It took me a while to understand all the categories for various Grammy Awards: best record, best performance for a song, best song. The first goes to a producer, the second to a recording artist and the third to a composer.
I bring this up because I was thinking about “Daddy Sang Bass,” written by Carl Perkins for his friend and touring companion Johnny Cash. Perkins, of course, was the writer behind “Blue Suede Shoes” and other Sun Studio hits.
In the song, there is a direct quote of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” a hit for the Carter Family. Just to make things more roundabout, Cash’s wife, June was a Carter herself and the song is often credited to her father, A.P. Carter as the composer.
In fact, accounts say that Perkins asked Carter for permission to work “Circle” into “Daddy Sang Bass,” and Carter granted that permission. Well, why not? It wasn’t really his to give.
Our original edition of Rise Up Singing lists no composer for “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” but the 15th Anniversary Edition lists “C Gabriel” as the writer. Some quick Googling will reveal that the lyrics to the song were written by Ada Habershon and the music by Charles Gabriel. Here’s a scan of the sheet music.
Folk music is about adaptation and the Carter Family did make some changes to the original song, the most obvious change in the chorus where a question — “Is a better home awaiting…?” becomes a statement — “There’s a better home awaiting…”
So yes, “Daddy Sang Bass” quotes the chorus of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Fitting perhaps, that They Might Be Giants sampled “Daddy Sang Bass” in their song “Boat of Car” from their first album.
In this case, “sampling” is understood to mean, took a recorded snippet out of another composition. As anyone who has seen They Might Be Giants live, they don’t always have a ton of equipment (I remember seeing two guys, a guitar, accordion and a tape recorder of backing tracks play at my college). So sometimes when you play a song with samples, you just have to sing the song your own darn self.
(Not really relevant, but I find it poignant that this video was recorded on September 10, 2001.)
Bonus from a television special.