Wildwood Flower was popularized by the Carter Family, but its close cousin I’ll Twine Mid the Ringlets was written by Joseph Philbrick Webster and published way back in 1860. It could be that both are based on another earlier tune, but if so I don’t know it. Webster also composed the music for the gospel tune, In the Sweet By and By. The lyrics to that one were written by Sandford Bennett.
Check out this fantastic bit of video featuring The Carter Family…
I hadn’t listened to Wildwood Flower in some time, and on hearing it again, a different set of lyrics popped into my head. This melody was used by Woody Guthrie for a song with much different lyrics – I’ve known that song for ages, but it didn’t occur to me until now it shared a melody with Wildwood Flower.
Have you heard of a ship called the good Reuben James?
Mr. Guthrie seems to have been quite comfortable recycling melodies to suit his needs. I don’t know how many times he did it, but I can think of another off the top of my head. Listen to Wabash Cannonball followed by Grand Coulee Dam, for instance. That’s the thing about folk music. It’s a community resource-we own it together.