Other people’s songs: Gospel Plow

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: Looking back through previous episodes, it would appear that this is the last track to look at from the debut album.

The song is a traditional African American spiritual. The earliest recording is from 1930 under the title of “Keep Yo’ Hand on the Plow.”

Tony: As far as I know the song has also emerged as “Hold On” and “Gospel Plow” but some of the versions I have found on the internet as I have tried to find out some more background on the song, don’t sound anything like the version below.

Certainly, it was a Civil Rights song in the 1950s and recorded then by Alice Wine with changed lyrics to fit the new situation.

The Secondhandsongs website says for the version below “Lyrics written by: Alice Wine; Originally written by: [Traditional]; Language: English; Adapted from: Keep Your Hand on the Plow written by [Traditional]”

So, Traditional it is.

Aaron: As it was adapted from an old spiritual song about continuing despite adversity, the lyrics of “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” allude to many passages from the Bible. The lyrics are about transcending oppression and persevering despite any struggle or obstacles that may arise in one’s path. (from About.com Folk Music)

Here is Mahalia Jackson

Tony: I love the bounce in this version – it’s impossible to sit still when that is playing.  Wonderful!

Aaron: Now Bob’s version

Tony: I wonder if Bob chose this to show off what he could do with the harmonica!   As I think I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t played this album for ages, but the LP (which I think is still in the collection somewhere) has been played to death across the decades so once the music began I knew exactly where it was going.  But before it started I couldn’t call to mind how Bob had treated the song.  Oh for a memory that doesn’t fade (although actually come to think of it, I think I have lost quite a few memories which I am glad to lose – only I don’t know because I can’t remember).

But I don’t think I ever realised until now just how short that Dylan version is.

Aaron: Perennial favorites The Old Crow Medicine Show included their version on their 2000 debut album Greetings from Wawa.

Tony: Oh I do so love this band.  It must be such an amazing experience to play with them.  Certainly even just watching the videos of them perform live is extraordinary.  Mind you I could do without the flashes on the video – but I suspect that is just old age catching up with me.  I think this recording is from a Grand Ol Opry show.

Aaron: Here are 3 more versions to show the diversity of the piece:

Hackensaw Boys

Tony: It is a song that contains within it such joy and hope that I guess everyone who has tried it wants to put even more and more energy into the performance.   And amazingly for each of these performances that desire produces more and more fun.   But I wonder what on earth anyone taking the song on today could do with it.  Surely no one can go any faster than this, and no one can get more fun out of it than these guys.  

Aaron: Screaming Trees

Tony: I should add perhaps, for you, our reader, if you have not come across any of these articles created by Aaron and myself, that Aaron selects the songs and emails them to me and I try and write a commentary as I listen.  I don’t get any choice in what music is selected and Aaron has no control over what I say – or any extra recordings I might occasionally add.

Thus I have no idea what is coming up.   And the opening to this version took me by surprise, and indeed I was really enjoying the music with its constant bass line and cross rhythms with a new melody, but then it all vanished and we got what was for me just another piece of rock, albeit with the cross rhythms kept – and admittedly some interesting harmonies a bit later.   But I can’t see the connection between the opening minute or so, and the rock version.

So a bit of relief when the rock interpretation stopped and we went back to a more Indian influenced version.    This part I like, but quite why both are integrated into one recording I can’t tell.   The two seem unrelated and atmospherically incompatible.

And it’s a shame because that musical coda is delightful.   Had there not been the rock in the middle I’d have played it again.

Aaron: CheckDEMout

Tony: I’ve never asked you Aaron, but do you give me the songs in the order you find them, or do you re-order them as you would if you were creating an album? Indeed as you and I did some years back in creating our own album of Dylan works (which I notice the wretched record companies have still not taken up as an idea).

There was Dylan Obscuranti and also “Play Lady Play” series, the “Sheep in Wolves Clothing” which also had its own cover.

I think this is a suitable ending to the collection if you planned it that way.  It takes us back to the roots of the song, but with a contemporary interpretation.   A suitable way to bring me back down to earth and go through the boring bit of trying to proof read my own work.  I think while I do that, I’ll play this beautiful final version again.

But I’m glad to have been reminded of those series we did which created albums of their own.

And of course you may have some more articles in mind, having taken us through the debut album.  And you may not know it, but this is article 50 from this series…

Previously in this series…

  1. Other people’s songs. How Dylan covers the work of other composers
  2. Other People’s songs: Bob and others perform “Froggie went a courtin”
  3. Other people’s songs: They killed him
  4. Other people’s songs: Frankie & Albert
  5. Other people’s songs: Tomorrow Night where the music is always everything
  6. Other people’s songs: from Stack a Lee to Stagger Lee and Hugh Laurie
  7. Other people’s songs: Love Henry
  8. Other people’s songs: Rank Stranger To Me
  9. Other people’s songs: Man of Constant Sorrow
  10. Other people’s songs: Satisfied Mind
  11. Other people’s songs: See that my grave is kept clean
  12. Other people’s songs: Precious moments and some extras
  13. Other people’s songs: You go to my head
  14. Other people’s songs: What’ll I do?
  15. Other people’s songs: Copper Kettle
  16. Other people’s songs: Belle Isle
  17. Other people’s songs: Fixing to Die
  18. Other people’s songs: When did you leave heaven?
  19. Other people’s songs: Sally Sue Brown
  20. Other people’s songs: Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
  21. Other people’s songs: Step it up and Go
  22. Other people’s songs: Canadee-I-O
  23. Other people’s songs: Arthur McBride
  24. Other people’s songs: Little Sadie
  25. Other people’s songs: Blue Moon, and North London Forever
  26. Other people’s songs: Hard times come again no more
  27. Other people’s songs: You’re no good
  28. Other people’s songs: Lone Pilgrim (and more Crooked Still)
  29. Other people’s songs: Blood in my eyes
  30. Other people’s songs: I forgot more than you’ll ever know
  31.  Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.
  32. Other people’s songs: Highway 51
  33. Other people’s songs: Jim Jones
  34. Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.
  35. Other people’s songs: Jim Jones
  36. Other people’s songs: Highway 51 Blues
  37. Other people’s songs: Freight Train Blues
  38. Other People’s Songs: The Little Drummer Boy
  39. Other People’s Songs: Must be Santa
  40. Other People’s songs: The Christmas Song
  41. Other People’s songs: Corina Corina
  42. Other People’s Songs: Mr Bojangles
  43. Other People’s Songs: It hurts me too
  44. Other people’s songs: Take a message to Mary
  45. Other people’s songs: House of the Rising Sun
  46. Other people’s songs: “Days of 49”
  47. Other people’s songs: In my time of dying
  48. Other people’s songs: Pretty Peggy O
  49. Other people’s songs: Baby Let me Follow You Down

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