The Deck of Cards, or The Old Weird America Part 2

Returning to the other side of that post WWII Tex Ritter record I discussed yesterday, let’s look at The Deck of Cards. I think I probably first heard this as the Wink Martindale version from 1959 which was the third or fourth time a version of The Deck of Cards had charted on some hit parade somewhere, and as the Wikipedia link shows, it would return again and again, which should not surprise us, since the story dates back to the 18th century.

I rather liked the piece when I heard it as a child. First off it was spoken not sung, so it stood out from all the singers on the radio, and the piece’s narrative twist, that the threatened poor and irreverent man would show himself to be learned and pious, is the kind of twist that can keep a piece of folk material current for centuries. As I said in the last post, no one in the mid-20th century folk revival would have ever considered The Deck of Cards an authentic folk song—but like our supposed irreverent soldier—it is, and not what folks presumed it to be.

Did this record specifically influence the Parlando project to mix music and spoken/chanted words? Not at any conscious level. The popular spoken word record with music just was around in my childhood. Yet, as one starts to do concentrated work in some area you may begin to notice all kinds of things that must have taught you some possibilities.

The plot of The Deck of Cards follows the rhythm of a joke: tension, danger, expectation; then unexpected twist, release of tension, pleasure. So, it’s not surprising then that some of the renditions of this old tale passing through the folk process twist it again to parody, and so here’s mine. It’s based loosely on that rough Robyn Hitchcock version, even uses a couple of his lines, but is mostly mine. If you don’t know the 1948 Tex Ritter version, you can hear it first by clicking here. You should listen to Tex, you can’t have irreverence without reverence. Or you can hear T Texas Tyler’s version which predates Tex Ritter’s by a few months here.

Oddly enough, I performed a straight rendition of the 1948 text the same day that the LYL Band recorded this parody, but you won’t hear that here when you click on the gadget that should appear below.

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