Notes to the Songs
In the days when stevedores and longshoremen loaded cargo by hand, a ship could be tied up in port many days while cargo was shifted. Nowadays, 24 hours is all you need for a container ship to be ready for sea once more. Jack Forbes lives near Tilbury, the container port for London. Rollin’ Down the River is his “Container Ship Shanty”! The OCL is the Overseas Container Line and a TEU is a Twenty Food Equivalent Unit – one of the boxes loaded on a container ship.
Thanks to fiddler Maria Terres Sandgren for introducing me to The Captain’s Hornpipe. I learned Puddleglum’s Misery from an album by its composer, squeezer extraordinaire John Kirkpatrick.
Mobile Bay was sung by John Henry Epps, Nathaniel Wellman, Jess Allen and Charlie Rutledge, longshoremen for the Ball Steamship Company. John Becker and Alan Lomax recorded them in Tampa, Florida in 1944. The recording is held by the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. (AFS 7092). The original recording had a “hunh!” sound after each verse marking the moment when the longshoremen would all work together to move cargo.
Another gem from the Archive of Folk Culture, Johnson Girls was originally recorded aboard The Boys, a menhaden fishing boat out of Mayport, Florida, in July 1940 by Robert Cook and Robert Cornwall. In their notes Cook and Cornwall described the fishermen “hardening up” or pulling the nets in silence then singing the song while reaching for a fresh grip on the net. For further information on menhaden fishing see “Last of the Chanteys” in The Lookout (vol. 49 #6, June 1958, pp. 10-11).
According to Larry Kaplan, Get Her into Shore is not a specifically true story, but close to many. Now a physician, Larry used to sail out of Camden, Maine.
Thanks to Paul Kaplan of New York City for Henry the Accountant – a real crowd pleaser!
A magic song about a larger than life character, Old Zeb tells of Zebulon Northrop Tilton, skipper of the Alice S. Wentworth until 1942 when he went ashore at the age of 75. He loved her and didn’t fancy life on the beach. Rosalie and Gertrude were his two daughters. Read Polly Borough’s book Zeb (Riverside, CT: Chatham Press, c1972) to get the flavor…
According to Ian Woods, the late Angus Russell was the source of Skipper Jan Rebek. If Angus wrote the song, as some people think likely, I think he would have pleased to have folk think it was traditional.
Imagine a smallish two master scudding across Puget Sound and you’ll have the image of Bob Webb’s ragtime tune, The Schooner. Thanks Bob!
James Madison Carpenter spent several years in England in the 20s and 30s collecting all manner of folk material. Among the gems in his collection is Pull Down Below which was sung by Rees Baldwyn. There is a partial recording in the Archive of Folk Culture (AFS 15026 B-2) and fragments in Carpenter’s manuscript (Music Division microfilm M3109). This is my attempt at reconstructing the whole song.
Carol Buche of Minneapolis taught me Hvem Kan Segle Foruten Vind phonetically. Even though I don’t speak Swedish, when I sang the song with the all-female crew of a Swedish training ship in Liverpool they all joined in! Later, Finn Jorgensen, himself a sailor, improved my pronunciation in an Edinburgh pub.
I learned Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel from The Book of American Negro Spirituals by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson (New York: Viking, 1940).
The story goes that a man called Pegleg Joe marked the route up the Tombigbee River in Alabama over the divide then down the Tennessee River to the Ohio. This escape route from slavery was memorized by slaves in the south in a song with a chorus reminding them to look to the night sky for direction: The Drinking Gourd is the constellation known in the US as the Big Dipper.
Thanks to Sing Out! Magazine (vol. 30 #2, 1984, p.62) for continuing to publish wonderful songs like the Peace Song. According to their notes, Almeda Riddle first sang this song when she led a church choir in 1915 or 1916. The words are no less meaningful today.