Tuesday, July 17, 2007

From Way Up Here

I'm writing from a mountain outside Gatlinburg, Tennessee, as I'm here for a week. If you're picturing me flannel-clad with a dirty grit-beard you're not far off.

Yesterday was gorgeous and clear but today threatened rain all afternoon. It finally dumped for a half-hour and cooled everything off. Steam's rising in tufts around the mountain--my great uncle used to tell me this was "groundhogs making coffee."

Either way, it's a good place to work (which I'm doing) and dominate in billiards (which I'm doing). In the meantime, I'm making a mental list of great songs about mountains, as I've been predictably wanting them lately. Here's a few I've rattled off so far:

Lucero's "The Mountain"
The best song the Drive-By Truckers ever wrote, only they didn't. This song is also rumored to be featured in Craig Brewers' next movie, set in East Tennessee.

Led Zeppelin's "Over the Hills and Far Away"
Sure, who knows what the hell Robert Plant's ever talking about. But the music itself, in its hushed acoustics and (later) soaring arrangements certainly sounds like the mountains.

Jack White's "Sittin on Top of the World"
Off the Cold Mountain soundtrack (we could really count that whole record); Jack's emotionally low but geographically high. Ahhh, metaphor.

And, of course....ANY SONG by the incomparable Mountain.

What am I missing? Give me your mountain songs, so that I may download them and listen whilst rocking in a chair, wallowing in whiskey, and growing grit-tastic facial hair.

With a little work and luck,

P.S. My Mix of Fifteen is coming soon....stay tuned.


ross k. said...

There's a traditional Bluegrass/Gospel song called "Rank Stranger" that Ralph Stanley and Keith Whitley did a good version of. It's the wait-to-die down-tempo mountain waltz. Then there are two famous examples of the opposite, the up-tempo banjo boogie, "Fire on the Mountain" and "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," the first notably performed by Doc Watson, Clint Howard and Fred Price on the Old Timey Concert record, the second famously appearing in the Bonnie and Clyde soundtrack and performed by Flatt and Scruggs. Many of the wait-to-die high lonesome sounding traditional songs mention the mountains, but those are my favorites.

Anyone interested in the history of the mountain dulcimer?

Michael said...

"High on the Mountain Top" - Loretta Lynn (and Jack White) off of the Van Lear Rose album.


Elizabeth said...

THAT IS HOME. thanks for polluting my mountains!

Michael said...

Correction "High on A Mountain Top"

Also: "Peaceful Valley" Ryan Adams

And I would like to hear the history or the mtn dulcimer.

ross k. said...

Thanks for being such a good sport, Michael. It's fun to hold forth on historical trivia and have an audience for it. Having a lot of useless knowledge can be a lonely thing otherwise!

I read this in a book by Ralph Lee Smith, who teaches at Appalachian State in North Carolina:

First of all, it’s not related to the hammered dulcimer, which is a trapezoidal box with many strings, and an instrument well known in England since medieval times. No, the mountain dulcimer with a neck and frets and only a few strings is descended from a folk zither called a scheitholz or scheitholt, which German immigrants brought to Philadelphia in the 1700s and then took with them into the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina by the Great Wagon Road. A scheitholz was just a neck, frets and strings—no sound box. There is still one around from 1788 with a German inscription on it that Samuel Ache of Pennsylvania gave to his wife as a gift. Anyway, various people started adding sound boxes to the scheitholz, even went through a few “table” versions more like a pedal-steel guitar, and eventually gave us the instrument we know today.

Smith says there are two Psalms which use the word dulcimer in the King James version of the Bible, and that people often cite these as showing the antiquity of the mountain dulcimer. Actually, the translators were thinking of the hammered kind, but anyway it’s a mistake, they mistranslated “symphonia” from the Greek, and symphonia are a kind of bag pipe.

I was not familiar with the term “Great Wagon Road” before I read Smith, but this is a path that many German immigrants followed in early America. It lead from “Pennsylvania Dutch Country” through the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Cumberland and Shenandoah Valleys. The Pennsylvania Dutch, by the way, were not Dutch, they were German-speakers from an area called the Palatinate which people left in great numbers during the mid-eighteenth century--including some ancestors of mine and very likely Mr. Milam's.

Elizabeth said...

PS: mountain song: "my tennessee mountain home" by dolly parton. appropos in so many ways.

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