Dave Nealon
Copyright September 2010 Dave Nealon


Celebrating life in the center of your grief.

Mist on Buzzard Rock trying to hide the Alleghenies.

Biking in Ireland.

Pub in the middle of nowhere.

Jam sessions.

Struggling in pain.

Missing people you admire.




Bicycle wheels on the crooked road

God knows it feels like you can't grow old

Wind in your hair, and the blackbirds rattle their song

Hornpipes and hoedowns, slipjigs and shuffles riding along, riding along


This earthbound air is too dense to breathe

Your distant stare says you're ready to leave

Somewhere like this, but somewhere without the pain

Remember the warmth of that miracle tavern in the Westmeath rain, in the Westmeath rain


Edge of the rock, lean on the wind

Spiral aloft, circle round again

Until the mist obscures the view

One final fleeting glimpse of you


Atlantic waves pounding my mind's door

Last time we played was on the other shore

Silence at sunset and the disillusioned dawn

I still want to see you; how can you continue to be so gone, to be so gone?


Edge of the rock, lean on the wind

Spiral aloft, circle round again

Until the mist obscures the view

One final fleeting glimpse of you

Dave Nealon
Copyright February 2011 Dave Nealon


The protagonist in "Might Could" teeters on the precipice of opportunity. I've been fooling around for decades with this chord progression. It was time to make a commitment to it and give our leading character a little push. It's a bit of a push for me, too, because it's my first foray into playing swing.


Might Could

© February 2011 Dave Nealon


She slinked down the stairs with a sultry grace

Shake of her shoulders, Mona Lisa face

Invaded the sanctum of my private space


She subtly mentioned, this ingénue

While she’s out shopping there’s chores I might should do

And as the tension grew I said what I always do


I might could

I probably should

I wonder what would happen if I ever would


She slumped down the stairs, lip in a pout

You might oughta know what would help me out

Sometimes I believe you don’t hear what I’m talking about


I might could

I probably should

I wonder what would happen if I ever would


Now I learned my lesson good

Go ahead and do all that you might should

Don’t live to regret the things you mighta could


I might could

I probably should

I wonder what would happen if I ever would

Dave Nealon
Copyright 2008 Dave Nealon


Beth Nealon (no relation) made this song work. She gave it snap and a sassy voice, and she tried it out with me live.

I had written a bunch of wordy songs that had trouble finding their way to people. I just wanted to write something to make people bounce a little bit. Plus I wanted to try out some banjo licks I was trying to learn, and a couple guitar licks. And then I wondered if I could make all the stressed syllables have the same vowel sound. (Almost did it!) Finally, I had a bunch of words left over, so I packed them tightly into the last verse.

Each image is a memory, of course, or at least a sensing or longing.

Anyway, people seem to enjoy it as much as we do.


Why pine all the time and cry? Sunrise is finally nigh

Kites fly so mighty high. Bright sky, wind sighing by

It's high time #9 rolled by. It's a fine ride down the L&I line

Bright fire in the dying light. Night sky--pirate's delight

High tide and the water's wide. I'll fly to the other side

Wildly writhing I strive to survive and I dive in the brine of the wine of your kindness My mind is reminded by the signs of the times beside the river divine near the skyline shrine So why pine all the time and cry?

Dave Nealon
Copyright 2009 Dave Nealon


Just thinking one day about eastern Virginia a few centuries back. Tried to capture one little glimpse.


Wooden hogshead barrels full of that brightleaf gold tumbling down to the plantation wharf on that old rolling road.

Weren’t no use to drive to town, try to sell your load. You just stack that old flatboat high back when the rivers were roads.

Back when the rivers were the only roads--pushing hard upstream. Up the creek to build freedom’s home on the shores of a dream.

There’s no harbor city here; each farm trades on its own. Bermuda, Paris, or Amsterdam back when the rivers were roads.

Dave Nealon
Copyright 2008 Dave Nealon


Life in the Shenandoah Valley is a little slower and less competitive than where I grew up, but even the simple life has layers of complexity.

We moved out to the country because we love hiking and canoeing, but we spend our time cutting firewood and driving kids to town. We'd do more hiking if we lived in an apartment in town. Still wouldn't trade it, though.


All I Need Copyright 2008-09-30 Dave Nealon

Don't take much to make me happy; work the land with my hands That's really all I need Rolling hills, lazy river, catch the sunset when I can That's really all I need

And a 50 horsepower zero turn mower, hydrostatic rear transaxle Front-load bucket and a cup to hold my beer Ergonomic steering handles, dumpbed and a high-back chair That's really all I need

Don't take much to make me happy; spend the evening with my family That's really all I need Catching up with conversation; life and laughter slow and rambling That's really all I need

But my first wife's got the stepkids Sunday, soccer Saturday, music Monday Nightschool class to finish my degree And my inlaw sister's ex-fiancé, Welcome to the extended family After all it's really all I need

How about a high definition wide screen television Surround sound connected to my digitronic ultrasonic blue ray theater

Don't take much to make me happy; spend the evening with my family That's really all I need Don't take much to make me happy; work the land with my hands That's really all I need

Dave Nealon
Copyright 2006 Dave Nealon


I just wanted to pick a little something. The tune seemed appropriate for a new perspective on John Hardy.

Couldn't help but tag on a rough version of Tampa Red's Boogie Woogie Dance at the end. Hope you don't mind.


Reckless Man Copyright Dave Nealon, January 29, 2006

John Hardy was a reckless man
Colt pistol in every hand
Cards and dice and vice and crime
Till he crossed the West Virginia line
Cross the West Virginia line
Poor boy hiding in the pines
Local sheriff track you down
Here on your hanging ground

Rocks and gravel build a road
Won't satisfy your soul
Shovel in a load of coal
Look out the window, watch the drivers roll
Drivers roll on down the track
One last look, you won't be back
Long steel rail, short cross ties
Roll to the end of the line

Last words John Hardy say
Shoulda seen me get away
Down the river get baptized
Then what happens when I die?
Then what happens when I die
Empty pistol by my side
Deck of cards in every hand
Wild and reckless man

Dave Nealon
Copyright 2011 Dave Nealon


Evening run across the neighbor's pastures and by the creek. Snow had melted in patches on the crest of each fold in the field, but something about the snow's crunch and reflection got me thinking. Then I saw Orion reclining on the Massanutten ridge, and I decided there was a song to catch. And there really was a whining dog who wanted to join me, and I tried to empathize.


Hunter’s Progress

© Dave Nealon January 4, 2011


The hunter’s just waking, rising from the ridge

One eye on the scorpion, the other on the twins

He scarcely looks down on this frozen ground

He’ll chase the scudding clouds across the sky


Footfalls crunch beneath me in a shadow patch of snow

Breathsteam blows before me and the creek’s impatient flow

Drowning out the low and lonesome sound

Long-eared owl or coyote in the holler


Let me run the fields

Up and down the hills

Winds come race me, stars can chase me

I just can’t be still


As my course approaches the neighbor’s distant fence

Howling for his freedom, petitioning for his chance

A blue tick hound, the chain that holds him bound

Pining for a purpose and a mission


I mark the hunter’s progress with an upward glance at whiles

His distance is degrees and mine is rolling miles

The winter sky breathes a whisper sigh

Between the boughs of feather-nested cedars

Dave Nealon
Copyright August 6, 2010 Dave Nealon


Seems like this song was hovering around me, but when I tried to write it down, it skittered away. I did get one verse driving to work. (I don't know where it works.)

Anyway, the eeriest thing in my ken is the night wind. At the beach or in the mountains, it's beautiful, scary, and so lonely. This song describes, among other things, how that terror dissipates with the sunrise.


Hint of Light

Copyright August 6, 2010


Skimmers kiss the mirror-image ocean      Shrimpers pace the path of dabbling dawn

Sinking moon sets the marsh aglow    Egrets stretch and yawn


Morning breaks a little bit too early    Afternoon’s a little bit too slow

And the night sky reminds my eyes    Just how little I know


No one knows where the dark wind blows the moaning ghosts of night

The lonesome host will abandon their posts at the first faint hint of light


Sailing in the pouring rain of summer     Sun is shining , turning a blind eye

Till the storm staggers out to sea           Drenched in drunken skies


No one knows where the dark wind blows the moaning ghosts of night

The lonesome host will abandon their posts at the first faint hint of light


January promises the changes         August makes excuses and complains

Then the cold of December snow      Bleaches clean the stain


No one knows where the dark wind blows the shivering shades of night

The moaning ghosts will abandon their posts at the first faint hint of light


No one knows where the dark wind blows the moaning ghosts of night

The lonesome host will abandon their posts at the first faint hint of light

Dave Nealon
Copyright 2005 Dave Nealon


A parody of Bo Carter's "Policy Man." In the original, the singer is waiting for the numbers runner--the guy who comes around to take your money for the local informal lottery. This parody is dedicated to all those whose livelihood depends on writing proposal after tedious proposal for more formal lotteries--of sorts.


Hey, where is that grant administrator gone to now? I done spent all my money; got to find some new funding somehow

I spent all last week writing a response to that RFP. If you just send us some money, it will save this agency

I bid every federal grant—state, local, foundations, too. Just give us the funding and see what this organization can do

Now the copier is jammed, and the computer done froze up. It’s 5:00 on Friday, looks like I’ll be chasing the FedEx truck

Out on highway 64, I had to drive it Richmond myself. We can be the best agency. All we need is a little help

Dave Nealon
Copyright 2010 Dave Nealon


A pretty quick write, and I really don't remember how it got started. But I remember who inspired it. Beth's been my best friend for a long time, and I admire her.

I summoned my courage to perform it before a few hundred people before I'd ever actually sung it through even once. I just thought it would fit the moment on Valentine's Eve.


Not to Love

Dave Nealon

Copyright February 10, 2010


Watch her climb a ragged mountain in the night

Every time the coy moon sheds its silver light

Her chestnut eyes reflect the glow to us below

What's not to love?


I heard her sing like the branches of the pines

Whispering in the high church of the forest

Offering to the goshawk winged above

What's not to love?


Not to love such a soul is like telling God he's lying

Not to love such a spirit's like a falcon never flying

Like telling Liz and Zacharias life don't ever have surprises

Those old guys weren't so unwise as not to love


Three things give my heart rest

Love of family and neighbors you can trust

And the rose clutched in the glove among the rubble and the scrub

Don't hold a grudge, it's from above—What's not to love?


Her garden dirt grows the crispest salad greens

Her denim shirt stained with blood and sweat and beans

It almost hurts—the memory of the mourning dove

What's not to love?

Dave and Beth Nealon


I just like these tunes, and they happened to fall together under my fingers one night. Each has some inside meaning for me, too.

Manassas is a Civil-War era tune connected to the first big battle of the war. My great-grandfather Thomas Nealon fought in 5th US Cavalry in that battle. He must have enjoyed it; after the war he bought a farm right on the battlefield.

The Red-Haired Boy was one of the first traditional tunes I ever learned--back when I was a red-haired boy.

And the Bothy Band's live recording of the Flowers of Red Hill from the 1970s still stirs my soul. (I've got it on vinyl if you want to borrow it.) And I used to live in Red Hill, south of Charlottesville.

That's Beth Nealon's percussive footwork, by the way. She's still got it.


Every word of these tunes is true.

Dave Nealon
Copyright 2005 Dave Nealon


A daydream I had some years back while watching the news. I somehow felt a connection with someone who couldn't communicate. We were fellow souls.


Strangest Dream Copyright March, 2005 Dave Nealon Lacey Spring, VA

I wish I could say all that’s on my mind
You’ve been with me every day I need you by my side
How can I repay everything you do?
Wish that I could tell you just how much I care for you
Oh don’t you worry about me; I will be just fine
When hunger surges here’s how I can spend my time:
I dream

Whoever thought that I’d be headline news?
I spend every day just doing what I know to do
With curtains drawn imprisoned here inside
Need an act of Congress just to help me stay alive
And I’ve seen judges sit more vegetatively
And senators much less responsive than me
I dream

I’m here to hold you safely tonight
I’m here to dry your eyes if you cry
Until the time you stand upright and step into the light

Last night I had the strangest dream
Ambassadors from all the world were circled around me

United Nations standing arm in arm Promised to protect me from all who’d do me harm

They sang me love songs and they wept and then they prayed And when the tanks rolled chanted, “We are not afraid!”
I dream

Dave Nealon
Copyright 2010 Dave Nealon


In 1893 two artists painted pieces they called The Banjo Lesson. For years I've been fascinated by the two synonymous pieces' stark differences and striking similarities. I tried to capture just a glimpse of that in this song.


See Henry Tanner's piece here:



See Mary Cassatt's piece here:



And learn more about Mary Cassatt here:



The Banjo Lesson

Copyright July 23, 2010


Rough-hewn pine boards for a sharecropper's floor

Blind light of sunrise pours in at the door

Come sit on my chair, son, and finger the strings

For all that he's tired this old man can sing


Puff-pillowed couches and satin-soft sleeves

Sisters clutch close neither giddy nor grieved

But list to my ballad of love long ago

Tis all of adventure that we'll ever know


And we're bound together, you and I

Velvet ribbons or baling twine

I don't mind

All the time we're together is fine


Such different histories and visions of life

Yet somehow two sides of the blade of the knife

Sharecropper's cabin, Edwardian manse

Could be the same house when the banjo strings dance

Dave Nealon


Heard Andy Cahan play this on a Sunday afternoon in the library in Hillsboro, NC.