by Pete Wernick
One of our few teachers who teaches WM jam classes to over 60 people a year, Petr Brandejs (pronounced “Peter Brandise”), has not only written a whole book introducing Czech folks to bluegrass, but has now produced a full jam video with songs and instruction in Czech.
Petr informed me from the start that he wanted to create something like my jam videos, covering much of the same instruction, and selecting favorites from the Czech bluegrass jam repertoire. I gladly gave him my approval, and at his request recorded — with the help of Colorado WM teacher Kevin Slick — a carefully-spoken video greeting to Czech bluegrassers. Following the jam, there I am in my back yard, talking to folks in Eastern Europe!
The song selection includes just a few in English, but the melodies of the in-Czech selections are pretty familiar (Hobo’s Lullaby, I’m a Long Gone Daddy [Hank Williams] and others). I asked Petr if those songs’ lyrics are translations of the English originals or on completely different subjects. Indeed, here’s something I’ve been largely unaware of until now: non-English speaking musicians writing lyrics in their native tongue to a popular U.S. melody — with no heed to the original song’s lyrics or title — the subjects change entirely! Odd but of course workable, quite striking to know that Czech bluegrass favorites that “sound” just like American bluegrass standards, are all about entirely different subjects!
Petr offers a guide to some of the songs, listed by the recognizable melody used:
- Hobo’s Lullaby – In Czech “In Montgomery”: A soldier’s lament after a battle (there is no one else left alive)
- Long Gone Daddy – In Czech “I’m Leaving Far Away”: I’m leaving (escaping from a prison, you know now why I’m in a hurry)
- Crawdad Song – In Czech “Hobo”: I met a hobo and he could play ANYTHING! (mandolin, banjo…)
- 6 Days on the Road – [same title is used] – A driving song, the driver dies because he pays too much attention to the girl he had taken into his car
- Before I Met You – In Czech “A Damn Life”: Long ago in Dakota I was smuggling whiskey and I had fun with a girl in a bar, then in Dawson I played cards. Chorus: Hey devil, you’d better stay away from me, then I took him by his horns and he ran away… Later I met the devil again and eventually the devil won.
- Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms – In Czech “The Bells Are Calling Me Far Away”: I’m a hobo and the bells are calling me to go back home, which is far away.
- Roll On Buddy Roll On – In Czech “Straight Ahead”: I left you, keep the ring, I didn’t like you anyway, I’m telling you straight away.
- If I Lose – In Czech “Hardy”: Wild West theme: Hardy was a bad gunman and his days are over.
Interestingly, Petr reports that royalties are paid to the writers of the original melodies as well as to the Czech lyricists. An obstacle: The U.S. publishers need to OK the total rewrite of the lyrics in Czech, and one publisher’s non-response caused one song to be omitted.
I think the lyric and title mis-matches would surprise American bluegrassers in a big way. However, NOT surprisingly: The quality of the music is excellent, featuring Petr on banjo in a full 6-piece band. Good solid tradition-based singing and picking all around.
I’ll admit to some frustration as I watched the DVD, unable to understand any spoken or sung words, or the titles! For a fun sample of what Czech writing looks like, check out the page in Czech for Petr’s upcoming camp. Of course, being well-acquainted with Petr (we worked together at my 2013 camp in Prague) I trust 100% that he has done a great job with the teaching, and his manner and camaraderie with his fellow musicians come across great on screen!
Petr also adds, “I put together English-Czech YouTube Channel of some of the well known songs that are popular in here. That might be interesting to watch.”
Big congratulations to Petr Brandejs, for the creation of first bluegrass jam instructional video in a language other than English!