Other people’s songs: Two Soldiers – and an amazing discovery

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: I found some interesting details on the song from the SecondHandSongs website where we are told that aka “Blue Eyed Boston Boy” the “Two Soldiers” is “an American Civil War ballad written by an unknown author in the 1860s purportedly inspired by the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, where General Lee’s Confederates trounced General Burnside’s Union troops.”

The song was apparently well-known in its time. Many decades later Alan Lomax recorded two takes (1555B & 1556A) of Monroe Gevedon of Kentucky in 1937 singing this song but the recording went unissued at the time.

Second Hand Songs continues, “In the late 1950s, Willard “Uncle Wilie” Johnson (of the Brady Snifters) obtained a copy of the second take and Mike Seeger learned it and recorded it in 1964 and other performers followed Mike’s rendition.”

The song starts

It was just a blue-eyed Boston boy, 
His voice was low with pain, 
I'll do your bidding, comrade mine, 
If I ride back again. 
But if you ride back, and I am dead, 
You'll do as much for me, 
My mother, you know, must hear the news, 
So write to her tenderly."

The song rather curiously seemed to start in the middle of the story. In the 1970s Jon Pakake (also of the Brady Snifters) obtained the first take that Lomax had recorded and sure enough, here was the entire song. However, by this time, the version Mike Seeger had initially released was too well known, so subsequently very few ever capture the entire song, plus it would make for a very long song. Gevedon’s second take that also starts out with the Boston Boy line was finally released in 1995, but that was not his original recording with the full lyrics.

Tony: That is an extraordinary story, isn’t it, of how a whole chunk of the song could be lost.   Mind you although it is hardly an exact parallel, I recall the Byrds issuing a version of Tambourine Man which consisted of the chorus, the second verse, and the chorus, apparently because the record company wanted something that DJs would play on the radio and the full version was too long.  But now back to the plot…

Monroe Gevedon

Tony: And for me that’s really hard to listen to.  Especially as I am still taken with the fact that people would prefer to release the incomplete version of the song even after they had the full version.

Aaron: Dylan learned it from Jerry Garcia and had been performing it live since 1988.

Tony:  And now we have a really moving version of the song.   In my folk singing days (several centuries ago) hearing a recording like that would have immediately had me learning the song and then trotting off to one of the clubs to play it.   I doubt I would have done any justice to the piece, but performing such songs gave me some sort of (probably spurious) connection with the origins of the music that I loved.

Aaron: Bob’s version comes from World Gone Wrong

Tony: Seeing that picture takes me back  to the article Patrick Roefflaer wrote for Untold about the art work.  If you’ve not read it, it really is worth a read.  In fact that whole series of articles about the art work is worth a read, but this one gives quite an insight into the way Dylan puts things together.

As for the song, this takes plaintive sadness to such a new level of desperation, I find it hard to take.  It’s not that I am unhappy in my world in 2023, it’s just that is so powerful, I’d like to have someone with me to listen to it again, so we could share a few words and recover from the rendition.  I am dancing tonight (as usual) so that will help me recover – although I’m hoping I can shake off the feelings this recording gives me long before then.

Aaron: Here is a version from 2002 by Mark Erelli

Tony: Wow, that is unexpected.  And moving in a different way.  I am not listening to the lyrics now but the accompaniment.   Which may sound strange because mostly it is just an accordion (I think) with no vibrato, holding single notes or chords with no vibrato on – but the way the melody wraps itself around those single notes and chords is exquisite.

Now I was so knocked out by this recording, and knowing nothing of the artist, I went a looking to check the change on the name of the song, and yes it is right.

If you are moved in the slightest way by this extraordinary recording (and I’m now listening to it for a second time, and it is even more powerful than the first) you should visit https://www.markerelli.com/home-2 and understand more about what is going on in the background of Mark’s life.   This recording isn’t typical of Mr Erelli’s work generally, but it is certainly worth an exploration.

So here am again, discovering through this series in which Aaron selects the recordings and I try and write my thoughts on hearing the piece (often for the first time) as the music plays.  New versions, unknown to me, often get presented through this strange approach Aaron and I have been utilising for years on this site, but rarely have I been moved by a recording as much as I have today.

Here are the previous editions…

  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
  50. Other people’s songs: Gospel Plow
  51. Other People’s Songs: Melancholy Mood
  52. Other people’s songs: The Boxer and Big Yellow Taxi
  53. Other people’s songs: Early morning rain
  54. Other people’s Songs: Gotta Travel On
  55. Other people’s songs: “Can’t help falling in love”
  56. Other people’s songs: Lily of the West
  57. Other people’s songs: Alberta
  58. Other people’s songs: Little Maggie
  59. Other people’s songs: Sitting on top of the world
  60. Dylan’s take on “Let it be me”
  61. Other people’s songs: From “Take me as I am” all the way to “Baker Street”
  62. Other people’s songs: A fool such as I
  63. Other people’s songs: Sarah Jane and the rhythmic changes
  64. Other people’s songs: Spanish is the loving tongue. Author drawn to tears
  65. Other people’s songs: The ballad of Ira Hayes
  66. Other people’s songs: The usual
  67. Other people’s songs: Blackjack Davey
  68. Other people’s songs: You’re gonna quit me
  69. Other people’s songs: You belong to me
  70. Other people’s songs: Stardust
  71. Other people’s songs: Diamond Joe
  72. Other people’s songs: The Cuckoo
  73. Other people’s songs: Come Rain or Come Shine

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