Ballad of the Bachelor

from by Gary Chapin

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The song was written as a poem by my great grandfather, Ellis Parker Butler, and published in "Century Magazine" in 1997. The tune is based on the traditional polka, Polka de Mirepoix, but altered quite a bit. In an act of guerilla retro meta composition, Steve took the improvised interlude and shaped it into another polka, "The Bachelor's Polka," which can be found here:


The Ballad of the Bachelor, by Ellis Parker Butler
(this is the full poem, the song excises a few verses)

Listen, ladies, while I sing
The ballad of John Henry King.

John Henry was a bachelor,
His age was thirty-three or four.

Two maids for his affection vied,
And each desired to be his bride,

And bravely did they strive to bring
Unto their feet John Henry King.

John Henry liked them both so well,
To save his life he could not tell

Which he most wished to be his bride,
Nor was he able to decide.

Fair Kate was jolly, bright, and gay,
And sunny as a summer day;

Marie was kind, sedate, and sweet,
With gentle ways and manners neat.

Each was so dear that John confessed
He could not tell which he liked best.

He studied them for quite a year,
And still found no solution near,

And might have studied two years more
Had he not, walking on the shore,

Conceived a very simple way
Of ending his prolonged delay--

A way in which he might decide
Which of the maids should be his bride.

He said, "I'll toss into the air
A dollar, and I'll toss it fair;

If heads come up, I'll wed Marie;
If tails, fair Kate my bride shall be."

Then from his leather pocket-book
A dollar bright and new he took;

He kissed one side for fair Marie,
The other side for Kate kissed he.

Then in a manner free and fair
He tossed the dollar in the air.

"Ye fates," he cried, "pray let this be
A lucky throw indeed for me!"

The dollar rose, the dollar fell;
He watched its whirling transit well,

And off some twenty yards or more
The dollar fell upon the shore.

John Henry ran to where it struck
To see which maiden was in luck.

But, oh, the irony of fate!
Upon its edge the coin stood straight!

And there, embedded in the sand,
John Henry let the dollar stand!

And he will tempt his fate no more,
But live and die a bachelor.

Thus, ladies, you have heard me sing
The ballad of John Henry King.


from L'Autre Diatoniste, released July 12, 2013
Gary Chapin, accordéon, guitar, voice
Steve Gruverman, alto sax

Tune: trad Lyrics: Ellis Parker Butler 1899 Arr. Chapin



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Gary Chapin Maine

Gary Chapin plays music from centre France, Brittany, Alsace, and other places on diatonic accordéon.

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