Thursday, July 19, 2018

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Songs for the Governors

Gov. Pat Neff
Today 21 state governors are coming to Santa Fe for a meeting of the National Governors Association.

In honor of that here's a Throwback Thursday salute to a couple of governors from the past century -- Gov. Pat Neff of Texas and Gov. O.K. Allen of Louisiana,

These are the two governors who were honored with songs by singer Hudie Ledbetter, best known as Lead Belly, And both were known for freeing the singer after he'd flattered them in song.

Neff was governor of Texas while Leadbelly was serving time in the prison at Sugar Land for killing a relative.

According to their book The Life and Legend of Leadbelly (by Charles K. Wolfe and Kip Lornell, published in1999), Neff had regularly brought guests to the prison on Sunday picnics to hear Ledbetter sing. At the time of the pardon, Leadbetter had already served his minimum of seven years.

Ironically, Neff had run on a promise to be more strict on pardoning criminals.

The song "Gov. Pat Neff" sounds s if it might have been an existing tune onto which Lead Belly tacked on a verse about the governor. "Had the Governor Neff like you got me, I'd a-wake up in the mornin', I'd set you free," he sang. Judge for yourself:

By the 1930s, Ledbetter was in prison again, this time in Louisiana. With the help of famed folklorists John and Alan Lomax, Lead Belly once again worked his magic on a sitting governor, one Oscar K. Allen.

This time the appeal to the governor was front and center of the song: "In nineteen hundred and thirty two / Honorable Governor O.K. Allen, I'm pleading to you./ I left my wife wringing her hands and crying / `Honorable Governor O.K. Allen, save that man of mine.' "

Allen released him in 1934.

Speaking of Louisiana governors and music, surely the finest singer and songwriter to ever become chief executive of a state was Louisiana's Jimmy Davis. He's most beloved for his song "You Are My Sunshine." But I like his dirtier tunes even more.

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