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I’m Walking Backwards to the Place That I Come From: The 52 State Pick-Up Mix, Part 3

October 2, 2010

If you find yourself driving through eastern Kentucky on scenic Highway 23, the “Country Music Highway”, you will see a turn off sign for the Loretta Lynn Home Place. After several miles and several turns, you will eventually reach the tiny town of Van Lear. Keep going. Butcher Holler (or Butcher Hollow, depending on who you ask) is a few miles past that, up a tiny dirt road that is barely wide enough for two cars. Before you reach Loretta Lynn’s house, you will pass her brother Herman’s house, and if you park and honk, and if he is home and he feels like it, he will come outside and give you a tour for $5. Herman didn’t feel like it the day I visited, but I didn’t mind, we were passing through and stopped on a whim. If you drive past her house, the road narrows and the neighbors’ pregnant hound dogs will be napping in the road, reluctant to move unless you ease the car right up next to them and honk the horn. While they slowly stand and get out of the way, look down the ravine into a yard of parked cars with dozens of more dogs laying about on hoods and rooftops. Be careful of the three point turn at the top of the hill, it’s steep. On your way out, hop out of the car and walk around the gate to get a photo of yourself next to the sign to mark the occasion.

I think you know what today’s first song is for part three of The 52-State Pick-up Mix.

Last week, I focused on the South, and we’ll stay in the general vicinity, focusing on the “border” states that have some South, some Midwest, and some regionalism all of its own.


The Bluegrass State’s most famous ambassador to the music world, the coal miner’s daughter herself.


I would previously have always placed the Buckeye State firmly in the Midwest, but that was before I visited the lower half of the state, which abuts the Appalachians in the southeast corner and is reined in on the bottom by the Ohio river.   I was initially considering Neil Young’s Ohio (as p0plife also suggested), but that song was mostly about Kent State incident of the time, and I wanted instead to use his Alabama song, so I decided to take it in a different direction. Here’s Olivia Newton John singing sweetly about killing your love down by the river. It makes Loretta’s Fist City seem like a vacation town.

West Virginia

Speaking of Appalachians, the Mountain State is full of them.  West Virginia is a bit like Arkansas – it is definitely southern, but mountain people also have a way of living all their own. For this state I went well beyond my own catalog and ended up learning all about Hazel Dickens, a bluegrass performer at a time when the field was dominated by men – I mean, even more than now. She wrote and became famous for this really lovely folk song about her home state, it is frequently covered by other bluegrass and folk singers, but I’m partial to this live version from a few years ago.

Carolinas (x2)

Carolina comes up in songs A LOT – but rarely do the songs specify whether they mean the Tar Heel State or the Palmetto State. Both are firmly “the South”, but the split between the two, as well as the notoriety of South of the Border, means I’m including them in today’s section. I do love sweet baby James’s Carolina in my Mind and it was hard not to pick it, but I went with two other choices instead. First, the literal:

Ooh, Shooter Jennings. You were my favorite part of Walk the Line, playing your dad. I’m not someone who always goes for dirty bad boys, but I wouldn’t mind waking up behind the bar with you. Now, the metaphorical:

M. Ward’s soft ballad is the aching voice of being split in two from a broken heart. I’ve worn this song out at certain hard times of my life, and it felt like a good segueway after the grit of hard living featured in songs this section.


Alright, it’s your turn to tell me what I missed from these states!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. evmaroon permalink
    October 2, 2010 1:38 pm

    Oh goodness, I actually saw that performance in DC. Nice catch with Hazel! And some how I escaped the knowledge of any, much less than several, songs about Ohio. Great series, Raymond.

  2. October 2, 2010 1:50 pm

    South of the Border!!! Oh no you didn’t.

    This is the only song about Kentucky I know:

    I am loving the heck out of this series. I’ve been playing along at home and making my own mixes. We should trade (do people still do that) when you’re done.

  3. evmaroon permalink
    October 2, 2010 1:56 pm

    I have way too many memories of South of the Border from my childhood, as we took many vacations in Myrtle Beach, SC. That place sucks. SotB, not Myrtle Beach.

  4. October 2, 2010 3:04 pm

    ev, I can’t believe you were at that concert! amazing! the pop culture spirits guided my fingers while researching. and yeah, I remember on family roadtrip where we passed all 800 billboards for south of the border and when I saw it at the exit, I was like, oh, that’s it?

    snarky, I’m thinking of some contest for the end where I’ll send out mp3 CDs of the whole mix to winners, but I would also send one to anyone who sent me their version!

  5. October 2, 2010 4:03 pm

    Yes! I own Livvy’s murderous rant, and I was sure no one would ever acknowledge its presence in her catalog, certainly not around these parts anyway. Two questions though… first why would you kill the guy you wanted to marry? I mean I get the “if I can’t have you, nobody will” philosophy, which really proves the point of why someone might not want to get hitched to that other person! But still, it seems like a guaranteed way to never marry them! Meanwhile, the song is about the Ohio River, so she might have done this outside of Pittsburgh in which case this is a Pennsylvania song, or if she was on the shore opposite Cincinnati, she may have been in Loretta Lynn territory! Ha! Just giving you a geographic hard time! 😉 And I’ll throw John Denver a bone here… not a state in the title, but clearly representing the Mountain State:

  6. October 2, 2010 5:43 pm

    It’s true, that John Denver song would be perfect if he’d put West Virginia in the title — I would have even accepted a parenthetical!!!

    I’d be curious to hear what bluegrass from Pittsburgh is about…..

  7. October 2, 2010 5:47 pm

    and Dean, I love a good murder ballad.

  8. October 2, 2010 7:46 pm

    Ooooh, I would have picked “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” But I love most anything Miss Loretta sings. As my country musician friend says when asked who he likes more, Loretta Lynn or Patsy Cline, he responds “Loretta, because she wouldn’t sit around whining about her man leaving her; she’d choke a bitch, then write a song about it.”

    Also, I love the song “Knoxville Girl” in the “murder ballad” category.

  9. Jillamina permalink
    October 2, 2010 9:53 pm

    A few years back, Bloodshot Records released The Executioner’s Last Songs, volume 1 and volumes 2 and 3, a collection of murder ballads done as a fundraiser for the Illinois Death Penalty Moratorium Project. It’s a dark collection with some classics belted out big voices like Kelly Hogan & Neko Case, and a rollicking version of Delilah sung by a different Welshman, Jon Langford:

    As for states, there is a smooth cover of Banks of the Ohio sung by the one and only Otis Clay. Of course, very few of these songs are on the youtubes, but you can hear snippets on Amazon.

  10. October 2, 2010 11:48 pm

    @Jillamina: I know this sounds odd, but I forgot that Delilah is a murder ballad!

    I ran into that problem with other folk and roots songs, too. My initial wish for Banks of the Ohio was the Carter Family, but that wasn’t available but I stumbled upon ONJ’s while looking.

  11. October 4, 2010 2:28 am

    A little Dolly goodness is always welcome, no?

  12. October 4, 2010 8:07 am

    @Chriso: absolutely! there’s always room for Dolly.

  13. amygee permalink
    October 4, 2010 9:54 am

    Did you do Virginia and I missed it?

  14. October 4, 2010 10:02 am

    @AmyGee: I haven’t done Virginia yet. Or Tennessee, which is turning out to be super hard! Do you have a suggestion for the big VA I should consider?

  15. amygee permalink
    October 4, 2010 12:59 pm

    Tori Amos and The Rolling Stones both have Virginia songs. Google turns up
    Wired- To see my angel in Virginia
    Larry Sparks- Blue Virginia blues
    But I don’t know either one of those right off.

  16. October 4, 2010 1:02 pm

    Virginia is probably going to be like Georgia — is it the state or the person?

  17. October 4, 2010 7:28 pm

    I have been digging this 52 state mix-tape and think you might have given me an interesting US History assignment for my oh-so-lucky eighth graders. Can’t wait for you to get to the Pacific Northwest ’cause I don’t know nothin’ ’bout the South.

  18. October 4, 2010 9:46 pm

    @Noriko: well you know how it goes: you start with what you know, then hopefully I’ll be ready to branch out into what I don’t! When it’s done, I’m planning to swap with interested readers, so I’ll send you a copy of the whole thing and would love to hear your 8th graders’ response mixes!

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