Tuesday, January 5, 2010

John Kay: The Bold Marauder

Traditional Tuesdays are set aside for roots music, whether it be a legitimate traditional song or a song of recent origin that has a traditional flavor. Today’s feature is the latter. John Kay performs a Richard Fariña song, “The Bold Marauder.” This cut comes from Kay’s 1972 solo album, "Forgotten Songs and Unsung Heroes."

Most know John Kay from his role as front man for Steppenwolf, but may not know his personal history. John was born in the former province of East Prussia during World War II, and in early 1945, his mother took her infant son and escaped from the territory with thousands of other German citizens fearing the advance of the Soviet Army.

Settling in what would become the Soviet Occupation Zone (later East Germany), mother and son escaped to the West German province of Hanover in 1948. Ten years later, the family, now joined by a step-father, moved to Toronto and became Canadian citizens.

In 1965, John joined a Canadian folk-rock band named the Sparrows. Although the Sparrows had moderate success in their home country, a move to Los Angeles and adjustments to its membership and its name brought about greater fame for the newly christened Steppenwolf. The band was named after German author Hermann Hesse’s 1927 novel, Der Steppenwolf (the lonesome wolf of the steppes).

Prussian Blues

By the way, John’s home province of East Prussia was divided up by the Soviet Bloc with portions going to Poland and the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. The area where John was from became a part of Russia proper as Kaliningrad Oblast RFSFR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic).

Following the war, a majority of the Germans that had remained in, or had returned to, what had been East Prussia were expelled by the Soviets. After the fall of the USSR in December 1991, the individual Soviet Republics (Estonia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, etc.) became independent states; however, Kaliningrad Oblast remains to this day as a part of the Russian Federation, although it has never been contiguous to the world’s largest country.

Richard & Mimi Fariña

Although some differences of opinion have occurred as to the meaning of today’s song “The Bold Marauder,” the lyrical content suggests that it may be speaking of the Crusades. It was written by Richard Fariña, whose songs were recorded by a number of artists. I learned about the Fariña second hand from Iain Matthews versions of "Reno, Nevada" and "Morgan the Pirate" on the 1971 solo album, "If You Saw Thro' My Eyes."

Richard and his wife Mimi (the sister of Joan Baez) were mainstays of the 60s American folk music scene. Like Mother Maybelle Carter popularized the Autoharp, we might go as far as crediting Richard for inspiring the second wave of interest in the Appalachian dulcimer. His usage built upon the foundation earlier set by Kentucky folksinger Jean Ritchie in the 40s and 50s.

Unfortunately, Richard’s life was cut short on April 30, 1966 when he was killed as a passenger in a motorcycle accident. It is reported that the cyclist, who survived, had lost control while traveling at a speed estimated to be 90 mph. Richard was killed instantly as the pair careened into a barbed wire fence.

Two days prior to the accident, Fariña’s novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, had just been published and he had spent that morning at a book signing. Coincidentally, the accident occurred on Mimi’s 21st birthday, and the two had apparently fought at the signing because she assumed he had not given her a present. When she finally returned home after the funeral, she found his gift – flowers that were delivered while they were at the signing.

Richard was only 29 at the time of his death and one can only speculate on the caliber of music he would have continued to write had fate permitted. For now, we will have to be content in reviewing his tried and true material, such as his and Mimi’s performance on Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest. Unlike John Kay’s version with mandolin, Richard plays his characteristic Appalachian dulcimer. YouTube has removed Richard's version of the song


And it's hi ho hey, I am a bold marauder
And it's hi ho hey, I am the white destroyer
For I will show you silver and gold, and I will bring you treasure
I will wave a widowing flag, and I will be your lover
And I will show you grotto and cave and sacrificial alter
And I will show you blood on the stone and I will be your mentor
And night will be our darling and fear will be our name

And it's hi ho hey, I am the bold marauder
And it's hi ho hey, I am the white destroyer
For I will take you out by the hand and lead you to the hunter
And I will show you thunder and steel and I will be your teacher
And we will dress in helmet and sword and dip our tongues in slaughter
And we will sing a warrior's song and lift the praise of murder
And Christ will be our darling and fear will be our name

And it's hi ho hey, I am the bold marauder
And it's hi ho hey, I am the white destroyer
For I will sour the winds on high and I will soil the river
And I will burn the grain in the field and I will be your mother
And I will go to ravage and kill and will go to plunder
And I will take a fury to wife and I will be your father
And death will be our darling and fear will be our name

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