From a cushioned parlor sofa to a fast moving Cadillac

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Recognize these words, western swing fans?

The light is in the parlor,
A fire is in the grate;
The clock upon the mantle
Ticks out --"it's getting late" --
The curtains at the windows
Are made of snowy white,
The parlor is a pleasant place
To sit on Sunday night,
To sit on Sunday, Sunday night.

Those are from an 1878 courting song called "Sunday Night," by Frederick Woodman Root. Here's verse 2.

Fine books are on the table,
And pictures on the wall;
And there's a cushioned sofa,
But then that is not all;
If I am not mistaken,
(I'm sure I must be right)
Some people now are sitting there
This pleasant Sunday night,
This pleasant Sunday, Sunday night.

And the last verse:

The lamp is burning dimly,
The fire is getting low,
Somebody says to some one
"It's time for me to go."
We hear a little whisper,
So gentle and so light,
"O don't forget to come again
Another Sunday night,
Another Sunday, Sunday night."

You might know it better if the verses were shortened up a bit and followed by this chorus:

Ida Red, Ida Red, I'm plumb fool about Ida Red.

The Bluegrass Messengers has an attempt at tracing the origins and evolution of the music and lyrics that became "Ida Red", but they have a different date and writer for the song that provided the verse lyrics.

Ida Red didn't stop changing when Bob Wills recorded it in 1938. In 1950, he borrowed the name, but not much else, for "Ida Red Likes the Boogie," which became a top ten hit for the Texas Playboys, with Tiny Moore's vocal backed by Skeeter Elkin's boogie-woogie piano.

A few years later in East St. Louis, Chuck Berry was finding new words for the old fiddle tune:

The St Louis club-goers cared little for the provenance of the cowboy numbers they heard. That allowed Berry to improvise around the melodies and concoct his own stories. Gradually, 'Ida Red' became a Berry composition, 'Ida May', a teen tale of a two-timing girl and a chase between a Cadillac and a V8 Ford. In 1955, on a recommendation from Muddy Waters, Berry signed with Chicago's premier R&B label, Chess. He thought it would leap on his blues material, but, to his surprise, it was 'Ida May' that had the proprietor, Leonard Chess, reaching for a blank contract. The label was looking to cross over to the white market, and Berry was the artist to do it.

With the blues legend Willie Dixon on upright bass and the pianist Johnnie Johnson, Berry and his guitar set off to record 'Ida May'. There was just one problem: it was still too close to 'Ida Red'. 'I changed the music and rearranged it,' Johnson says. 'Chuck rewrote the words.' The hillbilly two-step was converted into bristling, early rock'n'roll. The title, with a little adjustment to the spelling, was settled when, according to Johnson, someone noticed the cosmetic Maybelline in the room.

I don't have a better finish for this than Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, from 1951, performing Ida Red, with Joe Andrews on vocals, and solos by Skeeter Elkin on piano, Cotton Whittington on guitar, Bobby Koefer on steel guitar, and Joe Holley on fiddle, with Bob Wills himself starting and finishing the song.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 16, 2007 11:21 PM.

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