<>

THE PRISONER'S SONG

(copyrighted by Guy Massey)

© 1924 by Shapiro, Bernstein & Co., Inc.


Any copyrighted material on these pages is used in "fair use" for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).


Lyrics source of Albert E. Brumley's "I'll Fly Away" (recorded by Carolyn Hester with Bob Dylan, harmonica, Sep 29, 1961).

NOTE: THIS SONG HAS NEVER BEEN COVERED BY BOB DYLAN (SO FAR...). THE LYRICS ARE INCLUDED ON THIS SITE TO DEMONSTRATE AN IMPORTANT ASPECT OF THE "FOLK PROCESS" (one influential song inspiring another...).


NOVIE (Mrs. Robert) MASSEY:
Guy Massey did not write this song. His brother, Robert Massey, wrote it. Guy always stayed with us when he came to Dallas, and I was with them while my husband sang it and Guy wrote it down. He said he wanted to take it to New York. Well, he did, and he copyrighted it in his own name. Up until the time we were married, Robert traveled around over the country, and he picked up part of it somewhere and put words to it. He was singing it when we were married in 1920. Guy tried to put it on record, but he failed, then their cousin, Vernon Dalhart, recorded it, and it just went like wildfire. In his will, Guy willed it back to my husband, but he never did admit that he didn't write it.

Dorothy Horstman telephone interview, Jan 21, 1974; reprinted in Dorothy Horstman, Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy, New York, 1976, p. 300.


DOROTHY HORSTMAN:
The continuing popularity of the prison song in the country repertory is easy to understand -- some of the most dramatic and poignant lyrics written over the years fall into this category -- but its origins remain a puzzle. Some scholars explain it as an outgrowth of the common prison theme in many native American folk ballads, others see it as a commentary on the disproportionate number of people... who did time behind bars, whereas a few treat it merely as a commercial formula that began with the great hillbilly hit, "The Prisoner's Song," itself a reworking of older folk fragments.... Whatever the folk influence on the composed, commercial songs of the country tradition, it is certain that a term in jail, especially for vagrancy, was not uncommon (and little to be ashamed of) for countless men during the Golden Age of country music....

And the influence of "The Prisoner's Song" cannot be minimized. Recorded by Vernon Dalhart in 1924, it became Victor's best-selling pre-electric recording, boosted the sales of records in a declining market, and firmly established Dalhart's reputation as a hillbilly singer. It still is being recorded and, to some extent, imitated today....

ibid., pp. 287-288.


LYRICS AS REPRINTED BY DOROTHY HORSTMAN (ibid., p. 301)


Oh, I wish I had someone to love me,
Someone to call me their own.
Oh, I wish I had someone to live with
'Cause I'm tired of livin' alone.

Oh, please meet me tonight in the moonlight,
Please meet me tonight all alone,
For I have a sad story to tell you,
It's a story that's never been told.

I'll be carried to the new jail tomorrow,
Leaving my poor darling alone,
With the cold prison bars all around me
And my head on a pillow of stone.

Now I have a grand ship on the ocean,
All mounted with silver and gold,
And before my poor darlin' would suffer,
Oh, that ship would be anchored and sold.

Now if I had the wings of an angel
Over these prison walls I would fly,
And I'd fly to the arms of my poor darlin',
And there I'd be willing to die.


To Lyrics Page
To Table of Contents
To Starting Page