Oh Babe, It Ain't No Lie

Lyrics: Elizabeth Cotten
Music: Elizabeth Cotten

Played by Jerry Garcia in acoustic sets with the Grateful Dead, and also with the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band and in sets with John Kahn. Robett Hunter played a fragment in 1997 as part of an Elizabeth Cotten medley. This is the version played by the Grateful Dead on "Reckoning":

Been all around this whole round world
And I just got back today
Work all week, honey, I get home to you
Honey baby what more can I do

Oh babe, it ain't no lie
Oh babe, it ain't no lie
Oh babe, it ain't no lie
You know this life I'm living is mighty high

One old woman, Lord, in this town
Keep a-telling her lies on me
Wish to my soul that old woman would die
Keep a-telling her lies on me

Oh babe, it ain't no lie
Oh babe, it ain't no lie
Oh babe, it ain't no lie
You know this life I'm living is very high

Been all around this whole round world
And I just got back today
Work all week, honey, and I get home to you
Honey baby what more can I do

Oh babe, it ain't no lie
Oh babe, it ain't no lie
Oh babe, it ain't no lie
You know this life I'm living is very high
With the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, Jerry started with the "One old woman ..." verse, followed with the "Been all around ..." verse, and then repeated the "One old woman ..."verse

The sheet music in the Jerry Garcia Songbook has a couple of differences in the lyrics, but I don't think they match with what Jerry sang:
Keep a-telling her lies all week
You know this lie I'm living is flying by
Grateful Dead Recordings
     Date Album
     30 Sep 1980 Reckoning (note 1)
     23 Oct 1980 Reckoning (note 2)
 
Jerry Garcia Recordings
     Date Album Recorded By
     studio 1976 Reflections Jerry Garcia (note 3)
     28 Feb 1986 Pure Jerry: Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium Jerry Garcia/John Kahn
     31 Oct 1987 Pure Jerry 2: Lunt-Fontanne Jerry Garcia Band
      6 Dec 1987 Almost Acoustic Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band
Notes
(1) on the original LP but not included on the original CD (a track had to be cut to fit the double LP onto one CD). It was included on the reissue of "Reckoning" in the box set Beyond Description.
(2) issued as a bonus track in the box set Beyond Description (1973-1990)
(3) bonus track on the reissued album included in the box set All Good Things

Background
Elizabeth Cotten's original version (which Jerry follows pretty closely) can be found on the Smithsonian/Folkways recording of her work "Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes". Mike Seeger's liner notes say "An unusual blues sung around the Chapel Hill area." In his notes to the song in the "Old-Time String Band Songbook" he similarly says: "A country blues that Elizabeth Cotten learned around her home near Chapel Hill, North Carolina."

But Elizabeth Cotten herself indicated she wrote it--in particular the verse "One old woman ...". This is a (slightly edited) transcription from a video of her performing the song (posted to rec.music.dylan by Itsuko Nishimura):
"They asked me to do 'Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie'. That's the song I wrote about a lady who lived next door to us. My mother had to go to work and this lady would teach children. She told my mother something: made my mother punish me. They hurt me all the day. 'Cause I know what she told my mum was not true.

"That song's 'bout me getting punished. My feelings got hurt, 'cause I did not do what Miss Mary said I did. And I used cry in a bed, and a little verse came to me, a pretty tune came to me, and I made a little song, a little tune I love.

"I used sit on this long porch we had at home. She lived here [Cotten gestures to her left]. I said, 'Glad to see you like to see' so she could hear me.

I was sitting and sing this song, as loud as I want to. And it was about her, and I get playing, and she said to me, 'Sis, that's a pretty song you sang!' You know what I want to say, don't you? 'It's about you!' But I wasn't daresay to let her know. I just say, 'Thank you.' I wasn't daresay to let her know. I didn't let my mother know this little verse was about her, cause mama would punish me sur 'nuff I guess.

And now, they both dead, and they don't know. And don't hear--I don't reckon they do? (laugh) You think they do? Anyway, I feel free to explain and sing it!"

Futher Information
For an online discussion of the lyrics to this song see the deadsongs.vue conference on The Well.
For more information on recordings see Matt Schofield's Grateful Dead Family Discography
For David Dodd's discussion of this song on dead.net see Greatest Stories Ever Told
For online chords and TAB see www.rukind.com
For sheet music, see:
          Jerry Garcia Songbook (vocal line and chords)

 


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