I happened to hear a great old-time tune from my iTunes pile the other day, “Fair Miss in the Garden,” by Roscoe Holcombe from Mountain Music of Kentucky, a fantastic collection of field-recorded tunes laid to tape on the porches of Hazard County in the mid-fifties. To my aggravation, nor Google nor Digitrad unearthed the lyrics. Adding to my frustration, I have not yet found any references to the song but the two-or-so released versions. The song, in form and language, sounds very much like a Childe ballad, medieval ballads that survived into the twentieth century in various backwaters and which form the foundation of the cult of authenticity in folkloric circles, to my personal derisive amusement and pseudohistoricist fascination.

Ah well, I’m reduced to the same technique I employed some twenty-odd years ago in seeking to lean the lyrics of songs by the commercially unsuccessful likes of The Gizmos or the (1980s) Ramones. I’ll hafta transcribe ’em.

4 thoughts on “Fair Miss in the Garden

  1. A friend just gave me a 1934 edition of American Ballads and Folk Songs, as compiled by John A. and Alan Lomax. there’s no Fair Miss in the Garden listed. Perhaps it is also known by some other name? There’s a lot of that sort of thing with folk songs. The Lomax book is just amazing, but also amazingly racist. The humble negroes and field hands who contributed to the compilation were just too darn humble to want their names listed, so they are credited by their nicknames. Kind of reminds me of books of photographs of grafitti. Where the art professor who took the pictures is credited and given money, but the grafitti artists are nameless and faceless, their art purely an accident of urban life. Bite me.

  2. just a guess (and i havent heard the song in question, so ignore this if it’s totally off key), but perhaps this is just another name for the song “rose connelly”, or “down in the willow garden”?

  3. No, totally not. One of the distinctions is that “Fair Miss” has a happy ending – the narrative is more or less that of the final scene in the Odyssey (without the slaughter of the suitors), so I immediately thought of Cold Mountain, hoping that the song had made its way onto the movie soundtrack, but no luck.

  4. The version you heard on that album was from Grigsby and Young, not good old Roscoe, although he has recorded a version of the song.
    So here are some of lyrics that you are after…

    VERSE 1
    Pretty fair miss, all in her garden
    Came a gay cowboy, riding by
    Sayin, pretty fair Miss, O, will you marry
    Pretty fair Miss, will ya marry me

    VERSE 2
    O no, o no, your a nice young fellow
    How can you impose on a girl like me
    When’d I have a lover among those cowboys
    Just three year away, he’s been

    VERSE 3
    Perhaps he’s dead or perhaps he’s drowned
    Or perhaps he’s by some Indian slain
    Or perhaps he’s to some pretty girl married
    An’ will never return to thee

    VERSE 4
    O, if he’s dead, I hope he’s happy
    Or if he’s by some Indian slain
    And if he’s to some pretty girl married
    I’ll always love th girl married him

    VERSE 5
    He thrust his hands into his pockets
    His fingers being very small
    He drew forth a ring that she had gave him
    An’ straight before him she did fall

    VERSE 6
    He picked her up like a fond brother
    An’ kissed he gave her, one, two, three
    Saying, pretty fair Miss, O will you marry
    Pretty fair Miss, will you marry me

    VERSE 7
    O yes, O yes, O yes, I’ll marry
    O yes, O yes, I will marry thee

    VERSE 8
    Come all you young an’ tender ladies
    An’ take a warning from a girl like me
    If ya have a lover, among those cowboys
    Just wait an’ he will return to thee.

    Another version…

    VERSE 1
    A pretty fair maid in yonders garden
    A jolly young soldier, came riding by
    Saying, pretty fair Miss, will you marry a soldier
    O no, kind sir, it was th reply

    VERSE 2
    I have a true love, gone into th war
    At four long years has been gone, from me
    An’ if he’s gone, a four years longer
    No man on earth, can marry me

    VERSE 3
    Perhaps your true love are drownded
    Or in some battle an’ slain
    Perhaps, he’s come ‘cross some fair girl married
    If he is drowned, I hope he’s happy
    Or in some bat-tle an’ slain
    An’ if he’s come ‘cross some girl married
    I love th girl that married him

    VERSE 4 He ran his hands into his pocket
    His fingers grew both light an’ small
    He drew out th ring that ‘e wore, between them
    An’ at this thing, O she did fall

    VERSE 5
    He picked it up in his arms an’ kissed her
    He kissed her once’t, yes two, three
    Saying, pretty fair maid, I am the soldier
    Returning home, to marry thee

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