Jack Tottle shares some lyrics for our time

The following comes to us from Jack Tottle, Professor Emeritus, and founder of the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Program. Although retired for several years, Jack continues his work to preserve the memories of bluegrass and old time country music’s fascinating history and heritage.

Throughout American history disasters of one kind or another have inspired numerous songs. Among them are Vernon Dalhart’s Wreck of the Old 97, the Carter Family’s Cyclone of Ryecove, Ernest V. ‘Pop’ Stoneman’s Sinking of the Titanic, and the Stanley Brothers’ The Flood (aka The Flood of ’57). It has been proposed that no songs will be written about our current situation because of the difficulty of finding rhymes for the word “virus.”

However, as we well know, southern musical ingenuity is full of surprises, as indicated below:

The following was recently found carved into the side of an ancient chestnut barn in the hills of Scott County, Virginia. In a note scrawled on a groundhog hide tacked to adjacent boards, the anonymous composer indicates that he was inspired by spiritual undercurrents which he attributes to the original Odyssey of Homer, and also the subsequent Odyssey of Homer and Jethro.

An empty jug of the type once favored by moonshiners lies close at hand. The wind plays among the gnarled branches of old apple trees beside a deserted tumble-down cabin nearby . . .

Song For Uncertain Times

Where are those dear folks who did sire us?
Did they leave us no notes on papyrus
On what the world would require us
To do, in combatting this virus?

Please let us work and don’t fire us,
Rather give us safe space and inspire us
To earn lots of dough, as onward we go,
Like Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.*

* Possible substitute for last line: “Like Molly and Billy Ray Cyrus.”

The substitute rhymes slightly better, but may not be quite as meaningful to certain bluegrass folks. Try it both ways and decide which you prefer.

NOTE: Tim Stafford of Blue Highway suggests another alternate last line which — with the inclusion of the Kentucky Colonels’ banjo player — both rhymes AND has a bluegrass connection.

“Like the Billy Rays: Lathum and Cyrus.”

Tim initially thought this alternate line was more Homeric. Then he changed his mind and decided it was more Jethroic.