Many of the camp fire songs that we sing were written in the last fifty to seventy years. From a historical viewpoint, they are fairly new songs. Some of the best camp fire songs are those that have stood the test of time, such as "Clementine, O, Susannah, and Cindy". These are some of my favorites. They have beautiful or fun melodies. These songs lend themselves to making up new verses; the cowboys and pioneers did it all the time.
Here are some of my favorite camp fire songs from the past:
This song was very popular during the California gold rush. Many of the forty-niners learned this and made up their own verses. This is a fun one to do with a banjo accompaniment.
You can find the lyrics to this song and all the songs in this article in the Great American Campfire Songbook.
I'm sure you know that most popular songs are love songs. Well, even many of the old time songs were love songs. This is one of the best. As I have studied this song, I have found many more verses than what are written here. There are probably hundreds of verses that people have added to this song. Try making some of your own. Children are especially good at doing this.
I Ride An Old Paint:
When I sing this song, I think of a lonesome cowboy out on the trail, probably longing for his girl back home. Yet, he still enjoys the beauty of the trail and all of the sights he sees along the way. The melody to this song is simple and beautiful. In fact, Aaron Copeland wrote this melody into one of his orchestral pieces, Rodeo.
Lone Star Trail:
Singing this song makes me think of a bunch of cowboys sitting around the camp fire, telling stories; each one, trying to outdo the other. It was the sign of a good storyteller if they could embellish their stories to the verge (and beyond) of tall tales.
Here are the lyrics to a couple of the verses:
Come a ti yi yippy yippy yea yippy yea, Come a ti yi yippy yippy yea.
Got a hole in my hat where the rain runs in
Got a hole in my boot where it runs out again, (refrain)
There's cattle in the gully and cattle in the draw,
The foreman's meaner than my mother-in-law, (refrain)
You Are My Sunshine:
Although this song is more recent than the previous songs from the old west, It is still considered an old time song. Written in the late 1930's, it is a perfect camp fire song. The melody is simple, easy to sing and easy to learn. It is also interesting to note that it is one of the state songs of Louisiana. I don't know if that is official or not. The reason for this is because it was written and sung by a former governor of Louisiana, Jimmie Davis.
Unlike most songs, this begins with the chorus.
Stay tuned for more camp fire songs from the past as well as the present, and maybe the future!