SONGS I LOVE #18 THERE’S A MAN GOING ROUND TAKING NAMES

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This summer, Sylvie Lewis and Dawn Landes came to visit me at my home; Sylvie had written to me a few weeks earlier to say that she and Dawn were passing through en route to Spain and would love to meet up and hang out for a day. At that time, I was in the middle of proof reading the last version of the Songs I Love book before sending it off to the printers but it felt like as good a time as any to start on the next installment of the series.
Dawn and Sylvie had been singing ‘Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key’ by Woody Guthrie during their summer tour and although we initially thought about doing that one, it inspired me to get out some old Lead Belly vinyls. Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly who played and recorded together were undoubtedly among the greatest and most prolific American songwriters of all time and both of these unique writers documented their age in the most profound way, carrying the torch for the disenfranchised and the poor.
Their songs, like the great American literature of the time such as Steinbeck’s ‘The grapes of wrath,’ stand as pillars of 20th century American culture; almost everything I hear today pales in significance compared with the power of these two songwriting giants.

In the end I suggested to Dawn and Sylvie we record a song Lead Belly used to sing, ‘There’s a man going round taking names’. I’ve always loved this song although I’ve never quite grasped the meaning of the lyrics. There’s such a power to the words ‘there’s a man going round taking names’ – both profound and slightly sinister, my sense is that it refers to being marked out for hell or heaven according to our actions. (If anyone knows the significance and meaning of this song, please let me know!)
It was a joy to sing it with Dawn and Sylvie in one take, sitting around one microphone, the window open and the birds joining in outside.
Vol 2 of Songs I Love is underway!

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