The other night I was listening to some Irish folk songs and at one point I had the clear impression of being in front of a musical motif I already knew. I focused my attention and finally realized that it was Odissey, one of the most beautiful songs written many years ago by Kyuss, the legendary American group that launched the stoner genre and which is probably one of the most influential bands of the last 30 years.
I began to deepen the comparison and the analysis of the two pieces, initially trying to figure out wheter it was just my impression or if the affinity was real. Subsequently, once a clear resemblance between the pieces has been established – notwithstanding the evident differences between the two musical genres, which make the direct comparison between the songs particularly difficult – I tried to understand what song could have influenced the other. And it is at this point that a world of new information opened before me, which I will now try to tell you in this article.
Let’s start listening to the songs.
The first one is an extremely enjoyable folk song called Carpenter House, which we listen here played by a Celtig folk group called Runa (here is their website).
Another version of the same song. The audio is a bit ‘worse but the notes of the song will prove important for the continuation of the investigation.
Let’s move now to Kyuss. Here it is the wonderful Odissey. The section of the song that I would like you to listen with particular attention begins 35 seconds after the start of the song. But perhaps you should listen to all the music here because that’s a real masterpiece of rock. Obviously we’re dealing here with stoner music, a genre that was born from the merging of heavy metal, doom and psychedelic rock. We are thus in another musical dimension with respect to folk music, but I assume that people used to go beyond the wall of sound crated by the distorted guitars can focus their attention on the beautiful riff of the first verse of the song.
Kyuss, for those few unfortunate readers who did not know, was an American rock band formed in Palm Desert, California. This is one of the bands that have indelibly marked the history of modern rock, and in some ways they have invented a genre of music that sees today hundreds if not thousands of groups around the world trying to reproduce their sound and to replicate the beauty of their songs.
And now let’s compare the two songs putting them next to each other.
In my opinion the similarity is evident, even with all the differences related to the different musical styles of the two songs.
By reading the notes of the Rune’s video we learn that their folk song is the reproduction of an historical Scottish ballad named “The Daemon Lover“, also known as “James Harris“, “James Herries“, or “The House Carpenter“. This is a beautiful story of a man (he could be the Devil himself) who returns to his land and his former lover after seven years of sailing, and finds her with a husband (usually a carpenter) and two sons. The man, however, persuades her to come away with him on the sea, leaving her husband and the children behind. The ending is dramatic, with the woman discovering that the destination of their journey is hell – here represented in the form of a mountain.
A version of the song that’s particulary engaging is the one by Tim O’Brien. Here you can find the song and the lyrics.
Well met, well met, my own true love
Well met, well met, cried he
I’ve just returned from the salt, salt sea
And it’s all for the sake of thee
I’ve come for the vows that you promised me
To be my partner in life
She said my vows you must forgive
For now I’m a wedded wife
Yes I have married a house carpenter
To him I’ve born two fine sons
It’s seven long years since you sailed to the west
And I took you for dead and gone
If I was to leave my husband dear
And my two babies also
Just what have you to take me to
If with you I should now go
I have seven ships out upon the sea
And the eighth one that brought me to land
And four and twenty bold mariners
And music on every hand
It was then she went to her two little babes
And kissed them on cheek and on chin
Saying fare thee well my sweet little ones
I’ll never see you again
They had not sailed much more than a week
I know that it was not three
When altered grew his countinence
And a raging came over the sea
And when they reached the shore again
On the far side of the sea
It was there she spied his cloven hoof
And wept most bitterly
Oh what is that mountain yon she cried
So dreary with ice and with snow
It is the mountain of hell he cried
Where you and I now will go
I discovered that there are many versions of this ballad, which has been interpreted by at least 50 different artists including Bob Dylan and Damien Jurado.
Interestingly, the song by Kyuss speaks of travels, devils, seas and mountains, increasing my belief that the Californian band really wanted to give their interpretation of the Scottish ballad.
Take one to the mountain
Take one to the sea
Take one to the belly of the beast
and then you’ll take one with me
Shut it, shut it on
Freezing in the fires
when I utter howl your name
once you return from the belly of the beast
you’re never quite the same
Shut it, shut it on,
Shut it, shut it on,
Fire on the mountain
and it rages out of control
the fire inside the belly of the beast
well it thunderizes your soul
Shut it, shut it on
…what do you think about it? Maybe we’ll get some feedback from the interested artists!