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Hangman, hangman slack that rope...”: Revisiting Koerner, Ray and Glover

So it is on nights like these, when rain that should be snow pounds against the window and sets me to tossing and turning because I’m afraid another leak will spring in the roof of this 126 year old house and send the third floor tenant running for a lawyer, that I think of Koerner, Ray and Glover. Why? That’s just how I roll__out of bed.

I must go now to the back of the house and listen to that tune which Leadbelly called “Gallis Pole,” which Led Zeppelin certainly called “Gallow’s Pole” and which as “Hangman,” Spider John Koerner, along with Dave “Snaker” Ray and Tony ”Little Sun” Glover, reworked into particles of current that still ebb and flow through the knob and tube wiring of my brain.

Like so many British folk tunes, “Gallow’s Pole,” snaked its way over time from the mid-Atlantic states to deep down South, and what you’ll hear in Koerner, Ray and Glover’s take (as well Leadbelly’s ) that you won’t in Zeppelin’s is the narrative piece.

A condemned man stands on the scaffolding facing the hangman hoping that his nearest and dearest will ride up post haste with enough currency to upend the inevitable. In this case, the man waits for his father, mother and wife. Now you’re probably wondering how such grim stuff can possibly get me through the night. Well, I’ll tell you; it’s not so much what the singer says, in this case Spider John Koerner, it’s the way he says it. Koerner, Ray and Glover’s is the loosest, most spirited version of “Gallows Pole” you’re likely to hear and emblematic of their jumpy, good time approach to American folk and blues music.



LET US NOW PRAISE THE HURDY GURDY MAN

The late 1960’s was America’s revolution of peace that flourished and spread through the rest of the world, even though we were trapped in a grueling war. The children of the revolution were commonly known as hippies, a term many say now with a lick of disdain. It was happy, free, rebellious, and any other term with positive meaning behind it.  For myself, being too young, I did not get to experience this era.

And quite oddly enough, the idea I associate most with the love, peace, freedom movement is Donovan--the boy that everyone accused to be a Dylan imitator, and later, to the British government, a leading figure in drug use. But in most households today, as I’ve observed, Donovan is a forgotten legend.

young donovan leach playing guitar
When I first discovered Donovan (my interest spiked after I saw 200 Motels where they mentioned him and associated him with the hippies), my dad regarded my interest as dumb since Donovan was a man of few hits. How could you aspire to make it in music if your idol was barely successful in music himself?

My dad made the bold mistake of reducing the man to a no-name (such as The Starfires, who mysteriously fell off of the Earth after a 45 that everyone searches and pays large sums of money for).  In reality, though, Donovan has made hundreds of great songs, has had his run with the best of the bests, and can probably be given partial credit to bringing Led Zeppelin together [Page, Jonesy, and Bonzo played together on “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”  Later Plant would appear on “Barabajagal” with the Jeff Beck Group, but this didn’t happen until 2 years after the formation of Zeppelin.]