I’m not sure a songwriter could get away with likening ladies to squirrels these days (especially while fantasizing about hunting said squirrels), but Utah Phillips did it back in the late ’50s and his song has endured. Its bitterness contributes to its timelessness.
“Rock Salt and Nails” was first released by Utah folksinger Rosalie Sorrels in 1961, and has been covered by Flatt and Scruggs (1964) and Waylon Jennings (1970) among others. To hardcore grassers, the version by J.D. Crowe and The New South on their eponymous debut album from 1975 is the standard by which all others are measured.
Fun fact: If the video below is any indication, it was J.D. Crowe and not Tony Rice who played that nice little guitar intro on the New South recording.
The song ruminates in 3/4 time to a chord progression and melody that is reminiscent of the Stanley Brothers classic, “Lonesome River.” It’s not the same, though. This one goes from the root chord to its relative minor instead of the IV, and on the final turnaround it goes to the IV instead of the V. But listen to the two songs back-to-back and you’ll see what I mean.
You might be familiar with the Tyler Childers version that has 10 million+ views on YouTube. That’s a fine version, but be aware that Childers throws in some chord changes you won’t hear on the New South version. He briefly passes through a IV chord on his way from the vi-minor to the I at the end of each line. He also changes up the final turnaround—instead of two measures of the IV chord, he splits it into one measure of VII followed by one measure of IV before returning to the I chord.
“Rock Salt and Nails” Lyrics and Chords
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