The “Gallows Pole”: How Folk Songs are the Gift that Keeps on Giving.

In the late 1800s, an ethnomusicologist (Folk song collector) published the lyrics to several versions of a traditional song in which a maid is begging the hangman to delay until her friends or family can come up with enough cash to buy her freedom. It’s called “Child #95: The Maid Freed From the Gallows Pole.”

In the 1930s, Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter recorded the song as “Gallis Pole.”

In 1962, Leadbelly’s friend Fred Gerlach recorded his own version “Gallows Pole.”

Some years later, Jimmy Page was fiddling around with John Paul Jones’ banjo, and adapted Gerlach’s version for a track on Led Zeppelin III, 1970 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSZca1Q9IWA) In that recording, Page plays banjo, acoustic 6-string, electric guitar, and 12-string. Jones plays bass and mandolin. Yes, there’s quite a confusion of sound, but the banjo and mandolin bite through it bravely.

In 1993, Page and Plant recorded a version for MTV Unplugged. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9DuDgzGjtE) There is no banjo, but there is a hurdy-gurdy, which is played with astonishing vigor.

If the 1993 video makes you hungry for more hurdy gurdy, there’s a long hurdy gurdy solo in a Zep concert recording from 1995 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emzih-d4Cs8.

Paul

About Paul

Paul Race has been writing and playing all kinds of music since the 1960s, though he tends to favor acoustic and traditional songs. He has created resources like CreekDontRise.com, ClassicTrainSongs.com, and SchoolOfTheRock.com to help other musicians get a good start on their own journeys.

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