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American Ballads and Folk Songs

American Ballads and Folk Songs

by John A. Lomax, Alan Lomax
     
 

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"A book to cherish permanently." — The New York Times.
With this ample collection of authentic ballads and songs, you can immerse yourself in the rich tradition and heritage of American folk music. Discover the diversity, spontaneity, free-flowing melody, and sheer invention of scores of songs sung by cowboys and convicts, lumberjacks, hobos, miners

Overview

"A book to cherish permanently." — The New York Times.
With this ample collection of authentic ballads and songs, you can immerse yourself in the rich tradition and heritage of American folk music. Discover the diversity, spontaneity, free-flowing melody, and sheer invention of scores of songs sung by cowboys and convicts, lumberjacks, hobos, miners, plantation slaves, mountaineers, soldiers, and many others.
One of the remarkable features of this collection is its authenticity. Many of the songs were recorded "on location" by noted folklorist John A. Lomax and his even more famous son, Alan, as they traveled around the United States. The results are firsthand versions of music and lyrics for over 200 railroad songs, chain-gang songs, mountain songs, Creole songs, cocaine and whisky songs, "reels," minstrel songs, songs of childhood, and a host of others. Among them are such time-honored favorites as "John Henry," "Goin' Home," "Frankie and Albert," "Down in the Valley," "Little Brown Jug," "Alabama-Bound," "Shortenin' Bread," "Skip to My Lou," "Frog Went a-Courtin'," and a host of others. An excellent introduction, notes on each song, a bibliography, and an index round out this extensive and valuable collection.
Musician, musicologists, folklorists, singers — anyone interested in American folk music — will welcome this treasury of timeless song gathered in one handy, inexpensive volume.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780486319926
Publisher:
Dover Publications
Publication date:
07/24/2013
Series:
Dover Books on Music
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
672
Sales rank:
703,276
File size:
35 MB
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Read an Excerpt

AMERICAN BALLADS AND FOLK SONGS


By JOHN A. LOMAX, ALAN LOMAX

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1994 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-31992-6



CHAPTER 1

WORKING ON THE RAILROAD


"Take a mule an' a track jack Fer to line dis track back."


JOHN HENRY

"Taking a long chance on the weather, my guide, Manny Campbell, and I made the trip of three miles from Edisto to Fenwick [Island] in a rowboat.... Suddenly a stiff, cold wind came from the north, and a few moments later the rain began to fall in torrents.... Manny and I took refuge in a two-room cabin where two women and several children were sitting around an open fire trying to keep warm. ... With the help of Manny, I soon got one of the women to 'talk some ol' storee.' This good fortune did not last long. George White, husband of the story teller, came in from the field wet and disgusted, dampening the spirit of the party. There was too much rain, the rain was going to rot the potatoes, the cabbage and lettuce were going to ruin, the whole damned island was a hell of a place.... After his temper had cooled a little, his wife reminded him that it would be a good idea for him to row down to Bennett's Point for some supplies.

"'We got grits, enty?' said White. 'We can git along till tomorrow.'

"His wife was silent for a few minutes, then again suggested the great need of food for the family.

"'Great Gawd!' growled George, 'go out in dis wedder? Not me, I got enough o' boats for a w'ile.' He launched into a story of a row-boat trip. ... He had rowed all day and half the night....

"'My hands ain' got over it yet.... W'en I got here my hands was gripped to dem oar.... I couldn' even turn dem oar a-loose. Dey had to take 'em out o' my hands for me.'

"'T'ink of ol' John Henry,' said his wife. 'If he could die wid dat hammer in his hand, you ought not to fuss about rowin' two mile to git us somethin' to eat.'

"'Dat's all right,' replied George, 'but I ain't a-gwine a-die wid no oar in my hand if I can help it!'

"At the mention of John Henry my spirits went up considerably. I had only been waiting for an auspicious moment to bring him in myself. When the laughter over George's drollery had subsided, I professed an interested ignorance about John Henry. Getting up from his box-seat he began to tell how he had heard about John Henry.... As his story progressed, George grew more and more eloquent. He stood behind the dining table, wet slouch hat hanging down over one eye, acting out the story as he went....

"'It was de flesh ag'in de steam,' he concluded. 'De flesh ag'in de steam.'

"Manny seemed thrilled but saddened by the tale. It was his introduction to John Henry, and White's telling made a deep impression on him. He encouraged the narrator with frequent interjections such as 'Dat's right' and 'Lawd-Jeesus!' At the climax he had stared wide-eyed for several seconds.

"John Henry was a magic wand. George White was more than pleased with himself. He consented to 'talk ol' storee,' and later I saw him in his boat pulling for Bennett's Point.

"Crossing back to Edisto Island was not exactly a pleasure. Wind and tide were against us, and the cold rain soaked us.... Manny cast apprehensive glances over his shoulder....

"'Going to make it?' I asked.

"'Yas-suh! I jus' been study about dat John Henry. If dat man could beat de steam, I t'ink I bring dis ol' boat back to dat landin' all right. If I don't, I'll die wid dese oar in my han'.'

"Thus does the story of John Henry, half a century after its origin, continue to capture the imagination of those who hear it for the first time."

John Henry was a li'l baby, uh-huh,
Sittin' on his mama's knee, oh, yeah,
Said: "De Big Bend Tunnel on de C. & O. road
Gonna cause de death of me,
Lawd, Lawd, gonna cause de death of me."

John Henry, he had a woman,
Her name was Mary Magdalene,
She would go to de tunnel and sing for John,
Jes' to hear John Henry's hammer ring,
Lawd, Lawd, jes' to hear John Henry's hammer ring.

John Henry had a li'l woman,
Her name was Lucy Ann,
John Henry took sick an' had to go to bed,
Lucy Ann drove steel like a man,
Lawd, Lawd, Lucy Ann drove steel like a man.

Cap'n says to John Henry,
"Gonna bring me a steam drill 'round,
Gonna take dat steam drill out on de job,
Gonna whop dat steel on down,
Lawd, Lawd, gonna whop dat steel on down."

John Henry tol' his cap'n,
Lightnin' was in his eye:
"Cap'n, bet yo' las' red cent on me,
Fo' I'll beat it to de bottom or I'll die,
Lawd, Lawd, I'll beat it to de bottom or I'll die."

Sun shine hot an' burnin',
Wer'n't no breeze a-tall,
Sweat ran down like water down a hill,
Dat day John Henry let his hammer fall,
Lawd, Lawd, dat day John Henry let his hammer fall.

John Henry went to de tunnel,
An' dey put him in de lead to drive;
De rock so tall an' John Henry so small,
Dat he lied down his hammer an' he cried,
Lawd, Lawd, dat he lied down his hammer an' he cried.

John Henry started on de right hand,
De steam drill started on de lef'—
"Before I'd let dis steam drill beat me down,
I'd hammer my fool self to death,
Lawd, Lawd, I'd hammer my fool self to death."

White man tol' John Henry,
"Nigger, damn yo' soul,
You might beat dis steam an' drill of mine,
When de rocks in dis mountain turn to gol',
Lawd, Lawd, when de rocks in dis mountain turn to gol'."

John Henry said to his shaker,
"Nigger, why don' you sing?
I'm throwin' twelve poun's from my hips on down,
Jes' listen to de col' steel ring,
Lawd, Lawd, jes' listen to de col' steel ring."

Oh, de captain said to John Henry,
"I b'lieve this mountain's sinkin' in."
John Henry said to his captain, oh my!
"Ain' nothin' but my hammer suckin' win',
Lawd, Lawd, ain' nothin' but my hammer suckin' win'."

John Henry tol' his shaker,
"Shaker, you better pray,
For, if I miss dis six-foot steel,
Tomorrow'll be yo' buryin' day,
Lawd, Lawd, tomorrow'll be yo' buryin' day."

John Henry tol' his captain,
"Looka yonder what I see—
Yo' drill's done broke an' yo' hole's done choke,
An' you cain' drive steel like me,
Lawd, Lawd, an' you cain' drive steel like me."

De man dat invented de steam drill,
Thought he was mighty fine.
John Henry drove his fifteen feet,
An' de steam drill only made nine,
Lawd, Lawd, an' de steam drill only made nine.

De hammer dat John Henry swung,
It weighed over nine pound;
He broke a rib in his lef'-han' side,
An' his intrels fell on de groun',
Lawd, Lawd, an' his intrels fell on de groun'.

John Henry was hammerin' on de mountain,
An' his hammer was strikin' fire,
He drove so hard till he broke his pore heart,
An' he lied down his hammer an' he died,
Lawd, Lawd, he lied down his hammer an' he died.

All de womens in de Wes',
When dey heared of John Henry's death,
Stood in de rain, flagged de eas'-boun' train,
Goin' where John Henry fell dead,
Lawd, Lawd, goin' where John Henry fell dead.

John Henry's lil mother,
She was all dressed in red,
She jumped in bed, covered up her head,
Said she didn' know her son was dead,
Lawd, Lawd, didn' know her son was dead.

John Henry had a pretty lil woman,
An' de dress she wo' was blue,
An' de las' words she said to him:
"John Henry, I've been true to you,
Lawd, Lawd, John Henry, I've been true to you."

"Oh, who's gonna shoe yo' lil feetses,
An' who's gonna glub yo' han's,
An' who's gonna kiss yo' rosy, rosy lips,
An' who's gonna be yo' man,
Lawd, Lawd, an' who's gonna be yo' man?"

"Oh, my mama's gonna shoe my lil feetses,
An' my papa's gonna glub my lil han's,
An' my sister's gonna kiss my rosy, rosy lips,
An' I don' need no man,
Lawd, Lawd, an' I don' need no man."

Dey took John Henry to de graveyard,
An' dey buried him in de san',
An' every locomotive come roarin' by,
Says, "Dere lays a steel-drivin' man,
Lawd, Lawd, dere lays a steel-drivin' man."


JOHN HENRY

[A Variant]

"Here is a song you may not know. I learned it from a white man who said he learned it from Negroes. As it stands it is too perfect for a Negro song, but, to me, it bears the earmarks of Negro origin, and the same holds true of the tune—which I wish I could transmit."

John Henry was a steel drivin' man
And he drove at the head of his squad.
One day the head of his hammer come off
And he laid down his hammer and he died, by God,
Yes, he laid down his hammer and he died.

John Henry's wife came out of the east
And she come all dressed in blue,
Looked down at her pretty little feet—
And I wish my wife was true, by God,
Yes, I wish my wife was true.

John Henry's wife came out of the east,
And she come all dressed in red,
Looked down at her pretty little feet—
And I wish my wife was dead, by God,
Yes, I wish my wife was dead.

Now Rattler was a good coon dog,
But as blind as he could be,
Treed fou'teen possums up an old gum stump,
And I thought old Rattler could see, by God,
Yes, I thought old Rattler could see.

Went up on the mountain,
And I thought he'd treed a coon,
But when I got close to where the old dog was,
Old Rattler was a-barkin' at the moon, by God,
Yes, old Rattler was a-barkin' at the moon.


STEEL LAYING HOLLER

Rochelle Harris, Chattanooga, Tennessee, went without his supper to record this chant for us. Once he had been the foreman of a steel-laying gang whose job it was to unload rails from a flat-car and then place them in position on the ties. The first qualification in the South for a foreman of this sort is that he have a good voice and a fine sense of rhythm, along with the ability to improvise. A regulation railroad iron weighs nearly two tons, and it takes fourteen good stout men to handle it safely and easily. To keep these men working together so that none of them would strain himself unduly or get in the way of the falling rail, then, Rochelle chanted the following directions and in the tenderest manner imaginable. Note the frequently occurring "nows."

Awright, awright.
Ev'rybody get ready.
Come on down here, come on, boys. (The men group themselves at the end of the rail.)
Bow down. (They bend over and lay hold of the rail.)

Awright, up high. (They lift the rail up to chest level.)
Awright, throw 'way. (They push it away, off the car.)

Awright, le's move on down 'n' git another one.
Awright, bow down.
Awright, head high,
Throw 'way.

Awright, da's awright now.
Move on down ag'in.
Bow down.
Up high.
Throw 'way.

Come on down here, boys, come on down now, come on now.
Now, boys, now, stop.
An' I want you to listen at me, now.
I'm gonna tell you a sad warnin' now. (Don' git hurt.)
Bow down ea—sy, boys.
Head high, boys.
Throw it away.

Come on down here, boys, come on down now, come on now.
Now, boys, now, stop.
When I git dis las' one,
I'm goin' home to Julie an' tell her what I have made by dis hard labor.
Bow down ea—sy, boys.
Head high, boys.
Throw it away!


THE HEAVY-HIPTED WOMAN

A Tie-Tamping Song

Quit yo' long-time talkin' 'bout yo' heavy-hipted woman,
She done gone, oh, babe, she done gone.
Quit yo' long-time talkin' 'bout yo' heavy-hipted woman,
She done gone, oh, babe, she done gone.

Got my learnin' from a coal-black nigger,
In de mines, oh, babe, in de mines.

My woman, she keeps on a-grumblin',
'Bout a new pair o' shoes, oh, babe, 'bout a new pair o' shoes.

I gave her five silver dollars,
Jus' to buy some tans, oh, babe, jus' to buy some tans.

She come back a-whoopin' an a-holl'in',
Wid a pair o' brogans, oh, babe, wid a pair o' brogans.

Got a bulldog weighin' nine hunderd,
In my back yard, oh, babe, in my back yard.

When you hear my bulldog barkin',
Somebody's 'roun', oh, babe, somebody's 'roun'.

When he barks, he ro' like thunder,
All under de groun', oh, babe, all under de groun'.

When you hear my pistol shootin',
'Nother man's dead, oh, babe, 'nother man's dead.

When you hear dat peafowl holl'in',
Sign o' rain, oh, babe, sign o' rain.

When you hear dat blue goose holler,
Gwineta tu'n col', oh, babe, gwineta tu'n col'.

When I cross dat wide ol' mountain,
I'll be free, oh, babe, den I'll be free.

Take my houn' dog an' give it to my brother,
Tell him I'm gone, oh, babe, tell him I'm gone.

You may look till yo' eye runs water,
I won' be back, oh, babe, I won' be back.


TIE-SHUFFLING CHANT

Black Samson, having refused to sing anything that had to do with "worl'ly" and thus sinful matters, objected not at all to this work song. He furnished the air and, along with other Negro convicts in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, the verses.

"Tie-shuffling" is the lining or straightening out of a railroad track. To understand the work-rhythm that forms this chant it will be necessary to describe Henry Trevelyan's section gang as it worked to tune.

Henry, the foreman, stooped over and squinted off down the shining rail; then stood up and bawled out directions to his gang in the impossibly technical language of the railroad. They, with heavy wooden bars on their shoulders, trotted off down the track, jammed their lining bars down under the rail on the inner side, and braced against them. One of their number, a handsome yellow man, when he was sure that they were ready to heave, threw back his head and sang. On the first and next to the last beat of every verse, each man threw his weight against his bar; the refrain was repeated until Henry, who had kept his eye to the rail meanwhile, shouted his directions about the next "johnnyhead." At that signal the song was broken off, the gang stopped heaving, and the whole scene was repeated a few yards on down the track. The accented syllables represent the concerted movements of the gang against their lining bars.

Leader: Ho, boys, is you right?

Gang: I done got right.

Leader: Ef I could I sholy would,

Stan on de rock where Moses stood.

Chorus:Ho boys, cancha line 'em,
Ho boys, cancha line 'em,
Ho boys, cancha line 'em?
See Eloise go linin' track.

The following stanzas are a few among the many couplets of this widely current song of the Negro section gangs.

Ol' Moses stood on de Red Sea shore,
Smote de water wid a two-by-four. (Chorus.)

Way down yonder in de holler o' de fiel',
Angels workin' on de chariot wheel.

Mary, Marthy, Luke, an' John,
All dem 'ciples dead an' gone.

I got a woman on Jennielee Square,
Ef you would die easy, lemme ketch you dere.

The reason I stay wid my cap'n so long,
Ever' mornin' gimme bisquits to rear back on.

Little Evaline settin' in de shade,
Figurin' on de money I done made.

July de red bug, July de fly,
Ef Augus' ain' a hot month, Lawdy, I pray to die.

You keep on talkin' 'bout join-'er-ahead,â&8364;
Never said nothin' 'bout my hog an' bread.

Went to de mountain, to de tip-top,
See my baby do de Eagle-Rock.

Jack de rabbit, Jack de bear,
Cain' you move it jes' a hair?

All I hate 'bout linin' track,
Dese ol' bars 'bout to break my back.

Jes' lemme tell you what de cap'n done,
Looked at his watch an' he looked at de sun.

Chorus:
Ho, boys, you cain' quit,
Ho, boys, it ain' time,
Ho, ho, you cain' quit,
Sun ain' gone down yit.


TIE-TAMPING CHANT

Rochelle Harris, after a shovel had been found for him, stood before the microphone, tapped the cement floor, and sang, just as if he were out on some railroad line, under the hot sun, packing in gravel around a tie. The accents in the music and text represent the blows of the tamper or the shovel.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from AMERICAN BALLADS AND FOLK SONGS by JOHN A. LOMAX, ALAN LOMAX. Copyright © 1994 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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