Tuesday, June 17, 2008

750 years of history: Scarborough Fair to Josh Ritter

Isn’t it sometimes odd how small the world is with all of our small networks and connections? I did a bit of research about some of my favorite artists and found a unique family tree that roots in England circa 1253 and connects my favorite artist (Paul Simon) with Bob Dylan, Sam Bush, Johnny Cash and Josh Ritter. I’m sure it would keep branching if I did more research but I’ll give you a concise timeline below and how I was excited to know that my favorite artist directly influenced one of my new favorites, Josh Ritter.

Ready? Here we go, in reverse chronological order:

One of my favorite artists of the past few years is Josh Ritter, a young singer-songwriter who has been dubbed by many (consultants, me, Rolling Stone writers, critics, bloggers across the web, fellow artists…) as the best songwriter of “our” generation. During a recent interview, he said he picked up the guitar and birthed a career the moment he heard Johnny Cash join Bob Dylan (another favorite of mine) in the re-recording of “Girl From The North Country”/”Girl Of The North Country” off of Dylan’s 1969 album, Nashville Skyline. I could go on and on about this song and the history it has in terms of contributors, writers, changes of verses, and Dylan’s multiple versions…but let’s not open another can of worms.

As a side note, let’s involve bluegrass now. Sam Bush, a staple in the bluegrass world, became popular with a cover of Dylan and Cash’s version of this song. I know Sam Bush has a barrage of songs, but it’s hard to deny this song brought him extra record sales and more fans.

When researching Dylan’s song that inspired Ritter, I came across the name of Martin Carthy, a British musician, who I knew had connections to Paul Simon’s emergence. I found out that Dylan’s lyrics and melody in “Girl From The North County” were inspired by Martin Carthy’s arrangement of “Scarborough Fair.” In fact, Dylan sings a direct line from Carthy’s version with “remember me to the one who lives there; she once was a true love of mine.” Two years after Dylan’s lines made vinyl, Martin Carthy met Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in London to teach them his arrangement of the now-popular “Scarborough Fair.”

Remember, this song was not penned by Simon and Garfunkel OR Martin Carthy…it was only arranged by one and made popular by the duo (trio). “Scarborough Fair” is a traditional English ballad dating from 1253 when King Henry III granted the village/resort of Scarborough to hold a “fair” each summer, allowing tradesmen from multiple countries to market and trade goods of all sorts in a common location. Now, if my mom did her research, she’d come to find out that “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” actually have deeper meanings and may not have painted them in our kitchen.

750 years after King Henry III initiated Scarborough’s Fair, Josh Ritter sang “Bone of Song” on his 2003 Hello Starling album, from Signature Sounds Records. When Ritter sings this song live, he often dedicates it to Johnny Cash.

Josh Ritter - Bone of Song

If you like Josh Ritter or this song, I’m just guessing you’ll like Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and probably others like Ray Lamontagne, Amos Lee, The Frames, Glen Hansard, Conor Oberst, Griffin House and the lighter side of The Boss (Bruce Springsteen). Want more references?…listen to this song and research: Osiris, Kathleen Mavourneen, Magnificat…

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