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Bluegrass - The Patty Loveless Chronicals

Updated on September 18, 2017

Patty Loveless: I Did

Want some WOW! in your life? I'd like you to meet Patty Loveless...

She was born Patricia Ramey on Jan. 4, 1957, in Pikeville, the county seat of Pike County, Kentucky. As a young girl, she listened to the Grand Old Opry on a radio propped in the kitchen window and first saw live music when her father, a coal miner, took her to see Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs at the Polly Anna Drive-In. It wasn't long until she began sharing her own big voice by singing -- in another room because she was too shy to look at her audience -- for company.

Patty's not just a Bluegrass star - she's a multi-faceted Country & Western artist whose music often reflects her Appalachian roots. You'll find a lot of Patty's Country music on the net, but (with one exception) I've decided to focus on her contributions to Bluegrass.

Enjoy.

The Early Years

Patty's career began when she received encouragement from Porter Wagoner, who liked her music but urged her to finish school before pursuing a career. Things got serious when she landed a gig with the Grand Ole Opry's Wilburn Brothers at the ripe old age of 16.

She married Terry Lovelace, the Wilburns' drummer, in 1976 and the two young musicians played small town rock gigs until the life led to their divorce, and Patty set her sights on a return to her country roots.

I am so glad she did!

Yep, that's me - click to say hello!
Yep, that's me - click to say hello!

What's "Bluegrass?"

One online dictionary defines the genre as "A kind of country music characterized by banjos, guitars, and high-pitched vocals," but it's so much more than that. I hear the soft, mournful sounds of traditional Celtic music in Bluegrass, and suspect that's probably a reflection of the Irish and Scottish immigrants who settled Appalachia.

In that sense, Bluegrass is more about our roots as a people than it is simply a "subset of country music." Bluegrass is our history, writ large.

For a technical point of view, I'll defer to Wikipedia: "In bluegrass, as in some forms of jazz, one or more instruments each takes its turn playing the melody and improvising around it, while the others perform accompaniment; this is especially typified in tunes called breakdowns. This is in contrast to old-time music, in which all instruments play the melody together or one instrument carries the lead throughout while the others provide accompaniment. Breakdowns are often characterized by rapid tempos and unusual instrumental dexterity and sometimes by complex chord changes."

However you wish to define it, Bluegrass is a uniquely American form of music - a national treasure, if you will, that we should all embrace and cherish as uniquely our own.

If you're new to Bluegrass, and want a crash course, just skip right on down to "Pretty Polly" and fill yer boots.

"I read about a man one day

He wasted not his time away"

Daniel Prayed - Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless

I've included two versions of Daniel Prayed. The first, my personal favorite, is the Ricky Skaggs duet. The second is a live solo performance.

Click for the Stanley Brothers store!
Click for the Stanley Brothers store!

Pretty Polly

by the Stanley Brothers

Oh Polly, Pretty Polly, would you take me unkind

Polly, Pretty Polly, would you take me unkind

Let me set beside you and tell you my mind

Well my mind is to marry and never to part

My mind is to marry and never to part

The first time I saw you it wounded my heart

Oh Polly Pretty Polly come go along with me

Polly Pretty Polly come go along with me

Before we get married some pleasures to see

Oh he led her over mountains and valleys so deep

He led her over hills and valleys so deep

Pretty Polly mistrusted and then began to weep

Oh Willie, Little Willie, I'm afraid to of your ways

Willie, Little Willie, I'm afraid of your ways

The way you've been rambling you'll lead me astray

Oh Polly, Pretty Polly, your guess is about right

Polly, Pretty Polly, your guess is about right

I dug on your grave the biggest part of last night

then he led her a little farther and what did she spy

then he led her a little farther and what did she spy

a new dug grave with a spade lying by.

Oh she knelt down before him a pleading for her life

She knelt down before him a pleading for her life

Let me be a single girl if I can't be your wife

Oh Polly, Pretty Polly that never can be

Polly, Pretty Polly that never can be

Your past recitation's been trouble to me

Then he opened up her bosom as white as any snow

he opened up her bosom as white as any snow

he stabbed her through the heart and the blood did overflow

Oh went down to the jailhouse and what did he say

He went down to the jailhouse and what did he say

I've killed Pretty Polly and trying to get away

Pretty Polly - Ralph Stanley and Patty Loveless

This is my favorite Loveless Bluegrass performance. Love the music, love the sound, love Pretty Polly, a traditional English-language folk song found in the British Isles, Canada, and the Appalachian region of North America, among other places.

Pretty Polly is a ballad about lust and murder which tells of a young woman lured into the forest where she is killed and buried in a shallow grave. There are a lot of variants to the story, but this one rings my bells. It illustrates the metamorphosis from first-person versions to this one, which features alternating verses between Polly and Willie. American versions tend to omit the reason for killing Pretty Polly - she was pregnant - and Willie's subsequent madness or haunting by Polly's ghost, not that any of this matters when Ralph Stanley and Patty Loveless show the world how it should be done.

WOW!

While researching for this lens, I listened to a lot of Bluegrass and a lot of Pretty Polly. One of the most intriguing versions I listened to of Pretty Polly was by Queen Adreena. The words vary in subtle ways, none of which are important - but the contrast in styles is stunning. Bluegrass it isn't - but worthy it is. I've put the Adreena lyrics below, rather than distract from Patty's performance by putting them here. I'm looking forward to your comments!

Enjoy them both!

Click photo for Queen Adreena's Store!
Click photo for Queen Adreena's Store!

Pretty Polly

Queen Adreena Lyrics

Polly pretty Polly come go away with me,

Polly pretty Polly come go away with me,

Before we get married some pleasures to see.

She jumped up beside him and away they did go,

She jumped up beside him and away they did go,

Over the mountains and the valleys below.

Billy oh Billy I'm afraid for my life,

Billy oh Billy I'm afraid for my life,

I'm afraid you mean to murder me and leave me behind,

Polly pretty Polly you're guessing about right,

Polly pretty Polly you're guessing about right,

I've been digging your grave for the best part of your life.

He stabbed her through the heart and her hot blood did,

flow,

He stabbed her through the heart and her hot blood did,

flow,

And into the grave pretty Polly did go.

He threw a little dirt over her and started for home,

He threw a little dirt over her and started for home,

Leaving nobody there but the wild birds to moan.

A debt to the devil Billy must pay,

A debt to the devil Billy must pay,

For killing pretty Polly and running away.

Bluegrass White Snow

I'll Never Grow Tired Of You - Ralph Stanley & Patty Loveless

This is one of my favorite Bluegrass songs, one I first heard during a Coombs Bluegrass Festival on Vancouver Island, many years ago. An amazing group called Sidesaddle performed the song, and it's been playing in my head ever since.

I've included a version by Hungry Hill, although the sound isn't great, just because I love the song, and they're faithful to its roots.

Diamond in My Crown

Growing up in Kentucky, the music of the Appalachians is always been near and dear to Patty. Her Mountain Soul introduced her to a larger fan base, attracting listeners in the Bluegrass and Americana genres while also proving to be a favorite amongst her long-time fans, and Mountain Soul II had the same impact.

This Emmy Lou Harris song features Pattys crystalline country vocals and bluegrass-tinged instrumentation.

From the album Mountain Soul II

You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive - Mountain Soul - 2001

"But the times got hard and tobacco wasn't selling

And old grandad knew what he'd do to survive

He went and dug for Harlan coal

And sent the money back to grandma

But he never left Harlan alive"

From the album Mountain Soul

"You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive"

Got a minute? - Tell us what you liked!

Click to Visit Amazon's Patty Loveless Store
Click to Visit Amazon's Patty Loveless Store

Which song did you enjoy the most?

See results

Pretty Little Miss

Bluegrass Fan? - Like Patty Loveless?

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    • joannalynn lm profile image

      joannalynn lm 5 years ago

      Thanks for the introduction to an artist I was unfamiliar with. I had heard of Patty Loveless, but never listened to her.

    • mary lighthouse15 profile image

      mary lighthouse15 5 years ago

      I start to love this kind of music. Thumbs up!

    • lexxsweet profile image

      lexxsweet 5 years ago

      You know, I never really got into any form of country till I went to school in the mountains, I've definitely developed a fondness for bluegrass since then.

    • MadHaps LM profile image

      MadHaps LM 5 years ago

      Well done. if you like women in Bluegrass listen to Nickle Creek with Sara Watkins, she plays Violin as well as vocals. Instrumentals 'Ode to a Butterfly', 'The House of Tom Bombadil' songs, "Out of the woods" and "Reasons Why". They have a nice contemporary edge, They do traditional of course like "Cuckoo's Nest" very well.

    • Gayle Mclaughlin profile image

      Gayle 5 years ago from McLaughlin

      Wonderful info on Bluegrass. Well constructed article!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Absolutely wonderful stuff - I'm a bit green in my knowledge of Bluegrass (see what I did there?) but I definitely enjoyed this! :)