Many sea chanteys were versions of land songs that recorded their meaning into
a sea setting. The work song in the mouths of the workers themselves is infinitely
adaptable to any task that calls for concerted effort. If you find something in
one environment, look for it elsewhere and you'll be surprised at what you find.
"Michael Row the Boat Ashore" was collected from the Sea Islands of
the Carolinas and Georgia by the abolitionists Allen, Ware, and Garrison as a
rowing song. Obviously, now through the intervention of print, phonograph record,
campfire singing it comes back again in Tobago as a seine-hauling chantey, a joking
song in which whoever is in the boat is a target. In looking back on other chanteys
I collected, it really should be no surprise to have found it sung on the beach
and in the boats in Plymouth.Tobago. This is more than simple code changing. These
songs are so comfortable in the voice and the responding body that they seem to
live in the area of muscle memory, with the voice being a manifestation of self
and everybody else. Somehow we are all wired-in together.
As an historianof specific moments in folksong, the Johnson Girls really intrigue
me. The voice they give to these songs is used to communicate and encourage participation.
Their riviting style commands attention and, of course admiration. Sometimes they
surprise the audience with a surprising angle on things and the gusto of their
vocal attack. Beautiful? No, but surely that's not what they are going for. Rather,
I think, no maid on the shore here, but a bid to take care of business at a time
when our spirit for manual labor is lagging. No dulcimores, here, no high piping
laments. Much more forceful, the way folksongs come at life's problems straight
ahead, without flourishes. Subtle, NOT cynical, and a victim of nothing so much
as the ways of the world as it exists for Joe Lunchpail and Joan; Grunt. The Johnson
Girls; let it all hang out.
Roger D. Abrahams
Hum Rosen Professor of Folklore and Folklife, Emeritus
University of Pennsylvania
Round The Corn - Alison
Among slaves in America's ante-bellum Plantation South, a rich tradition developed
around harvest corn shucking festivities that gave rise to celebratory songs and
dances. These and other land-based songs found their way to sailors in port. "Round
the Corn" offers some classic references. The central character, Sally, reappears
as Sally Brown throughout Caribbean and Southern ports as that not-so-nice gal
out to steal the sailors' hearts and/or money. "Round-the-corner-sallies"
ran the gamut from gals just hanging out on street corners to full fledged prostitutes.
"Round the Corn" was reinterpreted by sailors as "round the Horn"
as in Cape Horn. "Wild Goose nation," has intrigued scholars with a
variety of references. The one given here is likely connected to the folk tale
of the wild goose shot down by the Old Master. James I lungerford in The Old Plantation
and What I Gathered There in an Autumn Month first heard it sung as a rowing song,
based on a corn song. A slave named George was overheard singing it while hanging
tobacco and in turn slaves adapted it for rowing a party of the master's guests.
Herein lies a perfect example of the receding of work songs. Craig Edwards took
it further and created this composit, drawing tune, first verse, and chorus from
Hungerford's account, with other verses from chanteys as well as those composed
by slaves themselves.
Dixie Land - Bonnie
Stan Hugill titled it "Sing A Song, Blow-Along O!" in Shanties from
the Seven Seas, his definitive collection of sailors' work songs. His son, Martin,
gave Bonnie this variant. Like Sally Brown, Fore-tops'l Nell had her own tawdry
reputation in sailor town. A halyard chantey probably used by the hoosiers (stevedores)
of Mobile when loading cotton, Stan's informant, "Tobago" Smith, deemed
it one of the best in his repertoire.
Roll, Boys. Roll - Alison
Sally Brown appears once again but now she, rather than Sailor Jack, suffers miserably.
Ivlost often given as a halyard chantey, our version draws verses from "Sally
Brown" with its tune and chorus from "Roll, Boys, Roil." Hugill's
deck source was Harding the Barbarian from Barbados; Alison's was Craig Edwards
of Mystic, Connecticut.
Mike - Deirdre
(tune and additional lyrics, Dan Milner, © 2000)
Railroads captured the imagination of American songwriters for more than a century.
Passengers and hobos wrote most of the songs but "Mike" comes from the
section gangs who, including women, maintained an assigned length of track, replacing
rotten cross-ties, aligning rails and performing other tasks amidst such dangers
as the one encountered here. Probably originating in Missouri, it was published
without a melody in John and Alan Lomax's American Ballads & Folk Songs.