The well-beaten calf, and other absurdities

After the series of comments I received here and elsewhere about misheard lyrics, I’m wishing I’d brought this subject up a long time ago. This week I had wanted to discuss bluegrass song titles (that is to say, wrong ones), but we may have to wait on that because I feel the need to share some of the great erroneous lyrics overheard and contributed by some Bluegrass Today readers.

First of all, though, a correction: Last week I misattributed the song Julie Ann to Randall Hylton, when in fact it was written by Pete Goble and Leroy Drumm. My apologies to Pete Goble and to the late Leroy Drumm for that. That was careless of me, and it’s not the first time I’ve done that. To be fair, I’ve also misattributed some of Randall’s songs to Pete.

I think I got confused because for a long time, Randall Hylton and the team of Goble and Drumm were the most prolific (and among the best) modern bluegrass songwriters. The Country Gentlemen, Doyle Lawson, and the Bluegrass Cardinals were all recording a lot of their songs around the same time.

It may also be because when I was younger I mistakenly believed that Randall Hylton and Pete Goble were the same person. I thought “Randall Hylton” was just Pete’s pseudonym, like Carter Stanley and “Ruby Rakes.” I thought the beard and top hat were Pete Goble’s disguise for his “Randall Hylton” persona. Then of course I met Randall, saw how tall he was, and realized my mistake. I felt pretty stupid.

I’ve since been told that Chris Stuart and Becky Buller are also, in fact, two different people, and again I feel pretty foolish.

Getting back to our lyrics, though, below are a few of the gems that came in through comments here and on my Facebook page.

There were a couple of interesting alternatives to the first line of the chorus of Uncle Pen: The actual lyrics (in case you’ve never known what they really are) are: “Late in the evening about sundown…”

Hoba Bluegrass shared their sister’s interpretation, which was: “Ladies in the evening bouncin’ around…”

Elizabeth Loring once heard “Late in the evening the bats come down,” which recasts Uncle Pen as a Halloween classic.

Elizabeth also shared a unique version of Pig in a Pen, which turns out to really be all about feminine fashion accessories: “I’ve got a pink comb and a pen…”

Mark Sahlgren said that his son had once requested My Long Dirty Home (a song about someone living in the Lincoln Tunnel in New York?).

John Rice offered up these words for Shackles and Chains, answering the question: what could possibly be more uncomfortable than using “a piece of stone” for a pillow? Answer: “A pizza stove I will use for my pillow, while I’m sleeping in shackles and chains.”

Dick Bowden reminded me of the classic first line of the Flatt and Scruggs song, Blue Ridge Cabin Home: “There’s a well-beaten calf (as opposed to a “well-beaten path”) on this old mountainside” (heavily tenderized veal?)

And there were many other good ones, too numerous to mention here, but we still have some unfinished business regarding the Dillards’ Old Home Place:

When we last left our boy in Charlottesville, his girl had run off with somebody else, and we weren’t sure whether the “taverns” the “tariffs” or possibly the “terrorists” had taken all his pay, hay, pigs, or all of the above.

Our confusion has been added to by Elizabeth (who brought us the bats coming down in Uncle Pen) who heard someone sing “Her parents took all my pay,” which would make me wonder if the parents also owned the sawmill where he was working.

Buddy Zincone contributed this comment regarding the word “tariffs” in that line:

“I certainly agree that words are sometimes garbled, but in the Old Home Place the word ‘tariff’ makes perfect sense. Any professional economist would recognize that, in addition to meaning a tax on imports, it also means, although a little archaically, a tax in general. A look at your paystub might give an insight into the real meaning of the line.”

I can accept this, even though Webster’s definition of “tariffs” doesn’t mention “a tax in general” as being one of the possible definitions. Webster also never had that Dillards album, so what did he know? On a side note, I haven’t seen a paystub in a long time, but even if I had one, I’d be afraid to look at it. The last one I received provoked open laughter from my legitimately employed friends and a disappointed, even pitying look from my wife. And they were looking at the figure before tariffs.

In any case, I decided the original Old Home Place deserved another careful listen. This led me to a surprising, “none of the above” conclusion about that problematic line. This is what I think Rodney Dillard was actually singing:

“The girl ran off with somebody else

The carrots took all my pay”

Apparently our man in the sawmill crew was a fanatic about carrots, and we all know the outrageous price of carrots in Charlottesville. He probably owned a juicer and had no concerns about the dangers of vitamin A toxicity. I’m starting to understand now why the girl ran off with somebody else, probably someone with less orange-looking skin.

Just as I was feeling that I had solved this mystery for good, Ned Luberecki (who was riding down the highway with me at the time) proposed a different scenario, one that I had to admit had some merit: he believed Rodney was singing “The terrans took all my pay.” For those who aren’t in the know about this (I would be among you), “terrans” is sci-fi speak for residents of earth, or “earthlings.” This would mean that the guy in the Old Home Place, that we had thought of as either overtaxed, a binge drinker, or a binge carrot-eater, was actually an alien who managed to get a job in a sawmill (with loose policies about the hiring of undocumented immigrants). Again, it’s easy to see why the girl ran off with somebody else, probably a fellow “terran” with whom she no doubt had a lot more in common.

Since I’m not a science fiction fan, I’ll stick with my carrot theory, but I would certainly understand if you disagreed with me.

Moving on to the chorus, some readers mentioned alternative versions of the line of the chorus, “And why did I leave my plough in the field…”:

From Scott Nygaard: “And why did I leave my cow in the field…”

And from Shannon Wade: “And why did I leave my flower in the field..”

Of course the answer to both of those questions is: because that’s just the kind of thing that carrot-eating aliens do.

Next week (and I mean it this time): Rocky Tonk and other mangled bluegrass song titles.