It’s Father’s Day Eve and I’m not having a very good time of it as I’m putting together tomorrow’s Walkin’ the Floor’s Father’s Day show. Some years I’ve played a bunch of raunchy, randy songs with Daddy or Papa in the title. Because that’s funny, see. Some years I’ve gone maudlin with songs like Tammy’s She Didn’t Color Daddy or T. Texas Tyler’s Dad Gave My Dog Away.
This year though, I’m just feeling weird. Out of sorts, even. Maybe that’s why I dropped the needle on an odd little Dolly Parton song from 1969 or 1970 called Daddy, Come and Get Me. She was with Porter Wagoner’s show at the time and frankly, to my ear, the song sounds much more like one of his than one of hers. It kicks of with a mournful and almost churchy pedal steel lick and a classic Wagoner opening line “In this mental institution, looking out through these iron bars…” Wagoner was the king of the rubber room songs. I’m not sure he had much competition, but it wouldn’t have mattered. He knew it, lived it and sung it. Don’t take that as a belief that Porter actually wrote the song. Dolly’s aunt, Dorothy Jo Hope, actually co-write it with her. Dolly’s writing chops also leave just about everyone else far behind. Besides, she was a young woman still trying to make it as a country singer, success was far from certain. Maybe her meal ticket was beginning to feel like a prison. No country singer has laid their heart out as deeply as Dolly Parton has. With that in mind, Daddy, Come and Get Me begins to truly feel like one of her songs.
The song goes on to tell the sad story of a woman locked away in an asylum by her calloused husband. But, she quickly tells us “it’s not my mind that’s broken, it’s my heart.” You see, he fell in love with another and she cried and cried for days. He told her she was mad and had her locked away.
By the last chorus Dolly’s voice is on the edge of breaking as she sings “and you said I could come to you if I ever was in need, but Daddy, I can’t come to you, you’ll have to come to me.”
It’s a heart cry if there ever was one. She’s not writing this stuff down on a tear stained letter. She’s not calling collect. You remember don’t you? She’s just standing there staring out through those iron bars.
Daddy, Come and Get Me, Dolly Parton