Henry's Songbook

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Goodnight Irene

  • (Huddie Ledbetter)

    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I'll see you in my dreams

    Last Saturday night I got married
    Me and my wife settled down
    Now me and my wife are parted
    Gonna take another stroll downtown

    Sometimes I live in the country
    Sometimes I live in the town
    Sometimes I get a great notion
    To jump in the river and drown

    Well I asked your mother for you
    She told me you was too young
    I wish to the Lord I'd never seen your face
    Or heard your lying tongue

    Stop your rambling, stop your gambling
    Stop staying out late at night
    Go home to your wife and your family
    Stay home by the fireside bright

    I love Irene God knows I do
    Love her to the day I die
    If Irene turns her back on me
    I'll take morphine and die

    As sung by Hamish Imlach & Iain MacKintosh

Susannes Folksong-Notizen

  • english [1961:] In 1950, six months after Leadbelly died, this song of his sold two million copies on the hit parade. He always said Irene was a real person and he knew her - a girl just sixteen years old, who met a rambler and a gambler. (Seeger, Ballads 48)

  • german [1980:] 1950 [...] spielten [die Weavers] mit Good Night Irene den ersten Folk-Hit der Geschichte ein. Der Titel wurde zwei Millionen Mal verkauft und war dreizehn Wochen lang die Nummer Eins in den amerikanischen Charts - ein Jahr nach Leadbellys Tod. (Siniveer, Folk-Lexikon 271)

  • english [1980:] [The] Lomaxes discovered, at the Angola State Prison Farm in Louisiana, Huddie Ledbetter, who was called Leadbelly by the other inmates. His ability on the twelve-string guitar, his range, creativity, and sheer magnetism left the Lomaxes breathless. The years earlier, while serving a thirty-year sentence for murder in Texas, Leadbelly had sung and jived his way to a pardon by Governor Pat Neff. Now, serving ten years for assault with intent to murder, he made the same trick work again: John Lomax took his musical plea for clemency, on record, to Governor O. K. Allen, who set him free several months later. Hiring on a Lomax's chauffeur and traveling companion - Alan's former role - Leadbelly was brought to New York, where he charmed college audiences and caused a brief stir in the press. He left the elder Lomax after a year, chafing under his white paternalism, wanting to control his own money, and tired of having to wear his convict clothes each time he performed, "for exhibition purposes", as John Lomax put it. (Klein, Woody Guthrie 144)

    [The Weavers'] first record was "Tzena Tzena Tzena" with a version of Leadbelly's lovely "Irene" on the flip side; on both sides, the label read: "by Gordon Jenkins and the Weavers". "Tzena" did nicely enough as a novelty song, but the real surprise was "Irene", which became a huge success, the most popular song of 1950. [...] Not only were traditional folk songs changed [in order to copyright them], but also those composed by known authors. Leadbelly's "Irene" was shortened and bowdlerized - even the name was changed to "Goodnight Irene" - to fit the public taste. (Klein, Woody Guthrie 356f)

  • english [1985:] [Typically,] The Weavers closed with Goodnight Irene [...]. They hedged on the more controversial lyrics, dropping a verse about taking morphine, and changing the chorus from [Leadbelly's version]: "I'll get you in my dreams" to "I'll see you in my dreams". No matter: In 1950, singing a song by a black ex-convict made an unmistakable political statement. (Dunaway, Seeger 142)

  • english [1993:] [We] found ourselves in a most unexpected situation. Thanks to the enthusiasm of bandleader Gordon Jenkins, we'd recorded one of the songs of Leadbelly, who'd died penniless the year before. Goodnight Irene sold more records than any other pop song since WWII. In the summer of 1950 you couldn't escape it. A waltz yet! In a roadside diner we heard someone say, "Turn that jukebox off! I've heard that song 50 times this week." (Seeger, Flowers 64)

  • english [1995:] [Alan Lomax told us,] 'My father, John Lomax, discovered Leadbelly. Pa was one of the earliest folk collectors. He visited a chain-gang and there was this guy with a scar from ear to ear. He'd nearly had his head cut off, fighting in a swamp. The other feller was dead. "I've written a song for you," he told Pa. "It's called Goodnight Irene," and he sang it then and there. "That song should free him," Pa told the governor. "Not a chance." "Not even if I were to be responsible for him?" "And keep him under surveillance, night and day?" "I would be prepared to do that." Pa won, but at our home in New York Leadbelly proved to be a wild one and nobody could control him - but Big Black Minnie - when she was around he was as gentle as a lamb.' (Joan Littlewood, Joan's Book 409)

  • english See also
    Charles Wolfe / Kip Lornell, 'The Life and Legend of Leadbelly'

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