“On a cold port city night, in March of 1810, Sam Jocelyn rode his horse never to return again…”
With that opening line, The ETSU Bluegrass Pride Band sets the stage for a song perfect for the Halloween season. The song, titled “Sam Jocelyn’s Ghost,” was released on Friday the 13th.
“I’ve known this ghost story since I was a kid,” songwriter Holly McIntyre said. “I read about Sam and was kind of disturbed that someone could be buried alive. It’s something that’s always been with me.”
McIntyre said that she was inspired to write “Sam Jocelyn’s Ghost” while she was taking vocal lessons at ETSU. After writing the song she took the lyrics to the ETSU Bluegrass Pride Band.
“I knew I wanted it to be in the key of B and really mashy,” McIntyre said. “I knew that they all specialized so well in the style I wanted it to sound like. … I took it to them because they are the best band I could possibly work with.”
A North Carolina native, McIntyre grew up near Wilmington, North Carolina, a city on the coast of the state where the story of “Sam Jocelyn’s Ghost” takes place.
Within the song, McIntyre tells the story of Sam Jocelyn through the viewpoint of his friend, Alex Hostler. In March 1810, Sam Jocelyn was thrown from his horse, and he landed in the icy Cape Fear River, dying. The townspeople buried Sam in the St. James burying ground (now St. James Cemetery in downtown Wilmington). Before Sam had died, the two friends had made a pact that the first to die would speak to the other from beyond the grave. And Sam does just that, telling Alex something that will haunt him for the rest of his life.
“Sam Jocelyn’s Ghost” is a hard driving bluegrass song with an upbeat tempo, offsetting the scary subject matter of the song. The Pride Band also uses unique playing techniques to help bring about a chilling and ominous mood.
“Troy Boone was playing mandolin at the time,” McIntyre said. “In the quiet part, he’s emulating noises of a creaking coffin by running his pick up the wound string of the mandolin.”
McIntyre said that she had wrote “Sam Jocelyn’s Ghost” a year ago. When she decided to move back home, she found that a Halloween release was probably not going to be realistic. While she was looking at the calendar, she then noticed that in 2017 there would be a Friday the 13th. Upon seeing the date, McIntyre said that she and Dan Boner, the director of the Bluegrass, Old Time and Country music program, decided to release the song in the following year.
“Sam Jocelyn’s Grave” is a new and interesting addition into the category of Bluegrass murder ballads and ghost songs. McIntyre and the ETSU Bluegrass Pride Band have teamed up to create a hard driving ghost song that is perfect for Halloween, with a subject matter that is creepy enough to leave chills running down the spine of listeners.
“I just want people to enjoy a good ghost story,” McIntyre said.