Darcy Farrow Words and music by Steve Gillette and Tom Campbell
When I met Tom Campbell he was working for Walt Disney. From his first job as a ride operator at Disneyland he had moved up to being a manager of the talent department. He was all business as he went about hiring bands and producing events. His red hair was close cropped and his friends called him 'the freckled thunderbolt.'
He created the Monday night Hootenanny summer concert series on the Tomorrowland stage, and went on produce concerts for Gordon Lightfoot, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash and David Crosby.
My mom liked Tom a lot and encouraged him to be a part of our family which he did. My sisters, Darcy and Karen and my brother, Jeff all adored Tom. When Tom met Linda Ronstadt and they moved in together, they came to our house for Christmas dinner.
One night, Karen was driving home from a friend's wedding. She had a cold and had taken some cold medication which combined with a little Champagne at the wedding caused her to fall asleep at the wheel. She was lucky to escape with only a broken arm and some bruises. That same weekend, Darcy, just twelve years old, was kicked by her horse and suffered a concussion and a broken cheekbone.
Tom was very moved by the twin tragedies, and came up with the whole saga of our song,"Darcy Farrow" set to a tune that I had adapted from a piece by Pete Seeger called "Living' In the Country."
I was reluctant to accept Tom's draft of the song because the story was so dark and my sister's name was used. My mom was the one who encouraged me to give it a chance. Both the lyrics and the music underwent substantial change as we worked on the song together. We drew on the traditional cowboy songs, many of which come down to us from the British Isles.
Darcy has been pretty good about the whole thing. Maybe a little embarrassed to be injured by a horse. (She admitted years later that she was trying to encourage the horse to buck.) But she has carried it well, and I think she even enjoys being a part of the story.
Tom had lived up in the high desert in Nevada when he was seven or eight years old, and always remembered that image of the lights miles away in the distance. The story is fictional, but some people have looked for traces of history in the region. And, as some have pointed out, the Walker River doesn't actually run down to the Carson Valley plain.
Garnet Rogers (brother of Stan Rogers) is a great songwriter and storyteller. He was driving on highway 395 up near that part of the world when he saw some tail lights ahead and pulled over to call 911 to report a fender bender. As the dispatcher came on the line she asked where the accident was and he replied, "Where the Walker runs down into the Carson Valley plain."
When we had finished the song in the summer of 1964, we had a chance to sing it for Ian & Sylvia who were the first to record it. Tom had taken a folklore class with D.K. Wilgus at UCLA and mentioned to Ian that he used to turn in songs he had written or added to and claimed he had collected them from his grandfather.
Ian got a big kick out of that idea, and incorporated it into his introduction to the song. In their travels, Ian and Sylvia spread that story to lots of people around the country. Of course, they introduced the song to all those people at the same time. But we still have people ask if we wrote it for a college class.
There has been a recent flurry of interest in the song, possibly due to recordings by Nanci Griffith, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, and Chesapeake. John Denver's recording of it is where many people first heard the song. (He actually recorded the song three times). His "Rocky Mountain High" LP has sold over four million copies.
Gordon Lightfoot used to sing it in concerts, although he never put it on a record. George Hamilton IV, David Wilcox, Steve Fromholtz, Jim Croce, Townes Van Zandt, Iain Matthews, Bill and Bonnie Hearne have recorded it. All in all, the song has been recorded by more than three-hundred people and sung by many hundreds more.
One fellow has written a novel based on the story, and the song has even inspired a drink recipe featured in Esquire Magazine.
One other note. It would be unusual for a professional songwriter to take on the subject of mortality. It might be that our generation was experiencing their first brush with death because of the war in Vietnam which was starting to take our high school and college contemporaries. I don't know, but I think some aspect of that possibly unconscious awareness prompted the tragic story and the sense of sorrow. As amateurs we were immune to the better judgment of the music professionals.
Steve Gillette & Cindy Mangsen Perform "Darcy Farrow"
Here are the lyrics as we sing it:
Where the Walker runs down to the Carson Valley plain,
There lived a maiden, Darcy Farrow was her name
The daughter of old Dundee and fair was she
And the sweetest flower that bloomed o'er the range.
Her voice was sweet as the sugar candy
Her touch was as soft as a bed of goose down.
Her eyes shone bright like the pretty lights
That shine in the night out of Yerington town.
She was courted by young Vandermeer
And quite handsome was he I am to hear
He brought her silver rings and lacy things
And she promised to wed before the snows fell that year.
But her pony did stumble and she did fall.
Her dyin' touched on the heart of us all.
Young Vandy in his pain put a bullet to his brain
And we buried them together as the snows began to fall.
They sing of Darcy Farrow where the Truckee runs through
They sing of her beauty in Virginia City too.
At dusty Sundown to her name they drink a round
And to young Vandy whose love was true.
© 1965 Compass Rose Music, BMI / Rumpole Dumple Music, BMI
Administered by The Wixen Group,
24025 Park Sorrento, Suite 130
Calabasas, CA 91302-4003
The sheet music is available for purchase in Steve's online store: "Darcy Farrow" sheet music.
Steve Gillette Teaches His Arrangement of "Darcy Farrow"
Would you like to learn how to play this version of "Darcy Farrow?" Here are two videos Steve made, based on the lessons on his guitar instruction CD, available for purchase in his online store: "Steve Gillette: How to Play Guitar Like I Do".
A Partial List of People Who Have Sung Darcy Farrow
Lou & Peter Berryman
The Bluegrass Cardinals
The Country Gentlemen
Jimmy Dale Gilmore
George Hamilton IV
The Hard Travellers
Bill and Bonnie Hearne
Hoot & Annie
Pete Huttlinger & Chris Nole
Ian and Sylvia
Doris Justis & Sean McGhee
The Kingston Trio
Suzanne Levesque and Craig Bignell
Greg and Margie Mirken
Alan Munde (banjo Instrumental)
Michael Martin Murphy
The New Folk Revival
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Penny Nichols and John McEuen
The Rarely Herd
The Seldom Scene
The Sunshine Company
Townes Van Zandt
Jerry Jeff Walker