perkins-cash-carter-statler.jpg As I’ve said before, not every entry added to the list in the series Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth is properly speaking, a hymn. Some of them are more accurately considered “spirituals,” choruses, or just “spiritual songs.” But that’s alright… they still form a part of the musical tradition in which my youth was steeped. This week I’ve selected one that’s really not hymnic (except perhaps to Dan Kimball), “Daddy Sang Bass,” written by Rockabilly legend Carl Perkins in 1968 while he was part of the “Tennessee Three” touring with Johnny Cash. Cash recorded the song that year. The song hit #1 and held the spot for six weeks. Perkins is on the left in the photo, beside the other two of the “Tennessee Three.” The Carter family are standing behind Cash: Mother Maybelle, Helen and Anita, and of course June Carter Cash. On the right are the original Statler Brothers quartet. Together, this is the group that recorded “Daddy Sang Bass” in ’68.

Perkins wrote the song with reference to the sing-a-longs that many families in the Bible Belt would have after a hard day’s work, and obtained permission from the Carter family to use the refrain of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” in the song. [ RSS Readers may need to click through ] According to Perkins’ Wikipedia entry, he was “the son of poor sharecroppers near Tiptonville, Tennessee. He grew up hearing Southern gospel music sung by whites in church and by black field workers when he started working in the cotton fields at age six.” School was followed by several hours of work in the fields during the spring and fall, and 12-14 hours a day during the summer. Carl and his brother Jay would earn a combined 50 cents per day. With all of their family members at work, with credit, they had enough for beans and potatoes, some tobacco for Carl’s father Buck, and every so often the luxury of a five cent bag of hard candy. On Saturday nights, Carl and his father would listen to music from the Grand Ole Opry on the radio.

My own childhood was easier than Perkins’ of course, but the music of Johnny Cash was part of my younger years. Despite the differences in our childhoods, the lyrics that Perkins penned set the gospel into a family context, which resonates with me. In our post-Christian culture, this family-oriented gospel setting is quickly fading into uncommonality… or it already has. Even so, the imagery in the song speaks to a simpler time, one for which perhaps we all have at least some bit of longing.

Daddy Sang Bass

I remember when I was a lad
Times were hard and things were bad
But there’s a silver linin’ behind every cloud
Just poor people that’s all we were
Tryin’ to make a livin’ out of blackland earth
But we’d get together in a family circle singin’ loud …

Daddy sang bass, Mama sang tenor
Me and little brother would join right in there
Singin’ seems to help a troubled soul
One of these days and it won’t be long
I’ll rejoin them in a song
I’m gonna join the family circle at the throne…

No, the circle won’t be broken
By and by, Lord, by and by…
Daddy’ll sing bass, Mama’ll sing tenor
Me and little brother will join right in there
In the sky, Lord, in the sky.

Now I remember after work,
Mama would call in all of us
You could hear us singin’ for a country mile
Now little brother has done gone on
But I’ll rejoin him in a song
We’ll be together again up yonder in a little while.

Daddy sang bass, Mama sang tenor
Me and little brother would join right in there
Singin’ seems to help a troubled soul
One of these days and it won’t be long
I’ll rejoin them in a song
I’m gonna join the family circle at the throne…

No, the circle won’t be broken
By and by, Lord, by and by …
Daddy’ll sing bass, Mama’ll sing tenor
Me and little brother will join right in there
In the sky, Lord, in the sky.
In the sky, Lord, in the sky.

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