The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Del McCoury's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning"

Buck had a post a few days ago featuring a couple of songs written and performed by British folk rock singer Richard Thompson. One of these Thompson songs was "1952 Vincent Black Lightning."

This song, on a great CD by a different artist and given to me by my wife on my birthday several years ago, has become a favorite of mine. Although I'm not a motorcycle nut and have ridden them very little, I understand the appeal. (I'm thinking of motorcycle movies and TV shows now: The Wild One with Brando making a case for being a rebel while riding a Triumph, and Michael Parks' Then Came Bronson in which his pacifist character rides a Harley Sportster on his search for the meaning of Life.)

Thompson's song captures that appeal. Here's a pic of the special bike this song is about.

If you want more info on this legendary bike, talk to biker Buck whose current motorcycle is one he lovingly calls Ms. Zusuki (I think that's right--Buck, if I got her name wrong I apologize). You could also check out Dave Wade's blog. Dave has a video from Jay Leno's Garage where Leno talks about and rides a Black Shadow--a bike that looks like the Lightning (but was quite a bit faster I believe) and was also made by the Vincent Company.

Thompson wrote "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" in 1991 and it appeared on his album "Rumor and Sigh" (along with the other song Buck posted, "I Misunderstood") in that same year.

The following paragraph is what happens to me when I do research for a post. I get lost in all of the fun stuff I remember or run across as I go through the process. I go off on about a hundred tangents. Does anybody else have this problem? Anyway, Thompson's song is written in the form of a traditional ballad. Here's some information on the traditional ballad if you want to take time to read it.  When I taught a sophomore general education Poetry course we always read a ballad, and most of the time I could easily "sell" the assignment to the class by mentioning that ballads usually involved sex and murder. Heh. Teachers are probably worse than ad copywriters in terms of what they might use to arouse just a little bit of interest in a class. The ballads we read over the years were "Sir Patrick Spens," "Lord Randall," and the famous "Barbara Allen."

I sometimes tried to supplement things a bit by adding U.S. written ballads by American folksingers. I often used "Banks of the Ohio," and "Otto Wood," the latter written by Walter Smith of the Carolina Buddies. I think I had the Baez version of "Ohio" and I'm certain I used Doc Watson's version of "Otto Wood," which isn't available on youtube. This ballad is an example of the type that is based on a real person or event(s). The notorious bandit and killer Otto Wood is such an interesting a character, I may do another post about him later. His funeral drew 60,000 people according to the liner notes on Doc's album!

Now back to the ballad in question, Del McCoury's bluegrass take on Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning." Except for the bluegrass approach and one signicant word change (Box Hill is changed to Knoxville), McCoury left Thompson's song as it was written. Thompson apparently liked McCoury's take on the song since he makes a positive reference to it on his website. BTW, this youtube version includes another song which you don't necessarily have to listen to. I chose this take of "Black Lightning," however, because it's the best one available on youtube and is a professionally shot video of a live performance.

Like I said earlier, I get carried away in my research. I spent an hour last night looking at a site featuring traditional music. It's Gadaya and this guy is amazing. He's not a great singer, but he has a deep love of old traditional music (which you can tell from his performances and judge from the long list of old tunes he plays on his youtube channel) and he plays so many instruments (and plays them all very well). This one is for my friend Ed, who plays a mean banjo. This is a clawhammer style banjo rendition of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning." Strange, I know. But I like it.


  1. Dan, that was quite enjoyable! And yes sir, I do get off on rabbit trails often when I'm looking for one little specific piece of info.

    Isn't the internet amazing? Just think, 20 years ago one would need many hours in the library to obtain info we can in just seconds.

    Truly astounding! Regardless...good tune, and great band.

  2. Wow. Just... wow. Quite a tour de force you've put up here, Dan.

    I go off on inter-tube tangents all the time, sometimes in preparation for writing a post but most of the time not. By that I mean my tangents are usually self-directing... but I DO fact-check myself fairly extensively. I'm anal-retentive that way.

    A couple o' few notes. Your Barb Allen link is dead... it takes ya to Blogger's dashboard. I learned a lot from the other links, e.g., I had no idea Jimmy Driftwood was gifted in so many other areas. Speaking of which... the Ozarks is one area of these United States I haven't explored, to my great shame. And WHO is that playing the slide on Otto Wood? I couldn't find a credit...

    More... McCoury & Co's take on "Black Lightning" is excellent... EVERY bit as good as Thompson's. The fiddle and mandolin breaks are perfect. Gadaya's banjo playing is good, but you're right about his singing.

    Lastly... My current moto lust object's name is Miss Zukiko. You were close! How she came by her name is described, briefly, here: Naming the Baby.

  3. Forgot to mention... re: Box Hill to Nashville. The first few times I heard "Black Lightning" I thought Thompson was singin' "Buck's Hill," and I thought "cool!" ;-)

  4. Well, Buck's comment certainly reinforces his anal-retentive cred!

    Buck, I figured as many times as you've been around the horn, the Ozarks would have been old hat to you.

    Pam's Daddy grew up near Ozark, Arkansas...and the old fambly farm is there. My brother-in-law (her brother) is reclaiming the old place after many years of neglect. It is gorgeous country...and the Missouri side of the Ozarks is even more beautiful.

    If you're of an interest...some of the finest motorcycle riding in these United States takes place in NW Arkansas...up between Mena, and Springdale.

  5. Andy, the internet is an amazing tool. For entertainment and information. Although as you well know, you have to be careful about looking around for both. Never know where you might end up! And as for those NW Arkansas roads you mention to Buck, my wife Joyce, our son Barry, and I took a trip up through there in the early 70's. The roads were extremely twisty with many drop offs and no guard rails. I'm a pretty careful driver (taught by my truck driving Dad) but Joyce is afraid of heights and she swore we'd never go back.

  6. Buck, a big thanks for finding that Barbara Allan link problem which I think I've now fixed. And the slide player is blinddrunkal, blind drunk al. Took me awhile to figure it out, but go to his youtube channel (his name at the top of my posted video is a link) and check him out. Guy's from England I think, Manchester area. He's got a lot of great stuff with the slide and other things with different guitars (country, folk, Dylan, etc.). The blues stuff is good but some of the country things I checked out weren't. He puts on different hats for different songs and I saw one with him in drag in a wig. And he messes around with the video for different effects.

    Thanks also for the link to "naming the baby." So if Joyce wanted to "Japanesize" her name, she' be Joyceko?

  7. So if Joyce wanted to "Japanesize" her name, she' be Joyceko?


  8. The Barb Allen link is still broken, Dan. Ya get a 404 error now. I'm beginning to think Ms. Allen is taking a page out of Greta Garbo's book ("I vant to be left ALONE").

  9. Buck, You may be right about Ms. Allen. I've tried again, this time the link is to old blinddrunkal's spot. It seemed to work when I tried it. His version's not too shabby. No slide though!

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  11. Stumbled upon your blog while searching the web for versions of this song. Great blog! Both of your blogs are great!

    aka mandorichard