My friend Jonathan Barnes has been reading The Secret of the Swamp King with his kids. Jonathan is a musician, so he did what musicians do: he composed a tune for “Sweet Eileen”–the timber rafters’ song in Chapter 8 of that book–and recorded it. I’ve always sung “Sweet Eileen” as a bluegrass song–to the tune of “Fly Around My Pretty Little Lass,” actually. Jonathan Barnes pulled out his slide guitar and made it into a swampy blues song. Which makes a whole lot of sense. I think it’s great. Here’s a link to Jonathan Barnes playing and singing his swampy version of “Sweet Eileen.” I think you’ll have to have Quicktime installed on your computer to be able to hear it.
Here are the lyrics to “Sweet Eileen”:
My sweet Eileen is the prettiest thing,
The ferry-keeper’s daughter.
My heart’s own queen is sweet Eileen,
She lives beside the water.
I gave Eileen a ruby ring
To be my wife forever,
But she just sung, “Boy, I’m too young!”
And threw it in the river.
So I departed broken-hearted,
Lonesome ever after.
I left the farm and my mother’s arms
To be a timber rafter.
Now every spring I see Eileen
Beside the ferry landing.
I wave and sigh as I float by,
And there I leave her standing.
Bonus Anecdote: Jonathan Barnes, like me, is a native of Middle Georgia. In his honor, here is my favorite anecdote relating to his hometown of Juliette, Georgia. There was a church softball team in Juliette that, for some reason, found it impossible to get along with another church softball team from Macon. Every time they played, a fistfight broke out. It got so bad that the pastors of the two churches agreed that it would be best if the two teams dropped one another from their schedules.
It wasn’t long, however, before the two teams got to missing one another, so somebody came up with the idea that maybe they could have a picnic together and then play softball. The thought was that if the players from the two teams could get to know each other, each would see that the others weren’t such bad guys after all and they wouldn’t be so inclined to fight when they played their game. But the game never happened; a fistfight broke out at the picnic.