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Great Americana Opening Verses  

A distinguishing feature of Americana Music is the narrative. For the most part, Americana songwriters will be telling a good story. It may document reality, even history, but for the most part it will be just good old-fashioned fiction – set to music. And as in any story, writers like to capture the attention of listeners in the opening verse or stanza.


Crossroads has chosen 30 verses or stanzas which reflect the best openings to wonderful Americana songs. A single songwriter is restricted to three songs.

Vigil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train

’Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again

In the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive

By May the tenth, Richmond had fell, it’s a time I remember all so well


Robbie Robertson – The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down        

Hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun

Dust on my face and my cape

Me and Magdalena on the run

This time I think we shall escape

Sold my guitar to the baker's son

For a few crumbs and a place to hide

But I can get another one

And I'll play for Magdalena as we ride

Bob Dylan/Jacques Levy - Romance in Durango                                 

Well my name's John Lee Pettimore

Same as my daddy and his daddy before

You hardly ever saw Grandaddy down here

He only come to town about twice a year

He'd buy a hundred pounds of yeast and some copper line

Everybody knew that he made moonshine

Now the revenue man wanted Grandaddy bad

He headed up the holler with everything he had

It's before my time but I've been told

He never come back from Copperhead Road


Steve Earle – Copperhead Road                                               

I am an old woman named after my mother

My old man is another child that's grown old

If dreams were lightning, thunder were desire

This old house would have burnt down a long time ago


John Prine - Angel from Montgomery                                                                

They're selling postcards of the hanging, they're painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, the circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner, they've got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker, the other is in his pants
And the riot squad they're restless, they need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight, from Desolation Row


Bob Dylan - Desolation Row                                                                 

Living on the road, my friend
Was gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron
Your breath's as hard as kerosene
You weren't your momma's only boy
But her favourite one, it seems
She began to cry when you said goodbye
And sank into your dreams


Townes Van Zandt – Pancho and Lefty                                                  

Screamin’ in a mic, playin’ a Strat through a Vox AC-30

Gives a troublesome back and a ringin’ in ears

My last band covered the Clash, the Kinks and the Replacements

Seems my soul is as misspent as my years

Now I got a Princeton reverb, it’s in an old Anvil case

It’s in the back of a Ford Econoline

It’s a 6-hour drive to Austin and the Continental Club

I got to change the strings on my ES-335

Ray Wylie Hubbard - Tell The Devil I’m Getting There As Fast As I Can                       

In South Carolina there are many tall pines

I remember the oak trees that we used to climb

But now when I’m lonesome I always pretend

That I’m getting the feel of hickory wind


Gram Parsons/Bob Buchanan - Hickory Wind          

Rita was sixteen years

Hazel Eyes and chestnut hair

She made the Woolworth counter shine

And Eddie was a sweet romancer

And a darn good dancer

And they waltzed the aisles of the five and dime

Nanci Griffth - Love at the Five and Dime                                 

He was standing by the highway

With a sign that just said “mother”

When he heard a driver comin’

‘Bout a half a mile away

Then he held the sign up higher

Where no decent soul could miss it

It was ten degrees or colder

Down by Boulder Dam that day

Gordon Lightfoot - Ten Degrees and Getting Colder                             

A canvas covered cabin in a crowded labor camp

Stand out in this memory I revive

My daddy raised a family there

With two hard working hands

And tried to feed my mama’s hungry eyes

Merle Haggard – Mam’s Hungry Eyes        

You come home late and you come home early

You come on big when you're feeling small

You come home straight and you come home curly

Sometimes you don't come home at all

So what in the world's come over you

And what in heaven's name have you done

You've broken the speed of the sound of loneliness

You're out there running just to be on the run

John Prine - Sound of the Speed of Loneliness  

Strap them kids in

Give ‘em a little bit of vodka in a cherry coke

We’re going to Oklahoma to the family reunion for the first time in years

It’s up at Uncle Slayton’s cause he’s getting on in years

You know he no longer travels but he’s still pretty spry

He’s not much on talking and he’s just too mean to die

James McMurtry - Choctaw Bingo                                                              

It's Christmastime in Washington

The Democrats rehearsed

Gettin' into gear for four more years

Things not gettin' worse

Republicans drink whiskey neat

And thanked their lucky stars

They said, "He cannot seek another term

They'll be no more FDRs"

Steve Earle - Christmas in Washington            

I saw her standin’ on her front lawn

Just a twirlin’ her baton

Me and her went for a ride sir

And ten innocent people died

Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska                                                                                

I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling 'bout half past dead

I just need some place where I can lay my head

Hey, mister, can you tell me, where a man might find a bed?

He just grinned and shook my hand, "No" was all he said.

Robbie Robertson - The Weight                                                    

Carlos Zaragoza left his home in Casas Grandes when the moon was full

No money in his pocket, just a locket of his sister framed in gold

He rode into El Sueco, stole a rooster called Gallo Del Cielo

Then he swam the Rio Grande with that fighter nestled

Deep beneath his arm

Tom Russell - Gallo Del Cielo                                                                                    

He's a wino, tried and true.

Done about everything there is to do.

He worked on freighters, he worked in bars.

He worked on farms, 'n he worked on cars.

It was white port, that put that look in his eye

That grown men get when they need to cry

And he sat down on the curb to rest

And his head just fell down on his chest

Guy Cark - Let him Roll                                                                    

Drinking black market vodka in the back of the Scotsman's saloon

Then it's red meat and whiskey like a coyote drunk on the moon

Outside in Oslo the buskers' all sing the same tune

And it's Waltzin' Matilda while the bagpipes play old Clair de Lune

Tom Russell - St Olav’s Gate                                                                

Pack up all your dishes.

Make note of all good wishes.

Say goodbye to the landlord for me.

That son of a bitch has always bored me.

Throw out them LA papers

And that mouldy box of vanilla wafers.

Adios to all this concrete.

Gonna get me some dirt road back street

Guy Clark - L.A. Freeway                                                                  

We signed up in San Antone, my brother Paul and me

To fight with Ben McCulloch and the Texas infantry

Well the poster said we'd get a uniform and seven bucks a week

The best rations in the army and a rifle we could keep

When I first laid eyes on the general I knew he was a fightin' man

He was every inch a soldier, every word was his command

Well his eyes were cold as the lead and steel forged into tools of war

He took the lives of many and the souls of many more

Steve Earle - Ben McCulloch                                                         

They say the good die young but it ain't for certain

I bin good all day

I ain't hurtin'

Not in any way

I'm too old to die young

I shouldn't talk too loud

Bad luck is preying on the proud ones

There's nothin' like lying in a graveyard

To teach you to hold your tongue

Chris Smither - What They Say                                     

Sittin' in the kitchen, a house in Macon

Loretta's singing on the radio

Smell of coffee, eggs and bacon

Car wheels on a gravel road

Lucinda Williams - Car Wheel on a Gravel                              

Black faces pressed against the glass

Where rain has pressed its weight

Wind-blown scarves in top down cars

All share one western trait

Sadness leaks through tear-stained cheeks

From winos to dime-store Jews

Probably don't know they give me

These late John Garfield blues

John Prine - Late John Garfield Blues                                                     

The name she gave was Caroline

Daughter of a miner

And her ways were free

It seemed to me

The sunshine walked beside her

Townes Van Zandt – Tecumseh Valley                                          

Well I work the double shift

In a bookstore on St Clair

While he pushed the burning ingots

In Dofasco stinking air

Where the truth bites and stings

I remember just what we were

As the noon bell rings for

Blackhawk and the white winged dove

Daniel Lanois – Blackhawk                                                                               

Well, summer is over
The turnstiles are seized
The Ferris wheel turns by itself in the breeze
And the big diesel engines
Idle out on the lawn
Summer is over
And my baby's gone

Fred Eaglesmith – Summer is Over                                                                            

I've spent a lifetime making up my mind to be
More than the measure of what I thought others could see
Good luck and fast bucks are too far and too few between
For Cadillac buyers and old five and dimers like me

Billy Joe Shaver – Old Five and Dimers Like Me                    

She said, "Andy, you're better than your past"
Winked at me and drained her glass
Cross-legged on a barstool, like nobody sits anymore
She said, "Andy, you're taking me home"
But I knew she planned to sleep alone
I'd carry her to bed, sweep up the hair from her floor

Jason Isbell – Elephant                                                                

Crossroads respects all creative copyright by songwriters and performers and lyrics and recordings are used for review purposes only.

All factual errors and omissions are regretted.

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