There Ain’t A Thing For A Poor Man In This World

There Ain't a Thing for a Poor Man in this World
A few weeks ago at our weekly pickin’ & grinnin’ session, I told Pap and Paul I needed a song about making do. I described what we’d been talking about here on the Blind Pig-from the pinto beans to Granny’s oven potato chips. It only took Paul a minute to come up with a song, Poor Man.

Frank Proffitt, who is most famous for penning Tom Dooley, also wrote Poor Man. Paul reminded me of a video we watched years ago. According to the video, Proffitt was inspired to write the song due to some bitter times he endured.

Hard to remember the exact time frame Proffitt was describing, but I believe it was in the 1930s, tough times for most folks especially if you were a farmer in NC. There had been a prolonged drought that summer. Folks had cajoled, begged and pleaded for their cabbage, corn, and taters to grow during the dry season, praying all the while for rain. As the crops neared harvest, ‘along came a great big flood and washed everything away‘.

My favorite line of the song is in the last verse “you know that I love you ever which way around” he’s telling his baby it’ll all be alright, that’s the make do part to me. Give it a listen and see what you think. In this video: Pap, Paul, and Tipper.

Hope you enjoyed the song. Ever have that kind of luck? I know I have.


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in February of 2011.

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  • Reply
    March 20, 2021 at 4:53 pm

    Frank makes me proud to be Proffitt/Prophet! We are descendants of SYLVESTER!

  • Reply
    June 10, 2017 at 3:20 am

    Frank Proffitt did not write Tom Dooley, he learned it from family, and the legend was that the song was made up by Tom Dula on the way to the gallows. Nor did he write There Ain’t a Thing for a Poor Man in This World, the song should be properly credited to his father. Although the Proffitt arrangement has some similarity to White House Blues as sung by Charlie Poole, it does have some differences, whereas your version is using a tune closer to the White House Blues.

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    July 28, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Growing up I was always told to make do and be savin’ with it. The other day I found myself explaining what “be savin’ with it” meant to my 6 year old great nephew Elijah. I had gotten him some candy and told him to be savin’ with it. His comment was, ” Tia Julie, if we run out we can just go to the store and buy more.” It made me chuckle at the simplicity of his thoughts. I asked him what would happen if we couldn’t just go get more. He looked at me and said he would eat the rest of it tomorrow!! Maybe I am making impressions that will stick with him. You never know.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 27, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    I tried to find the written lyrics to Poor Man, but couldn’t seem to find them. His most, I suppose, famous song was Tom Dula or Dooley. I found those lyrics many times over. I also found Poor Rich Man!
    I think my carpenter Dad may have possibly known Frank Proffitt as they worked at Oak Ridge at the same time. Dad went there from NC to find work before 1940, as a carpenter building buildings as did Frank Proffitt from NC worked there as a carpenter during the same time frame. This was before my Dad married my Mom. When they married, he lived in Knoxville, and then came to Marshall and got my Mom when he found them a place to live.
    It was hard times before 1940 and recovering from the depression was rough. I remember my parents talking about it. They felt lucky being raised on farms with food on foot and in the fields, canned and stored in the cellars. Making do was part of life. When clothes were wore out, they were still used in quilts, rugs, buttons saved, etc. Skills were passed down to them from their Appalachian ancestors, millers, sawmill operators, gardening, butter and cheese making, sorghum, sewing, spinning and weaving.
    Folks living in the cities didn’t fair as well. It was still tough, on the country farm. Coffee, tea, sugar was scarce as well. Mom said they drank sassafras tea, and other herb teas sweetened with honey from their hives.
    I sometimes wonder when I see people today trying to live off the grid, if they realize how much work it really is. You have to be young and strong and willing to work hard to “make do”! It ain’t a life for sissys!

  • Reply
    July 27, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    I use to say, like so many other people, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all” but since being born again a couple of decades ago, I stopped believing in luck and started believing in God and life lessons – that whatever I was dealing with, God knows I’m dealing with it and He’ll make sure there’s a lesson in it for me, and that helped me learned to deal with things in a far more patient and peaceful way than I once did. Praise and Thank God (cause that patient peacefulness is a far nicer life than upset and fractiousness is)!!!
    Nowadays, I’m more likely to say, “It’s just a thing” than the old “If it weren’t for bad luck” saying (with “a thing” being just about anything someone else might want to call it. LOL).
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    July 27, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    Nice job on the song. Don’t think
    I’ve ever heard it before.
    I’d have to agree with Tim Mc, we
    never saw times as hard as our
    mom and dad endured. The little
    things that went wrong in my life
    don’t compare to what they saw. But they handled it well back in the late 20’s and 30’s. I’ve stood on the foundation where they use to live and wondered
    what a day was like…Ken

  • Reply
    July 27, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Ah! These two are truly a wonderful team!

  • Reply
    July 27, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Good Song. Good Writer. Good Musicians – nice way to spend an afternoon.
    I can relate to TimMc: my parents (94 and 92 this month and last) grew up in the depression and still save every piece of thread, every nail, every seed, every scrap of usable paper, count and only use 4 pieces of toilet paper, clean their plates (mop up the last bit with their bread) – – and being farm folk, we can also relate to the song – – coaxing the crops along only to have much desired but untimely rains destroy a harvest. That kind of life teaches a body to save, conserve, be thrifty, and be resourceful – – and maybe that’s not a bad thing.

  • Reply
    July 27, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    I think I have already told you have much I love that song. Hearing it sung “live” makes me appreciate it more. I feel like I just left a concert.
    I am having some luck like Proffitt’s today. A storm took trees down everywhere, damaged the roof, brought live wires down and left my lane impassable. But, it could be worse.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 27, 2014 at 11:55 am

    I used to work with Iris Proffitt and her mother Joyce. Her father Gerald worked in the garage. I knew him but not as well as them. I had heard that Iris was related to Tom Dooley which I considered as feasible as everybody’s grandmother was a Cherokee princess. But, along comes todays post, Tom Dooley-Frank Proffitt, ummmm!So I commence reading about Frank Noah Proffitt who penned “Poor Man” and “Tom Dooley.” I find he had a son Frank Jr. who died fairly recently. So, I look for Frank Proffitt Jr. and find:
    Mr. Frank Benjamin Proffitt, 56, of Meat Camp Road, Todd, died Sunday evening, Aug. 7, 2005, at home.
    Born in Watauga County Sept. 8, 1946, he was a son of the late Frank Noah and Bessie Mae Hicks Proffitt. Mr. Proffitt was an accomplished musician, playing the banjo, guitar and dulcimer. Frank played throughout North Carolina with the Visiting Artists Program.
    Surviving are his wife, Sue Nell Potter Proffitt; one son, Jimmy Proffitt and wife, Jackie, of Newland; four grandchildren, Ashley Proffitt, Chase South, and Benjamin and Sidney Proffitt; three brothers, Ed Proffitt and wife, Paulette, of Vilas, Oliver Proffitt and wife, Rita, of Colorado Springs, Colo., and GERALD PROFFITT and wife, JOYCE, of Granite Falls; and one sister, Phillis Guy and husband, J.D., of Trap Hill, N.C.
    In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by one son, Timmy Proffitt, and one brother, Dr. Ronald Proffitt.
    Services will be conducted Wednesday evening at 8 at Austin & Barnes Funeral Home Chapel. Officiating will be the Rev. Kenneth Phipps.
    The family will receive friends Wednesday evening prior to the service from 6 until 8 at Austin & Barnes Funeral Home.
    Grave side services and burial will be conducted Thursday afternoon at 2 at the Millsaps Cemetery.
    Austin & Barnes Funeral Home is serving the Proffitt family.
    So there you have it. No, my grandmother wasn’t a Cherokee princess but I do know the son, daughter in law and granddaughter of the man who wrote Poor Man and Tom Dooley.
    The obituary came from

  • Reply
    July 27, 2014 at 9:07 am

    My Grandparents, whom are all gone home now, frequently reminded us youngsters how hard it was in the depression, they kept things we now throw away, like reuse nails, anything metal, I could go on and on.. times were hard and I’ve seen some “what we call hard times” being out of a job,,but not like they did, I haven’t gone to bed hungry in my whole life, they did.. I hope and pray we never experience what they had to endure.. good job on the song…

  • Reply
    Steve in Tn
    July 27, 2014 at 8:08 am

    Nice singing and playing on a thought provoking song. Thanks for providing the background story.

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