I first heard The Be Good Tanyas sing “Rain and Snow.”
I’d bought their CD Blue Horse on a whim. I hadn’t heard any of their music before, hadn’t even heard of the group, but I was intrigued by what I read about the CD in the catalog.
If I were ordering CDs from a catalog–and that’s what I remember–it must have been the late 1990s or the early 2000s. When I had some extra dollars back then, I’d sometimes ordered CDs from the Ladyslipper catalog.
(While researching this post, I was glad to discover that Ladyslipper Music is still around. According to their website [https://www.ladyslipper.org/],
Ladyslipper is a North Carolina non-profit, tax-exempt organization which has been involved in many facets of women’s music since 1976. Our basic purpose has consistently been to heighten public awareness of the achievements of women artists and musicians, and to expand the scope and availability of musical and literary recordings by women.)
If you’ve never heard of the The Be Good Tanyas, this is what the group’s website (http://www.begoodtanyas.com/about) has to say:
Alt folk trio The Be Good Tanyas have achieved cult status since the band’s luminous debut Blue Horse, an album named one of 2002’s top 50 releases by Q magazine (UK), firmly established the group on the Americana music scene. With subsequent releases, Chinatown and Hello Love, the band has met with ever growing critical and fan acclaim, garnering 4 star reviews in Rolling Stone and MOJO magazine and selling out concert halls across North America and Europe.
Frazey Ford, Trish Klein and Samantha Parton; three women with gorgeous, haunting and plaintive voices accompanied by rustic, sparse and soulful instrumentation, high lonesome harmonies, and intelligent song-writing.
One of the songs on Blue Horse is called “Rain and Snow.” It’s a lament about a hard life. A memorable couplet:
Well I married me a wife
She gave me trouble all my life
I particularly enjoyed the female singer wailing about her wife in the days before the legalization of same sex marriage.
Years later, when I started listening to the Grateful Dead, I was surprised to hear that group singing about the same troublesome wife. They’re doing that Be Good Tanyas song, I thought, until I realized a split second later that my chronology was wrong. Of course, the Grateful Dead had done it first.
This tune comes from the Eastern-mountain music tradition, most likely the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina or Virginia. Rarely recorded, this white blues has long been popular among old-timey music groups. Pegging an “original” version is impossible, since it dates back (at least) to the nineteenth century and is “folk” music in the truest sense.
So to call “Cold Rain and Snow” a Grateful Dead song is a bit of an exaggeration, although the band did the arrangement of their version.
And it’s not a Be Good Tanyas song either, as I originally thought for over a decade. It’s an American song, by and about the mountain folks of the South.
One day, not so long after I showed up at the Bridge, when I was living out of a backpack and had few possessions to my name, I told Man Kim I’d thought The Be Good Tanyas had done the song first, until I heard the Dead singing it. He asked me if I wanted to hear The Be Good Tanyas’ version. Being starved for music, I enthusiastically said yes. He cued up the song on his MP3 player, and I stood next to his car to hear the song waft from his speakers. It was a small kindness of the sort that got me through those hard times.