Bob Dylan’s first TV appearance in 1963.
History of this traditional American folk song. It was first recorded by Dick Burnett, a partially blind fiddler from Kentucky. “Man of Constant Sorrow” is a traditional American folk song first recorded by Dick Burnett, a partially blind fiddler from Kentucky. Although he song was originally recorded by Burnett as “Farewell Song” printed in a Richard Burnett songbook, c. 1913. An early version was recorded by Emry Arthur in 1928 (Vocalion Vo 5208).
On October 13, 2009 on the Diane Rehm Show, Dr. Ralph Stanley of the Stanley Brothers, born in 1927, discussed the song, its origin, and his effort to revive it: “Man of Constant Sorrow” is probably two or three hundred years old. But the first time I heard it when I was y’know, like a small boy, my daddy — my father — he had some of the words to it, and I heard him sing it, and we — my brother and me — we put a few more words to it, and brought it back in existence. I guess if it hadn’t been for that it’d have been gone forever. I’m proud to be the one that brought that song back, because I think it’s wonderful.”
There is some uncertainty whether Dick Burnett himself wrote the song. One claim is that it was sung by the Mackin clan in 1888 in Ireland and that Cameron O’Mackin emigrated to Tennessee, brought the song with him, and performed it. In an interview he gave toward the end of his life, Burnett himself indicated that he could not remember:
Charles Wolfe: “What about this “Farewell Song” — ‘I am a man of constant sorrow’ — did you write it?”
Richard Burnett: “No, I think I got the ballad from somebody — I dunno. It may be my song…”
If Burnett wrote the song, the date of its composition, or at least of the editing of certain lyrics by Burnett, can be fixed at about 1913. Since it is known that Burnett was born in 1883, married in 1905, and blinded in 1907, the dating of two of these texts can be made on the basis of internal evidence. The second stanza of “Farewell Song” mentions that the singer has been blind six years, which put the date at 1913. According to the Country Music Annual, Burnett “probably tailored a pre-existing song to fit his blindness” and may have adapted a hymn. Charles Wolfe argues that “Burnett probably based his melody on an old Baptist hymn called “Wandering Boy”.
Stanley’s autobiography is titled Man of Constant Sorrow
“I am a man of constant sorrow
I’ve seen trouble all my days
I’ll say goodbye to Colorado
Where I was born and partly raised.
Your mother says I’m a stranger
My face you’ll never see no more
But there’s one promise, darling
I’ll see you on God’s golden shore.
Through this open world I’m about to ramble
Through ice and snow, sleet and rain
I’m about to ride that morning railroad
Perhaps I’ll die on that train.
I’m going back to Colorado
The place that I started from
If I knowed how bad you’d treat me
Honey, I never would have come.”
Bob Dylan stated, “Roscoe Holcomb has a certain untamed sense of control, which makes him one of the best.” Eric Clapton called Holcomb “my favorite [country] musician.” Holcomb’s white-knuckle performances reflect a time before radio told musicians how to play, and these recordings make other music seem watered-down in comparison. His high, tense voice inspired the term “high lonesome sound.” Self-accompanied on banjo, fiddle, guitar, or harmonica, these songs express the hard life he lived and the tradition in which he was raised. Includes his vintage 1961 “Man of Constant Sorrow.”