The Very Unfortunate Man

Composer: Traditional / Jimmy Driftwood


info Women: Folk Songs About the Fair Sex, Burl Ives, 1954
no info Battle Of New Orleans, Jimmy Driftwood, 1958
no info Chad Mitchell Trio At The Bitter End, Chad Mitchell Trio, 1962
no info Garland Of American Folk Song, Barry Toelken, 196?
no info Best Of Jimmy Driftwood, Jimmy Driftwood, 197?
no info Reunion Part 2, Chad Mitchell Trio, 1997


Played by an unnamed bluegrass band with Garcia on banjo at an unknown venue in Burlingame in January 1962.

Authorship uncertain. The traditional song The Unfortunate Man, which dates back to at least the end of the 19th century, describes, in usually a humorous fashion, the misfortunes of a a young man courting his sweetheart. It often includes verses like;

I once had a sweetheart, she said she'd be mine,
Of course I thought she was almost divine,
But another young fellow one day did return,
So she made up her mind to hide me in a churn.

I'm a very unfortunate, a very unfortunate,
Really, I'm a very unfortunate man.

Her mother then come into the room,
Said she had so much cream she would have to churn it up soon,
She poured it right onto me out of the pan,
Which left me indeed an unfortunate man.

I'm a very unfortunate, a very unfortunate,
Really, I'm a very unfortunate man.

This traditional tune was reworked / parodied, possibly by Jimmy Driftwood, as The Very Unfortunate Man and it is this song that is performed on the Burlingame tape. This song is sometimes referred to as The Warranty Deed.

On circulating copies of the Burlingame tape it is usually listed as Wealthy Old Maid. The first two lines of the song are missing on the tape. The lyrics used are as follows;

(....two lines missing)
At last of starvation he grew so afraid,
That he courted and married a wealthy old maid.

At the wedding the lawyer made one big mistake,
'Twas not in omitting the wine or the cake,
The ring was well chosen, they had a big feed,
But the lawyer did not get a warranty deed.

At night in their chamber the lady arose,
And began to prepare to retire and repose,
Her husband stood near her admiring her charms,
That gave him such pleasure to hold in his arms.

She went to the washstand to bathe her fair face,
And thus she destroyed all her beauty and grace,
The rose on her cheek quickly grew faint,
When he saw on the towel, 'twas nothing but paint.

He's a very unfortunate, very unfortunate, very unfortunate man.

She went to the mirror to take down her hair,
And when she had done so her scalp was all bare,
Said she, don't be frightened to see my bald head,
I'll put on a cap when I get into bed.

She hung her false hair on the wall on a peg,
And then she proceeded to take off her leg,
Her quivering husband felt sure he would die,
When she asked him to come and take out her glass eye.

He's a very unfortunate, very unfortunate, very unfortunate man.

Her husband was biting his quivering lips,
While she removed her counterfeit hips,
Just then her false nose clattered down to the floor,
And the poor lawyer, screaming, ran out of the door.

Now all you young men who would marry for life,
Be sure to examine your intended wife,
Remember the lawyer who trusted his eyes,
And a little bit later got quite a surprise.

He's a very unfortunate, very unfortunate, very unfortunate man.

The two lines that are missing on tape are as follows in other versions of the song;
There was a lawyer, his name was Clay
He had but two clients and they wouldn't pay.