John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“Farmer John”

No, it’s not cerebral, but this 1959 rocker by Don & Dewey is pure joy.

By - Sep 2nd, 2015 04:54 pm
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Don & Dewey

Don & Dewey

Don & Dewey were total badasses. Their full names were Don “Sugarcane” Harris and Dewey Terry, and they’re so far under the radar that few people outside of record collectors or rockabilly cats and kittens know their names. The song we’re listening to today, Farmer John, was a hit for a group called The Premiers in 1964. Others got the hits from songs written or originated by D&D, and I imagine they wondered why it wasn’t them as they cashed the royalty checks for them.

This all comes about because I had an opportunity to sing their great rocker, Farmer John, at a gig at Anodyne with The Third Coast Blues Collective record release party. On that recording, the song is done justice by Dave and Dick Pruitt, better known as The Belairs. They have that sibling thing going for them. I also cut my teeth on material like this when I was a kid watching my big brother Mike Sieger sing the heck out of numbers like this as the lead singer in his first bands. When I got in on the action, we would sing together on Everly Brothers songs or anything that featured close harmony.

I’m glad there are no recordings of us — Mike definitely pulled his weight, but I was iffy in the pitch, tone and phrasing departments and, had our mother not been infinitely patient and supportive, we might have moved on from music to who knows what. It was all in the spirit, though, and Don & Dewey were beacons in that department.

While thinking these thoughts. I was struck also by how definition of a song has mutated from the simplicity and directness of a revamped farmer’s daughter joke to the much more self conscious proposition it is today. I’m wary of generalizing, but I think it’s safe to say that there were fewer songs back then concerned with burnishing the artist’s bona fides in the areas of citizenship and degree of education.

There is a strain of writing now that seems to be worried about whether audiences think the artist is politically sensitive, not to mention deeply committed to social change. Some of it is expressed in reasoned, balanced and thoughtful language that would not be out of place in a college creative writing course. Niggling little complaint, I know, but something like a barrier goes up when I sense that kind of artistic insecurity. It hints at a performer more concerned with themselves and the role they play, and less with the pure, visceral, and transcendent lift music can provide the weary working stiff.

For instance, consider this version of Farmer John by the still very live sounding Don & Dewey, although neither of them are with us any longer. Like I said, the farmer’s daughters jokes were probably already pretty tired when they set this one, minus punchline, to music. Try to imagine The Decemberists covering this and you’ll see my point about the evolution of songs:

Mmm, farmer John
I’m in love with you daughter
Wow-wow-wow
The one with a champagne eyes
Yeah, she knows that I love her
Yeah, but she tell me lies

Mmm, farmer John
Someday I will marry
Wow-wow-wow
The one with a champagne eyes
But now she won’t accept my hand
She won’t wear my wedding ring

I like the way she walks
The way she talks
She really knocks me out
Causin’ me to shout, oh-wow
Now looka here!

Mmm, farmer John
I’m in love with you daughter
Wow-wow-wow
With a champagne eyes
Yeah, she knows that I love her
Yeah, but she tell me lies

© Don Harris & Dewey Taylor

I know, it’s not literature. That’s what I like about lyrics. While they can be high-minded and cerebral, they’re just as good when they’re something hooky spinning around in your head while you’re on the dance floor.

Music that becomes self-conscious loses some of it’s joy. There’s probably no way to avoid that, just as there is no way to go back in history and see that all the black artists who saw their songs turned into hits for white groups get their due. Some were cheated out of royalties and that’s still going on with Spotify and the rest. Same old story.

It’s best to concentrate on the joy flying out of the grooves when this record is spinning; it’s timeless and couldn’t care less whether it’s politically correct or not. Just as long as it makes you want to dance.

One thought on “Sieger on Songs: “Farmer John””

  1. Dale Pautzke says:

    Bob Dylan did a thing on XM radio called Theme Time Radion Hour. I miss it. You should copy it. Your knowledge and sense of music would be perfect for a show which both educates and entertains.

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