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From the liner notes:
I have written and arranged all of these songs and take full responsibility for any errors in the narration. Hundreds of folk songs which describe places and events in any part of America could have been used in this album, but “Oh, Susanna” or “The Ballad of Jesse James” were before my time. In this album, I sing mainly about things I have heard of or things and places that I have seen. I have been in all 50 states, usually though on a schedule which prohibited explorations of my own. But occasionally a song seemed to be begging to be written about some of the things I did see, or do.
For example, The Whirl and the Suck was a real spot near Chattanooga. Until the 1930’s, when a dam was built there making the Tennessee River deeper and the water wider, there was a sharp, narrow bend with high cliffs above. In the bend, there were whirlpools and suckholes, and the water was swift and deep. A small boat, raft or canoe didn’t have a chance. In addition to the whirlpools and suckholes in the bend, the Nicajack Indians, a barbarous tribe of the Cherokee, rained down boulders from off the cliffs destroying the boats and rafts as well as all men, women and children. if anyone survived the rain of boulders and the suck-holes, the Nicajack Indians would be waiting a little further downstream to slaughter the survivors in the most horrible way they could conceive.
When war was declared on the Nicajacks by the United States in the 1790’s, they retreated to Nicajack Cave five miles away. The cave is awesome. The mouth is about. 150 feet wide and 75 feet high. Experts have proven that the cave, with its thousands of side caverns, goes more than 40 miles. It is estimated that 10 million bats fly out every day at dusk. The air is clean and beautiful, and it was a half mile inside Nica. jack Cave that I wrote The Whirl and the Suck. The particular spot was a high, flat place around a bend from outside light. Confederate soldiers had camped there, and one private had chiseled on the stone wall. “To hell with Gen. Grant.” (signed) “Pvt. ____ 1862.”
Along with The Stater Brothers, Mother Maybelle, Helen, Anita and June Carter, The Tennessee Three and myself performed our regular show for the in. mates of Folsom Prison, California, After leaving the prison that day, I wrote the words to The Walls of a Prison. The melody was originally a British tune called “The Unfortunate Rake,” written over a hundred years ago. The same tune was used in the late 1890’s for “Streets of Laredo.”
Call Daddy From the Mine and The Masterpiece I wrote 10 years ago and forgot. I just recently found the two songs in some old files of mine. In selecting these songs, I sang them for June Carter, who is a pretty good judge of quality and originality. She asked me to record these two as well as a couple more that I had never meant to record.
To be alone, to meditate, to relax, I have explored many places where the white man never trod. Near Gallatin, Tennessee, I sat on the river bank eating a sandwich. The water was clear and on the bottom at my feet I saw dozens of flint arrowheads. I left with my pockets full of them. Two songs were finished that day, The Flint Arrowhead and Another Song to Sing.
Shrimpin’ Sailin‘. A friend took me on a shrimp boat near Tarpon Springs, Florida. This trip eight miles out into the Gulf of Mexico was the most fascinating experience of my life. Going out, which took a couple of hours, Bill Riffle, who was at the stern, told me he only went for “bait” shrimp, which were sold to fishermen the next day. The ropes unwound, the nets dropped from each side after cutting his speed. The nets were down 20 minutes when Bill cut the throttle and hol-lered, “Let’s bring ’em in.” With his helper on one net and him on the other, I couldn’t believe my eyes when they dumped the “catch” into bins to pick out only the shrimp and throw everything else back in. On top was grass, moss, seaweed. With an ice pick they started moving out the things that bite or sting. A fish called a robin, whose sting paralyzes, went first. Two Moray eels, whose bite is deadly, went next. Then dogfish that can bite a nail in two. A thing called a “potato” that is a mystery to all. It may be vegetable or it may be animal. It looks like a potato, but it pulsates and moves yet has no organs such as eyes, mouth, etc. There’s the cowfish, Filer flounder, ladyfish, starfish and sea horse to name a few of at least 300 different things caught in the net. Oh yes, Bill and his “helpin’ hired. hand man’ got 8,500 shrimp that night.
From sea to sea the interstates bypass places like Cisco Clifton’s Fillin Station. Most people change with the times, growing with the wealth and culture we have. But I know people just like Cisco Clifton. Progress came too late, and since they are happy living free and simple, they’ll keep the depot stove and play checkers.
The Frozen Four-Hundred-Pound Fair-to-Middlin’ Cotton Picker. I was raised in cotton country. I chopped, plowed and picked it. To pick 300 pounds a day was good, but 400 pounds a day took a mighty good picker. Fair-to-middling is actually a grade of cotton to the buyers. The length of the fibres as well as their condition determine the grade of cotton as well as the price it will bring. My Dad still remembers the grades of cot-ton. Half-rotten dirty cotton would be graded “strict low middling; a little better, “low middling”; average, “fair to middling”; excellent, “middling high”; etc.
You and Tennessee I wrote for someone in particular.
From Maine to California, from the Sleepy Hollow mountain country, from Stove Pipe Wells, to Tarpon Springs. The land is big. Be proud it’s free in FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA.
– Johnny Cash