#97: Those Brown Eyes by the Tarriers
The Tarriers formed from a collection of folk singers who performed regularly at Washington Square, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and West 4th Street in New York City during the mid-1950s. Since around the end of World War II, folksingers had been congregating on warm Sunday afternoons at the fountain in the center of the park. Tension and conflicts began to develop between the bohemian element and the remaining working-class residents of the neighborhood. The city government began showing an increasing hostility to the use of public facilities by the public. In 1947, the City of New York began requiring permits before public performances could be given in any city park. The Tarriers were Erik Darling, Bob Carey, Karl Karlton and Alan Arkin. Darling told Wayne Jancik in The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders. According to Darling, “Karl didn’t really mesh” and left the group before the remaining trio secured a contract with Glory Records in 1956, where the Tarriers scored two hits. The folk group got their name from the 1888 work song “Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill”. The title refers to Irish workers, drilling holes in rock to blast out railroad tunnels. A tarrier is someone who is known to tarry, to dawdle, to delay, to lag behind in their work. As such, choosing the name The Tarriers was a poke at the Protestant work ethic. Decades later a folk song chorus by Charlie King declared “Our life is more than our work, and our work is more than our job.”
Washington Square Arch, New York City
Erik Darling was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1933. He moved to Canandaigua, in upstate New York. In 1950, he moved to New York City, having learned three guitar chords and two songs. He was inspired by The Weavers and in the 1955 formed The Tunetellers which morphed into the Tarriers. Darling was also a regular live performer on the WNYC Folksong Festival show. He also performed at square dances, parties and colleges.
Eric Darling (photo)
Alan Arkin was born in New York City in 1934. He was raised in a Jewish family with “no emphasis on religion”. His grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, Russia, and Germany. His parents moved to Los Angeles when Alan was 11, by which time he was taking acting lessons. However, an 8-month Hollywood strike cost his father his job as a set designer. During the 1950s Red Scare, Arkin’s parents were accused of being Communists. His father was fired when he refused to answer questions about his political ideology. David Arkin challenged the dismissal, but he was vindicated only after his death. Before joining the Tarriers, Alan Arkin had a number of his sculptures exhibited and published several short stories.
Alan Arkin (1957)
Bob Carey was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933. At the age of 14, in 1947, Carey taught himself to play guitar. He studied pre-law in college. In 1953, Carey won a contest on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts singing the Josh White folk tune “Apples, Peaches and Cherries.” Carey and his friends Erik Darling and Roger Sprung formed the Folksay Trio and recorded four tracks with Stinson Records. One of these tracks was a new treatment of the folk song “Tom Dooley”. The Kingston Trio later covered that rendition with their chart-topping effort in 1958. Just after the Folksay Trio made their recordings, Bob Carey was drafted into the United States Army. While in the service, Carey was selected best vocalist in an All-Army contest in Frankfurt, West Germany. Carey finished his service in 1955 and reconnected with Darling who had just formed the Tunetellers.
Bob Carey (photo)
Along with folksinger, Vince Martin, the Tarriers recorded “Cindy Oh Cindy”. The single first appeared on the Cashbox Best Selling Singles chart on October 6, 1956. From November 3, 1956, to January 5, 1957, the single spent eight weeks in the Top Ten and three weeks at #11 on Cashbox. In total, “Cindy Oh Cindy” spent 19 weeks on the Cashbox Best Selling Singles chart. It was ranked at #63 on the Billboard pop charts for 1956.
In 1956, a second single, “The Banana Boat Song” was released. On December 15, 1956, “The Banana Boat Song” began its climb up the pop charts in the USA. It spent eight weeks in the Top Ten on the Cashbox Best Selling Singles chart from January 12 to March 2, 1957. From January 26 to March 30, 1957, Harry Belafonte’s version of “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” spent eleven weeks in the Top Ten of the Cashbox Best Selling Singles chart. The Tarriers “The Banana Boat Song” spent 18 weeks on the Cashbox Best Selling Singles chart, with Harry Belafonte’s version spending 17 weeks on the chart. For the year 1957, Belafonte’s version edged out the Tarriers at #15 for the year to the Tarriers placing “The Banana Boat Song” at #26 on the Billboard pop singles 1957-Year-End chart.
Both “Cindy Oh Cindy” and “The Banana Boat Song” were included on The Tarriers self-titled album released in 1956. Other tracks on the album were also released as singles. In April 1957, a double-sided release of “Pretty Boy” and “I Know Where I’m Going” spent 13 weeks on the CKWX Fantastic Fifty, peaking at #18 in May ’57. This was followed by a chart run of a fifth track from the album titled “Those Brown Eyes”.
“Those Brown Eyes” was credited to Woody Guthrie, as well as the Tarriers since Darling, Carey and Arkin wrote a new rendition to the folk song. Woody Guthrie was. He originally recorded “Brown Eyes” in 1944. Guthrie was born in the small town of Okemah, Oklahoma in 1912. His name “Woody” was after Woodrow Wilson, then Governor of New Jersey and Democratic candidate for President of the United States On July 2, 1912, on the 46th ballot. (Yes, the 46th ballot, defeating Missouri congressman James Clark, who in 1911 advocated on the floor of the House of Representatives the annexation of Canada).
As Woody Guthrie was born ten days after Woodrow Wilson became the Democratic candidate, this was still big news in America. So, Woodrow “Woody” Wilson Guthrie was the given name for the boy. Woody Guthrie’s father, Charles Guthrie, was a conservative Democrat. He was involved with the lynching of African-Americans Laura and Lawrence Nelson on May 25, 1911, in Okemah. People in the town took photos that were made into postcards to commemorate the lynching.
Postcard of the lynching of Laura and Lawrence Nelson, Okemah, Oklahoma, May 25, 1911
Woody Guthrie wrote several songs years later about his father having joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1915. At age 14-year-old Woody Guthrie worked odd jobs around Okemah, begging meals and sometimes sleeping at the homes of family friends. His father was in Texas trying to swing real estate deals. Guthrie befriended an African-American shoeshine boy named George, who played blues on his harmonica. After listening to George play, Guthrie bought his own harmonica and began playing along with him. He busked for money and food. Guthrie headed west to California during the “Dust Bowl” and got work at KVFD radio in Los Angeles from 1937-39. From 1939 to 1940, Guthrie wrote 174 of his folksy “Woody Sez” columns for People”s World, a Communist and American leftist paper based in San Francisco. His columns in exaggerated hillbilly dialect were observations of the times and less political.
In 1940, Woody Guthrie moved to New York City and made his first recordings, including “This Land Is Your Land”. In New York City he befriended Pete Seeger, and played in Harlem bars with Lead Belly. In September 1940, Guthrie was invited by the Model Tobacco Company to host their radio program Pipe Smoking Time. Guthrie was paid $180 a week, an impressive salary in 1940 (equivalent to $3,585 in 2022 dollars). But Guthrie quit after seven episodes protesting at the restrictions on what he was allowed to play on air. In 1940 Guthrie, Seeger, Lee Hays and Millard Lampell formed the folk group named the Almanac Singers. They sang and wrote peace songs, and after Germany invaded the U.S.S.R., wrote anti-fascist songs. On May 1, 1941, 20,000 people filled Madison Square Garden to hear the Almanac Singers entertain striking transit workers. The anti-draft message in numbers of their songs led the United States Army Intelligence and the F.B.I. to declare the Almanac Singers seditious, and they disbanded in early 1943.
In June 1943, Woody Guthrie joined the U.S. Merchant Marine. He served as a mess man and dishwasher, and frequently sang for the crew and troops to buoy their spirits on transatlantic voyages. After World War II, Woody Guthrie lended his support to the effort to elect former Vice-President Henry Wallace as President in 1948. Wallace lost to Harry Truman, and was way behind Republican candidate Thomas Dewey. By the late 40’s, Woody Guthrie was diagnosed with his mother’s ailment, Huntington’s Disease. From the 30’s to the 60’s, Woody Guthrie wrote and recorded hundreds of songs. These include “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Ya”, “Stagger Lee”, “I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore”, “Worried Man Blues” and “The Ballad of Harriet Tubman”. In 1967, at the age of 55 and in poor health, Woody Guthrie died.
Woody Guthrie’s original version of “Brown Eyes” in 1944 finds a man who’s been left behind for a year. Devastated by her departure, he sings “Up in heaven I long to be, where a brown-eyed angel waits for me.” In this verse the listener can presume she died a year ago. However, in the next verse he sees his “brown eyes” walking down the street with another man “at her side…soon I thought she’d be his bride.” In verse two she is very much alive.
In the Tarriers’ adaptation of the song, Darling, Carey and Arkin added new lyrics. The first verse we learn that “brown eyes” announces to him that she must go, and leaves him at the gate of his house. The second verse is the same as Guthrie’s second verse, and so the man anticipates “brown eyes” will soon be married. In a surprise twist, the Tarriers add a third verse. It is here that “brown eyes” has been laid in her grave for a year. Prior to her death, she had cried for six years (for the narrator of the song). As well, the song’s narrator discovers the other man walking with “brown eyes” seven years back was a brother of hers (he had never met), and not a suitor. If only “brown eyes” had called out to the narrator of the song when she was walking past with her brother that night seven years ago. Life could have turned out differently for them both. But, such are the foibles of human communication.
“Those Brown Eyes” peaked at #1 in Vancouver, #5 in Chicago, and #8 in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
The liner notes for The Tarriers album relate “With their lightning success on recordings and in personal appearances, The Tarriers are showing how folk music can be presented in a popular and commercial manner. They have appeared on many of the important television programs throughout the United States and Canada, and were recently heard in concert with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. A Carnegie Hall recital and a Hollywood movie are listed in their current plans….the Calypso compositions, among which are “Pretty Boy” and the now famous “The Banana Boat Song”, will please the ethnic ear as well as the ear tuned to Tin Pan Alley. The recording of “Chaucoun”, one of Haiti’s most beloved and best known songs, is performed in its original French patois with so much beauty and emotion, that it transcends any language barrier.”
“Those Brown Eyes” was subsequently covered by George Hamilton IV (1961), The Kingston Trio (1963), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (1964), Ireland’s John McEvoy (1966) the Freemen (1970) and Foster & Allen (2010), UK singer Ann Been (1981), and others.
The Tarriers appeared in a 1957 low-budget musical Calypso Heat Wave, in which they lip-synched to “The Banana Boat Song” and “Choucoune”. The film featured singers Johnny Desmond, the R&B and jump blues group The Treniers, traditional crooner Johnny Desmond (who recorded “(There She Is) Miss America” and “The Yellow Rose of Texas” among others), the vocal quartet the Hi-Lo’s, Maya Angelou, Joel Grey, and others. The plot concerned a traditional pop singer who, faced with corruption and strong-arm tactics of a record company boss, quits. He sails to the West Indies and upon discovering calypso, decides to make records with the new sound. The film was anticipated as the calypso’s answer to the 1956 rock n’ roll flick Rock Around The Clock , which featured Bill Haley and his Comets, The Platters and the Ernie Freeman Combo. However, Calypso Heat Wave didn’t catch on.
After completing a European tour in early 1958, Alan Arkin left the group to pursue acting. His replacement was Clarence Cooper, a singer rooted in blues and gospel. In March 1958, Darling was recruited to replace Pete Seeger in The Weavers. The Weavers only performed sporadic concert dates and recording sessions, so Darling was able to also working with The Tarriers. This continued until a November 1959 scheduling conflict forced him to leave the Tarriers. Pete Seeger’s departure from The Weavers in 1958 had an interesting backstory. On August 18, 1955, Seeger was subpoenaed to testify before Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. Alone among the many witnesses after the 1950 conviction and imprisonment of the Hollywood Ten for contempt of Congress, Seeger refused to plead the Fifth Amendment (which would have asserted that his testimony might be self-incriminating). Instead, as the Hollywood Ten had done, Seeger refused to name personal and political associations on the grounds that this would violate his First Amendment rights: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.” Seeger’s refusal to answer questions that he believed violated his fundamental constitutional rights led to a March 26, 1957, indictment for contempt of Congress. From March 1957 and into the early 60s, Seeger had to keep the federal government apprised of where he was going any time he left the Southern District of New York. As a result, the Weavers had to find a new singer for their folk group. Erik Darling remained with the Weavers from 1958 to 1962.
Darlings’ replacement was banjoist/singer Eric Weissburg, later of “Dueling Banjos” fame. Because of Carey’s growing unreliability, Weissberg recruited his college friend Marshall Brickman to join the group. The Tarriers briefly worked as a quartet until late 1963, when Brickman, Cooper and Weissberg reluctantly dismissed Carey for missing shows.
In late 1962 Erik Darling formed The Rooftop Singers and released “Walk Right In”, which became a number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in late January 1963. Darling played on sessions for Oscar Brand, Judy Collins, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Ed McCurdy and Jean Ritchie. He also recorded solo for several labels, including Elektra, Vanguard and Wind River.
The Tarriers went into hiatus in 1964 while Cooper recovered from heart surgery and Weissberg honored his National Guard commitments. Brickman joined John Phillips and Michelle Phillips in The New Journeymen for about a year. When Cooper and Weissberg reformed the trio, Al Dana was Brickman’s replacement. After his return, the Tarriers re-formed. In 1965, the Tarriers opened for Judy Collins on a tour of Poland and Russia. With the decline in popularity of folk music in the wake of the British Invasion, the Tarriers disbanded. During their career the Tarriers recorded six albums between 1956 and 1964. Single releases after 1957 were not commercially successful, though some folk music fans scooped them up.
Bruce Eder with AllMusic.com writes about Bob Carey after he was fired from the Tarriers in 1963:
“What followed was a downward spiral, though he initially did get a shot at a solo career. He appeared on at two installments of the folk music showcase Hootenanny in 1964, doing “I’m on My Way” and “I Got a Woman”. Ironically, earlier that same season, the Tarriers would appear accompanying Carey’s longtime idol Josh White, whose set included “Apples, Peaches and Cherries,” the song with which Carey had broken through with such promise a decade earlier. He recorded some solo sides for the Kameron co-owned FM label… All of Carey’s sides were featured piecemeal on various multi-artist compilations (mostly using the word “Hootenanny” in their title). Sad to say, Carey was not among the fortunate up-and-coming figures on the label, which folded in late 1964. He later led an outfit called the Tiffany Singers, who recorded for Roulette Records during what proved to be the waning days of the folk boom. He subsequently went to work for a music publishing house in New York City, but his days as a recording artist were over. According to a 2001 article by Dave Samuelson on the Folk Era Records website, Carey was found dead sometime during the second half of the ’70s on a bench along New York’s Central Park West.”
Alan Arkin appeared on Broadway in 1961, and in 1963 won a Tony Award for his performance in Enter Laughing. In 1966 Arkin was nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his role in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. In 1968, Arkin was nominated again for Best Actor in his performance as a deaf mute in The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. Other notable performances included Popi (1969, gaining a nomination for Best Actor at the Golden Globe Awards), Catch-22 (1970), The In-Laws (1979), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), black comedy crime film Grosse Point Blank (1997), Little Miss Sunshine (2006, Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner at the Academy Awards), Get Smart (2008), and Argo (2012, nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards). Since the 1960’s, Alan Arkin has appeared in nearly thirty different TV shows. As well, Arkin has appeared in over eighty films.
In his later years, Erik Darling interspersed periods as a therapist and counsellor with making music. His last album was recorded just a few years before he died. Darling’s banjo can be heard accompanying the Kossoy Sisters on the soundtrack of the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? In his final years, he published his memoir titled I’d Give My Life – A Journey by Folk Music. In his book, Erik Darling recounted how the Tarriers were sometimes confused for a dog act and billed as the Terriers. Darling died at age 74 in 2008 of lymphoma.
November 7, 2022
“Alan Arkin,” Wikipedia.org.
Bob Eder, “Bob Carey,” AllMusic.com.
“Billboard Top 100 – 1957,” Billboardtop100of.com.
“Eric Darling Passes At 74,” Sing Out!, August 4, 2008.
“60’s Songwriter Erik Darling Dies At 74,” Billboard, August 7, 2008.
“Calypso Heat Wave trailer,” 1957.
“Brown Eyes“, Woody Guthrie, April, 19, 1944.
“Those Brown Eyes“, Kingston Trio, Sunny Side!, Capitol, 1963.
“1912 Democratic National Convention,” Wikipedia.org.
“Writer, singer and folk icon Woody Guthrie dies,” History.com.
“Top Fifty Songs of the Week,” CKWX 1130 AM, Vancouver, BC, June 23, 1957.
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