Saturday Song: Wayfaring Stranger

The awesome Trace Adkins gives us one of the great traditional country songs of all time: Wayfaring Stranger:

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Every country, folk, or bluegrass singer worth his or her strings takes a pass at Wayfaring Stranger. Trace’s powerful baritone and bluesy approach is one of my favorites.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the haunting approach of Emmylou Harris:

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And a bit of High Lonesome from Mr. Bill Monroe, as introduced by Marty Stuart and a small animal crouching on Marty Stuart’s head:

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This version from Johnny Cash is from later in his life:

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Oh, okay, and here’s some Dolly, because everything is better with Dolly.

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I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
I’m traveling through this world of woe
Yet there’s no sickness, toil nor danger
In that bright land to which I go
I’m going there to see my mother/father
I’m going there no more to roam
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

I know dark clouds will gather ’round me
I know my way is rough and steep
Yet golden fields lie just before me
Where God’s redeemed shall ever sleep
I’m going there to see my father/mother
S/he said he’d/she’d meet me when I come
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

I want to wear a crown of glory
When I get home to that good land
I want to shout salvation’s story
In concert with the blood-washed band

I’m going there to meet my Saviour
To sing his praise forever more
I’m just a going over Jordan
I’m just a going over home

Do you have your own favorite version? Post it!


Tennessee Ernie Ford: I forget sometimes what a wonderful voice he really had.

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Jack White: My friend Gary recommended this. I didn’t think it was White’s best work, but it does show the powerful influence pure Delta Blues exerts directly upon White. This isn’t a secondhand Delta Blues influence via the Stones: it’s the real deal, with a good lacing of bluegrass to back it up.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • robin

    I have to admit that I like Dolly’s version best. But how about “I’ll Fly Away” by Johnny Cash and June Carter (with guests)?

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Ah, you’re getting ahead of me. ;) I’m going to try to one of these a week. Love Johnny and June. I think I’ll add his Wayfaring Stranger, although the only one I can find online was from late in his like.

  • Gary Chapin

    His work later in life was profoundly good … don’t know why you are offering that as a disclaimer.

  • Gary Chapin

    And can I just comment … since you don’t … about how extraordinary it is that, thanks to technology, we can hear five of the best singers in the world doing this song, rather than hearing it in the context of a community gathering … sung, perhaps, by a friend with a less perfect voice?

  • Gary Chapin

    Also, yeah, it’s me again: Emmylou Harris is the opposite end of the spectrum from Tracy Adkins? That’s a pretty narrow spectrum. Here are some other wayfaring strangers

    Tim Eriksen

    Jack White (Yeah, I know, but people with sensibilities other than your own read this blog, hear this song, and try to be with God)

    And Norma Waterson (of Waterson:Carthy, who do a great deal of work with Anglican hymnody) did a great version on her new CD with her daughter, Eliza Carthy. Since there is no version on YouTube it apparently is not worthy of consideration. Postman strikes again!

  • Gary Chapin

    And, yes, I am aware that this is YOUR blog.

  • robin

    True, Gary! And thanks to the internet, to get acquainted with the life work of the original Man in Black.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Gary, Gary, Gary:

    Jack White: What are you talking about? I like Jack White! I thought he was trying a little to hard to sound like Sonny Boy Williamson, though, so I left it off. He doesn’t convince me as a blues singer.

    Later Johnny: His later work was quite profound, but it was a different kind of statement than his earlier version. Later Johnny is a man singing with all the pain and wisdom of years, and at peace with God. Early Johnny had more of a take-no-prisoners approach, wondering if God would forgive him.

    Trace-to-Emmylou spectrum: bass-to-soprano. Then again, there’s always the bit from the Blues Brothers:

    “We like both kinds of music.”
    “Both kinds?”
    “Country AND Western.”

  • robin

    Am not familiar with Jack White; obviously a very talented guy, but does he always look that . . . unwell?

  • Gary Chapin

    Yes. It’s a thing of his. :)

  • John Scott

    My favorite version of “Wayfaring Stranger” was my mother’s version, which she sang to me when I was a child in the 1950s. She learned it from her grandmother, who learned it from…? It’s the best way to learn a song – through love and all that accompanies it, rather than from a CD. That version lives on only in my memory, sadly, but I passed it on as best I could to my kids. I hope they’ll do the same someday.

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  • Don

    I can’t resist mentioning the first version I ever heard, from ‘way back before the last ice age. It’s very much a product of its times, with electric organ and rewritten lyrics, and it doesn’t stand comparison with some of the other recordings mentioned here, but it has its own cheesy charm:

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    My friend, there is a very fine line between “cheesy” and “genius”, and this recording is that line. I’ve even heard HP Lovecraft because I dig obscure psychedelia/prog, but I can’t remember ever hearing this. It’s … wonderful!