Portfolio > Oil Paintings/Charcoal Drawings_Old Time Songs & Stories

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Rya's House
Rya's House
Oil on Canvas
64" x 76"

I entitled this painting "Rya's House," after another fabulous pre-blues, secular song by black stringband players Joe (fiddle) and Odell (banjo) Thompson of Alamance County, North Carolina. Their song is also known as "Riro's House" and sometimes called "I Went Down to Raleigh." One can hear a dressed-up, highly performative version of it by "The Carolina Chocolate Drops," but I prefer Joe and Odell's more homespun, back porch version.

The lyrics are fun yet mysterious; they appear to be nonsensical but could perhaps contain some deeper meaning? Here they are, from the great North Carolina banjoist Bob Carlin:

I went down to Rya's house, Rya wouldn't speak to me.
Ate up all of Rya's meat, left the dog a bone.

Oh, ho ho Rya! Rya wouldn't speak to me!
Eat all of Rya's meat, left the dog a bone.

I went down to Raleigh; I didn't go to stay.
Fell in love with a pretty, little girl, and I could not get away!

I went down to Raleigh; I had a little money to spend.
Bought me a quart of liquor, and I got a little drunk again!

I went down to Raleigh; I hadn't been there before.
Great big bruiser knocked me down and kicked me out the door!

I wanted to paint black people because this painting is an homage to Joe and Odell Thompson who were black. I watched several videos of Joe and Odell playing, and they often sat about as close together as I depicted in this painting. I exaggerated this effect to emphasis its compositional uniqueness. I also wanted to make the point that Old Time music and playing are folk expressions, homespun music played by self-taught and/or non-classically-trained people from various walks of life--and races. Traditionally, this music is not written down but learned by ear. It is family and friends oriented, played by amateurs for their own entertainment, and not so much professionally on a stage with an audience.

Like "Pumpkin Pie," "Rya's House" seems to originate with the Thompson's. Joe and Odell's parents were homespun musicians. Joe's grandfather was a fiddler and enslaved. I cannot help but wonder, could "Rya's House" predate the Civil War?! Could this song and "Pumpkin Pie" be among the few rare gems of black, pre-blues songs that were passed down uninfluenced by external forces and folks outside of Black America?!