The Devil Knows How

by Derek Piotr

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    "The Devil Knows How" limited cassette edition in Pantone Hunter Green, produced exclusively for Gourd Recordings in cooperation with DPSR. Includes download card.

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1.
Herbert Halpert "Your whole—everybody in your family is able to sing, don't they, aren't they?" Lena Turbyfill "Yes, they all sing." H.H. "And how many members, how many people, that, in your family do you know of that sing, used to sing, or do sing, or?" L.T. "Well, all of my brothers and sisters, and there's eight of us living." H.H. "Uh huh. And how about your, where'd they learn most of their songs?" L.T. "Well, they learned part of them, the old ones, all from father and mother." H.H. "And they were good singers?" L.T. "They were good singers. Papa's a very good singer yet" H.H. "And...did you sing a great deal?" L.T. "Oh he used to sing a lot and pick the banjo, play the violin some too." H.H. "Oh he did. Well, how about the rest of you, did you all sing a good deal together?" L.T. "We always, that's the way we've always grown up, singing...oh, we'd gather in the evening lots, and sing, sometimes 'til 10, 12 o'clock, do yet, sometimes"
2.
There was an old man and he owned a large farm and he had no horses to plow his land Oh, he hooked up the cow and the sow to the plow and he turned the soil, The Devil knows how Oh, The Devil come to the old man one day says, one in your family I'll sure take away Now said the old man, well surely I'm done for The Devil's done come for my oldest son Oh, it's not your oldest son I crave but your old scoldin' wife I'll sure take away Take her on, Take her on, with a joy in my heart and I hope from Hell she never does part Oh, he shouldered her up all on his back and off to Hell he went, clickity-clack Then he set her down at the forks in the road And he said, old gal, you're a terrible load Oh, he set her down at old Hell's gate And there he made the old gal walk straight Well, two little devils come a-rattling their chains And she up with a slipper and she knocked out their brains So nine little devils went a-climbing the wall Says, take her back Daddy, she's a-murderin' us all Well, he shouldered her up, all on his back and like an old fool he went lugging her back Then said the old man, we're bound for a curse for she's been to Hell, but she's ten times worse The old man was a-layin' sick in the bed And she up with a butter stick and battled his head The old woman went a-whistlin' over the hill Says The Devil won't have me, I wonder who will That's one advantage women have over men for they'll go to Hell and come back again
3.
"O, hold up your hand Old Joshua!", she cried, And wait a little while and see, I thought I saw my own dear father come sailing o'er the sea. O, father o, father, have you brought any gold, or silver to pay my fee? for I have stole the golden key, and hanged I shall be. O, no o, no, I brought no gold nor silver to pay your fee. I've just come to see you hung on yonders gallows-tree. "O, hold up your hand Old Joshua!", she cried, And wait a little while and see, I thought I saw my own dear mother come sailing o'er the sea. O, mother o, mother, have you brought any gold, or silver to pay my fee? for I have stole the golden key, and hanged I shall be. O, no o, no, I brought no gold nor silver to pay your fee. I've just come to see you hung on yonders gallows-tree. "O, hold up your hand Old Joshua!", she cried, And wait a little while and see, I thought I saw my own dear brother come sailing o'er the sea. O, brother o, brother, have you brought any gold, or silver to pay my fee? for I have stole the golden key, and hanged I shall be. O, no o, no, I brought no gold nor silver to pay your fee. I've just come to see you hung on yonders gallows-tree. "O, hold up your hand Old Joshua!", she cried, And wait a little while and see, I thought I saw my own dear sister come sailing o'er the sea. O, sister o, sister, have you brought any gold, or silver to pay my fee? for I have stole the golden key, and hanged I shall be. O, no o, no, I brought no gold nor silver to pay your fee. I've just come to see you hung on yonders gallows-tree. "O, hold up your hand Old Joshua!", she cried, And wait a little while and see, I thought I saw my own true love come sailing o'er the sea. True love, true love, have you brought any gold, or silver to pay my fee? for I have stole the golden key, and hanged I shall be. O, yes, O yes, I brought some gold and silver to pay your fee. I’ll pay your fee, I’ll pay your fee and take you home with me.
4.
I'm going back to North Carolina I'm going back to North Carolina I'm going back to North Carolina and I never expect to see you anymore My home's across the Blue Ridge Mountains My home's across the Blue Ridge Mountains My home's across the Blue Ridge Mountains and I never expect to see you anymore Oh, how can I keep from crying? Oh, how can I keep from crying? Oh, how can I keep from crying? When I never expect to see you anymore I'm gonna leave here Monday morning I'm gonna leave here Monday morning I'm gonna leave here Monday morning and I never expect to see you anymore I'm going back to North Carolina I'm going back to North Carolina I'm going back to North Carolina and I never expect to see you anymore
5.
Lily Shull 02:21
A great crowd has now gathered All around this jail today To see me executed And hear what I do say Now I must hang this morning For the murder of Lily Shull Whom I so cruelly murdered And her body shamefully burned The cries of poor Lily Again I can almost hear As she begged me not to kill her Her life alone to spare 'Twas then that I heard a whisper In a most gentle tone My grief is one sufficient To save the vilest one The fire where I burned her Is again now within my sight And her lovely face recovering In the fire that burns so bright Now I bow down to Jesus In penitential grief And I beg him now to save me Like he did the dying thief God bless my aged parents Who mourn for me alone Also my wife and baby Who will be left alone
6.
Ellen Smith 05:16
Poor Ellen Smith, where was she found? Shot through the heart, lying cold in the ground Many hearts she has broken, many lives she has stole It all has now ended in her bed in the snow Poor Ellen Smith, you've wasted your life You could’ve made some man a very good wife Many friends tried to warn you, of the ending you were told that all has ended in your bed in the snow So early this morning poor Ellen was found Shot through the heart, lying cold in the ground The men, they will mourn you, their wives will be glad Such is the ending of a girl who is bad Perhaps you're in heaven, God only knows The Bible plainly tells you've gone down below Poor Ellen Smith, where was she found? Shot through the heart, lying cold in the ground
7.
"Mainly when I'd be sitting around, and there'd be big crowds of first cousins, and aunts and uncles, and people, just visiting you know, by the lamplight, and telling stories, and singing old folk songs, and things like that. It was just a thing that everyone did: they'd sing old songs, and they'd sing the new ones..."
8.
REMEM BER MAN AS YOU PSS BY AS YOU ARE NOW SO WONST WAS I AS I AM NOW SO YOU MUST BE SO NOW PREPAR TO FOLLOW ME
9.
George Collins rode home one cold winter night, 'taken down sick to die. Little Mary was sitting in her mama's hall, a-sewing her silk so fine, but when she hear'd that George was dead, she laid her silk aside. Oh daughter oh daughrer, what makes you weep so, there's more young men than one, Oh Mama, oh Mama, George got my heart, but now he's dead and gone. She followed him up, she followed him down, she followed him to the grave. Set down the coffin, screw off the lid, push back the linen so fine, and let me kiss George clay-cold lips, I know they'll never kiss mine. And don't you see that little turtle-dove, it flies from pine to pine, a-mournin' for it's lost true love, and I must mourn for mine. And don't you see that little turtle-dove, it flies from oak to oak, a-mourning for it's lost true love, for its poor heart is broke.
10.
Lee Mills 03:29
Lee Mills is what they call my name. I was once without a murder stain, But now you’ve heard the story told Of how I came to be so bold. It was on a bright and sunny day When Will Hardin led me astray. He caused me to commit a crime, Of which I am compelled to die. Oh, here I am, bound down in chains, And on my name's a murder stain. If I could call back my past days, I would refer from all such ways. Many a night I’ve laid awake And prayed to God for pity’s sake To pardon all my sins at last, And then forgive me of the past. My mother dear, she prayed for me. Her smiling face I’ve wished to see, But death, cold death, has come at last, And took her troubles from her breast. Out yonder the scaffold I do see-- It was prepared alone for me-- And I shall stand upon it soon, And there to meet my parting doom. You rowdy boys, here as I stand, The sheriff with the rope and outstretched hand. This is my last experienced words, And do not let them pass unheard. Don’t ever be led off astray, Nor cause your days to end this way, Nor cause your dear old mother grief, For on their gray hairs it will trouble leave. Dear little girl, we too must part. To see your tears, it breaks my heart. If it wasn’t for leaving you here to cry, I would not care so much to die. My time is up; I’ve got to go. Farewell, dear friends on earth below. I hope we’ll meet above the skies, And now I’ll bid you all goodbye.

about

"A brilliant, bizarre album that...allows us to reconsider our feelings on archival folk music and folk revivalism" -Boomkat

"Piotr’s enthusiasm is compelling" -The Guardian

"As hard and bare as a timber floor" -The Wire

Building on the monumental pivot that was 2021’s Making and Then Unmaking, Derek Piotr interprets traditional ballads and folk tunes, culled primarily from the repertoire of his honorary new family (Lena Bare Turbyfill and her kin). The result is stripped-down old-time lifted up by its roots. Only two pieces here are original works: “Yes, They All Sing”, featuring the speaking voice of Lena Bare Turbyfill, and “They’d Sing Old Songs, and They’d Sing the New Ones” featuring the speaking voice of Nicola “Aunt Nicky” Pritchard (Turbyfill), link mother and daughter in their explanation of family singing tradition.

The rest of this collection offers ragged scraps of pedal steel hanging in thin air, brittle acoustic guitar backbones, and densely stacked harmony vocals. Piotr worked on this project with longtime friend Scott Solter (The Mountain Goats, Spoon), and the pair gave tape grain the sommelier treatment, pulling from Solter’s extensive background in black-magicked tape and wire recording techniques. The result is an album that hews closer to a field-recording repository than a studio document, with the actual medium of the recorded message varying wildly in fidelity, from tame warmth to feral hiss. This process allowed some of the tracks to go beyond feral, and they were then professionally restored by Stephan Mathieu as though they were historical recordings (“‘Hold up Your Hand, Old Joshua!’ She Cried”, and “Message Written on the Tombstone for 3½-year-old Ephriam Stipe, Died 1826”).

“They’d Sing Old Songs, and They’d Sing the New Ones” links to Piotr’s spoken-word collage work on Avia (2019), with a threnody for his late Aunt Nicky backdropped by funereal pedal steel and twinkly electric guitar work (from former High School chum Peaer). “Lee Mills” is an honest-to-goodness straight-out-the-H4n Zoom recording, with no mixing or editing in post. The entire assemblage was mastered by engineer-to-the-stars Rashad Becker over at clunk; his input wraps the album in a vivid winding sheet.

credits

released May 13, 2022

Mastered by Rashad Becker.
Produced and arranged by Derek Piotr, except where noted.
Cover photo by Cal Evan.
Derek wears Tru-West Rockmount Ranch Wear, crochet by Matty Bovan.
Design, logo and Devil Lines by Derek Piotr.
Photograph of the tombstone of Ephriam Stipe by Sarah Bryan.

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Derek Piotr

Derek Piotr is a folklorist, researcher and performer whose work focuses primarily on the human voice.

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