On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away
DESCRIPTION: "'Round my Indiana homestead wave the cornfields... But one thing there is missing from the picture, Without her face it seems so incomplete." The singer misses his mother and his sweetheart Mary, left in the graveyards of his home on the Wabash
AUTHOR: Paul Dresser (1857-1906)
EARLIEST DATE: 1897 (sheet music by Howley, Haviland & Co.)
KEYWORDS: death mother love separation home rambling
FOUND IN: US(MW)
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Dean, p. 117, "Banks of the Wabash" (1 text)
Cohen-AFS2, p. 426, "The Banks of the Wabash" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 45, "On the Banks of the Wabash" (1 text)
Geller-Famous, pp. 166-169, "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Robert A. Fremont, editor, _Favorite Songs of the Nineties_, Dover Publications, 1973, pp. 230-234, "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" (1 text, 1 tune, the 1899 sheet music)
Margaret Bradford Boni, editor, _Songs of the Gilded Age_, with piano arrangements by Norman Lloyd and illustrations by Lucille Corcos, Golden Press, 1960, pp. 30-32, "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" (1 text, 1 tune)
William E. Studwell and Bruce R. Schueneman, _State Songs of the Unites States: An Annotated Anthology_, The Haworth Press, 1997, p. 34, "(On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away)" (1 text, tune on pp. 106-110)
NOTES [389 words]: This piece is now Indiana's state song. Dresser (originally Dreisser; he was Theodore Dreisser's brother), who ran away to join a medicine show rather than enter the priesthood, was also the author of "The Letter That Never Came" and "The Pardon Came Too Late."
According to Sigmund Spaeth, A History of Popular Music in America, pp. 276-277, Dresser was "widely remembered as one of the most lovable characters in the history of Tin Pan Alley. A huge mountain of a man, with a heart as big as his body, his generosity was notorious. Whatever he had he shared with others, and most of his debtors never paid him back.... Like most of the songwriters of his day, Paul Dresser had a throroughly naive outlook on life.... He believes the sentimentalities he put into his songs."
Spaeth considers 1895 to be the peak of his career; in that year he produced "Just Tell Them That You Saw Me," described as "enormously popular" though it has had little impact on tradition.
I've seen it said that it was Theodore Dreisser who suggested to his brother that he write a river song about Indiana, and this was the result. But according to Jon W. Finson, The Voices That Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song, Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 120, it was one Max Hoffman who pushed him to the final form: "Paul was mulling over a melody that was practically in finished form. But he did not have the words.... He had a sort of dummy refrain, which he was studying, but by the time he finished what he was writing down to my playing it was an altogether different lyric.
"When Paul came to the line, 'Through the sycamores the candle lights were gleaming [sic.],' I was tremendously impressed....
"I have always felt that Paul got the idea from glancing out of the window now and again as he wrote [while on a tour in Chicago], and seeing the lights gllimmering out on Lake Michigan."
Spaeth, p. 281, says that "by 1903 the Dresser gift had definitely declined," and he started to try to work the business end of the music trade. But Dresser, no businessman, managed to die in poverty in 1906 despite many hits. Spaeth, p. 282, claims that he died "at the home of his sister in Brooklyn, where he had been living for some time in obscurity. Regardless of any physician's diagnosis, his malady was a broken heart." - RBW
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