Fire Down Below

From William Fender, Barry Dock, Wales

Sources: The James Madison Carpenter Collection at the Archive of American Folk Culture at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, AFC 1972/001 Cylinder 037 09:03; Disc sides 080 02:05, 392 03:16; MS pp. 00353, 00421

Charlie Ipcar sent me this description of the Midway Plaisance from Herbert Asbury’s book The Barbary Coast:

“The first melodeon or music hall in San Francisco to make a special feature of hoochy-coochee dancers, or, as the theatrical weekly Variety calls them. ‘torso-tossers and hip-wavers.’ Some of the most noted cooch artists of the day appeared at the Midway Plaisance, among them the Girl in Blue and the original Little Egypt, who first danced in San Francisco in 1897, a few years after her triumphs in the Streets of Cairo Show at the first Chicago World’s Fair. The admission charge at the Midway Plaisance was ten cents, slightly lower than at the Bella Union (its older rival), and it was tougher in every way; its shows were bawdier, and virtue among its female entertainers was considered very detrimental to the best interests of the establishment. Like practically all of the other melodeons, it had a mezzanine floor cut up into booths, before which hung heavy curtains. A visitor who engaged a booth for the evening was entertained between acts by the female performers and his conduct was not questioned so long as he continued to buy liquor.”  (pp. 131-132)

As you can see, I sing “Hula-Hula dancers” which is what Fender sang, but you can follow Asbury if you prefer . . .

  1. I thought I heard our old man say,
    Fire down below-O-O-O-O low, boys
    Fire down below!
  2. You can go ashore and get your pay.
  3. I don’t care what the captain say,
  4. Two pound ten won’t pay my way,
  5. I’ll take my clothes and run away,
  6. I’ll run away at the break of day,
  7. Because I can no longer stay,
  8. I’ll go to my girl round ‘Frisco Bay;
  9. I know very well ‘tis with me she will stay.
  10. Because she know I have twelve months pay,
  11. And we’ll go down to the Midway Plasances [sic],
  12. See the pretty girls dance the Hula-Hula dances.
  13. I thought I heard our captain say,
  14. You can go ashore and get your pay!
Lyrics from the recording: