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On Top of Old Smokey

[ Roud 414 ; Henry BSoF740 ; trad.]

Hedy West sang Old Smokey on her 1966 Topic album of Appalachian ballad, Pretty Saro. She noted:

Old Smokey is another native American lyrical song or ‘lonesome tune’. It’s made of elements from other songs: The Waggoner’s Lad, Courting Too Slow, Loving Nancy, The Forsaken Girl, The Inconstant Lover. In a grossly simplified form, Old Smokey was sung so often it became a cliché in the beginning of the American folk song revival. I’ve learned it from Grandma. [Her brother] Gus burlesques it with mock agony and adds his own verse:

Will hug you and kiss you
And tell you more lies
Than the fleas on a houn’ dog
Or the stars in the skies.

Then he chants: “Whacky, whacky, whack!”

Sara Grey sang Old Smokey in 2005 on her Fellside album A Long Way from Home. She noted:

From the singing of Roscoe Holcomb and from Madge Moore. This is not the saccharine version which is commonly sung, but a hard edged mountain song with floating verses everywhere.

When Roscoe Holcomb sang Old Smokey its notes were so drawn out that it was easy to imagine Roscoe harmonizing with himself as the echo of an earlier note came back at him from across the valley. Old Smokey is the Smokey Mountain range which stretches from Tennessee to North Carolina.

Lyrics

On Top of Old Smokey

On top of Old Smokey, all covered with snow,
I lost my true lover for courting too slow.

For courting's a pleasure but parting is grief,
And a false-hearted lover is worse than a thief.

A thief will just rob you and take what you have,
But a false-hearted lover will lead you to your grave.

The grave will decay you and turn you to dust,
Not one boy in a hundred a poor girl can trust.

They'll hug you and kiss you and tell you more lies
Than crossties on a railroad or stars in the sky.

So come ye young maidens and listen to me:
Never place your affection in a green willow tree.

For the leaves they will wither, the roots they will die,
And you'll be forsaken and never know why.

Sara Grey sings Old Smokey

On top of Old Smokey, all covered in snow
There I lost my own true lover for courting too slow

Well courting's a pleasure and parting is grief
And a false-hearted lover is worse than a thief

For a thief he will just rob you and he'll take what he please
But a false-hearted lover he will lead you to the grave

Gonna build me a love cabin on the mountain so high
Where all the wild birds and purty women they will hear my sad cry

Oh it's ashes to ashes and it's dust to dust
Not but one boy all in a hundred a poor girl can trust

He will kiss you and then court you and then tell you more lies
Than all the cross-ties upon a railroad or the stars in the skies

Oh your parents they don't like me for they say I am to poor
They say that I am unworthy of entering your door

Well I work for my living and my money's my own
And if your parents they don't like me they can leave me alone

On top of Old Smokey, all covered in snow
There I lost my own true lover for courting too slow

Links

See also the Mudcat Café threads Origins: On Top of Old Smoky and On Top of Old Smokey.