Riley and Spencer


Betsy Rutherford of Galax, Virginia

Unlike most of the country songs I sing there are no early recordings of 'Riley and Spencer.' This one comes to us from some more recent traditional singers such as Tommy Jarrell and Betsy Rutherford. Betsy said that she learned "Riley and Spencer" from her relative Fields Ward, who wrote it.

There is some debate as to whether it is 'Raleigh and Spencer' referring to two cities in North Carolina, or 'Riley and Spencer', referring to two towns in West Virginia. Some claim that the "burning down" refers to Sherman's march to the sea. I doubt it. There is nothing else in the song that seems to have anything to do with the Civil War and there is no record of Sherman burning any of those towns. By the time Sherman reached Raleigh the war was almost over and he assured a delegation of citizens that his occupation would be peaceful.

No, I think this is just a standard drinking, bragging, blues and "burning down" is just a colorful metaphor for the suffering of the poor deprived drinkers.

Betsy Rutherford escaped my notice for a long time. She was a splendid traditional singer with an absolutely stunning voice. If you haven't heard Betsy, go look her up on YouTube. She produced one solo album 'Traditional Country Music', on Biograph Records. Sadly Betsy passed away in 1991 at the age of 47.

Lyrics: 

Riley and Spencer are burning down
No there ain't no liquor in town
No there ain't no liquor in town

Whatcha gonna do to wet them lips
When the whole darn town runs dry
When the whole darn town runs dry

I been all around this whole wide world
I been down to Memphis Tennessee
Yes I been down to Memphis Tennessee

I played cards with the kings and queens
I shot dice with old Jesse James
I shot dice with old Jesse James

I can eat more chicken than any one gal can fry
I can tell more low-down lies
I can tell more low-down lies

I can tell more lies than there're stars in the sky
And I ain't going to heaven when I die
No I ain't going to heaven when I die

I'd trade my shoes for one bottle of booze
I'd drink it I'd lay down and die
Yes I'd drink it I'd lay down and die

You can stomp down all the flowers that'll grow round my grave
But they'll rise and bloom again
Yes they'll rise and bloom again

Instruments: 
Tuning: 
gCGCF