Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dear Obscure American Friends!

Dear obscure American friends!

I love it when my finds have words.

I’m particularly thrilled when my finds say stuff like “Dear obscure American friends!” for I feel I have some real alien communication going on, and not just the imagined variety.

More on this shortly.

First of all, my new metal detecting CD, I Dug it Up, has been selling steadily, right off my website ( and I’ve loved all the wonderful feedback from people from all over the country. You can listen to (but not download) most of the songs on the record by clicking the "music" tab. Funny thing is, I haven’t really released the record yet – that will come later this year. Stay tuned.

OK: Finds.

Not long after the ringing in of 2015, I found myself in a very nice yard on the west side of town, belonging to a friend of a friend. Only really cool finds were an awesome cat charm (that the homeowner was delighted with), a Catholic medal and a really old brass buckle with swell patina. I may go back one day. Feel lucky there…

That permission led to another one that Cheryl and I hit in late January: a four-acre lawn right in prime Battle of Nashville territory. It had been well hunted years before, but we worked it for two weekends. Here’s my edited take:

FROM TOP: bar of camp lead, connector thingie,
part of a watch, saddle decoration, chewed up lead,
brass coupling, spoon, buckle, Mercury dime,
wheat pennies, modern fuse part, thing I THOUGHT
was CW fuse part, but was actually a swimming pool
cover anchor. CENTER: horse shoe, giant 1963 Mexican
peso, nice Enfield bullet (left with homeowner, sniff),
bullet pieces and lead scraps.:

FROM TOP: lovely decorative mystery item, Masonic ring,
bunch of old keys that Masonic ring was attached to, wheatie,
token, round thing with CW uniform button inside, shell, three,
minie balls. CENTER: another lovely decorative mystery item.

See those keys? The huge honker of a Masonic ring above them was attached to it. I did a little research of previous owners of the property and finally sent an email to Stansell Electronics, a revered Nashville company started years ago by James Stansell, Sr. – who had built the house I was hunting. Could the ring and keys have belonged to him? They did. At the February meeting of the Middle Tennessee Metal Detecting Club, in walked Mr. Stansell’s son, Jimmy, and he could not have been nicer. We had a little presentation.

Jimmy Stansell retrieving his dad's Masonic
ring and keys. He said, "This is the coolest thing
that has ever happened to me... except for
meeting my wife!" Fingers crossed some good
new permissions will come of this! If not, that's
fine too; it was really nice to meet him.

One day, I found myself to be inexplicably brave and knocked on a door in my neighborhood. A lovely woman named Lisa said I could detect her whole property which was rather delicious. There’s a beautiful stream that runs through her property and I arrived with big rubber boots and gloves, determined to explore it and the land around it.

The stream had huge, flat rocks, almost like steps that the water ran down. I kept getting a strong signal at the edge of one “step” but could see nothing so I reached my hand under the edge and started pulling out strange metal bars.


When I got them home, I looked at the edges more carefully…

They read (from top):
The Open Way
Anything For Your Smoking
 . . .  . . . . . . . . . .
Artist as a Young Man Modern
only 29 cents
The Open Way (again)
Dear obscure American friends!
Library Edition New York City
Crazy beatnik poetry!

The only sense I can make out of any of this is that two of them went together to read "(Portrait of the) Artist as a Young Man Modern Library Edition" which was first published in 1928, though I have no idea where.

Nashville, of course, was and is a huge center for printing. I have no idea how printers blocks got wedged up under a huge rock in a stream, but I’m glad I have them and am working hard to try and use ALL these phrases in a song.

Here are some other lovely finds from that house:

1899 Barber quarter! 

Thimble, soft lead tag of some sort, dog tag for "Maisy."
Also a  luxury token from the
Alabama Tax Commission.

I then was obliged to interrupt my digging life by a trip to my hometown, New York City. My husband, Al Hill, is the music director for singer Bettye Lavette and the band had a two-week residency at the Carlyle Hotel. I got to see the show (feeling very out of place next to the elegant New Yorkers wearing sweaters far less shabby than mine).

I'm with the band.

Al and I enjoyed a frosty walk through Central Park.

Fun in the sun with m'hun.

And my dad took me out for Chinese food -- a tradition begun when I was just a little tyker.
It just doesn't get better than this for your Dirt Girl.

Dad also hosted a Super Bowl party for the entire Bettye Lavette band and some great friends of mine too.

Some of you might not know that my dad, Ed Setrakian, is a wonderful and highly respected NYC actor. Here’s a link to a Super Bowl ad he starred in a number of years ago. (He’s the lead juror).

Here’s a pic of the view from my dad’s apartment:

Every time I see this view, all I can think is "Hmm,
wonder what's under all that?"

I had as good a time as anyone can have in New York City in February but was very VERY glad to come back to Tennessee.

In fact, I was so happy to be home, I decided to be brave and knock on the door of Lisa’s neighbors, Bart and Kimberly. They, too, gave me permission to explore their property which is also huge. 

Christmas cookie dough extruder! Who knew?
Apparently everyone but me!

Nice three-ringer. I've found a bunch of
these in my neighborhood and always
wonder about them.

This one's particularly cool because it's a solid-bottom.

Last weekend, Cheryl and I revisited The Farm – the 100-acre property (house, cemetery, barn, old foundations) we explored with Doug Drake before he died. We walked way into the woods and were just getting started when Cheryl’s machine died. I flailed around guiltily for about 20 minutes while she sat against a tree playing Candy Crush. Then we walked back to the cars. What to do?

Cold-knocked on the house next door and met a man who’d grown up in that holler and knew all the history. Showed us some old foundations and said we can hunt his 40 acres any time. Cheryl left – it was getting really cold – and I swung around the Farm property by myself as clouds scudded overhead. Found these…

1919 wheatie and two flat buttons.

No one here in Nashville will disagree when I say that it’s been a bitter winter. Last Sunday (February 15) began an ice and snow (but mostly ice) extravaganza that we won’t soon forget. It’s now five days later and I have driven my car exactly once. And now it’s sleeting again. I’m lonely and bored, my dog is unimpressed with me. What else to do but GET OUT THE BOX!

This is the box of special finds. Every digger has one. Mine is completely disorganized. It holds most of the silver and includes stuff that is uber old and stuff that is basically junk but I like.

I know... it's a modest hoard, but I like it. Mostly, I
like that the oldest thing -- by several thousand years --
is the arrowhead that isn't even metal.

Feast your eyes, my dear, obscure, American friends!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

I Dug It Up!

I Dug It Up is here. The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving were a full-on sprint of recording, mixing, hating my voice, tweaking, liking my voice a little better, adding in harmonies, mastering, wondering why I ever thought of this, etc.

But it’s here.

First off: MAJOR thanks to all who helped make this record a real thing you can play and make music go in your ears: Al Hill, Dave Francis, Paul Griffith, Troy Engle, Mary Bragg, Pru Clearwater, the Saloneers, Kira Small, the East Nashville Song Salon, Marv Treutel and especially Jeff  Thorneycroft for his wonderful, evocative, perfect graphic design and photography.

It is now available at  my website:
and at cdbaby:

And here, as promised, is a play-by-play of each song on the record, its lyrics, and how it came to be. Maybe a couple of pictures of finds.

I love me any kind of equine shoe.

This title had been rattling around for a while. Then I went to the Five Spot with Al one night to hear Tim Carroll and I was leaning up against the bar drinking a Yazoo Dos Perros, when I started kind of chanting “I dug it up… I dug it up… for my bay-bee” to the beat the drummer was playing. Sometimes I just need a new groove to get me going. Came home and wrote the song pretty quickly. I choose to believe it is the only song in the world that has the lyric “Mule shoe, you’re so sweet.”

Deep in the woods, deep in the woods
It was ringing real good
10 inches down, 10 inches down
With a solid sound
Mule shoe, Mule shoe
You so sweet, I’m going to take you home with me

I dug it up I dug it up for my baby
But he doesn’t want it, no
he says Go, wash your hands
Look what I found underground for my baby
But he doesn’t want it, no
Just because I dug it up.

Out in a field, out in a field
with my ears peeled
All alone All alone
Got a good tone
Silver dollar you’re so sweet
I’m gonna take you home with me…

I dug it up…

Under the sand, under the sand… Found a gold band
Diamond ring, Just the thing for my baby’s hand
Gold ring, gold ring
I say to myself…. I’m gonna save you for someone else

I dug it up, I dug it up
For my baby… But he ain’t gonna get it, no
I’m gonna go wash my hands
Look what I found, underground
For my baby
He don’t deserve it no
It’s my love… I dug it up.

2. THIS WAS A BATTLEFIELD (Al Hill and Mary Bragg on harmonies)
Not part of a sprinkler system. At all.

One day, Cheryl and I were detecting a lawn in a beautiful neighborhood just south of town. The elderly homeowners had given us permission to come any time, but I’d never met them. This was prime Battle of Nashville land and we’d both found some bullets and buttons. I got a good signal and dug something that I thought might be part of a sprinkler system. Not that I know anything about lawn irrigation. Turns out it's a rare Confederate Brooks ratchet plate sabot. I’m so continually struck by the contrast: how that beautiful lawn was the scene of unimaginable bloodshed, not that long ago.

A ranch house, on a hilltop
The lawn is manicured
It’s a lovely neighborhood

Inside, an old man and woman sit
They keep their windows closed
To keep the air cool.

150-something years ago
this was a battlefield, this was a battlefield
Beneath the grass and the magnolias
lies the blood of soldiers
bullets shells and sabers
Peeking out of a patch of dirt
There lies a copper disc
Weighs about a pound
It was part of artillery
And when the lawn guy sees it
He just mows around

150-something years ago
This was a battlefield, this was a battlefield
Black men and white men fought together
Old men and young men
Fathers, sons and brothers
They shot each other

I wonder if the ground remembers… remembers
The middle of that cold December… Does it remember?

3. ROBINS (Pru Clearwater sings harmony)
The robins were happy when I found Cincinnati.

I was detecting a patch of grass near a bank parking lot. Just two years earlier, there had been a sweet, old house here, and a huge maple tree. Now, just one small strip of un-bulldozed land remained. It hadn’t rained for weeks and I noticed that as I moved from dig hole to dig hole, two robins hopped after me, hunting in the dark earth I’d uncovered.

This song was about half done when I went a meeting of the Middle Tennessee Metal Detecting Club. Bill, one of the regulars, took me aside and said, “I woke up in the middle of the night thinking the words ‘Out here, I feel like a kid again!’ and I thought, ‘I have to tell Whit Hill.’”

He did, and I put it in the song. I pay attention to stuff like that.

Granny had a garden way out back
Twice a week she’d hoe that patch
And I would watch her with wide eyes
As robins followed her around
This one’s okra, she’d tell me
Summer squash, ain’t it pretty?
And she’d turn that earth and the worms would rise
And robins followed her around.

And she’d say oh, out here I feel like a kid again
My hands in the dirt, just a little old girl,
in love with the world
And Oh, lookee there, here comes that bird again!
And the robins followed her around

Now I’m someone’s grandma too.
Moving slower than I used to do
But I’m out there digging just like she did
And the robins follow me around
Here’s a nickel with a buffalo
Shotgun shell from long ago
and the worms they wriggle, sayin no no no
And robins follow me around

And Oh, out here I feel like a kid again
But my hands in the dirt look just like hers.
I feel her near.
And oh lookee there, here comes that bird again
And the robins follow me around… robins follow me.

Early 1800s India-Bengal presidential "pice"
found near my house. WHAT?

Not much to explain. Anyone who metal detects has muttered this a thousand times.

I have never lost a belt buckle in my life
I have never lost a harmonica
I have never left a Mason jar in the yard
I’m perplexed at these phenomena.

And so I cry, How’d this get here?
How’d this get here?
Tell me: How’d this get here?

On a lovely bluff high above the Cumberland
Digging normal stuff one might expect
Out pops something I have never seen before
A coin from India, dated 1810.

And so I cry, How’d this get here?
It’s got Persian writing
Persian words!
How’d this get here?

Oh the quizzical expressions
As I hold these lost possessions
This metallurgical obsession
Leads me to the endless question:
How’d this get here?

Let’s examine the belt buckle mystery
Buckles plain and fancy lost long ago
And I’m not talking ‘bout the buckles of the brave men who fell in battle
Just the buckles of the ordinary Joes

How’d how’d they get here?
How’d they get here?
did belts fall off?
Did pants fall down? How’d they get here?

I have never lost a belt buckle in my life…

5. CAN SLAW (featuring the Saloneers and Kira Small)

 The term “can slaw” is used to describe the twisted bits of slaughtered beer and soda cans that festoon all dirt everywhere. I hate can slaw so much, I thought it prudent to write a 70s-style country song through which I could express my feelings. Once we recorded it, though, it somehow felt incomplete.

On occasional Monday nights, I host the East Nashville Song Salon – a song critique session attended by some of Nashville’s most talented and interesting people. One night, songs over, we were all chatting in the kitchen. I turned to Al and whispered, “Hey. Could we get them all singing on Can Slaw? Yes, yes we could.

The Saloneers consist of Al Hill, Mary Bragg, Becky Warren, Ben de la Cour, Laura Curtis, Andrew Lipow and Kira Small (who returned at a later date to add more swelling opera.) Thanks, guys!

Evil little morsels
Lurking… waiting in the dirt for me.
Long ago you
Were a can of Mountain Dew
Tossed into a field in Tennessee.

A tractor, or a mower
Found you… twisted you and tore you all apart
And now you lie
Scattered far and wide
Each piece of you a vicious work of art.

Can slaw, can slaw
Shiny as a Spanish real in the sun
I’d cut you with a chain saw
but that would just make maw and maw and maw
God damn Can slaw

Deceitful and mean-spirited
Laughing, laughing as I scrabble ‘neath this root
I reach for you
And you slice my thumb in two
I hope recycling tortures you, you brute

Can slaw, can slaw
I hope whoever threw you out here trips and falls
I’d cut you with a chain saw
But the homeowner would probably call the law
God damn Can slaw

Yes, your demonic claw
Shall never cause this dirt girl to withdraw
God damn can slaw.

6. TRIUNE (Whit Hill/Betty Soo)
Carved bullet, found by Butch Holcombe.

The tiny community of Triune, TN was where Cheryl and I found our first CW bullets. Since then, I’ve found many more, but never a carved one. When Austin songwriter Betty Soo was visiting Nashville, she came over to write with me. I brought out some finds and we decided to write about a carved bullet.  I remember thinking “I’ve never heard of a bullet with a rose on it but I guess it could happen.”

Just recently, my friend Butch Holcombe (publisher of American Digger Magazine) posted a photo of a bullet he’d found years before – with a detailed and magnificent rose carved into the side.

We recorded this song late at night as rain fell outside.

They poured hot lead into the mold.
And born a bullet was I.
Three rings and a point, grew hard in the cold
Of a Triune, Tennessee night.

It was late November. The worst was to come.
I lay with the others of my kind
They longed to be fired, thirsted for blood
But I prayed on that Triune night

Don’t make me fly out on that field
To kill and then to fall
If I were made for this, I wish
I’d not been made at all.

A hand reached deep into the bag
Where my brothers and I did rest
He pulled me out, this gentle lad
Saying yes, this one is the best

Into my side he carved a rose
In the other his sweetheart’s name
And I heard his prayers fall softly down
I whispered up the same


And when bugle sounded
He placed his rifle by a tree
Into the battle he ran holding me in his hand
Then he fell til he was free
Then he let go of me. 

And the soldier on the other side
The one I would have hit…
He died when he was 83
with his family ‘round his bed

And me, I lie in this soft earth
For you one day to find
My simple rose, and the dear, sweet name
Of the one he left behind.
On that Triune, Triune, Triune night.

7. DIG THAT DIME, DADDY! (Mary Bragg and Al Hill sing backup)
British cartridge box plate, circa 1770.

Oh, how I love this song! I put the word out on American Digger’s Relic Roundup (an internet radio show) that I was looking for song ideas, digging stories, etc., and Tonya Lancaster, a lovely young woman from South Carolina, sent me this story about a hunt with her dad, John Mize.

Daddy called me Snake from the day I was born
I wriggled my way into his heart
As I grew, he taught me how
To fish the Charleston dirt

Pennies and pull tabs, high school rings
Minie balls and shotgun shells
Side by side, shovels in our hands
We cleaned that earth so well…
Dig that dime, Daddy

Oh, I remember that sunny afternoon
by the river’s edge
12 inches down in the ground I found
a green, patinaed badge.

With a “G” and an “R” -- the initials of a king
But daddy called it junk
Held up a silver mercury and danced around
Little girl, you done got skunked!

Dig that dime, daddy…

Now everybody knows, ain’t nothing like silver
It’s every digger’s delight
Cool and brilliant, shining bright
like the moon in a midnight sky

But my British badge brought me ten thousand dollars
His dime was worth just one.
Now every time we hunt, I sing this song
And my daddy sings along…

Doug Drake, our mentor.

This one’s for Doug Drake. Here’s how it happened:
After all the songs for this record were chosen and recorded, I was talking to Doug’s wife, Brenda.

Me: “Hey, Brenda, do you remember one day we were all driving around in the country looking for places to dig and Doug pulled up alongside that little bridge? We all stood there, looking down into the water… Where was that? Do you remember where it was?”

Brenda: “Oh, Whit. it could have been anywhere. That man just liked to stand on bridges.”

I went home, wrote this and added it to the record.  (That’s me on piano. First time ever on a recording.)

He likes to stand on bridges
Over streams and little rivers
And look down upon the fishes in their blue

If he sees one while he’s driving,
he’ll pull over every time
Make his wife come stand beside him
And look down too.

And if you ask, he’ll laugh and say
He don’t know why he likes to stand on bridges.

He was born in 1940
He grew up in Hickman County
Served his country, worked construction, then retired

Now every Sunday after breakfast
He rides around, just aimless
To the Harpeth or the Duck or the Piney

Does the smell of iron and ions make him feel alive?
Is that why he stands on bridges?

And if the water’s low,
 you’ll find him in the creek bed
Looking for old sinkers, wedding rings, and arrowheads
But if it’s rushing, a wild and rising flood
He will be there up above
Leaning out over the edge
Taking a deep breath

He likes to stand on bridges
Over streams and little rivers
And look down as the bluegills dart and swim
And he wonders if they’re looking up at him

Doug with a rare Confederate button.

This one’s also for Doug Drake. There was just something fascinating about the guy.

The old digger is gone
To that home site, beyond
where the weather is fine
And your shovel melts into the ground
So easy

You don’t knock on no doors
Cause all the land’s yours
Rolling green hills
Dotted with foundation stones
And trees

And the bottles you find
Are rare and unbroken and shine in the sun
The coins and the tokens are gold
And each tiny toy car is your favorite one.

The old digger is gone
To that camp site beyond
Where the cannons and swords
Locks and harmonica reeds
Lie scattered

And the south and the north
Don’t mean nothing no more
The battles and wars
Have faded away into all
That matters

When you pull out a buckle
The soldier who lost it appears at your side
And you can shake hands with that man
‘cause you’re both in this new life

The old digger is gone
 His burden laid down
Now he stands tall and strong
As his shovel melts into the ground.


This one’s for Al. Because he’s so nice and patient about my hobby and pretends to be interested in the stuff I find and he’s the nicest guy I know and he’s introverted like me and he did so much to make this record happen.

Every time I bring home another rusty axe head
Your eyes glaze over
Then your love takes over
And you say, “Oh baby, look what you found!”

Every time I tell you another scary story ‘bout
Snakes and rabid Rovers
And mad homeowners
You say, “I’m happy you are safe and sound”

You’re a saint.
Oh yeah, oh yeah
You’re a saint
You’re a saint
Saint Baby, Saint Darlin’
You’re a saint.

 It appears your favorite bathroom is now devoted to
Rust removal
There’s been no disapproval
Just the occasional eyeball roll

And every pretty Saturday I should devote to
Fun with you… it’s déjà vu
As your wife turns into a fanatical mole.


Home is where the heart is baby
Ain’t no place for complaint
You ain’t the type to fuss and fight
If you did I’d fall down in a faint but you don’t
You’re a saint!

11. DON’T DIG TODAY (Hill/Hill, featuring Al Hill)
Al, trying to get me to not dig.

I wrote these lyrics a long time ago and gave them to Al and he turned them into this luscious blues.

Don’t dig today. Don’t be pulling up the past
I got all you need right here. And life flies by so fast.

Don’t dig today. Ain’t no treasures in that ground
I got a heart that shines like gold. So just lay your shovel down.

Don’t dig today. Don't hold history in your hand.
It’ll all be there tomorrow. Today, just be here with your man.

Don’t dig today. Just wait a minute more for me
I’m coming with you, baby, into the fields of Tennessee.

12. ALUMINUM… FOILED AGAIN (Whit Hill/Butch Holcombe; Mary Bragg’s on harmonies)
Anita and Butch Holcombe
When I put the word out that I was looking for song ideas, Butch Holcombe, the publisher of American Digger Magazine, popped these lyrics out and sent them to me. Done deal. We had a chance to play this song together (with Butch on mandolin) at the December meeting of the MTMDC.

For the record, I hate foil.

Scratchy sound
Jumping ‘round
Digital readings up and down
Got me confused
and concerned
If I don’t dig it I might get burned
Whoa… Let’s see what’s down below

Aluminum…foiled again!

Chewing gum wrapper
Or a thin gold chain
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
I’ll dig it up
Can't walk away
So I cut a plug, what the hey
whoa… let’s see what’s down below…

Aluminum… foiled again.

Hope one day
I'll strike it big
And I dig something I should dig
But till then, again and again
I'll curse Alcoa and the Wriggly twins
Whoa…. Let’s see what’s down below!

The eeriest site I ever dug.

There’s a feeling you get, especially when you’re alone at a site, of communing with the past. It feels a little sacred, to tell the truth.

I know.

But isn’t interesting that the words “sacred” and “scared” are so close?

Sometimes in those sacred moments, I feel a little scared. Like I’m being watched.

I wrote this song before I ever thought about making a metal detecting record. My friend, Korby Lenker, came to Song Salon and challenged us to write a song using just 25 different words. It was right around Halloween so this is what came out. I’ve since written several other 25-word songs. It’s a difficult, thrilling and instructive exercise.

Ghosts are here today
Harmless, harmless ghosts are close
Praying on white shroud knees
I believe, I believe, I believe.

Ghosts pray quietly
Powerless, powerless prayers
To those banished to history
I believe, I believe, I believe…

They say, Ah love…

Ghosts on white shroud knees
Fingers tangled here, today
Quietly close to me
I believe, I believe, I believe
I believe they believe in me.