Jefferson Parson

Jefferson Parson

 Garberville, California, USA
BandFolkAlternative

Discovered by Grammy winner Peter Rowan, Jefferson is an ingenious wordsmith whose lyrics, melodies & story-telling rival the best singer-songwriting. "'The Day Odetta Died' is a gem!"--Peter Rowan. "In line with what Seeger and Guthrie set on stage for the Indie movement"--Critic Mark S. Tucker

Biography

JEFFERSON PARSON--From Leadbelly to Hillbilly Hook

For you the bells are ringing,
For you my balls are swingin!

We heard it, but we couldnt believe it. I was fourteen, my friend a year younger, but he had some cool finger-picking techniques I wanted to learn. And he knew about Leadbelly. I leaned closer to the record player to catch the words as my friend reset the needle and turned up the volume:

For you my balls are swingin!

There it was, clear as a bell, but I still wasnt convinced. I came from a musical family-- my Russian-Jewish father and grandmother were both classical pianists, so Id been exposed to classical music.

I also learned a lot of folk songs from my guitar-playing brother (a folkie before folk was fashionable), but, although sonorous, and witty, most of what he had picked up from Berl Ives and Harry Belefonte was rather sanitized. Every night, when my parents thought I was sIeeping, I was listening to mountain music from the radio hidden under my pillow in our Blue Ridge Mountain home. (My mother wondered why it was so hard to wake me up at six every morning when it was time for me to milk the cow!) My heart was stirred by the emotional confluence of traditional ballads, new country and rockabilly gaining popularity in the fifties; Id heard Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, the Carter Family (they were almost neighbors), Jimmy Rodgers, Lefty Frizzelle, Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb. But as great as they were, they were tame compared with:

For you my balls are swingin!

No doubt about it this time! Those were his exact words. We collapsed in paroxysms of pubertal laughter. Elvis was sexy (a photo of me at age fourteen reveals that I was already trying to imitate both his pompador and his sneer); Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers said it the way we wished we could; Jerry Lee Lewis took the cake for raunchy, but Leadbellys lyric topped it all. It spoke to the very source of our secret obsessions, You couldnt be more direct, more honest, than that, So we laughed our asses off largely in relief, relief that Leadbelly had the balls to say what we felt.

I think Leadbelly was the first rocker (compare his Borrow Love and Go with the later-released Blue Suede Shoes). In any case, he and Elvis and countless others helped us unbutton the buttoned-down-buttoned-up society of the fifties by affirming and expressing our sexual feelings. Similarly, activist singers like Woody Guthrie, Odetta, Phil Ochs and Dylan taught us it was good to express our feelings about the economic and military systems that controlled us.

Thus, when I migrated from Virginia to New York to attend Columbia University in 1959, I was affected as strongly by Odetta and Guthrie parrot Jack Elliot, who I heard in Greenwich Village, as I was by Lionel Trilling, Eric Bentley and the other great academic minds I was exposed to on Morningside Heights. After college, my Shakespeare professor recommended me for a fellowship to Columbias graduate school in English and Comparative Literature, where I got a masters degree and I read so many novels and so many poems that it wasnt until years later, when I began writing songs, that I understood why I had stored away all that verbiage and meter. Meanwhile, besides being somewhat over-academized, (for want of a better word), I was soon radicalized by the Vietnam War and by the plight of poor blacks and Latinos in East Harlem, where I took my first job.

My next job drew me to Nashville, where I went back to school in a double sense: Teaching literature and composition at Fisk University during the day, at night I found myself licking my chops with a Lightening Hopkins record or with some of the awesome and ubiquitous musicians that gravitated to Music City. As luck would have it, I ended up sharing a house with a Blue Grass Boy named Peter Rowan.

Affecting who knows what, we each bought old CadilacsPeter a yellow one and I a pink oneand, as long as they held up, we cruised around Nashville and the rural environs that, in concert with the ambient music, returned me to my country roots. Peter invited me a number of times to meet Bill Monroe and hear the Boys performing in bluegrass gloryyes, glory.

Another friend and talented studio musician, Chris Gantry, taught me a bunch on the guitar, which he picked with mandolin velocity and precision. Although Chris song Dreams of an Everyday Housewife made it to the Country charts, he once complained to me: I dont get it!I roomed with Roger Miller and [if my memory serves] John Hartford, who both made it big while Ive gotten nowhere. Chris and I tried to form a jug band, which never got off the ground or on the air, so I commiserated with him, but at the time I had no expectations for musical succ

Lyrics

Yard Sale

Written By: Jefferson Parson

[Intro:] Great big sign on my street today:
“ Yard Sale On Saturday.”

[Chorus:] Yard sale, but the sign don’t say
Why all this stuff’s on sale today;
Yard sale, but the sign don’t tell
Why so many people got so much to sell.

Did somebody die and this is what’s left
After their kids have taken the rest?
Maybe their dad has donned his wings
And he won’t be needing all of these things.

Or maybe they moved closer to town,
So they spread all this stuff out here on the ground;
Maybe their mortgage was a little too high—
I bet those bankers told ‘em a lie;

Or their new house was a little too small
For all this stuff they bought at the mall:
Albums in the attic from “previous lives,”
Too many photos of too many wives.

Bell-bottom jeans that used to be cool;
Trophies he won when he was in school;
TVs and CDs that nobody wants;
Two old typewriters with archaic fonts;
Rows and rows of freshly washed clothes;
Records by singers that nobody knows.

My brother might want that baseball cap;
Them hippies can have that have-a-heart trap;
I bet some artist called this place home:
Who else would’ve wanted that old whale bone
It’s not something most people would pick,
And who would’ve carved that weird walking stick?

The Day Odetta Died

Written By: Jefferson Parson

The day Odetta died,
I cried, I cried.

[Chorus]
Now I reckon I’ll ride the ri-iv-er
‘Til the river meets the tide. [Repeat]

She was my guide,
My guide, oh Lord, my guide… [CHORUS]

In this house I can not hide,
Can’t hide, oh Lord, can’t hide… [CHORUS]

The way it is so wide,
So wide, oh Lord, so wide,
So I reckon I’ll ride the ri-iv-er
‘Til the river meets the tide;
I reckon I’ll ride the ri-iv-er
‘Til the river meets the tide… [CHORUS]

Stony Hill Farm

Written By: Jefferson Parson

[Intro:] Grab your hat, take my arm,
We’ll go walkin’ ‘round Stony Hill Farm.

[Chorus:] Stony hill Farm, Stony Hill Farm,
I’ll show you where the honeybees swarm,
Stony Hill Farm, Stony Hill Farm,
Take you back where I belong.

Corn in the corncrib, grapes on the vine,
Come for a day, stay a long time;
Apples in the orchard, flowers in the field,
If you don’t pick ‘em, you know I will.

Cows and horses in one big barn,
Hayloft heaven at Stony Hill Farm.
When the sun shines, we’ll make hay
Or we’ll go swimmin’ down in the bay.

When the snow falls, don’t lay in bed,
Sharpen your skates, dust off your sled;
Field-stone fireplace to keep us warm,
All winter long at Stony Hill Farm.

Organic garden at Stony Hill Farm,
Zuchinies growin’ as long your arm.
I planted that garden in my prime,
It’s taken care of me for a long, long time.

Time slips away but the memory’s warm,
I’m goin’ back to Stony Hill Farm.
When I die, don’t be alarmed…
Just bury my bones at Stony Hill Farm.

A Trapper's Life

Written By: Jefferson Parson

I miss my wife, my whisky still,
A trapper’s life’s a bitter pill.
You better be careful whose blood you spill.
I wasn’t goin’ home but I just might will.
Fresh horses waiting at the top of the hill;
I’m gonna ride them down like Buffalo Bill.

Hunting’s fun but I’ve had my fill,
A jumping jackrabbit is hard to kill—
A barn owl’ll catch him ‘for you ever will.
I wasn’t goin’ home but I think I will.
Fresh horses waiting at the top of the hill;
Gonna ride them down like Buffalo Bill.

A worn-out plow can’t carve the hills,
A worn-out woman can’t run the mill---
I’m afraid we’re fallin’ like Jack and Jill.
I wasn’t goin’ home but I think I will.
Fresh horses waitin’ at the top of the hill,
Gonna ride them down like Buffalo Bill.

On the trail of a mountain lion,
Lost him in the trees and now I find
That mountain lion—Oh Lord!—is following me.
Snow on the mountain all the way to Bell Springs,
Time like these I wish I had wings,
Mountain lion movin’ in for the kill,
I wasn’t goin’ home but I HOPE I will!
Fresh horses waiting at the top of the hill,
I’m gonna ride them down like Buffalo Bill.

Johanna and the Trim Machine

Written By: Jefferson Parson

When Johanna was a little baby,
Sittin’ on her momma’s knee,
She picked up some clippers and a little bit of bud, said,
“Trimmin’s gonna be the death of me, Great God!
Trimmin’s gonna be the death of me.”

Well, the trim scene hired Johanna,
Said, “We know you trim so fast,
But when the trim machine comes on the scene,
Your trimming season will be passed, Great God!
Your trimmin’ season will be passed.”

Johanna said, “You’re jokin’,
You can bring your trim machine ‘round,
But I’ll be trimmin’ weed at triple speed
When your trim machine done broke down, Great God!
When your trim machine done broke down.”

Johanna trimmin’ on the mountain,
Her clippers were strikin’ fire,
She said, “My fingers are broke, this ain’t no joke,
Let’s burn one down before I die, Great God!
Let’s burn one down before I die.”

The trim machine trimmed eighteen pounds,
Johanna trimmed twenty-five,
But she trimmed so hard she broke her poor heart,
She laid down her clippers and she died, Great God!
She laid down her clippers and she died.

Johanna had a little baby,
She laughed and she played so calm,
But when that great Johanna died,
That baby trimmed bud like her mom, Great God!
That baby trimmed bud like her mom.

Johanna’s ashes on the mountain,
We scattered them in the wind,
Every herb grower goes passin’ by says,
“She’s the best that’s ever trimmed, Great God!
She’s the best that’s ever trimmed.”

Well, you can sing about ”Oh Suzanna,”
You can moan about “Molly Malone,”
But Johanna will be remembered
Wherever the grass is grown, Great God!
Wherever the grass is grown.

The Road to Oregon

Written By: Jefferson Parson

I don’t know what all my Daddy done,
I only know he was on the run,
Around the time the west was won.
He come all the way to Oregon.

I was standing by his bedside
When his words came falling slow.
Was this the ending or just the ebb tide
Before the final flow?—I don’t know.

He said:

“I never thought I’d make it from Arkansas,
But I wasn’t gonna fight no Civil War:
Lose my leg to some surgeon’s saw,
Wind up fighting my brother-in-law.

“I wasn’t gonna finish what I hadn’t begun;
I’d rather be fightin’ Attila the Hun.
Someday I’d pay for what I done
On the road to Oregon.

“With memories my eyes are moist;
I recollect but I don’t rejoice;
I can’t deny this guilty voice,
A prince complaining ‘bout his beggar’s choice:

“Fight my father’s other son
Or kill myself some Indiuns.
I know damn well that’s what I done
On the road to Oregon.

“They called it ‘Manifest Destiny.’
You know the rest is history:
We stole their land, if the truth be told,
Killed Cheyenne and Arapaho.

“‘A hay yana nay--‘ and I heard them pray:
‘A hay yana nay, hay yana, hay yana yo e no hin o way nay (2x),
A hay yana, hay yana yo e no hin o way nay o way.
A hay yana nay o, hay yana, hay yana yo e no hin o way nay (2x),
A hay yana, hay yana yo e no hin o way nay o way.’

“I told the truth, I can’t deceive,
There’s no more aces up my sleeve;
I said goodbye, it’s time to leave.
If I were you, I would not grieve.”

He couldn’t hold me, he couldn’t console me,
He couldn’t show me which way to go,
He liked to scold me, but I’m glad he told me
What he thought I oughta know—Oh!

“Them dark clouds are movin’ slow,
But they’ll pick up when the night winds blow.
When they get here, I’ll be gone,
On the road to Oregon.

“The ground hog’s hiding in his hole,
But I came out to save my soul.
There’s only one thing I’d like to know:
Will God forgive me when I go?”

A hay yana nay, hay yana, hay yana yo e no hin o way nay (2x),
A hay yana, hay yana yo e no hin o way nay o way.
A hay yana nay o, hay yana, hay yana yo e no hin o way nay (2x),
A hay yana, hay yana yo e no hin o way nay o way.

Caleb

Written By: Jefferson Parson

Disorder in the court when I tried to take the stand,
Somebody yelled, “He’s got a knife in his hand.”
Well, they beat me so bad I could barely hear that bailiff cry,
“If you boys kill him, he ain’t gonna testify, but I… I testified:

You can call me Caleb, ‘cause that’s my name,
For many a crime I’ll take the blame,
But I done some things it don’t make no sense to call sin;
I’d like to mention ‘em before we begin:

I always paid for what I took,
I always carried the Holy Book,
The man I murdered had it comin’ to him,
I wish I could start all over again!

I’m a dull razor’s edge from a common thief;
I got my land from a full-fledged Cherokee chief.
You might think it ain’t hardly rotten
I got all that land for ten yards of cotton.
But that’s ‘cause you ain’t figurin’ in
What the chief got after drinkin’ all of my gin:

Seven hoes, nine hatchets, thirty knives and four moose skins,
Said he was ready to start all over again!

Momma said, “Pappy and me we can see you’re the peaceful sort,
Not happy to be building a ten-foot fir-pole fort,
But there won’t be no warnin’ when they come for your skin,
You’ll be cryin’, “Somebody please let me in!”

With your two ex-wives, six kids, your lover and her dog and the
rest of your ragged kin,
You’ll be ready to start all over again!

I met a pretty girl, pretty soon we went for a walk.
She told me she loved me, now I think it was talk.
When I looked in her eyes, I felt I was fallin’ in.
What we did then, it don’t make no sense to call sin.

If I had to explain it, I wouldn’t know where to begin;
We just wanted to start all over again!

I’m scratchin’ for a tune like a farmer with a rusty old hoe;
My feet are tappin’, the strings are snappin’ up and down my
fiddle bow
My fingers are hurtin,’ my voice is wearin’ thin,
And I can’t believe just how far I’ve been.
I’ve been from New York to New Orleans, Virginia, California and
back to Virgin… again!
Feels like I’m ready to start all over again,
That's right, I'm ready to start all over again!

The Pitchforks of My Opinion

Written By: Jefferson Parson

I called myself a planter,
A nice, imprecise choice of words.
Now, I know that description was only a fiction;
It was only a prescription for the birds,

‘Cause you can take it for granted
The only things I planted
Were wild oats, whisky bottles and some birds,
Like the unsuspecting sparrows
I killed with my arrows
For stealing corn mash, take my word.

When they found my copper kettles,
They were full of poison nettles
And my house was full of marital discord—Oh, Lord! --
Both of us bellowing to be heard.

The real planters were slaves;
They were planting whatever I craved,
But, Jesus, when they died,
I never asked myself why
Other slaves had to plant them in their graves.

I called myself a builder,
But I never, hardly ever, drove a nail.
Now, I know that description was only a fiction,
Senseless as a sailboat without a sail.

The real builders were slaves;
They were building whatever I craved,
The mansion where I dwelled,
Wonderin’ if I’ll go to Hell,
‘Cause my church of gilt was also built by slaves.

I called myself an overseer,
And I guess, more than less, that was true,
‘Cause I know that description’s a downright depiction
Of a state of mind so cruel and so blue
That the pitchforks of my opinion
Oversaw the Old Dominion,
Not just the plantations that we knew—
Oh! When will this nightmare be through?

The Real Overseer may save;
He may be watchin’ how we behave,
But you’re defined by what you do
Not who’s watching you,
Or where you were when fortune’s favor waved—
I was there when fortune’s favor waved.

If I’m waiting for a savior
Before changing my behavior,
I’ll be waiting for a long time to be saved.
If I’m waiting for a savior
Before changing my behavior,
I’ll be waiting for a long time…
Waiting for a long time…
Waiting for a long time…

Pumpkins Ain't Squashes

Written By: Jefferson Parson

[Chorus] I’m gonna say what I do and do what I say.
I ain’t waitin’ for no one to wash my sins away.
Pumpkins ain’t squashes, squashes ain’t gourds;
A sway-back mule ain’t no model-T Ford.

Burnt wheat straw ain’t alfalfa hay;
Plymouth Rock roosters ain’t never gonna lay;
My gal’s a good gal, no Calamity Jane;
She knows just what to do to drive me insane.

A fat ocean schooner ain’t no flat-bottom pole boat;
Uncaulked ship-lap ain’t never gonna float;
A ten-dollar timepiece ain’t no gold watch and chain;
That storm over my place ain’t no light summer rain… [CHORUS]

Philosopher’s fingers can’t milk my Gurnsey cow;
Sixteen gospel singers won’t pull my stupid plow;
White corn syrup ain’t wild-flower honey;
A roll-top desk can’t hide my dirty money.

A shot-gun wedding ain’t no marriage of choice;
A Christian blood-letting ain’t no cause to rejoice;
A scrub-pine pole ain’t no rock-hard locust post;
A fine-scrubbed soul can’t unlock the holy ghost… [CHORUS

Have I Told You Today I Love You?

Written By: Jefferson Parson

Have I told you today I love you,
Or did I just say you must know by now?
There are so many ways I love you,
So, darlin’, I’m telling you how.

Your smile’s like a string of opals,
Turquoise the color of your eyes;
Your vision is always hopeful,
Clearing dark clouds from the sky.

There’s a circle of love and understanding,
Compassion and praise is where it starts,
Like an avenue of emerald angels,
With luminescent rays from heart to heart.

Moonstone Momma, lover,
Innocent, amusing little girl,
Passionately I’ve discovered
Your love encircles my world.

There’s a golden haze above you,
Your halo can’t be hidden in the clouds.
Have I told you today I love you?
If I didn’t, I’m telling you now.

Have I Told You Today I Love You?

Written By: Jefferson Parson

Have I told you today I love you,
Or did I just say you must know by now?
There are so many ways I love you,
So, darlin’, I’m telling you how.

Your smile’s like a string of opals,
Turquoise the color of your eyes;
Your vision is always hopeful,
Clearing dark clouds from the sky.

There’s a circle of love and understanding,
Compassion and praise is where it starts,
Like an avenue of emerald angels,
With luminescent rays from heart to heart.

Moonstone Momma, lover,
Innocent, amusing little girl,
Passionately I’ve discovered
Your love encircles my world.

There’s a golden haze above you,
Your halo can’t be hidden in the clouds.
Have I told you today I love you?
If I didn’t, I’m telling you now.