The song was discovered in 1947 or 1948 by Alan Lomax as he was recording songs for the Library of Congress at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, which was also known at the time as the Parchman Farm. The vocalist on the original recording was by a prisoner named Walter Jackson who was known by the appellation “Tangle Eye.”
Until the 1990s, there were only a handful of recordings of this tune. These included the original by “Tangle Eye,” which was released in the 1960s; the Pentangle version from 1968; and the first US commercial recording of this song by my brother and sister-in-law from 1970. Their version followed the Pentangle arrangement as did some of the other more recent versions of the tune. Others are true to “Tangle Eye’s” original field holler version.
I guess I am partial to the Pentangle version as it is the one I am most familiar. To hear my brother’s version, check out the blog regarding the pressings of Rite Records in Cincinnati: “That’s All Rite, Mama.”