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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 5/22/15: "Italy"

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

stigandr5 - Posted - 05/21/2015:  22:25:52

Yonder comes a pretty little girl, I’ll tell you how I know,

Her head is full of purtty little curls, all hanging down so low.

I’m going to Italy afore long to see that gal of mine.


Finger ring, finger ring, shines like glittering gold,

I’m going down to see my true love before she gets too old.

I’m going to Italy afore long to see that gal of mine.


I asked that girl to marry me, what do you you reckon she said?

She said she wouldn’t marry me if all the rest was dead.

I’m going to Italy afore long to see that gal of mine.


I asked that girl to marry me me, and I don’t give a durn.

I’ll do my best to treat her right and them two kids of her’n.

I’m going to Italy afore long to see that gal of mine.


I’s scared we’s all going to freeze to death enduring that last cold spell

Had nothing but a load of green pinecones that wouldn’t burn in hell.

I’m going to Italy afore long to see that gal of mine.


If ever I’m away from home, and late a-coming in,

I’ll kiver up that bed of coals and pull that latch string in

I’m going to Italy afore long to see that gal of mine.


There’s nothing I’d ever do to trouble her mind,

We’re never gonna have a row bout who’s gonna sleep behind

I’m going to Italy afore long to see that gal of mine.




Apple like a cherry, cherry like a rose,

How I love my pretty little girl, God in heaven knows.


“Italy” is a song made popular by Bascom Lamar Lunsford. According to The Frank C. Brown Collection of NC Folklore: Vol. V: The Music of the Folk Songs, Lunsford collected this song with together with Dr. R.W. Gordon before giving it to Brown in 1925. It was sung by Willard Randall of Rutherford County (Ellensboro, NC). I found a couple representations of the melody, one in D and one in G. The one in G, found in the Frank Brown book mentioned above, appears to be the original song that Lunsford based his version off of.

Lunsford was a pretty accomplished guy, known as the “Minstrel of Appalachia.” He was also an amateur folklorist who greatly respected the sources of Appalachian traditions he collected. I can’t find anything more about where this song originates, but suffice it to say that it has old roots in western North Carolina. My entirely non-scientific guess is that it has deeper British/Gaelic roots, but I haven’t the resources nor the expertise to back up such a claim.

Regarding the performance of this piece, Lunsford employs his signature two-finger index-lead style, known to be widespread in the area of North Carolina where Lunsford lived. I’ve given my best approximation via clawhammer. I think it lacks some of the delicacy of Lunsford’s playing, but it's an easy song to get sounding decent quickly.


Edited by - stigandr5 on 05/21/2015 22:33:50

JanetB - Posted - 05/22/2015:  05:58:15

Nathan, we can always count on you to continue the legacy of great ballad singers like Bascom Lamar Lunsford.  Your performance is wonderful. 

The title caught my attention right away since my best overseas vacation not long ago was in Italy.  But here's what Bascom said:  "This tune is a mountain banjo song that's called 'Italy,' and it is well to note here that in the mountain region we often have communities named for foreign countries like Italy, and Canada, and places, even names like Egypt and so on.  It could be possibly some mountain cove. Italy -- it's hard to tell what kind of a community size of territory it covered, possibly just one mountain creek valley."

stigandr5 - Posted - 05/22/2015:  07:00:56

Janet, thanks for the kind words! Thank you as well for that information--where did you find that quote? Researching this song really piqued my interest in Lunsford's music.

Jimmy Sutton - Posted - 05/22/2015:  08:32:34

Excuse me jumping in but if you are interested in Lunsford you could do worse than checkout the book Minstrel of the Appalachians by Loyal Jones. I can't remember for sure if the quote that Janet Burton mentions is in that book or possibly the sleeve notes to one of his albums. There are also two DVD's on Lunsord if you want to find more. That song is also one of my favourites but since hearing it from another source I sing "Going to Little Creek".

I have heard some unflattering remarks about Lunsford over the years but there is no doubt that he did an amazing job in keeping the tradition alive in bringing musicians to the public.

bhniko - Posted - 05/22/2015:  11:37:23

N.A. Most enjoyable..Someday will have to learn clawhammering. Have not heard of Lunsford before the post and will look him up. One of those people with a signature voice that's easily recognized.

We can all hope that those unflattering remarks (what evere they may be) are more folklore than truth.

Jimmy Sutton - Posted - 05/22/2015:  15:45:17

The mention of the unflattering remarks came from reliable sources. Lunsford was from the south and from a time when being PC probably wasn't even considered. I didn't mention it to put the man down, as I pointed out above he did a great job.
I don't know how long you have been interested in the banjo but am surprised that you didn't know of Lunsford. Try and read the book and watch the DVD's. There is also a fine CD of his singing and playing on Smithsonian/Folkways. Rounder issued an LP and also Riverside which includes the track "Go to Italy". If you like his style you have hours of listening to look forward to.
You may not have to learn clawhammering, N.A. points out in his post that Lunsford uses a different style.

JanetB - Posted - 05/24/2015:  06:53:35


This is the CD I have with extensive liner notes about Bascom Lunsford's life.  The quote in my post above is actually what he says to introduce Italy on Track 15.  The words are also quoted in the sleeve notes.  Another interesting quote in the notes is that he "was a ball of energy all his life.  To use a mountain expression, he would cross hell on a rotten rail to get to a folk singer or a square dance."  He began a festival in Ashville, NC at the request of the Chamber of Commerce which is still his legacy -- the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival.  He played for the king and queen of England at the White House and for part of his life had a career in the political realm, as well as being a fruit tree salesman.  Lunsford played and sang as a child and came from a family who were white-collar workers (teachers, nurses, social service), but who lived and interacted with the farmers of his region.  I'm grateful for this thread to point me in learning more about Bascom Lamar Lunsford's life.  Like you, Nathan, he loved collecting songs so that he himself could perform them.  Didn't you collect songs and banjo music when you lived in Haiti?

MatthewSYoung - Posted - 05/24/2015:  11:57:29

Lovely job on this, N.A. - it's one of my favorite BLL songs!

Paul Meredith - Posted - 05/28/2015:  19:51:54

Stig, really nice to have a song for the TOTW, I like your rendition.  I haven't heard a lot of Lunsford's recordings but he is quite distinctive.

Zischkale - Posted - 06/05/2015:  08:22:10

Fantastic post, N.A., thanks for sharing this! Lunsford's singing on his two Anthology tracks are a highlight of the album for me--I've really waited too long to listen to more of his work. How great is this melody? Love the way he stretches those syllables on "Italy" in the chorus, man it sounds fun to sing. 

Never ceases to amaze me how much more there is to discover -- including your Youtube page! Ironically, I found your page yesterday, before clicking on this TOTW--landed on your banjo lute video. Your scrappy canjo designs and playing are inspiring, you've got style and skill, man! Just realizing I had watched your Boatman video way back when BHO held that contest. Good stuff.

Keep up the great work!

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