I Dug It Up!

I Dug It Up!

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I Dug It Up is here. The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving were a full-on sprint of recording, mixing, hating my voice, tweaking, liking my voice a little better, adding in harmonies, mastering, wondering why I ever thought of this, etc.

But it’s here.

First off: MAJOR thanks to all who helped make this record a real thing you can play and make music go in your ears: Al Hill, Dave Francis, Paul Griffith, Troy Engle, Mary Bragg, Pru Clearwater, the Saloneers, Kira Small, the East Nashville Song Salon, Marv Treutel and especially Jeff  Thorneycroft for his wonderful, evocative, perfect graphic design and photography.


It is now available at  my website:
and at cdbaby:
And here, as promised, is a play-by-play of each song on the record, its lyrics, and how it came to be. Maybe a couple of pictures of finds.

1. I DUG IT UP

I love me any kind of equine shoe.

This title had been rattling around for a while. Then I went to the Five Spot with Al one night to hear Tim Carroll and I was leaning up against the bar drinking a Yazoo Dos Perros, when I started kind of chanting “I dug it up… I dug it up… for my bay-bee” to the beat the drummer was playing. Sometimes I just need a new groove to get me going. Came home and wrote the song pretty quickly. I choose to believe it is the only song in the world that has the lyric “Mule shoe, you’re so sweet.”

Deep in the woods, deep in the woods

It was ringing real good

10 inches down, 10 inches down

With a solid sound

Mule shoe, Mule shoe

You so sweet, I’m going to take you home with me

I dug it up I dug it up for my baby

But he doesn’t want it, no

he says Go, wash your hands

Look what I found underground for my baby

But he doesn’t want it, no

Just because I dug it up.

Out in a field, out in a field

with my ears peeled

All alone All alone

Got a good tone

Silver dollar you’re so sweet

I’m gonna take you home with me…

I dug it up…

Under the sand, under the sand… Found a gold band

Diamond ring, Just the thing for my baby’s hand

Gold ring, gold ring

I say to myself…. I’m gonna save you for someone else

I dug it up, I dug it up

For my baby… But he ain’t gonna get it, no

I’m gonna go wash my hands

Look what I found, underground

For my baby

He don’t deserve it no

It’s my love… I dug it up.

2. THIS WAS A BATTLEFIELD (Al Hill and Mary Bragg on harmonies)

Not part of a sprinkler system. At all.

One day, Cheryl and I were detecting a lawn in a beautiful neighborhood just south of town. The elderly homeowners had given us permission to come any time, but I’d never met them. This was prime Battle of Nashville land and we’d both found some bullets and buttons. I got a good signal and dug something that I thought might be part of a sprinkler system. Not that I know anything about lawn irrigation. Turns out it’s a rare Confederate Brooks ratchet plate sabot. I’m so continually struck by the contrast: how that beautiful lawn was the scene of unimaginable bloodshed, not that long ago.

A ranch house, on a hilltop

The lawn is manicured

It’s a lovely neighborhood

Inside, an old man and woman sit

They keep their windows closed

To keep the air cool.

150-something years ago

this was a battlefield, this was a battlefield

Beneath the grass and the magnolias

lies the blood of soldiers

bullets shells and sabers

                                                   

Peeking out of a patch of dirt

There lies a copper disc

Weighs about a pound

It was part of artillery

And when the lawn guy sees it

He just mows around

150-something years ago

This was a battlefield, this was a battlefield

Black men and white men fought together

Old men and young men

Fathers, sons and brothers

They shot each other

I wonder if the ground remembers… remembers

The middle of that cold December… Does it remember?

3. ROBINS (Pru Clearwater sings harmony)

The robins were happy when I found Cincinnati.

I was detecting a patch of grass near a bank parking lot. Just two years earlier, there had been a sweet, old house here, and a huge maple tree. Now, just one small strip of un-bulldozed land remained. It hadn’t rained for weeks and I noticed that as I moved from dig hole to dig hole, two robins hopped after me, hunting in the dark earth I’d uncovered.

This song was about half done when I went a meeting of the Middle Tennessee Metal Detecting Club. Bill, one of the regulars, took me aside and said, “I woke up in the middle of the night thinking the words ‘Out here, I feel like a kid again!’ and I thought, ‘I have to tell Whit Hill.’”

He did, and I put it in the song. I pay attention to stuff like that.

Granny had a garden way out back

Twice a week she’d hoe that patch

And I would watch her with wide eyes

As robins followed her around

This one’s okra, she’d tell me

Summer squash, ain’t it pretty?

And she’d turn that earth and the worms would rise

And robins followed her around.

And she’d say oh, out here I feel like a kid again

My hands in the dirt, just a little old girl,

in love with the world

And Oh, lookee there, here comes that bird again!

And the robins followed her around

Now I’m someone’s grandma too.

Moving slower than I used to do

But I’m out there digging just like she did

And the robins follow me around

Here’s a nickel with a buffalo

Shotgun shell from long ago

and the worms they wriggle, sayin no no no

And robins follow me around

And Oh, out here I feel like a kid again

But my hands in the dirt look just like hers.

I feel her near.

And oh lookee there, here comes that bird again

And the robins follow me around… robins follow me.

4. HOW’D THIS GET HERE?

Early 1800s India-Bengal presidential “pice”
found near my house. WHAT?

Not much to explain. Anyone who metal detects has muttered this a thousand times.

I have never lost a belt buckle in my life

I have never lost a harmonica

I have never left a Mason jar in the yard

I’m perplexed at these phenomena.

And so I cry, How’d this get here?

How’d this get here?

Tell me: How’d this get here?

On a lovely bluff high above the Cumberland

Digging normal stuff one might expect

Out pops something I have never seen before

A coin from India, dated 1810.

And so I cry, How’d this get here?

It’s got Persian writing

Persian words!

How’d this get here?

Oh the quizzical expressions

As I hold these lost possessions

This metallurgical obsession

Leads me to the endless question:

How’d this get here?

Let’s examine the belt buckle mystery

Buckles plain and fancy lost long ago

And I’m not talking ‘bout the buckles of the brave men who fell in battle

Just the buckles of the ordinary Joes

How’d how’d they get here?

How’d they get here?
did belts fall off?

Did pants fall down? How’d they get here?

I have never lost a belt buckle in my life…

5. CAN SLAW (featuring the Saloneers and Kira Small)


 

The term “can slaw” is used to describe the twisted bits of slaughtered beer and soda cans that festoon all dirt everywhere. I hate can slaw so much, I thought it prudent to write a 70s-style country song through which I could express my feelings. Once we recorded it, though, it somehow felt incomplete.

On occasional Monday nights, I host the East Nashville Song Salon – a song critique session attended by some of Nashville’s most talented and interesting people. One night, songs over, we were all chatting in the kitchen. I turned to Al and whispered, “Hey. Could we get them all singing on Can Slaw? Yes, yes we could.

The Saloneers consist of Al Hill, Mary Bragg, Becky Warren, Ben de la Cour, Laura Curtis, Andrew Lipow and Kira Small (who returned at a later date to add more swelling opera.) Thanks, guys!

Evil little morsels

Lurking… waiting in the dirt for me.

Long ago you

Were a can of Mountain Dew

Tossed into a field in Tennessee.

A tractor, or a mower

Found you… twisted you and tore you all apart

And now you lie

Scattered far and wide

Each piece of you a vicious work of art.

Can slaw, can slaw

Shiny as a Spanish real in the sun

I’d cut you with a chain saw

but that would just make maw and maw and maw

God damn Can slaw

Deceitful and mean-spirited

Laughing, laughing as I scrabble ‘neath this root

I reach for you

And you slice my thumb in two

I hope recycling tortures you, you brute

Can slaw, can slaw

I hope whoever threw you out here trips and falls

I’d cut you with a chain saw

But the homeowner would probably call the law

God damn Can slaw

Yes, your demonic claw

Shall never cause this dirt girl to withdraw

God damn can slaw.

6. TRIUNE (Whit Hill/Betty Soo)

 

Carved bullet, found by Butch Holcombe.


The tiny community of Triune, TN was where Cheryl and I found our first CW bullets. Since then, I’ve found many more, but never a carved one. When Austin songwriter Betty Soo was visiting Nashville, she came over to write with me. I brought out some finds and we decided to write about a carved bullet.  I remember thinking “I’ve never heard of a bullet with a rose on it but I guess it could happen.”

Just recently, my friend Butch Holcombe (publisher of American Digger Magazine) posted a photo of a bullet he’d found years before – with a detailed and magnificent rose carved into the side.

We recorded this song late at night as rain fell outside.

They poured hot lead into the mold.

And born a bullet was I.

Three rings and a point, grew hard in the cold

Of a Triune, Tennessee night.

It was late November. The worst was to come.

I lay with the others of my kind

They longed to be fired, thirsted for blood

But I prayed on that Triune night

Don’t make me fly out on that field

To kill and then to fall

If I were made for this, I wish

I’d not been made at all.

A hand reached deep into the bag

Where my brothers and I did rest

He pulled me out, this gentle lad

Saying yes, this one is the best

Into my side he carved a rose

In the other his sweetheart’s name

And I heard his prayers fall softly down

I whispered up the same

CH

And when bugle sounded

He placed his rifle by a tree

Into the battle he ran holding me in his hand

Then he fell til he was free

Then he let go of me. 

And the soldier on the other side

The one I would have hit…

He died when he was 83

with his family ‘round his bed

And me, I lie in this soft earth

For you one day to find

My simple rose, and the dear, sweet name

Of the one he left behind.

On that Triune, Triune, Triune night.

7. DIG THAT DIME, DADDY! (Mary Bragg and Al Hill sing backup)

British cartridge box plate, circa 1770.

Oh, how I love this song! I put the word out on American Digger’s Relic Roundup (an internet radio show) that I was looking for song ideas, digging stories, etc., and Tonya Lancaster, a lovely young woman from South Carolina, sent me this story about a hunt with her dad, John Mize.

Daddy called me Snake from the day I was born

I wriggled my way into his heart

As I grew, he taught me how

To fish the Charleston dirt

Pennies and pull tabs, high school rings

Minie balls and shotgun shells

Side by side, shovels in our hands

We cleaned that earth so well…

Dig that dime, Daddy

Oh, I remember that sunny afternoon

by the river’s edge

12 inches down in the ground I found

a green, patinaed badge.

With a “G” and an “R” — the initials of a king

But daddy called it junk

Held up a silver mercury and danced around

Little girl, you done got skunked!

Dig that dime, daddy…

Now everybody knows, ain’t nothing like silver

It’s every digger’s delight

Cool and brilliant, shining bright

like the moon in a midnight sky

But my British badge brought me ten thousand dollars

His dime was worth just one.

Now every time we hunt, I sing this song

And my daddy sings along…

8. HE LIKES TO STAND ON BRIDGES

Doug Drake, our mentor.

This one’s for Doug Drake. Here’s how it happened:

After all the songs for this record were chosen and recorded, I was talking to Doug’s wife, Brenda.

Me: “Hey, Brenda, do you remember one day we were all driving around in the country looking for places to dig and Doug pulled up alongside that little bridge? We all stood there, looking down into the water… Where was that? Do you remember where it was?”

Brenda: “Oh, Whit. it could have been anywhere. That man just liked to stand on bridges.”

I went home, wrote this and added it to the record.  (That’s me on piano. First time ever on a recording.)

He likes to stand on bridges

Over streams and little rivers

And look down upon the fishes in their blue

If he sees one while he’s driving,

he’ll pull over every time

Make his wife come stand beside him

And look down too.

And if you ask, he’ll laugh and say

He don’t know why he likes to stand on bridges.

He was born in 1940

He grew up in Hickman County

Served his country, worked construction, then retired

Now every Sunday after breakfast

He rides around, just aimless

To the Harpeth or the Duck or the Piney

Does the smell of iron and ions make him feel alive?

Is that why he stands on bridges?

And if the water’s low,

 you’ll find him in the creek bed

Looking for old sinkers, wedding rings, and arrowheads

But if it’s rushing, a wild and rising flood

He will be there up above

Leaning out over the edge

Taking a deep breath

He likes to stand on bridges

Over streams and little rivers

And look down as the bluegills dart and swim

And he wonders if they’re looking up at him

9. THE OLD DIGGER

Doug with a rare Confederate button.

This one’s also for Doug Drake. There was just something fascinating about the guy.

The old digger is gone

To that home site, beyond

where the weather is fine

And your shovel melts into the ground

So easy

You don’t knock on no doors

Cause all the land’s yours

Rolling green hills

Dotted with foundation stones

And trees

And the bottles you find

Are rare and unbroken and shine in the sun

The coins and the tokens are gold

And each tiny toy car is your favorite one.

The old digger is gone

To that camp site beyond

Where the cannons and swords

Locks and harmonica reeds

Lie scattered

And the south and the north

Don’t mean nothing no more

The battles and wars

Have faded away into all

That matters

When you pull out a buckle

The soldier who lost it appears at your side

And you can shake hands with that man

‘cause you’re both in this new life

The old digger is gone

 His burden laid down

Now he stands tall and strong

As his shovel melts into the ground.

10. YOU’RE A SAINT

Yup.

This one’s for Al. Because he’s so nice and patient about my hobby and pretends to be interested in the stuff I find and he’s the nicest guy I know and he’s introverted like me and he did so much to make this record happen.

Every time I bring home another rusty axe head

Your eyes glaze over

Then your love takes over

And you say, “Oh baby, look what you found!”

Every time I tell you another scary story ‘bout

Snakes and rabid Rovers

And mad homeowners

You say, “I’m happy you are safe and sound”

You’re a saint.

Oh yeah, oh yeah

You’re a saint

You’re a saint

Saint Baby, Saint Darlin’

You’re a saint.

 It appears your favorite bathroom is now devoted to

Rust removal

There’s been no disapproval

Just the occasional eyeball roll

And every pretty Saturday I should devote to

Fun with you… it’s déjà vu

As your wife turns into a fanatical mole.

CH

Home is where the heart is baby

Ain’t no place for complaint

You ain’t the type to fuss and fight

If you did I’d fall down in a faint but you don’t

You’re a saint!

11. DON’T DIG TODAY (Hill/Hill, featuring Al Hill)

Al, trying to get me to not dig.

I wrote these lyrics a long time ago and gave them to Al and he turned them into this luscious blues.

Don’t dig today. Don’t be pulling up the past

I got all you need right here. And life flies by so fast.

Don’t dig today. Ain’t no treasures in that ground

I got a heart that shines like gold. So just lay your shovel down.

Don’t dig today. Don’t hold history in your hand.

It’ll all be there tomorrow. Today, just be here with your man.

Don’t dig today. Just wait a minute more for me

I’m coming with you, baby, into the fields of Tennessee.

12. ALUMINUM… FOILED AGAIN (Whit Hill/Butch Holcombe; Mary Bragg’s on harmonies)

Anita and Butch Holcombe
When I put the word out that I was looking for song ideas, Butch Holcombe, the publisher of American Digger Magazine, popped these lyrics out and sent them to me. Done deal. We had a chance to play this song together (with Butch on mandolin) at the December meeting of the MTMDC.

For the record, I hate foil.

Scratchy sound

Jumping ‘round

Digital readings up and down

Got me confused

and concerned

If I don’t dig it I might get burned

Whoa… Let’s see what’s down below

Aluminum…foiled again!

Chewing gum wrapper

Or a thin gold chain

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

I’ll dig it up

Can’t walk away

So I cut a plug, what the hey

whoa… let’s see what’s down below…

Aluminum… foiled again.

Hope one day

I’ll strike it big

And I dig something I should dig

But till then, again and again

I’ll curse Alcoa and the Wriggly twins

Whoa…. Let’s see what’s down below!

13. GHOSTS

The eeriest site I ever dug.

There’s a feeling you get, especially when you’re alone at a site, of communing with the past. It feels a little sacred, to tell the truth.

I know.

But isn’t interesting that the words “sacred” and “scared” are so close?

Sometimes in those sacred moments, I feel a little scared. Like I’m being watched.

I wrote this song before I ever thought about making a metal detecting record. My friend, Korby Lenker, came to Song Salon and challenged us to write a song using just 25 different words. It was right around Halloween so this is what came out. I’ve since written several other 25-word songs. It’s a difficult, thrilling and instructive exercise.


Ghosts are here today

Harmless, harmless ghosts are close

Praying on white shroud knees

I believe, I believe, I believe.

Ghosts pray quietly

Powerless, powerless prayers

To those banished to history

I believe, I believe, I believe…

They say, Ah love…

Ghosts on white shroud knees

Fingers tangled here, today

Quietly close to me

I believe, I believe, I believe

I believe they believe in me.

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