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The Folksingers-Ed McCurdy Barroom Ballad Writer and Singer of Folk Songs

Updated on January 11, 2016
Album "Barroom Ballads" from my own collection
Album "Barroom Ballads" from my own collection

Blood, Booze and Bones

LP from my own collection.
LP from my own collection.

Ed McCurdy

When first I came to Louisville
Some pleasure there to find
A damsel there from Lexington
Was pleasing to my mind
Her rosy cheeks, her ruby lips,
Like arrows pierced my breast
And the name she bore was Flora
The lily of the West

I courted lovely Flora
Some pleasure there to find
But she turned unto another man
Which sore distressed my mind
She robbed me of my liberty
Deprived me of my rest
Then go, my lovely Flora
The lily of the West

The Lily of the West. Sung by Ed McCurdy on album Barroom Ballads

Numerous singers, including Joan Baez, have sung the above song. It is one of those songs that take on a somewhat different feel, depending on the singer. Joan Baez’s version is rather lyrical, whereas McCurdy’s is somewhat maudlin to go with the album “Barroom Ballads.”

Although McCurdy had a number of accomplishments but what I think he did best were the songs that fall into the “novelty” or specialty categories. This particular album portrays a time in our history, toward the end of the 19th Century and early 20th Century, which was a major part of the countries social life, and probably exclusively male.

Many of the songs sung in the old bars or saloons were taken quite seriously then, but seem funny now. That is the sort of thing that McCurdy seems to have had a feel for. It might have been that he wasn’t that far removed from that era himself.

Born in 1919, Ed left home as a teenager to be a singer. In 1938 he was a singer and a disk jockey at a gospel station in Oklahoma. He was tall, handsome and had a big baritone voice and sang romantic songs in nightclubs across America. The fan dancer, Sally Rand, hired him to join her show. He was a vaudeville performer for several years. He married a Canadian dancer and they moved to Vancouver where he had his own radio show. He met and became friends with guests on his show, including Pete Seeger, Lena Horne, Josh White, Oscar Peterson and Oscar Brand.

Canadian period

It was in his Canadian period that he developed an interest in folk music and released his first folk record in 1949. He had a folk show in New York’s Village Vanguard in 1950 and he moved his family to New York. He became the world’s best-known folk singer. His other professional work was televisions as the“L&M Cigarette man." He was also emcee for the George Gobel show on national TV. Gobel was a very popular comedian at that time. By 1954 Ed had a children’s show Freedy the Fireman.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s he recorded albums for Electra Records and performed several times at the Newport Folk Festival. By this time he was an international folk star and began collaborative friendships with the new and younger folksingers such as Odetta, Bob Gibson, Erik darling Josh White and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.

Like Oscar Brand, he recorded some risqué songs, In McCurdy’s case they were Elizabethan songs in a three part series titled When Dalliance was in Flower (and maidens lost their heads.)

Probably his best know song was “Last night I Had the Strangest Dream” which I first heard sung by the Kingston Trio. However, it was covered numerous singers since.

Due to health problems he had to retire in the late 1960’s.In the 1980’s he started an acting career as a character actor on Canadian television. I’ve notice that folk and other singers often become actors. I think because the nature of the folk performances requires a dramatic quality the transition to acting is probably second nature.

Ed McCurdy is among an older generation of singers, such as Oscar Brand, Who paved the way for the folk boom of the 1960’s. I am sure that the later singers learned much from him and his contemporaries.

© 2009 Don A. Hoglund


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for contributing.

    • profile image

      Doug Shirk 8 years ago

      Songs like "The Letter Edged In Black" and stories like "The Face On The Barroom Floor" and "Handsome Harry" are going the way of the joy buzzer and the dribble glass. I wish they wouldn't. Much as I like Oscar Brand's collections, "Barroom Ballads" is an absolute must have for any folkie's collection.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Good suggestion. I'll have to research research that. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • profile image

      Kinghorn 8 years ago

      Very interesting. A fine old reel-to-reel tape machine I got recently came with a tape of lilting dirty songs. It's sung by McCurdy or Brand but I can't say which.

      Please do so thorough an artcle on Carl T. Sprague. He's the cowboy who showed the people at pre-electric Victor that he could sing as loud as any opera singer and got cowboys into commercial music.