Nixon, Nancy, & Me
I like to think it’s curiosity rather than ego that makes me keep tabs on what happens to my musical children as they wander about the country. Since the tunes have a specific point of origin, I’ve always thought it might be fun to write an article (for the Journal of American Folklore or some such) about their evolution. That’s assuming I could trace the exact links: In the beginning A begat B, or maybe the San Diego version connected to the Phoenix version, the Phoenix connected to the Denver, the Denver connected to the neck bone…
I wrote about the origins of my tune “Nixon’s Farewell” years ago in my little book and elsewhere but I’ve gotten requests for the story over the years so…. Right after the resignation in 1974 I figured something that monumental ought to be noted in music. My initial reaction was the situation resembled the old “Somebody on the Gallows” or “What’shisname’s Farewell,” and I played around with various Lonesome and Lone melodies without success. Then I imagined a song with the refrain, “And you won’t have Old Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” [Those too young to get the reference will have to ask their elders.]
Eventually I came up with this tune – and occasionally sang the “jig words”: “Nixon’s gone, Nixon’s gone,” to the ascending run: 1.3.5…6.7.8… and a high “whoo” on the next phrase. Then, “I’m so glad/sad that Nixon’s gone,” to the 126.96.36.199.6.7.8. phrase, with the last phrase wordless. I considered words for the A strain: “I’m not a crook, no I’m not a crook, that’s just what the liberals say; But I got caught with my hand in the pot, so I better be gettin’ away,” but decided against it, so it’s just a tune. It was played so much in the late 1970s some tired of it and I was afraid it might better be called Nixon’s Revenge.
“Waiting for Nancy” was put together in about half an hour while waiting for an actual Nancy to show up for an appointment. She Said her car broke down – and I never had reason to doubt her. Unfortunately for me, things didn’t pan out the way I hoped. It was made, and played long enough for a distant group to have learned it, sans name, before I published my booklet. When the all-women string band met me at the San Diego State Folk Festival they were surprised and said they played one of my tunes. “Which one?” I asked – “We don’t know the name, but it goes, ‘dee-dum, dee-dum, dee-dum, dah…”
[While I’m at it (in for a penny, in for a pound) I may as well proffer my thoughts on the tune’s journey. In the earliest variations the strains were reversed so the low part (“Coarse”) came first; this predilection is regional and common, though recently I haven’t heard it played this way. More interesting to me is the change in the melody and, hence, the harmony. I play the opening of the “Fine” strain melody: 6-5,6-5,6-5,1-, etc., whereas the common, modern sequence is: 6-5,6-5,6-5,2-, which implies different chords. (Of course, in my original, Old-Time conception of the tune, there Are No Chords.) And my original “B” part (low, coarse) began: low5, flat7,1, 2-, 2-, etc., which has been replaced by: flat7, 2, 3, 43, 2-, etc. Thus, the subtonic (flat7th) chord, which seems most characteristic of the tune in its modern guise, has been introduced by the Folk. I suspect it was under the influence of contra-dancing, where it is a frequent choice. To me, it sounds much more “modern” than the original – but not authoritative, I hasten to add – version. So, we have, in the span of thirty-odd years, two separate traditions which may, in the course of time evolve into two different tunes.]
I put this booklet together back “in the year of the independence of these United States, the 203rd.” (1979.) The cover design is taken from Ananias Davisson’s 1816 shape note hymnal, “The Kentucky Harmony,” (a little inside reference). The back cover was deliberately left blank; I originally planned to send a copy to Nixon’s Western White House, expecting to get a bland form letter thanking me for my gift, etc. Then, in the style of Don Novello’s Laszlo Toth letters [q.v.], I could print this on the back cover. I sent the book but received nary a response: end of plan. Perhaps somewhere in the Archives of the Nixon Library reposes a copy of this little book; I’m not sure whether they lost it, someone took it home, they filed it under C for Crackpot, or they burned it. Perhaps, someday, it will surface in the archives of the Nixon Library.
The Nixon Library has an unintentionally bizarre website, including First Day covers for sale (not like mine – no sense of humor?) some commemorating “the eternal optimism of America’s 37th President.” (A sense of irony?) Perhaps my favorite line from the Library’s website (so many choices, so little time): “For your next special event, choose the Nixon Library.” The mind boggles. [For events my first thought was a Plumbers’ Union meeting (ask your elders) but a marathon of political songs would be good too.]
I still have copies of the booklet left, $20. I also have some sent as first day covers with the 1995 Nixon stamp, $40. And some of the “Nixon in jail” envelopes created by Thom Zajac, as shown above, $10. All postpaid. Contact me. https://www.alternet.org/2000/04/nixons_last_stamp
There are a number of people who have managed to track me down over the years (each one a story in itself) and send me a copy of their CD demonstrating their versions of my tunes. For all of them I am grateful. There are others I have only heard about, mostly through Googling, which has supplanted much of the oral tradition in our times. (Or was that gargling?…)
Here is a twenty-year-old list of performers who played my tunes publicly. I just can’t – and probably shouldn’t – keep up: these are now traditional tunes, after all. Those who sent CDs are preceded by (*).
The American Cafe Orchestra. “The Early Years.” Highlander’s Farewell/Waiting for Nancy/Kalotaszegi Legenyes.
Eric Anderson, Seattle. Medleys of Old Joe Clark/Waiting for Nancy and Sal, Won’t You Marry Me/Waiting for Nancy, described as “…happy Midwestern tunes, square-dance-like, always a cheer on this switch.”
Fay Baird. “I Believe I’ll Go Back Home.” Nixon’s Farewell.
Cathy Barton & Dave Para, Booneville, MO. Played Waiting for Nancy on “Old Time Country Music” on Iowa Public TV.
Hillar Bergman. Waiting for Nancy.
Black-Eyed Susies, St Louis. Waiting for Nancy.
(*)”Early Bird Special.” Nixon’s Farewell & Sadie at the Backdoor/Waiting for Nancy.
“Eat at Joe’s.” Nixon’s Farewell, with double fiddles!
Boneyard Creek Boys. Waiting for Nancy.
Ed Britt & Don Borchelt. Waiting for Nancy.
Hilarie Burhans. “Put On the Skillet.” Waiting for Nancy.
Bob Carlin. “Where Did You Get That Hat?” Waiting for Nancy.
“Mr Spaceman.” Waiting for Nancy.
Chris Carney. Waiting for Nancy.
Constant Billy. (Bill Galbraith). Waiting for Nancy/Twin Sisters.
Ozark Dulcimer Gathering, 2014. Nixon’s Farewell.
Cam Cumberland. Waiting for Nancy.
Clyde Curley & the Oxymorons. “Old Time Mandolin Music.” Run Rabbit Run/Nixon’s Farewell/Feed Her Candy, Tell Her Lies.
Sam Droege. Waiting for Nancy.
[Unbelievable variations on jaw harp. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQl5EIBcAVc]
Bing Futch & Gary Sager. Midland MI Folk Festival, 2015. Nixon’s Farewell. [On YouTube]
Sara Grey & Ellie Ellis. “Making the Air Resound.” Little Birdie/Washington’s March/Waiting for Nancy.
Greystone Ramblers, Philadelphia, Waiting for Nancy.
(*) Grumbling Rustics. (Eponymous CD). Nixon’s Farewell/Jeff Davis. (Failed presidents medley.)
Barb Hansen, fiddle. Waiting for Nancy.
The Harmony Sisters (Irene Herrmann, Alice Gerrard, Jeannie McLerie). Little Black Dog/Waiting for Nancy. Practice tape, Galax, 1982.
Hartford CT Community Dance contra session tune list. Waiting for Nancy.
Heartland Contra Dance jam tune list. Waiting for Nancy (206 times!).
Sytske Hillenius. Waiting for Nancy.
Hog Holler Stringband. “The Great Compromise.” Waiting for Nancy.
Jake Leg Wobblers, Western North Carolina. Waiting for Nancy. [Jake leg was one of my mother’s strongest epithets.]
Todd Jammers [unknown CD] Waiting for Nancy.
Kaia Kater. Waiting for Nancy.
Kilbride, on the “Bristol Fiddles” CD. The Barlow Knife/Waiting for Nancy/Pigtown.
Lalla Rookh. “Do You Want Kilts with That?” Cuckoo’s Nest/Maid Behind the Bar/Nixon’s Farewell.
(*)Late Bloomers. “Sneakin’ in the Back Door.” Waiting for Nancy.
Leaping Lulu, Logan UT. Nixon’s Farewell.
Dan Levenson & Rick Thum. “A Reason to Dance.” Waiting for Nancy.
Bertram Levy. “That Old Gut Feeling.” Washington March/Waiting for Nancy.
(*)Bob Mills. “Whatever Happened.” The Farmer’s Wife/Nixon’s Farewell.
Moldy Jam, Madison, WI. Waiting for Nancy.(Sound clip on their home page.)
Nashville Old Time SBA. Waiting for Nancy.
The Nettles. Nixon’s Farewell/Dinky’s Reel. Eugene Contra Dance Official Bootleg.
(*)Buddy O’Reilly Band. “Under the Table.” Waiting for Nancy.
Original Dulcimer Players’ Club, Funfest: Evart MI, (07.19.03) Realplayer clip of mass hammered dulcimers, in an interesting, cheery, inverted version of Nixon’s Farewell.
Ozark Banjo Co. (Eden & Lucas Pool). Waiting for Nancy.
Peach Bottom String Band. Waiting for Nancy.
Ken Perlman. “Clawhammer Style Banjo.” (Bk. & Video) Waiting for Nancy.
Pig’s Eye Landing. “Wild Hog.” Oakwoods Song/Waiting for Nancy.
Piney Creek Weasels. “Off To California.” Spotted Pony/Waiting for Nancy/Quince Dillon’s High D.
The Poodles. “Unleashed.” Waiting for Nancy/Highlander’s Farewell.
Princeton Country Dance tune list. Waiting for Nancy.
Reed Island Rounders. “Wolves in the Woods.” Waiting for Nancy.
Rehobeth Jam Session tune list. Waiting for Nancy.
Ritchie Schuman. Potlikker Stringband, Memphis TN. Nixon’s Farewell.
Scrüj MacDuhk. “Live at the West End Cultural Centre.” Waiting for Nancy/Aqua Marine One Step/Paddy’s Jig.
Rick Sims. “Simple Melodies.” Waiting for Nancy.
Skeeter & the Skidmarks. Waiting for Nancy.
SkyeLark. “Dancing Down the Moon.” Nixon’s Farewell.
(*)Stringbeings. “Being Reel.” Road to Boston/Waiting for Nancy/Crook Brothers/Crow Creek.
Stringdancer, St Louis, MO. Staten Island/Ragtime Annie/Waiting for Nancy.
(*)Alec Stone Sweet. “Tumblin’ Gap: Clawhammer guitar solos.” Waiting for Nancy.
(*) T-Acadie. “By the Sea.” Salt River/Waiting for Nancy/Dusty Miller.
Talisman (Vancouver, WA). North Carolina Breakdown/Nixon’s Farewell/Nail That Catfish to the Tree.
(*)Rick Thum & Friends. “A Reason to Dance.” Rock the Cradle Joe/Waiting for Nancy.
(*)Susan Trump. “Live at Caffe Lena.” Rocky Mountain Goat/Nixon’s Farewell/Old Molly Har.
Ken Waldman. “A Week in Eek.” Sadie at the Backdoor/Waiting for Nancy.
Western Carolina Jam Tune List. Waiting for Nancy.
Wild Rose String Band, w/ Laurie Andres. “Wild Rose.” Black-eyed Susie/Waiting for Nancy.
Bill & Fritzi Wisdom jam list, Philadelphia. Waiting for Nancy.
Brett Young [EggerRidgeBoy]. Waiting for Nancy.
Donald B Zepp, MP3 @ Zepp Country Music. Waiting for Nancy.
…and a host of semi-anonymous YouTube players, listed only by pseudonyms, like “banjoboy7,” and “banjukebox.”
I found a site which offers, as a Ringtone!: “Run Nygaard [sic] Run/Nixon’s Farewell/Feed Her Candy, Tell Her Lies.” (Perhaps from Clyde Curley & the Oxymorons.) I’m not sure if the whole thing would play, but those rings certainly are nauseating. Maybe I could nip this in the bud by withholding my permission. [“We reserve the right to make additions and deletions at our discretion.”]