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The Wagoner's Lad

[ Roud 26183 ; Ballad Index R740 ; VWML CJS2/9/2426 ; trad.]

Joan Baez and Roger McGuinn sang Wagoner's Lad in 2001 on McGuinn's CD Treasures from the Folk Den, accompanied by Eliza Carthy on violin. He noted:

I had the pleasure of performing at a tribute concert for The Harry Smith Anthology. sponsored by the Smithsonian, the Folk Alliance, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was a wonderful night of music and re-acquaintance with old friends. Ella Jenkins was there, whom I hadn't seen in over thirty years, as well as the New Lost City Ramblers and new friends Jeff and Jay from Wilco.

This is one of my favourite songs from the Anthology It’s one of those melodies that stays with you long after you've heard the song. The original recording by Buell Kazee is from 1928, with just vocal and 5-string banjo. The format is interesting: the first verse is by a narrator, the second by the girl, the third by the boy, and the fourth and fifth verses are split between the boy and girl. She's trying to talk the Wagoner's Lad into staying with her, and he's dead set on leaving.

Elisabeth LaPrelle sang Wagoner's Lad on her 2004 CD Rain and Snow. She noted:

Buell Kazee of Magoffin, Co.  Kentucky, recorded a version almost exactly like this in the 1920s. I first heard it on the Joan Baez CD, Joan Baez: Vol. 2. Since Kazee was rediscovered in the 1960's folk revival, maybe that's where Baez got her version.

Sarah McQuaid sang The Wagoner's Lad in 2008 on her CD I Won't Go Home 'Til Morning. She noted:

I learned this song from my mother. It appears in a book that belonged to her, still in my possession—The Coffee House Songbook, compiled by Jay D. Edwards and published in 1966 (the year I was born!). The version in the book is more or less the version I learned from her, but there are a number of differences in the lyrics.

There’s another version of The Wagoner’s Lad in my well-thumbed copy of Alan Lomax’s Folk Songs of North America, credited “As sung by Buell Kazee, Eastern Ky., Folkways 7, 251” and Cecil Sharp gives four different versions in English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. The closest one to mine, melodically and lyrically, is that collected from Mrs. Jane Gentry at Hot Springs, North Carolina, on 14 September 1916 [VWML CJS2/9/2426] .

No less than five variants of the song appear in the I.G. Greer Folksong Collection, part of the W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. Two of these include the “I can love you right lightly” verse, which appears in neither Lomax’s version nor any of Sharp’s.

The late Bruce Olson, who was a frequent and erudite contributor to Mudcat before his death in 2002, managed to unearth a song entitled The Ladies Case, by English poet, dramatist and composer Henry Carey (l687-l743) the first verse of which is:

How hard is the fortune of all womankind,
Forever subjected, forever confined,
The parent controls us until we are wives,
The husband enslaves us the rest o four lives.

Given that it was described as having been sung at the Theatre Royal by one Miss Rafior, who made her debut in 1728 and became Mrs. (Kitty) Clive in 1732, Olson deduced that the song had to date from the period 1728-32. Olson’s extensive research on this and other songs is archived, together with other equally useful ballad material, at www.csufresno.edu/folklore.

Piers Cawley learned The Wagoner's Lad via Sheila Kay Adams, and he sang it at a #TradSongTues Twitter singaround which was included in 2020 on his download EP Trad Song Tuesdays Volume 1. He also sang it on his 2 October 2020 download album Isolation Sessions #3 where he noted:

Sometimes, the appeal of a song is that, old as it is, the emotions in it are fresh as paint. This is one of those. Change the lad’s job and mode of transport and this could have been written yesterday. I love it.

There are those who would tell you that the first line should be “Hard is the fortune”, but Sheila had absolutely no time at all for that idea, and I’m not about to start an argument with her over it.

Jenn Butterworth sang Hard Is the Fortune on Ross Ainslie's, Ali Hutton's and her album Symbiosis III that was released on 2 October 2020 too.

Lyrics

Mrs. Jane Gentry sings Wagoner's Lad

In old North Carolina I was bred and was born,
And in my own county I was a great scorn.
As I was a-riding one morning in May,
I met as fair damsel as you ever might see.

I viewed her features and she pleased me well;
I forced all on her my mind for to tell.
She quickly consented my bride for to be,
But her parents wasn’t willing for she to have me.

I am a poor girl and my fortune is bad,
And I ’ve duly been courted by the wagoner lad,
I ’ve duly been courted by night and by day,
But now he’s a-loaded, he’s going away.

“Your horses is hungry, go feed them some hay,
Come set down beside me,” is all I can say.
“My horses ain’t hungry, they won't eat your hay,
So farewell, pretty Nancy, I’ve no time to stay.”

“Your horses is not geared up, nor your whip in your hand,
Come set you down by me,just at my command.”
“My horses is geared up, my whip in my hand,
So farewell, pretty Nancy, I ’ve no time to stand.”

I ’ve duly been courted by day and by night,
But now he’s loading, he’s going away;
But if ever I meet him, I’ll crown him with joy,
And kiss the sweet lips of my wagoner boy.

Joan Baez and Roger McGuinn sing Wagoner's Lad

Oh hard is the fortune of all womankind,
They’re always controlled, they're always confined.
Controlled by their parents until they are brides,
Then slaves to their husbands for the rest of their lives.

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

“Your parents don’t like me because I am poor,
They say I’m not worthy of entering your door.
I work for my living, my money's my own,
And if they don’t like me they can leave me alone.”

“Your horses are hungry, go feed them some hay,
Come sit down beside me as long as you may.”
“My horses ain’t hungry, they won't eat your hay,
So fare thee well, darling, I’ll be on my way.”

“Your wagon needs greasing, your whip's for to mend,
Come sit down beside me as long as you can.”
“My wagon is greasy, my whip’s in my hand,
So fare thee well, darling, no longer to stand.”

Sarah McQuaid sings Wagoner's Lad

Oh hard is the fortune of all womankind,
We’re always controlled, we’re always confined.
Controlled by our fathers until we’re made wives,
Then slaves to our husbands for the rest of our lives.

I am a poor young girl, my fortune is sad,
For once I was courted by the wagoner’s lad.
He courted me fairly by night and by day
And now be is loaded and going away.

“Your parents don’t like me because I am poor,
They say I’m not worthy to enter your door.
I work for my living, my money’s my own,
And if people don’t like me they can leave me alone.”

“Your horses are hungry, come feed them some hay,
Come sit down beside me as long as you stay.”
“My horses ain’t hungry, they won’t eat your hay,
I’m going to Wyoming, they can graze on the way.”

“Your wagon needs greasing, your whip is to mend,
Come sit down beside me for as long as you can.”
“My wagon is loaded, my whip in my hand,
So fare thee well, darling, no longer to stand.”

Then he cracked his big whip and away he did go
And that was a grief to this girl, you must know.
If ever I see him I’ll crown him with joy
And I’ll kiss the sweet lips of my wagoner boy.

I can love you right lightly or I can love long,
I can stay with an old love ’til a new one comes on.
I can court him and kiss him and keep him with ease
Then turn my back on him and court whom I please.

Piers Cawley sings The Wagoner's Lad

Oh the heart is the fortune of all womankind,
She's always controlled, she's always confined.
Confined by her parents until she's a wife,
Then bound to her husband the rest of her life.

Oh I am poor girl my fortune is sad,
I've long time been courted by the wagoner's lad.
He courted me truly by night and by day,
But now he is loaded and driving away.

“Your parents don't like me because I am poor,
They say I'm not worthy to enter your door.
I work for my living, my money's my own
And them that don't like me can leave me alone.”

“Your horses are hungry go feed them some hay,
Come sit here beside me as long as you may.”
“My horses ain't hungry they won't eat your hay,
Oh fair thee well darling I'm for driving away.”

“Your saddle needs greasing, your whip's for to mend,
Come sit down beside me as long as you can.”
“My wagon is greasy, my whip's in my hand,
So fair thee well darling I can no longer stand.”

Oh I can love little, or I can love long,
I can love an old sweetheart til a new one comes 'long.
I can hug and can kiss 'em and prove to 'em kind,
I can turn my back on them and also my mind.

I'll go to yon mountain, yon mountain so high,
Where the wild birds can see me and hear my sad cry.
Where the wild birds can see me and hear my sad mourn,
For I am a poor girl and my lovyer is gone