Today is Leap Day. Happy Leap Day to all of you out there in Bluegrass land! Every four years, (well almost every four years if you follow the Gregorian calendar strictly), we get an extra day in the month of February. So I took the opportunity of that recurring anomaly to sponsor a different kind of trivia question for February this year. If you follow the CBA web site message board, you may have noticed that there is a trivia question posted each month to challenge the expertise of any knowledgeable bluegrass fan.
But this month, as I have already said, is different. And the different kind of trivia challenge I proposed for this leap February was to compose new lyrics for Bill Monroe’s classic, The Kentucky Waltz. The song has only one verse/chorus which is repeated at the end of the song:
We were waltzing one night in Kentucky, beneath the beautiful harvest moon
And I was the boy that was lucky, but it all ended too soon
As I sit here alone in the moonlight, I can see your smiling face
And I long once more for your embrace, and that beautiful Kentucky Waltz
What a beautiful song. It inspired the later Tennessee Waltz, a big hit for Patti Page. The first response I got when I proposed the new contest on the message board was from Slim Sims, a long time trivia contest expert and well known bluegrass raconteur. His response was the equivalent of “ ‘Nuff said. Why mess with a great classic?”
Slim has a very good point, I think. Maybe he should have won the contest with his blank verse. But this song needs more verses if it is to be passed around one of the larger gatherings of jammers we might see at Turlock a month and a half from now. Undaunted by Slim’s wisdom, I assembled an international panel of judging experts who could tell me the answer to my quest for fresh lyrics to a song I have always loved and would always respect.
Faced with the daunting task of coming up with with new lyrics, my trivia contest followers nevertheless came through. Their new lyrics were so good that I would like to share them all with you. You can be the real judge.
I was not a judge myself because I had to code all the entries anonymously and I wanted to make sure that the contest was fair and unbiased. As the contest evolved, I did have my favorites, though. So I tabulated the leaders as each judge’s scores arrived. And I can tell you it was nip and tuck all the way. Half of the contestants were in the lead at one time or another. That’s how close it was.
Close only counts in horseshoes and with eight judges, I think we had a pretty fair contest. So without further adieu, the winner of the inaugural new bluegrass lyrics contest is: Brijet Neff. I’ll save the best for last but first let me share all the great lyrics that our contestants generated.
The first is from Wendy Robinson. This was one of my personal favorites. If had been an actual judge rather than a passive conduit of coded entries, she might have won because, as I said it was so close. Wendy was the only person to take a clear perspective from the female side and her idea inspired me to write my own verse with that idea. Wendy’s creative slant makes the song into a natural romantic duet:
We were waltzing all night in Kentucky, beneath the beautiful harvest moon
And my heart for you was so worthy, but your daddy ignored my swoon
As I sit here alone and the day breaks, I can see your woeful face
And I long to bring joy to your heart my dear, with that beautiful Kentucky Waltz
Our next verse is from Eleanor Withnall. Eleanor is a fellow welcome columnist and she joined John Karsemeyer and Charles Brady among our ranks in submitting verse. Take a deep breath before you read the following lyrics. I read Eleanor’s columns religiously because I never know what I am going to get. She is just about as break the mold as it gets and I love that:
But a werewolf is only a true wolf
By the light of a full and bright moon
And so I must sit all alone love
Waiting for next month’s full moon
And though wolf-love is all very well dear
I know that your fur will soon fade
And I’ll long once more for your furry-face
Oh my beautiful Kentucky Wolf
A completely different song has now emerged! Werewolves in London! Thank you, Eleanor for the most creative, really out there entry of all! Sadly, the reviews from my judges were mostly lackluster. I think that’s due in large part to the fact that I selected mostly a bunch of grey haired has beens from my own age group. I liked it and I have new respect for my hipper age matched colleagues who appreciated the originality.
Tough act to follow but here goes. This one comes from John Karsemeyer, another fellow welcome columnist. My regular Sunday column follows John’s every month. Jamming with John, whatever instrument he happens to be playing is always a treat. Maybe we can sing this together at Turlock:
That ol’ moon came out on a warm September night, and I saw the look in your eyes
And though we didn’t say a word, I began to realize
When you took my hand it felt so right, when we began to dance I knew
I’d lost my heart and it was the start, of the Kentucky Waltz and you
Mel Chapman from Placerville wrote this next nice verse. Mel was in the lead after the first round of judging but his verse was shorter than the others because I unfortunately didn’t make it clear how much verse to write (totally my bad and it cost another contestant too). Mel scored well despite my error and his verse is very true to the original Bill Monroe version:
But tonight I’m so far from Kentucky
Where we waltzed ‘neath the silvery moonlight
And though I am far from the southland
Oh how I miss you tonight
Among our welcome columnists, the top scorer is Charles Brady. Not only does he write good welcome columns with a southern flavor that this Carolina boy can appreciate, he is a musical poet:
Two hearts beat as one in the shadows
to the song of the mandolin.
They promise true love everlasting,
In a music that never will end.
And lost in the stillness of morning,
I cling to the memories we share,
and I hear in the song of the lonely ones
the heartache that’s so hard to bear.
My judges did a great job of weighing each entry for its merits. Many of them made comments about how they judged which I am sharing with the lyricists. I didn’t want my judges to be left out of the fun of composing new lyric so I proposed to each one that they should write lyrics themselves and be judged anonymously by only the other judges. Only one judge took me up on that challenge so our winner of the judges-only competition is Jack Frost:
Jack’s version is shorter, like Mel’s. But like Mel, despite being dinged by some for his brevity, he would have scored well in the overall anyway. I have to credit Jack for the whole idea of the new lyrics contest in the first place. One of the reasons I chose him as a judge is because I have enjoyed singing these extra lyrics he penned at jam sessions for the one verse Stanley Brothers classic, God Gave You To Me:
Don’t make a mistake that you’ll regret, dear
By my side you’re meant to be
Don’t turn away from a true love
It ain’t right ‘cause God gave you to me
Here’s Jack’s winning judges entry for the Kentucky Waltz:
As I think of that night in Kentucky
How you danced your way into my heart
And I wished we could stay there forever
But now we’re so far apart
I truly wish we had had more judges entries because they are a very talented group. I’m glad they could spend some of their valuable time to make this first lyrics contest happen. Hats off to: John Baldry, Rick Cornish, Jack Frost, Andre Ferrera, Jason Gross, Mark Hogan, Loraine Nichols and Geoff Sargent.
And now for the winning verse. It comes from Brijet Neff. Bridget is a regular on the trivia thread so I wrote to her when I didn’t hear from her about the new trivia contest. I was worried she might not like the new one time unusual format. Turns out she had a version written a few years back all ready to go! I’ll not penalize her for getting a head start:
You were waltzing again in Kentucky
Under the silvery Hunter’s moon
Found we were the ones that were lucky
‘Cause he left you alone so soon
As I sit here awaiting the next waltz
I see your smiling face
And will know once more your sweet embrace
During that beautiful Kentucky Waltz
Congratulations to all our song writers! That was a lot of fun. Next month it’s back to the usual arcane and obscure trivia bluegrass and/or old time poser. But maybe the song lyrics contest will reappear in some form or another at some time. You never know. Until then, pick solid and never let the music die!