A friendly reader named Craig dropped by this site’s About Page with a tip: Listening to LastFM, he heard a track called called “You’ll Never Find a Daddy Like Me,” by Nelstone’s Hawaiians. It was an “SJI” variation, or at least a sorta-kinda related song. A quick Google led me to this post on The Old, Weird America, a blog that riffs and expands on and delves into the famous Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music. (On the Anthology, Nelstone’s Hawaiians are represented by their recording of “Fatal Flower Gardens.” )
Turns out I should have remembered that I’ve read about “You’ll Never Find a Daddy Like Me” before — on Robert W. Harwood’s always-ahead-of-the-game I Went Down To St. James Infirmary blog, part of a series of posts in which he tracks versions of the familiar “Let her go” verse known to “SJI” fans through a variety of other folk tunes from the early 20th century.
Nevertheless, the song is worth consideration here. According to TOWA, The Nelstone’s were an Alabama duo that made a few recordings in the 1920s, and were among the earliest country groups to use Hawaiian steel guitar — although apparently Hawaiian music itself was something of a “craze” by then: “The exotic sounds of Hawaiian guitars and ukuleles were featured everywhere in pop and mainstream music of that time and Hawaiians musician were blending their own styles with jazz and country influences.” Nelstone’s Hawaiians are also discussed on Where Dead Voices gather, a different blog also about the Anthology.
Okay, so to the song itself. A highly jaunty number, musically speaking, it’s highlighted by some fun guitar breaks. It’s not really an “SJI” take, per se, but, as noted, does contain some elements that you’ll recognize:
The only little girl that I ever loved
Has turned her back on me.
Let her go, let her go, God bless her
She’s mine, wherever she may be.
She may ramble this wide world over.
Never find another daddy like me.
This bit sets the stage, and already is distinct from the “SJI” story, as it were: the girl isn’t dead; she dumped him. Even so, the “Never find another daddy like me” line is of interest, as it strikes the prideful pose we know from “SJI.” Later in this version, however, the narrator is actually revealed as not very convincing in his self-confidence. Promptly, in fact, he turns rather sniveling and pathetic:
She’s out there with some other boy
Should have been with me.
I’ll pawn my watch and my chain, love
I’ll pawn my diamond too
I’ll even pawn my guitar
And it’s all for the sake of you.
You’ll pawn your watch and chain? Your diamond? Your guitar? Pull yourself together, man! You’d certainly never hear an “SJI” narrator saying such things. Quite the opposite, in fact: it’s the rounding up of fancy (and fanciful, really) possessions for the singer’s own funeral that often concludes the song.
Anyway, things wrap up with the slightly less embarrassing passage that appears in many of the “Let Her Go” songs Mr. Harwood has written about:
There’s been a change in the ocean
There’s been a change in the sea
If you give me back my sweet mama
There’ll probably be a change in me.
In all, it’s a pleasant and fun listen, though really it’s more properly part of the “Let her go” cycle than the line of songs that most people (including me) think of as leading to “SJI.” Having said that, the process of listening to this and really dwelling on the “let her go” thing again has led me to another train of thought that I don’t believe I’ve ever quite articulated, and that I’ll try to articulate tomorrow.