Tennessee River

Today’s post was written by Paul.

Paul and Sonny

Today I’m sharing another tune I filmed with Mr. Sonny Reighard.

It’s a song that Sonny collected at a festival, brought to our area, and popularized. Several local groups now do this song.

If I understood Sonny correctly, he first heard this song at a festival near Bryson City, NC performed by a group from out west. They sang the song about the Arkansas River.

Sonny reworked the words of the chorus so that it is more relatable to listeners in our area.

Not only is the melody beautiful, but I think it’s neat that in this song, roles are reversed: It’s the lady who feels the tug of wander lust and eventually leaves the 1st person, male narrator, even though she loves him.

In many country, folk, and bluegrass songs, a man leaves a woman because the call of the great-out-there is too enticing to his spirit.

Ramblin’ Man” by Hank Williams, which can be heard on our channel, is a prime example. In “Streamline Cannonball,” (which can also be heard on our channel), the speaker or narrator isn’t quite sure yet, but it seems most likely that he will leave his woman to ride trains. He devotes far more description to train travel than to his lady, not to mention uses the verb “love” for the wandering life, while only using “like” for the lady.

Sonny absolutely nailed the verses of this song–so much feeling, expression, and melody. We did it a second time in a different key, and I improved my guitar break, not only by going to the correct frets but also by playing a better arrangement of notes. However, I uploaded this first take because Sonny’s lead vocal is so perfect.

I hope you enjoyed this song. I don’t know who wrote it nor the name of the group that Sonny heard sing it some years ago.


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  • Reply
    Sue McIntyre
    January 11, 2021 at 5:52 pm

    Great job! Puts me in mind of a dark, sad song my daddy used to sing, “KNOXVILLE GIRL” by the Louvin Brothers. Moma didn’t like for him to sing it at all. “PRETTY POLLY” by the Stanley Brothers is another. All songs about real life choices and their consequences.

  • Reply
    Jane Lovingood
    January 11, 2021 at 12:52 pm

    We could change the name of the river in Haywood county to the Pigeon river. Love the song.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 10, 2021 at 4:51 pm

    The river mentioned in the song is the present day Little Tennessee River. One hundred and fifty years ago it was known as the Tennessee River but somewhere along the line the name got changed. The Little Tennessee arises in Northeast Georgia near Dillard in Rabun County at a place called Head of the Tennessee. It still has that name. I guess nobody asked them or told them when the name got changed. Many of the Baptist Churches along the then Tennessee River formed an association back in the mid 1800’s called the Tennessee River Baptist Association. Nobody asked or told them either, so it’s still the Tennessee River Baptist Association. I remember going to Hightower Baptist Church and reading the Tennessee River Baptist Association Charter hanging on the wall behind the pulpit. Maple Springs had the same document. Almond too! Brush Creek, Cold Springs and Tellico probably, but me memory fails me.
    The Cherokee Indians named that river the Tennessee long before the white men came. I’ll bet they didn’t get the memo either! Up until 1836 the Tennessee River was the Western border of North Carolina. Everything west of the Tennessee River was called Indian Lands.
    For several years I have researched the reason for the name change. The States of Georgia and North Carolina would have to have approved of the change unless it were just apathetically ignored, which is a reasonable assumption, since our part of the country is often shoved aside in favor of more important issues and people.

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    January 10, 2021 at 1:25 pm

    Good job on the song. We do it here in east Texas, but of course, the Arkansas River is leaving Oklahoma.

  • Reply
    Darrell Keith Cook
    January 10, 2021 at 12:38 pm

    I enjoyed this song. They are very talented. I appreciate Blind Pig for keeping Appalachian music and traditions alive.

  • Reply
    Mary Anne Johnson
    January 10, 2021 at 12:14 pm

    Such a soulful song. Remember those feelings from a time long ago.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2021 at 11:06 am

    What a beautiful and soulful song.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 10, 2021 at 10:14 am

    Tipper (and Paul)–I absolutely loved this song from all perspectives–singing, playing, and especially the lyrics. As I listened to and thought about the moving, slightly maudlin lyrics, I wondered whether Paul and/or Sonny were familiar with “The Cold, Icy Waters of Swain:? It was written by a Swain County native, the late Herbert “Hub” Hyde. He was a politician who served multiple terms in the N. C. state and a renowned orator who was so entertaining that the halls of the legislature would be packed anytime he was scheduled to speak. He also wrote a number of books focusing on his roots.
    I’ve never heard the song performed although Hub purportedly could launch into full voice with great gusto and offer it at the drop of a hat. The “cold, icy waters” were (and I’m working from memory here) those of the Oconaluftee, Tuckaseigee, Nantahala, and Little Tennessee rivers. I’ve never heard the song sung and would love for Paul to do it. I’m pretty certain I can locate the lyrics and possibly the tune as well if there is any interest. I know a couple of Hub’s siblings fairly well.
    Jim Casada
    P. S. All those cold, icy rivers carry Native American names.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2021 at 10:03 am

    Liked the song a lot. Good harmony, as usual. Contrary to a lot of CW songs, it seems quite often that the woman in a relationship is the “rambler”. I really enjoy your explaination of the songs and the details of the music. Although I don’t fully understand the intricacies involved, it increases my appreciation of the skills of “music makers”.

  • Reply
    Emily from Austin
    January 10, 2021 at 9:44 am

    Love your voices and that song! Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2021 at 9:31 am

    Enjoyed the song and history of it.
    Seems like trains play a big part in the songs we grew up hearing.

  • Reply
    Steve in tn
    January 10, 2021 at 9:19 am

    Nice. We play Arkansas River at the nursing homes, but like your adaptation. Nothing wrong with changing to your liking…especially if the song is of unknown origin.

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    January 10, 2021 at 8:48 am

    If you’re leaving your woman to ride a dirty train, then ain’t she better off without a DUD holding her back or vice versa? Lol. One cannot stop progress or wander lust!!!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 10, 2021 at 7:21 am

    Thanks Paul and Sonny, that was a good song and you both did it proud!

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