Show #22: LEON BIBB
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The following interview with Leon Bibb was broadcast October 26 & 29, 1963 from New York City on worldwide short-wave radio. This historic radio interview was transmitted from the studios of Radio New York Worldwide on the show Folk Music Worldwide hosted by newsman Alan Wasser.

Featuring folk song performances by Leon Bibb, "Five Hundred Miles"; "Ox Driver"; "The Ladybug and the Centipede"; and "Sing Hallelujah". Transcript includes full song lyrics.

 

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 (24:56)

Transcript:

MEL BERNAM (ANNOUNCER): Here is Radio New York Folk Music Worldwide. A program devoted to the best in folk music throughout the world, showcasing the top performers and authorities in the field. Now your host for Folk Music Worldwide, Alan Wasser.

ALAN WASSER (HOST): Hello again and welcome again to Folk Music Worldwide. With us today is a man I've admired for quite a while, a really good singer, Leon Bibb (bio).

I expect most of you have heard some of his music, but just in case there are any out there who haven't, why don't we start right off with Leon Bibb's rendition of "Five Hundred Miles."

[Song Performance: "Five Hundred Miles", Leon Bibb]:

Lyrics:

If you miss me when I'm gone,
then youíll know that I am gone
You can hear that whistle blow a hundred miles
One hundred miles, one hundred miles,
one hundred miles, one hundred miles,
You can hear that whistle blow a hundred miles

Lord I'm one, Lord I'm two,
Lord I'm three, Lord I'm four,
Lord I'm five hundred miles from my home
Five hundred miles, five hundred miles,
Five hundred miles, five hundred miles,
Lord, I'm five hundred miles from my home

Not a shirt on my back, not a penny to my name
Lord, I can't go home this a way
This way, this a way, this a way, this a way
Lord, I can't go home this a way

Ooh, this a way, this a way, this a way, this a way
Lord, I can't go home this a way.

If you miss me when I'm gone,
then youíll know that I am gone
You can hear that whistle blow a hundred miles.

(applause)

(end of music)

ALAN: Leon Bibb, in concert, doing "Five Hundred Miles." Leon, a lot of our listeners have heard that song, of course, done by other performers who have been on the show, but I imagine quite a few of them are familiar with it as a slightly larger figure than 500 miles.

LEON BIBB, (GUEST): Yes. Originally, it's called "Nine Hundred Miles", and it's a traditional, what I call it, a lonesome man's blues. There are a lot of folk songs with this kind of sentiment. "I'll pawn you my watch and I'll pawn you my chain, I'm nine hundred miles from my home. If that train runs right, I'll be home tomorrow night."

That lyric prevails in a lot of instances and songs about mostly men who are a long away from their homes and loved ones, and this is where "Five Hundred Miles" came from, originally.

ALAN: How did it lose the 400 miles that made it 900 miles originally?

LEON BIBB: It's too long to walk, I guess. No, really. I think folk singers now are preoccupied with making material uniquely their own, and one of the best forms is already existent.

You just add something or take something from it, in this case Hedy West, she's a folk singer. She changed the lyric, and changed some of the inside lyrics as well. So it's now "Five Hundred Miles."

ALAN: "Five Hundred Miles" is the song that an awful lot of us are familiar with, but here's one on your album that I'm not familiar with at all, "Ox Driver." What's the background on that song?

LEON BIBB: It's a traditional song. It's a work kind of song. In the days when they were building railroads in the western part of the country, particularly ties and rails were dragged by mule teams and ox teams.

And a lot of songs have come out of these situations, but the ox team was a very, very important part of the west, because from the rail heads to the little settlements, large supplies were to be taken, and these were done by ox teams, teams of oxen, 12, 14 oxen sometimes. You ever seen that 20 team Borax soap?

ALAN: Oh, yes. I know the commercial with the picture.

LEON BIBB: That's true, thatís based on a true concept.

ALAN: That's right. They use the ox team as their trademark with a whole long string of oxen from the little wagon in the back.

LEON BIBB: Actually, the wagon was larger than that. The wagon, legend has it...you always have to preface those things with things like that. But legend has it that it was a long flat-bedded wagon, which you could put kegs of nails, and flour, and a lot of things, and these teams of oxen would pull it across the plains.

And riding herd on this, of course, would be the ox driver with a traditional, long whip that he cracked over the heads of the oxen to keep them going. And I make a lot of noise in the singing of this song, because I yell like I think an ox driver would yell, and smack my hands together to simulate a whip crack. All that.

ALAN: Let's hear Leon Bibb making like an ox driver.

[Song Performance: " Ox Driver", Leon Bibb]:

Lyrics:

On the 14th of October-o,
I hitched my team in order-o
To ride to the hills of Saludio
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,

To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-my-ro-de-oo,
To-my-rol-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-my-ro-de-oo,
To-my-ro-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,

I pop my whip, I bring the blood
I make my leaders take the mud
We grab the wheels and we turn them around
Ooh, one long pull and we're on hard ground

To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-my-ro-de-oo,
To-my-ro-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,

When we got there, the hills were steep
It would make a tender person weep
To hear me cuss and pop my whip
And see my oxen turn and slip

To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-my-ro-de-oo,
To-my-ro-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,

When I get there, I'll have revenge
I'll settle my family among my friends
And say goodbye to that whip and line
And I'll drive no more in the wintertime

To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-my-ro-de-oo,
To-my-ro-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-my-ro-de-oo,
To-my-ro-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,
To-me-rol, to-my-ra-de-o,

Ha!, Ha!, Get along there!

(applause)

(end of music)

ALAN: The "Ox Driver" done by Leon Bibb. Leon, as our audience has undoubtedly noticed by now, the songs had applause both ends, which you don't usually hear on long-playing records, which this is taken from. Where were these recorded?

LEON BIBB: These bands came from two different sessions. One was at the University of Champlain in Vermont, and the other was at Brooklyn College.

And what we did, we took some from both, acknowledged that we had recorded the album in two sessions, and took some bands from these two different recordings, these two different sessions, and put them together. They were conducted like concerts. We explain to the audience before that we were recording it, but we asked that they not react in any way that they might not react if they were just sitting, listening to a concert.

And it was so realistic, this appeal at the outset of the Brooklyn College concert, at the end of the second song, which ends in a whistle, ideally, I was so dry-throated that I couldn't whistle. So I asked their indulgence and we went back and recorded the last eight bars, and then the pressure was really odd, and the audience was sitting there with me, wondering if I was going to get a whistle out.

I fortunately got one out, and instead of just the applause at the end, which you would normally hear since it's a ballad and not a humorous song, you hear also the beginnings of little laughter.

ALAN: Relief that you actually made the whistle. By the way, and in case any of our listeners are wondering what record we're working from, it's on Liberty Records, it's called "Encore! Leon Bibb in Concert," and it's a darn good record. But speaking about folk singers in concert, I think The Weavers were the first to record a folk album in concert, weren't they?

LEON BIBB: To my knowledge, they were, yes. That famous 1955 Carnegie Hall concert, which is a . . .

ALAN: They started just about anything in folk music.

LEON BIBB: Well, the tradition of The Weavers is a long one, and it is true, they fostered the advent of the quartet and trio that is so popular even today in folk music. Pete as a solo singer when he left The Weavers broke the ground for... Pete Seeger that is, broke the ground for many other solo single singers that have come along behind now singing college concerts.

I think got the whole college concert feel certainly was opened up, exposed to the audiences by The Weavers. Opportunistically, booking agents and managements right away recognized that if there was this much interest in folk singing on a campus, that there would be interest in concerts of folk artists, and they naturally then took more groups. But Harold Leventhal who manages The Weavers really broke ground in this area, because he started The Weavers working in the colleges during that period.

ALAN: Pete Seeger also started the current craze for the hootenanny.

LEON BIBB: Absolutely. The term, he and Woody Guthrie and some other people used to get together regularly and sit around and swap songs, and play, and sing, and they called it the hootenanny.

ALAN: By the way, for any of our listeners who may have not heard by now, the theme music you hear in the opening and closing of this show, is. . .

LEON BIBB: Pete Seeger.

ALAN: Yes, indeed. Pete Seeger and The Weavers. The music being sung by folk musicians comes originally from The Weavers. Do you have any of their songs that you do?

LEON BIBB: No, I don't. None of the songs, except Ronnie sings "I Know Where I'm Going," which I have included in a love song medley on this album. But there's a Weaver contribution there, not a garment, but a song.

Fred Hellerman of The Weavers, one of the original Weavers is also a songwriter, and an excellent composer and songwriter, and he has the good fortune of working with a very fine lyricist, a woman named Fran Minkoff. They've written beautiful songs, and they wrote a little novelty song on this album called "The Ladybug and the Centipede."

ALAN: Well, let's hear Leon Bibb doing Fred Hellerman's "The Ladybug and the Centipede."

LEON BIBB: Obviously, a love song.

[Song Performance: "The Ladybug and the Centipede", Leon Bibb]:

Lyrics:

The ladybug and the centipede got married
The ladybug and the centipede, they wed
On their wedding night, I heard it said,
51 pairs of slippers were near that bed
Hey ho, hey ho,
What a wonderful wedding day

The ladybug thought the cricket's voice was gentle
And an ant she knew was likely to succeed
And the bee had a kiss that was sweet indeed,
but none could hug like her centipede
Hey ho, hey ho,
What a wonderful wedding day

On their honeymoon, they called each other darling
Their happiness was total and complete
Until she slipped beneath the sheet,
on her back 50-pair of cold, cold feet
Hey ho, hey ho,
What a wonderful wedding day

Time has elapsed. A little bit of time here.

Next day, the centipede, he came home early rabbit
And his ladybug looks slyer than a fox
She was sitting neath the hollyhocks
Knitting lots and lots of little socks
She winked her eye with a twinkle that seemed to say,
Hey ho,
Hey ho,
Hey ho,
what a wonderful wedding day"

(applause)

(end of music)

ALAN: We've been sitting here, debating, as the song "The Ladybug and the Centipede" was being played, how many legs the child of a marriage between the ladybug and the centipede would have. Halfway between a 100 and 6.

LEON BIBB: That's kind of arbitrary because the laws say whoever's genes are the most powerful. Would you say that a centipede's genes would be more powerful than a ladybug's?

ALAN: Well, I'll tell you, I took high school biology and did reasonably well in it, but that wasn't covered, so why don't we take a break here for a moment for a commercial, and then come back in a moment. We'll be back with Leon Bibb on Folk Music Worldwide just after this message.

(short pause)

All right, back again. Folk Music Worldwide. Before we go back to Leon Bibb, let me just take a moment out and, again, as I usually do, urge you to write in, let us know you heard the show, let us know your comments, opinions, suggestions.

We're still working on that project of trying to get up tapes of your local folk music that we can put together into a whole show. And judging by the time, we better get back if we want to get another song in by Leon Bibb. So Leon, what would you suggest would be a good ending song?

LEON BIBB: To reflect the interest that folk singers and performers of folk songs do have in the perpetuation of this folk process a song that Mike Settle wrote, who's a folk singer himself. It's called "Sing Hallelujah."

ALAN: All right, as our final song by Leon Bibb on this show, "Sing Hallelujah."

[Song Performance: "Sing Hallelujah", Leon Bibb]:

Lyrics:

I know I got a long, long journey
Sing Hallelujah
I better get started early
Sing Hallelujah
Sing out for the Lord to help you
cause the Lord is a mighty strong
Don't worry about your heavy load,
the Lord's going to help you along

The Jordan's River is chilly and cold
Sing Hallelujah
Oh, well, it chills the body, but not the soul
Sing Hallelujah
Sing louder for the Lord to help you,
the Lord is a mighty strong
Don't worry about your heavy load,
the Lord is going to help you along

Last night I heard the Lord a calling
Sing Hallelujah
He said, "Sinner, you better quit your stalling,"
Sing Hallelujah
I'd better get on down to that River Jordan
Sing Hallelujah
To the boat to heaven is the one Iím boarding.
Sing Hallelujah

Sing out for the Lord to help you,
the Lord is a-mighty strong
Don't worry about your heavy load,
the Lord's going to help you along

Oh lord, that long, long journey
Sing Hallelujah
Better getín on it early
Sing Hallelujah

Sing Hallelujah
Sing Hallelujah
Sing Hallelujah

(applause)

(end of music)

ALAN: "Sing Hallelujah" by Leon Bibb. Leon, we are just out of time. Thank you very much for coming in. Maybe you'll come in again sometime and we'll do another show.

LEON BIBB: I certainly will.

ALAN: So long.

MEL BERNAM (ANNOUNCER): This has been Folk Music Worldwide. Devoted to the best in Folk Music throughout the world, spotlighting top performers and authorities in the field. If you have any suggestions, requests, or comments, why not write in to Folk Music Worldwide, Radio New York, WRUL New York City, 19 USA. This has been a Music Worldwide presentation of Radio New York Worldwide.

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