmer who lived in the neighborhood by.
He had an only daughter. On her I cast my eye.
She was most tall and handsome, blue eyes and curly hair,
There's no other girl in this wide world with her I could compare.

She was courted by three squires; so well they did agree.
She was courted by three squires; so well they did agree,
But to no one like Jack the sailor who crossed the deep blue sea.

She was walking through the battlefield, a-searching up and down.
She was walking through the battlefield, a-searching up and down.
All among the dead and wounded, her darling Jack she found.

So she picked him up all in her arms, she carried him to the town.
She picked him up all in her arms, she carried him to the town.
She took him to the doctor, for to quickly heal the wound.

(The banjo continues over shots of men riding into the mouth of the mine.)

ROSCOE HOLCOMB (over shots of him sitting in a swing on the porch):
You know, music it’ll—it’s spiritual.  You take a little kid, I’ve noticed, that can’t even sit alone, and you pull the strings on some kind of instrument—a fiddle or banjo or something another like that—and you watch how quick it draws the attention of that kid.  It’ll do its best to get ahold of that.  And it draws the attention of the whole human race. The year that I started trying to learn to play a banjo—and it’s pretty hard times, no way for a man to get work. And so I asked God to give me something that I could do that I could make a little money.  And twelve months from the time I started playing with this old fiddler I had learned around four hundred tunes, could sing practically every one of them. That’s why I say that it is a gift. And I believe that God give it to me. I believe it enough that I’m going to let him take. . .

(A scene of a well pump and two puppies playing, with the sound of banjo gradually growing louder as the camera pans over several narrow houses side by side to the porch of one, where Roscoe sits playing a dance tune, with his cousin Mary Jane seated to the left and her adopted son Odabe Holcomb buck dancing to the right and a boy watches from steps at the end of porch.)

ROSCOE HOLCOMB (singing “Little Birdie” on the porch, followed by views of a bleak landscape left by mining):

If I were some little birdie,
I’d never build my nest on the ground.
I’d build my nest in some pretty girl’s breast
Where the bad boys would never tear it down.

NARRATOR (over shot of a small mountain church, exterior and interior):
This is the Regular Baptist Church, one of the oldest in the mountains, where they line out the Old Baptist songs.

THE ELDER (preaching in the chanting style):
Yes, thanks be to God this morning-ah
Yes, sisters-ah
That one of these days-ah
this trouble’s going to be over-ah.
Yes, one of these days-ah
sickness is going to be in the past.
One of these days-ah
there’ll be no need of doctors-ah.
One of these days
there’ll be no need of hospitals.
Yes, one of these days
there’ll be no need of [     ] here.
But yonder in Heaven-ah
It’s where God has prepared
Yes, some mansions for us.
What’s wrong with people today
Is they’ve forgot to shout-ah
They’ve forgot to praise God-ah
They’ve forgot to take God as their Savior
Yes, let me tell you this morning-ah
That Jesus is coming back-ah.

(Men in the congregation kneel and bow in prayer facing their pews, women remain seated.)

PRAYER LEADER (prays and gradually others begin praying audibly too):
Our dear Heavenly Father, we thank you
for the ability we have of God  
to fall upon our faces and call upon thy good name.
Oh Lord, this morning I pray
For those here in this life in our mountains,
And in particular we pray, God,
our prayers may be pleasing unto thee. 
Oh, God, this morning I pray
that you will bless each and every one
assembled in this place of worship. 
Our Heavenly father I pray in the name. . .
(edit skips ahead to later in the prayer)
[. . gospel man. . .  . ]
for the prayers of the heart
until Jesus comes to deliver us.
O God, the last thing is this:
to never be afraid to be saved.
In Jesus’s name we ask. Amen.

OTHERS: Amen.

(The men take their seats again. The scene shifts to miners walking out of the mouth of the mine, then shifts back to the church again.)

CONGREGATION (singing, all standing):
When I can read my title clear
LEADER (chanting the next line): To mansions in the skies,
CONGREGATION (singing): To mansions in the skies,
LEADER: I’ll bid farewell to every fear,

(Some men start moving about to take a parting hand at the end of the service; women, remaining in place, also extend a hand to those in reach.)

CONGREGATION: I’ll bid farewell to every fear,
LEADER: And wipe my weeping eye.
CONGREGATION: And wipe my weeping eye.
LEADER: Should earth against my soul engage,
CONGREGATION: Should earth against my soul engage,
LEADER: And fiery darts be hurled,
CONGREGATION:  And fiery darts be hurled,
LEADER: Then I can smile at Satan’s rage,
CONGREGATION: Then I can smile at Satan’s rage. . . .

(Scene shifts to a miner’s home, where his children wait and he arrives home from work.)

NARRATOR:  This is Farmer Shepherd, one of the few around with a regular job.  He works in the big company mine.

FARMER SHEPHERD (taking off his work helmet and gloves, end of a conversation with his son): . . . and if that’s dropping it, don’t care about dropping it.

A SHEPHERD BOY AND GIRL, TEENAGERS (singing “Seven Nights Drunk” and accompanying themselves on guitars, with a third playing a mandolin: the visual, however, shows a boy playing on a banjo—with shots of the family listening and then other shots of the family inside and outside their house):

Last Saturday night I come in as drunk as I could be,
Found a horse standing in the stable where my horse ought to be.
“Look, little wifee, and ‘splain this thing to me
How come a horse standing in the stable where my horse ought to be?”

“You blind fool, you crazy fool, can’t you never see?
That is only a milk cow your mama gave to me.”
Traveled this world over, a thousand miles or more,
Saddle upon a milk cow’s back I never see before.

Last night when I came in as drunk as I could be,
Found a coat hanging on the rack where my coat ought to be.
“C’mere, my little wifee, and ‘splain this thing to me.
How come a coat hanging on the rack where my coat ought to be?”

“You blind fool, you crazy fool, can’t you never see?
That is only a bed quilt your mama gave to me.”
Traveled this world over, a thousand miles and more,
Pocket upon a bed quilt I never see before.

Last night when I come in as drunk as I could be,
Found a head laying on the pillow where my head ought to be.
“C’mere, my little wifee, and ‘splain this thing to me
How come a head laying where my head ought to be?”

 “You blind fool, you crazy fool, can’t you never see?
That is only a cabbage head your mama gave to me.
Traveled this wide world over, a thousand miles and more
But a banjo on a cabbage head I never see before.

(Extended shot of the Shepherd family eating supper and other shots of them and their house.)

NARRATOR: The Shepherd family and Roscoe sing their music around the house. It is this music which joins them to the generations before—their ballads and church songs are the old traditions from which the new music has come. Now hillbilly, bluegrass, and country rock and roll are heard alongside of the old-time music and are just as much a part of the mountains.

(Roscoe and two other family members climb up a path carrying bags and boxes of groceries. Shots of the mountains and of Roscoe at a distance hoeing in his garden.)

NARRATOR:  Before the coal came in, man made his living on a farm. Now again with no employment, Roscoe continues to work on the land and raises enough to support himself and his family.

(The scene shifts to indoors, where a daughter, tunes a radio to a station playing modern music and begins dancing to it on the porch. The music continues as the camera turns back to Roscoe hoeing and a young girl dances the twist and a baby tries to cross to Roscoe. The scene shifts indoors to a night-time dance hall where many couples dance the twist to the music of a band that includes a black percussionist. The hubbub fades as the scene shifts to a crowd in front of the courthouse in Hazard, Kentucky.)

Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Band start performing “John Henry” to a crowd that includes some black people among the large crowd of local whites:

John Henry went upon the mountain,
Looked down on the other side.
Lord, the mountain was so tall,
John Henry was so small.
He laid down his hammer and he cried, Lord, Lord.
He laid down his hammer and he cried.

John Henry walked to the top,
Had his captain by his side.
The last words that John Henry said,
“Bring me a cool drink of water 'fore I die, Lord, Lord
Cool drink, Lord, ‘fore I die.”

NARRATOR:  The most recent church in the hills is the Holiness, where they praise the Lord with stringed instruments and shouting. 

HOLINESS CHURCH CONGREGATION:

I once was lost in sin but Jesus took me in,
And then a little light from Heaven filled my soul;
It bathed my heart in love and wrote my name above,
And just a little talk with Jesus made me whole.
(Chorus) Now let us have a little talk with Jesus,
   Let us tell Him all about our troubles;
   He will hear our faintest cry, He will answer by and by;
   Now when you feel a little prayer wheel turning,
   Then you'll know a little fire is burning;
   You will find a little talk with Jesus makes it right.

I may have doubts and fears, my eyes be filled with tears,
But Jesus is a friend who watches day and night;
I go to Him in prayer, He knows my every care,
And just a little talk with Jesus makes it right.
   (Chorus)

Sometimes my path seems drear without a ray of cheer,
And then a cloud of doubt hides the light of day;
The mists of sin may rise and hide the starry skies,
And just a little talk with Jesus clears the way.

MALE VOICE:  Praise the Lord! That’s going to be a wonderful country!  Hallelujah!
(General clamor, some people speaking in unknown tongues)

PREACHER:  Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Oh let me tell you one thing in this world.
It’s time that people are waking up
And getting into the real thing,
Follow the way of God. . .

(The shouting drowns out the preaching. Some people speak in unknown tongues.)
They better get rid of adultery,
They better get rid of everything
That God [                         ]
Thou shalt not commit adultery,
Thou shalt not lie,
Thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not bear false witness
(the preaching is drowned out by the congregation)
Brother Shepherd, I just as soon preach this in New York as anywhere. . .
That’s what’s the matter with the world today—
They’ve streamlined the power of God,
the plan of salvation
[             ]
Glory be to God! Hallelujah!

MALE VOICE (giving the invitation): If there’s somebody tonight who's tired of sin, who’d love to come to God, who’d love to know more about him, who’d love to be a child of God, who’d love to be born again, tonight. . .  (the shouts and clapping of the congregation drown out the voice. A woman in a trance is talking in tongues, attended by other women.)

WOMEN’S GROUP (singing “There’s a Higher Power”):
. . .  there’s a higher power,
Amen, Amen, there’s a higher power.

(Over silence, the scene shifts to the mountains and the home of Roscoe Holcomb, first its outside, then rooms inside and to Roscoe himself.)

ROSCOE (singing from the song text of “The Wandering Boy” as printed in the New Baptist Songbook published by Foster Ratcliff, Lookout, Kentucky, a paperback used by churches of the Old Regular Baptist denomination. He follows their usual congregational practice of “lining out,” alternating the chanting of a line followed by the singing of the words to a phrase of the melody, a hold-over from earlier times when congregations lacked books or had members who could not read).

As I travel this wide world over,
Friends I find wherever I roam,
But to me there's none like Mother,
None like Mother dear at home.

They may treat me very kindly,
Bid me welcome everywhere,
But it just only reminds me
Of a loving mother's care.

Oh, how oft I’ve wept and pondered,
Though my life I’m far away.
Far from home in sin I wandered
Back to hear my mother pray.

“Oh, God wilt thou have mercy
On my darling precious boy?
Save, protect him, Lord, I pray thee.
Let not sin his soul destroy.”


[Credits]

ROSCOE HOLCOMB . . . . .  DAISY, KY
          sings
          ACROSS THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN
          LITTLE BIRDIE
          THE WANDERING BOY

THE SHEPHERD FAMILY . OLD HOUSE BRANCH, KY
          sings
          FIVE NIGHTS DRUNK

REGULAR BAPTIST CHURCH . . . JEFF, KY.
          sings
          WHEN I CAN READ MY TITLE CLEAR

HOLINESS CHURCH OF GOD . .  DELPHIA, KY.
          sings
          HAVE A LITTLE TALK WITH JESUS

BILL MONROE & BLUEGRASS BOYS
          sing
          JOHN HENRY

Edited by
          PATRICIA JAFFE

Photography & sound by
           JOHN COHEN

Assistant
          JOEL AGEE

Acknowledgements:
          WILLIAM MELLON

Moe Asch (Folkways Records), Helen Levitt, Sidney Meyers
Jerry Michaels, Faith & John Hubley, Peter Smollett
Mike Seeger, Robert Frank, Herbert Matter

RELEASED BY BRANDON FILMS INC.