The Miller’s Will

One of many songs about the rapacity of millers, notorious back to Chaucer’s time and probably long before.

Along with the singers who became my personal models and heroes, there were some  I just happened to see in concert, or who recorded a song or album that caught my fancy. I think I first heard sam hintonSam Hinton on a Newport Folk Festival LP, where he did “The Arkansas Traveler,” playing the fiddle part on harmonica. (I later learned that he held the harmonica in his mouth without a holder, while simultaneously playing guitar.) Then I picked up his Song of Men LP, and learned a few songs from it, including “The Miller’s Will” and a minor masterpiece called “It’s a Long Way from Amphioxus” — Hinton worked at the Scripps Institute of marine biology in San Diego, and the song was apparently composed at the Woods Hole Marine sam hinton LPBiological Laboratories, where my parents worked in the summer. It was the kind of thing college students composed to amuse one another, back when they were making up silly songs rather than silly raps, and was full of ornate scientific terminology: “A fishlike thing appeared among the anilids one day/ It hadn’t any parapods or cetae to display…” and so forth, as I recall, though I may not recall very well.

Hinton wrote that he learned “The Miller’s Will” in East Texas and its melody resembled “the fine old fiddle tune known as ‘The Pigtown Hoedown.'” I like its critique of filthy capitalists, and also the rhyme of “Ralph” with “half,” a British pronunciation that has died out except among old-school traditionalists like Ralph Fiennes, and which I can’t sing without it sounding weird.