Freshwater native Darrell Duke is thrilled to be receiving such a great response to his new recording of an older song he wrote, “Mother’s Salt Beef.”
Duke, 41, who now lives in Clarenville, wrote the song way back in 1992, when he, like many other Newfoundlanders had to move away to the mainland to find work.
“I was living in Alberta and I was terribly homesick. I never wanted to leave Newfoundland, and one day while in my aunt and uncle’s home up there I wrote this song,” said Duke.
The song has been getting played on local radio stations in St. John’s, such as OZ-FM’s Jigs and Reels and VOCM’s Irish/Newfoundland Show and on Internet radio stations, like Alice O’Keefe’s program of Irish and Newfoundland music in Irish Country Music Radio (ICMR) Ireland, and has been getting positive reviews from presenters and requests for airplay.
Duke, a singer/songwriter, wrote his first song at age 12, and plays numerous instruments such as guitar, bass, harmonica, piano, sitar, hand drums, and tin whistle. He has gotten some attention for writing as well, and currently has a book in the works about the Annie Healey disaster at sea.
“All of my work; music, novels, short stories, poems, plays… all deal with Newfoundland, and mostly from an historical point of view.”
But, with “Mother’s Salt Beef,” Duke’s lyrics evoke a lot of emotions for the people in the audience, which, he said, is a direct result of him feeling those same emotions when he was living and working away on the mainland.
“(The song) speaks of the reason I left in the first place; to find work; missing my baby girl (now 21), playing gigs with my brother and best friend, Barry, (who’s been living in Alberta for years), Sundays at home after Mass with family, singing and playing guitars and laughing ‘til it hurt at my late Uncle Cyril’s stories and jokes, and, perhaps, in the end (of the song), a hope that those feelings of despair and loneliness from missing home would dissipate somewhat through time spent with new friends and long-lost relatives…… and maybe the song and it’s message might allow a bit of comfort,” explained Duke.
The lyrics and the music make for an emotion-filled audience in the bars and clubs in Alberta when he first began to play the song.
“I played gigs all over Edmonton and Calgary. I was a regular performer at Edmonton’s Newfoundland Club and I’ll never forget the first time I played and sang “Mother’s Salt Beef.” The place was always packed with ex-pats and a strong sense of nostalgia. This was the first time I played the song in public. There was this big, strong-looking man sitting alone and he didn’t look too happy… and the further into the song I got, the more uneasy I began to feel, as he was restless, looking around, hanging his head and raising it again, and looking right through me, it seemed. When I finished the song, he started banging his big fists on the table, and tears poured from his eyes. “Lemon Cream crackers, buddy,” he bawled. “Lemon Cream crackers.” After the set, I sat with him and he said how he’d been away for about 30 years and how the song brought out every bit of sadness he’d ever kept in about missing Newfoundland,” said Duke. “This was when I first knew the song could draw emotion; something someone could relate to. So, right from the beginning, it had ‘something.’ And to Newfoundlanders living away, it’s not all that funny to sing about salt beef on Sundays and Lemon Creams smeared with Eversweet. And don’t even mention bakeapple jam.”
He said he thought singing about his favourite Newfoundland foods would be lighthearted, but quickly realized his music was touching a chord with fellow ex-pats.
“It was an instant hit with Newfoundlanders everywhere I went, whether it was playing a gig or a house party. Tears, tears, and more tears; grown men and women, it didn’t seem to matter. Without knowing, I had conjured feelings many were afraid, for whatever reason, to express.”
He recorded the song on a cassette player in 1992 and sent it home where his family shared it widely.
“Mom always said, ‘All Darrell writes is them sad old songs. He likes makin’ people bawl.’ I took that as a compliment, and still do,” Duke laughed. “While living away, I went on to write a lot of songs about Newfoundland, people I knew or still know, and events surrounding the sea (often tragic) which defined us as a unique people. Most of them, including Mother’s Salt Beef, will be on my next album.”
He went on over the years to try various forms of musical expression and eventually came back to his roots again with Newfoundland music.
“It took 25 years to realize how small Newfoundland is and to understand the fact we don’t have population enough to sustain music outside the realm of what we call ‘traditional’ music; whether it be Irish, Newfoundland or a combination of both (which is often the case). But, “Mother’s Salt Beef” never lost its popularity, and I’ve been hounded to play it a thousand times. There was a period of several years when I wouldn’t play it. I’d become sick of it. But that was a selfish thing not to do, and I started singing it again and haven’t stopped.”
This style of music is what he keeps coming back to, no matter where he roams musically speaking.
“As an author of Newfoundland history books, I’m blessed with the privilege of having to talk with older folks who are the salt of the earth, as far as finding a window to Newfoundland’s past. Nothing is contrived; just plain honesty and vivid descriptions of what it was really like to live off the land and the sea. And from these chats, there’s always a ton of material left for songs,” he explained.
And those lyrics touch a lot of people around the globe.
As Alice O’Keefe of ICMR said, “Being a Newfoundlander myself, I can surely identify with most of the lyrics. I find it is an emotional song and so much describes what a typical Sunday was like in Newfoundland homes Sunday morning. Listening to the lyrics, the memories of those days come flooding back to when I was growing up, and also of my children who can identify with the lyrics. This song will be very dear to the hearts of Newfoundlanders who are living away from home, especially. (The) song is heard all over the globe and I have gotten a lot of positive comments on “Mother's Salt Beef.” Most can identify with it, in some special way of their own, no matter what country they live in.”
So, music lovers, keep eyes open in stores for Darrell Duke’s upcoming CD, or visit his website at www.darrellduke.com to purchase your copy of the single.