Jeanie McLerie, Alice Gerard and Irene Herrmann are the Harmony Sisters. They have all spent much of their lives playing traditional American styles of music. They have also devoted themselves to learning the music directly from traditional musicians. This is a truly fine collection of American music, from people who personally know the roots of it.
THE HARMONY SISTERS – CELEBRATING TRADITIONAL AND CONTEMPORARY MUSIC IN A VIBRANT TAPESTRY OF SONGS AND TUNES FROM THE ROOTS OF AMERICAN CULTURE
This disc is a re-release of most of their two Flying Fish albums Harmony Pie(1981) and Second Helping (1983), plus four cuts from concerts and radio shows.
Produced by The Harmony Sisters for Harmony Sound. – HS 2000 – copyright 1999 by The Harmony Sisters
All tunes are public domain except where noted. Alice’s songs are published by Alice Leyland Publishing, BMI, and Jeanie’s are published by Buvette Music, BMI . Total time 69:53
1 You Better Let That Liar Alone 2:34
2 Payday at the Mill (Alice Gerrard) 2:21
3 La Valse de Crève de Faim 2:42
4 Bowling Green (C.M. Carver) 2:31
5 La Fille de Quatorze Ans 2:25
6 Jolie Blon/’Trap Mon Chapeau 5:11
7 Safety’s Sake (Erika Schneyer) 3:03
8 That’s the Way Love Goes (Sanger Shafer & Lefty Frizzell) 2:37
9 Papa’s on the Housetop 2:38
10 La Femme Qui Jouait Aux Cartes/Canray’s One Step/La Misère 5:21
11 Lone Pilgrim/Harmony Waltz (P.D./Alice Gerrard) 4:22
12 Sky Over Michigan (Alice Gerrard) 3:38
13 Glory at the Meetinghouse 3:45
14 Going Across the Sea (C.M. Carver) 2:19
15 Sad Affairs (Alice Gerrard) 4:03
16 Le Blues Me Prend/Crapaud (Jeanie McLerie/P.D.) 4:13
17 What’s the News? 1:31
18 Voices of Evening (Alice Gerrard) 2:14
19 Valse Ticinese/Cielito Lindo Medley 4:34
20 Katy Bar the Door/Grasshopper Sitting on a Sweet Potato Vine 3:19
21 Chicken in a Wok 1:30
22 Things Are Coming My Way 1:59
THE HARMONY SISTERS grew out of long time friendships, similar interests, and a love of traditional music. All three sing and play the fiddle, Alice plays guitar and banjo, Jeanie plays guitar, and Irene plays the mandolin and cello. The trio has toured extensively throughout the US and Canada giving concerts and workshops and delighting audiences with their music, recipes, and warm personal style.
I have played traditional music for more than thirty years, and it’s been a wonderful journey. Major influences on my music have been mentor friends like Hazel Dickens (with whom I recorded four ground-breaking and influential albums), Tommy Jarrell, Luther Davis, Bill Monroe, and the countless others I’ve met along the way through recordings and personal connections. Touring with Anne Romaine’s Southern Folk Festival tours in the 1960s and ‘70s enabled me to play music alongside and get to know such great traditional musicians as Dewey and Rodney Balfa, Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb, Martha Carson, and others. Touring with the Harmony Sisters was great fun.
In 1987 while I was living in Galax, Virginia I founded the Old-Time Herald magazine. I issued my only solo recording, “Pieces of My Heart”, in 1995, and my latest project with my musical partners, Tom Sauber and Brad Leftwich is a CD of old-time songs and tunes, “Been There Still”, on Copper Creek Records.
I play guitar, fiddle, and banjo, and write songs. Singing is my first love. I live in Durham, North Carolina. and divide my time between my music, work on the Old-Time Herald, hanging out with my grandkids, and in general advocating for old-time music and musicians.
I play mostly art music – lots of 20th century piano and chamber music, sometimes playing cello, but I love making other kinds of music as well. I began playing traditional music in 1972. Making music with tradition bearers Tommy Jarrell, Dewey Balfa, and Luther Davis were real musical highlights in my life and strengthened my bond with old-time music. I’ve recorded with Jane Voss, the Cheap Suit Serenaders, and Joe and Antoinette McKenna on cello, fiddle and orchestra bells. I’m never quite sure what instrument I might be playing next. One big focus is Italian mandolin music – well, almost any music on the mandolin.
Over the years, my knowledge and interest in traditional and old-time music has evolved to include teaching a class on American folk music here at home at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Mostly, though, playing music with my friends is the most rewarding part about it. Nothing beats the mood of a late night jam session with your favorite musicians.
I have been playing and singing music all my life, starting out on ukulele at age seven and guitar not long after. My professional musical career began in the streets of Paris in 1963. It was a good way to learn about energy, performance technique, and vocal control. Since then I have lived in London (where I took up the fiddle), California, Louisiana and New Mexico, and have learned much of the music I play first hand from the old musicians in my community. I have been a part of the duo Sandy and Jeanie, The Harmony Sisters, The Delta Sisters, and for the past twenty-one years, Bayou Seco, along with my husband Ken Keppeler and a large family of musical friends. My musical tastes are vast, but I try to concentrate on the styles of the American Southwest – Cajun, the Spanish Colonial music of New Mexico, the double fiddle tradition of the Tohono O’odham tribe southwest of Tucson, and the old Spanish songs of the border area. I enjoy writing songs, playing for children and teaching them fiddle, and learning tunes from places that I visit. In the last seven years, I have spent a lot of time travelling and performing in England, France and Germany. My life is rich thanks to the musical path I follow , and to the great people I have met along the way. I have several CD’s of music with Bayou Seco, “Following in the Tuneprints” on Ubik Sound, and “Use It Again”, a children’s album that adults will enjoy too, on Big Spartan Music.
THE SONGS – Many of the musicians that we learned from have passed on, and it is to them and their families we dedicate this album.
1. You Better Let That Liar Alone comes from the original Carter Family version with a little of the Staples Singers version thrown in. The arrangement is ours. Elizabeth Cotten once said that her mother always told her, “Never be a rogue or a liar.” Good advice, and so is the advice in this song. AG
2. Payday At The Mill (Dena’s Song) – I wrote this for Ardena Moncus who worked hard trying to earn a living in a North Carolina hosiery mill. We became friends through her dad, fiddler Tommy Jarrell. Ardena’s seemingly endless warmth and energy were a source of pleasure and support to me and her many neighbors. AG
3. La Valse de Crève de Faim – I first heard my good friend Raymond François sing this and was struck by the mournful quality and irregular timing. I later asked Dewey Balfa about this, and he said it used to be an unaccompanied song with no specific meter, and when Hobo Bertrand recorded it, he retained that feeling. JMcL
4. Bowling Green – We learned this song from Cousin Emmy (Cynthia May Carver). It was recorded live in concert in Tucson . JMcL
5. La Fille De Quatorze Ans – This is an old Cajun French ballad which has traceable roots in Canada and France today. The story is a sad one, about a girl too young to marry, and when her love returns from the war four years later, he finds that she had just died. I love the cello interplay with the voices. JMcL
6. Jolie Blon is well known as the Cajun national anthem. This version comes from the 1928 first recording of the Breaux Freres, the brothers of the great Cleoma Falcon. We couldn’t resist adding a harmony. I think the reason that harmonies are not traditionally sung in Cajun Music is because no two people sing a song the same way or with the same words. This makes for a wonderful non-static quality. The seemingly clashing C chord under the G note at the end of the verse is sung to simulate the accordeon sound. ‘Trap Mon Chapeau is learned from dear friends, Bois Sec Ardoin and Canray Fontenot. ‘Trap comes from attraper (to catch). The Cajuns shorten words by dropping the first and last syllable. JMcL
7. Safety’s Sake was written by our friend Riki Schneyer. We loved the song immediately and as Riki always sang it unaccompanied, it never occurred to us to do it any other way. We had a lot of fun with the parts on this one. AG
8. That’s The Way Love Goes is a song we particulary enjoyed working out instrumentally and vocally. We tried to keep the sound simple and uncluttered without sacrificing the instrumental variation or harmony vocal crossing. I like the text. It expresses gentle and unpretentious feelings about being in love. IH
9. Papa’s On The Housetop is derived from an early 30’s recording of the highly influential piano/guitar duo of Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell. Unlike most of their repertoire, it was probably an old minstrel show number. IH
10. La Femme Qui Jouait Aux Cartes is a Cajun song learned from a 30’s recording. It is usually known as “J’ai Fait Mon Idée” (I’ve Made Up My Mind) and is the classic story of a lady who loved to drink whiskey, smoke cigarettes and play cards, and how she lost her boyfriend because of these habits. We follow it with a medley of Canray’s One Step and La Misère from Canray Fontenot. JMcL
11. The Lone Pilgrim is a southern Baptist hymn that I learned from a beautiful Doc Watson recording with Gaither Carlton playing fiddle. I have always loved to sing this song, but it is especially inspiring to sing it against Irene’s ever changing cello lines and Alice’s ethereal melody. JMcL I enjoy making up fiddle tunes, and it was fun to work out the Harmony Waltz with Irene’s wonderful cello part and Jeanie’s harmony fiddle part. AG
12. Sky Over Michigan talks about how mass media plays a large part in perpetuating a lot of the myths and images we have of success and happiness, myths that we continue to strive towards. At the same time, there is the age old theme of country people moving to the city to get jobs, and hopefully a better way of life. AG
13. Glory At The Meetinghouse – The Harmony Sisters all conspired on the words for this beautiful and popular old Kentucky fiddle tune. Irene and I both knew similar versions, mine is from Andy Cahn, and Irene’s is from an old 78 of Luther Strong. My fiddle is tuned EDAE and Irene’s BEBE. AG
14. Going Across The Sea is another song that I learned from the playing of Cousin Emmy. I am very grateful to have had the chance to meet her and play some music with her. AG
15. Sad Affairs – A prophetic song that I wrote when I felt a bad break deserved a good song. AG
16. Le Blues Me Prend is a song I dreamed in reaction to sad Cajun lyrics. (There is a 2- step with the same tune and lyrics about being a good-for-nothing). So I say, “I can play my fiddle all night long, or work in the garden, or ask my darling for a big hug. If the blues get you, just wait for the storm to pass, and the sun will come back out. ” Crapaud (toad) is a tune I learned from Dennis McGee. I cherish the memories of all the tunes we played with Dennis out on our back porch on the Prairie Faiquitaique near Eunice, Louisiana. JMcL
17. What’s The News? – We love the music of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and were inspired to adapt her song to lyrics we found more appropriate to our message. We spend a lot of time in cars together when we tour, an ideal time to make up new words. IH
18. Voices Of Evening is a song I wrote as a bittersweet reminder that we can never be smug or self satisfied about our steps foward. There are many, including myself, for whom the steps present conflicts and hardships as well as triumphs. AG
19. Valse Ticinese is a lovely tune we learned from Riccardo Tunzi, the great Swiss-Italian mandolin player friend of Irene and Paul’s. It seemed to fit with Cielito Lindo, a classic, and in this case, an old New Mexican version. The chorus translates- “Singing makes our hearts happy.” JMcL
20. Katy Bar The Door is a tune I learned from Roscoe Parish from Carroll County, Va., and Grasshopper Sitting On A Sweet Potato Vine I learned from Luther Davis in Grayson County, Va. They both had a special touch with the fiddle. AG
21. Chicken In A Wok is an easy and favorite recipe we learned from Irene’s mother, and loved to cook on tour. The Harmony Sisters were never good at jokes, so to fill the time between songs during tuning and instrument changes, we gave out recipes. JMcL
22. Things Are Coming My Way – This song comes from Bessie Jones of the Georgia Sea Islands. As it is a favorite sing along at summer camps, we invite you to join in. Thanks to Paul Hostetter for the last verse. IH
If you would like to see the song words or more recipes, check out our website-www.lutherie.net/harmony.html or send a stamped self addressed envelope to Jeanie.
With permission from Rounder Records, remastered by Paul Stubblebine and Irene Herrmann, San Francisco, Ca., 1999.
Tracks 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 16, 18 were recorded by Mike Rivers at Gypsy Studios in Arlington, Va. 1980.
Mixed and edited by Mike Rivers and Alice Gerrard. Tracks 2, 5, 10, 13, 15, 17, & 22 were recorded by Paul Speer at Nova Recording Studio, Seattle, Wash, 1982. Mixed and edited by Paul Speer and Irene Herrmann at Fisher Studio, Woodinville, Wash. Tracks 9 & 14 recorded in 1980 at home by Alice, Jeanie and Irene with help from Mike Seeger. Tracks 4 & 21 recorded live in concert in Tucson, Az. in March 1983 for KUAT by David Sadler. Tracks 19 & 20 were recorded live on the radio station KPFK, Los Angeles, by Howard and Roz Larmon in January, 1983. Front cover photo – Laurie Stokes. Design and layout – Adam Ford. Thanks very much to Paul Hostetter, Hulda Nelson, Don Gest, Ken Keppeler, David Sadler (in memorium) and the Larmons.
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Recipe for the disc Harmony Sisters Delicious Apple Cake:
Hand squish 1 stick butter, 2 cups flour and 1 cup brown sugar together. Put half into a springform pan to form crust. Then combine 1/2 to 1 cup of yogurt, sour cream or juice with 1 egg, some cinnamon, and mix this with the other half of the dough. Fold in 3-4 chopped or sliced apples. Place mixture on top of crust. Bake at 400ºF for 40 minutes. Optional additions: dried fruit, nuts.
Jolie Blon, gardez donc quoi t’as fait, tu m’as quitter pour t’en aller.
Pour t’en aller, aves un autre que moi, quel espoir et quel avenir mais moi je vas avoir.
Jolie Blon, mourir sera pas a rien, c’est que de rester dans la terre aussi longtemps.
Je vois pas quoi faire donc, tu t’en reviens pas bebe,t’en revenir avec moi dans la Louisiane.
Jolie Blon, tu m’as laisse moi tout seul, pour t’en aller, chez ta famille.
Si t’aurais pas ecoute tous les conseils de les autres, tu serait ici avec moi aujourd’hui.
LA CREVE DE FAIM
Tu m’as pris pour voyager, pour voyager dans le gran bois.Pour voyager dans le gran bois, pour combattre la misere et pleurer de la creve de faim.
J’ai passe devant ta porte, la porte de ton papa.
Il etait assis sous un arbre, apres charcouter la misere, et pleurer de la creve de faim.
J’ai passe devant la porte, la porte de ta maman. Elle etait assis sur la gallerie, apres radouter la misere,et pleurer de la creve de faim.
J’ai passe devant la porte, devant la porte de ta maison. Moi j’etais dans mon buggy ,Apres , crier la misere et pleurer avec mon grand top.