Friday, February 12, 2010
The Kingston Trio: Tom Dooley!
(Intro) Throughout history
There've been many songs written about the eternal triangle
This next one tells the story of a Mr Grayson, a beautiful woman
And a condemned man named Tom Dooley...
When the sun rises tomorrow, Tom Dooley... must hang...
[Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Hang down your head and cry
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Poor boy, you're bound to die]
I met her on the mountain
There I took her life
Met her on the mountain
Stabbed her with my knife
This time tomorrow
Reckon where I'll be
Hadn't a-been for Grayson
I'd a-been in Tennessee
This time tomorrow
Reckon where I'll be
Down in some lonesome valley
Hangin' from a white oak tree
Tom Dooley" is an old North Carolina folk song based on the 1866 murder of a woman named Laura Foster in Wilkes County, North Carolina. It is best known today because of a hit version recorded in 1958 by The Kingston Trio. This version was a multi-format hit, reaching #1 in Billboard, the Billboard R&B listing, and appearing in the Cashbox country music top 20.
It was selected as one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the National Endowment for the Arts, and Scholastic Inc.
In the documentary Appalachian Journey (1991), folklorist Alan Lomax describes Frank Proffitt as the "original source" for the song. Since the song predates Frank Proffitt's early version, it appears that Lomax means that Proffitt's version is the one that has become most well known to us because the Kingston Trio derived their interpretation from it. Certainly, there is at least one earlier known recording, by Grayson and Whitter made in 1929, approximately 10 years before Proffitt cut his own recording.
Impoverished Confederate veteran Tom Dula (Dooley), Laura Foster's lover and probable fiancé, was convicted of her murder and hanged in 1868. Foster was stabbed to death with a large knife; the brutality of the attack partly accounted for the widespread publicity the murder and subsequent trial received.
Dula had a second lover, Anne Melton. It was her comments that led to the discovery of Foster's body, but Melton was acquitted in a separate trial based on Dula's word. Dula's enigmatic statement on the gallows that he had not harmed Foster but still deserved his punishment led to press speculation that Melton was the actual killer and that Dula simply covered for her. Melton, who had once expressed jealousy of Dula's purported plans to marry Foster, died insane a few years after the homicide. Thanks to the efforts of newspapers such as The New York Times, and to the fact that former North Carolina governor Zebulon Vance represented Dula pro bono, Dula's murder trial and hanging were given widespread national publicity. A local poet, Thomas C. Land, wrote a popular song about Dula's tragedy after the hanging.
A man named "Grayson," mentioned in the song as pivotal in Dula's downfall, has sometimes been characterized as a romantic rival of Dula's or a vengeful sheriff who captured him and presided over his hanging. Some variant lyrics of the song portray Grayson in that light, and the spoken introduction to the Kingston Trio version did the same. Col. James Grayson was actually a Tennessee politician who had hired Dula on his farm when the young man fled North Carolina under suspicion and was using a false name. Grayson did help North Carolinians capture Dula and was involved in returning him to North Carolina, but otherwise played no role in the case.
Dula was tried in Statesville, because it was believed he could not get a fair trial in Wilkes County. He was given a new trial on appeal but he was again convicted, and hanged on May 1, 1868. His alleged accomplice, Jack Keaton, was set free. On the gallows, Dula reportedly stated, "Gentlemen, do you see this hand? I didn't harm a hair on the girl's head."
Dula's last name was pronounced "Dooley," leading to some confusion in spelling over the years. (The pronunciation of a final "a" like "y" is an old feature in Appalachian speech, as in the term "Grand Ole Opry"). The confusion was probably compounded by the fact that Dr. Tom Dooley, an American physician known for international humanitarian work, was at the height of his fame in 1958, when the Kingston Trio version became a major hit.
The doleful ballad was probably first sung shortly after the execution and is still commonly sung in North Carolina.
The Kingston Trio is an American folk and pop music group that helped launch the folk revival of the late 1950s to late 1960s. The group originated as a San Francisco Bay Area nightclub act with an original lineup of Dave Guard, Bob Shane, and Nick Reynolds. It rose to international popularity, fueled by unprecedented sales of 33 1/3 rpm long-playing record albums, and helped to alter the direction of popular music in the U.S.
The Kingston Trio was one of the most prominent folk music groups of the era's relatively short-lived pop-folk boom that their success helped to create. Beginning with their first album released in 1958—which included the hit recording of "Tom Dooley" that sold over three million copies as a single, the Trio released nineteen albums that made Billboard's Top 100, fourteen of which ranked in the top 10, and five of which hit the number 1 spot. Four albums charted during the same week among the Top 10 selling albums in December 1959, a record unmatched for nearly 50 years, and the group still ranks after half a century in the all time top ten of many of Billboard's charts, including those for most weeks with a #1 album, most total weeks charting an album, most #1 albums, most consecutive #1 albums, and most top ten albums.
Music historian Richie Unterberger characterized their impact as "phenomenal popularity", and the Kingston Trio's massive record sales in its early days made acoustic folk music commercially viable, paving the way for singer-songwriter, folk rock, and Americana artists who followed in their wake.