CLE ELUM GIRL - Nancy-Lu Patterson
sung by Bob Nelson. SheetMusic(pdf)
Cle Elum girl where is your home.
Why do you still roam?
Well, when I was a little girl
Lived on my daddy’s farm.
If I had stayed where I was born
I’d have never come to harm.
Many courtin’ boys came by my door
Just to see what they could see
With pretty songs to turn my head
And pretty toys for me
They took me down into the town
Danced ‘til the break of day
What I gave them in return
Seemed a little price to pay
But promises and lies don’t last
So I left my home
‘Til I become a Cle Elum whore
No place left to roam
Cle Elum girl hang down you head
Cry when the night is down
“Cle Elum Girl” was written by Nancy-Lu Patterson. She went to the same high school I did. Her name was Gellerman then. A couple of years after we both graduated (I think she graduated a year before I did), I ran into her again in the early Fifties at The Chalet. I didn’t see her there that often, but she knew Walt. When I was taking guitar lessons from Walt early on, one of the songs he taught me was “Cle Elum Girl,” which he said he learned from Nancy-Lu. She’d written it.
The story goes that she was in a bar in Cle Elum and got to talking with an older woman there, and the woman more or less told her her life story. Nancy-Lu felt impelled to write it up in a song. I’m not sure, but I think that, as a melody, she took Leadbellys “Black Girl,” slowed it down a bit, and altered a few notes here and there. Sounds pretty close to me.
At the party at Carol Lee Waites place after Pete Seeger’s concert in October of 1954, Nancy-Lu and her husband (Patterson can’t recall his first name) were there. During the course of the evening, Nancy-Lu sang a couple of songs, including “Cle Elum Girl.” Pete wanted to know where she got it, and she told him. He asked her if she would write out the words for him, which she did. Don’t know if he ever did anything with it, though.
As I say, I learned it from Walt and sang it for awhile, but somewhere along the line it slid into the background and I’ve pretty much forgotten it. I’m glad you remember it, because it shouldn’t be allowed to fizzle out. Genuine Pacific Northwest song with a sort of bittersweet, all-too-universal theme not unlike “Louise.” "
Don Firth (Seattle)
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