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REQ/HELP African-American Railroad Work Songs

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THE WRECK OF THE VIRGINIAN NUMBER 3


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wigmaster@aol.com 24 May 98 - 01:09 AM
Frank in the swamps 24 May 98 - 05:04 AM
Roger Himler 24 May 98 - 07:07 AM
Axe 24 May 98 - 07:07 AM
Brian Hoskin 24 May 98 - 11:54 AM
Teru 24 May 98 - 07:26 PM
Teru 24 May 98 - 07:32 PM
rich r 24 May 98 - 08:45 PM
DWDitty 25 May 98 - 07:11 AM
Art Thieme 25 May 98 - 10:37 AM
Barry Finn 25 May 98 - 07:04 PM
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Subject: REQ/HELP African-American Railroad Work Songs
From: wigmaster@aol.com
Date: 24 May 98 - 01:09 AM

Looking for some help. I'm a theatre director doing research for a project about John Henry. I've searched here, found the standard John Henry tunes and lyrics. Now I am looking for anything I can find, chants, blues, ballads, text/other stories or anecdotes concerning the lives of the African American men and women who built our railroads. Also listings of recordings would be helpful. Hope to hear something soon. Thanks to Mudcat and all the helpful souls I've met so far!


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Subject: Lyr Add: WHEN I GET IN ILLINOIS^^
From: Frank in the swamps
Date: 24 May 98 - 05:04 AM

B.A. Botkin edited a book on railroad folklore, probably published by American Legacy Press, N.Y. I saw it on a bookshelf once and am still kicking my butt for not grabbing it. In his "A Treasury of Southern Folklore" by same publishers he gives...

1. When I get in Illinois,
I'm gonna spread the news about the Florida boys.

CHORUS: Shove it over! Hey! Hey! Can't you line it?
Ah shacka lacka lacka lacka lacka lacka Unh!
Can't you move it?
Hey, hey can't you try.

2. Me and my buddy goin' across the field,
I heard that train when it left Mobile. CHORUS

3. I heard a mighty noise around the river bend,
Must be the Southern crossin' the L & N. CHORUS

4. A nickels worth o' bacon, a dimes worth o' lard,
I would buy more but the time's so hard, CHORUS

5. Jack the rabbit, Jack the bear,
Two fat buzzards on the run from there. CHORUS

6. Cap'n got a burner I'd like to have,
A 32.20 with a shiny barrel. CHORUS

7. There comes a woman walkin' across a field,
Her mouth exhaustin' like a automobile....


He goes on to say...

"This song is common in the railroad camps. It is suited to the "lining" rhythm. That is, it fits the straining of the men at the lining bars as the rail is placed in position to be spiked down.

On the chorus: All men strain in concert; then shake rail; then grunt as they move rail...."

Botkin took a lot of this from Zora Neale Hurston's "Mules & Men." If any of it seems plagiarism it's my cutting short the quotes, not Botkin.

Anyway, I'd recommend you look for his "Railroad treasury"

Frank I.T.S.


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Subject: RE: REQ/HELP African-American Railroad Work Songs
From: Roger Himler
Date: 24 May 98 - 07:07 AM

Wigmaster,

Lead Belly did a song called "Can't You Line 'Em" that is similar to the song Frank ITS provides above. It is on the CD Leadbelly, Complete Recorded Works 1939 - 1947 in Chronological Order, volume 2 on Document Records DOCD 5227. This is a reissue, so you should be able to find it or order it.

Alan Lomax in "Folk Songs of North America" lists the version Frank gives and another song called "Black Gal" as railroad working songs. He gives a short description of the work and how the songs fit into the work process. Both were songs he collected from African-American work crews. Lomax has a small section on general work-related songs from the South as well.

Good luck on your project!

Roger in Baltimore


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Subject: RE: REQ/HELP African-American Railroad Work Songs
From: Axe
Date: 24 May 98 - 07:07 AM

Try Alan Lomax's "The Land Where the Blues Began", ISBN: 0-385-31285-7. Chapter 4, entitled Lonesome Whistles, is about the steamboats and railroads in the Delta. There are some lyrics for both and numerous interviews musicians and workers. There is a fairly recent release of Lomax's recordings that he made during these days; I'm not sure of the label (possibly Smithsonian-Folkways), but it may have some of these songs. I highly recommend the book.


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Subject: RE: REQ/HELP African-American Railroad Work Songs
From: Brian Hoskin
Date: 24 May 98 - 11:54 AM

Try looking at Norm Cohen's book The Long Steel Rail

Brian


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Subject: Lyr Add: JOHN HENRY 3^^
From: Teru
Date: 24 May 98 - 07:26 PM

I have another version of the lyrics in my notebook. I am not sure where I found them.

Here are the lyrics:

1. When John Henry was a little baby
Sittin' on his papa's knee,
Well, he picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel,
Said "This hammer's gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord
Hammer's gonna be the death of me".

2. The captain said to John Henry
"I'm gonna bring that steam drill around
I'm gonna bring that steam drill out on the job
I'm gonna whop that steel on down, Lord, Lord
Gonna whop that steel on down."

3. John Henry told his captain
"Lord, a man ain't nothin' but a man
But before I let your steam drill beat me down
I'd die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord
I'd die with a hammer in my hand."

4. John Henry said to his shaker
"Shaker, why don't you sing?
Because I'm throwin' thirty pounds from my hips on down
Just listen to that cold steel ring, Lord, Lord
Just listen to that cold steel ring."

5. Now the captain said to John Henry,
"I believe that mountain's caving in."
John Henry said right back to the captain.
"Ain't nothing but my hammer sucking wind, Lord, Lord,
Ain't nothing but my hammer sucking wind."

6. The Shaker said to John Henry
"I think this mountain's cavin' in!"
John Henry said to his Shaker,
"Man, that ain't nothin' but my hammer suckin' wind! Lord, Lord
That ain't nothin' but my hammer suckin' wind!"

7. The man that invented the steam drill
Thought he was mighty fine
But John Henry made fifteen feet
The steam drill only made nine, Lord, Lord
The steam drill only made nine.

8. John Henry hammered in the mountain
His hammer was striking fire
But he worked so hard, he broke his poor, poor heart
And he laid down his hammer and he died, Lord, Lord
He laid down his hammer and he died.

9. John Henry had a little woman
Her name was Polly Ann
John Henry took sick and went to his bed
Polly Ann drove steel like a man, Lord, Lord
Polly Ann drove steel like a man.

10. John Henry had a little baby
You could hold him in the palm of your hand
The last words I heard that poor boy say,
"My daddy was a steel-driving man, Lord, Lord
"My daddy was a steel-driving man."

11. They took John Henry to the graveyard
And they buried him deep in the sand
And every locomotive comes a-roaring by
It say, "There lies a steel-driving man, Lord, Lord
There lies a steel-driving man."

12. Well, every Monday morning
When the bluebirds begin to sing
You can hear John Henry a mile or more
You can hear John Henry's hammer ring, Lord, Lord
You can hear John Henry's hammer ring.


I have a book "Visiting World Folksongs" edited by Akira Ebato, Japanese music researcher, published in 1973. The author chooses "Yankee Doodle", "Oh My Darling Clementine", "Old Chisholm Trail", "Tom Dooley", "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", "Water Boy", "The Blue-tail Fly" and "John Henry" as American folksongs. He introduces only first verse of John Henry, but he writes a story of John Henry. Although the story is interesting, it is written in Japanese, I am afraid. It is difficult, even impossible for me to translate all into English. (I may be able to try to do.)

The author cites "Victor JET-7202" as an LP in which John Henry is recorded. He also cites "American Ballads and Folk Songs" (Lomax J & A; Macmillan, 1934), "Best Loved American Folk Songs" (Lomax A; Grosset & Dunlop, 1947), "The American Songbag" (Sandburg C; Harcourt, 1927) and "American Negro Songs" (Work JW; Theodore, 1948) as references.

I cannot send the tunes as attachments by E-mail, but I can send you the simple music sheet for this song by FAX. Please E-mail me your FAX number to <tkachi@chubu-nh.go.jp>.

My message was a bit long. Sorry.

With regards
Teru (of Japan)


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Subject: RE: REQ/HELP African-American Railroad Work Songs
From: Teru
Date: 24 May 98 - 07:32 PM

Oh, my E-mail number has gone!

It should be tkachi@chubu-nh.go.jp

Regards.

Teru


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Subject: RE: REQ/HELP African-American Railroad Work Songs
From: rich r
Date: 24 May 98 - 08:45 PM

Carl Sandburg's "American Songbag" has several songs in his railroad songs section that would fit this category - If I Die A Railroad Man; Don' Let Yo' Watch Run Down; I Went Down To The Depot; Ever Since Uncle John Henry Been Dead

rich r


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Subject: RE: REQ/HELP African-American Railroad Work Songs
From: DWDitty
Date: 25 May 98 - 07:11 AM

Try "Tamp 'Em Up Solid" - a traditional song appearing on Ry Cooder's Paradise and Lunch album. Also, Mississippi John Hurt's "Spike Driver's Moan."


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Subject: RE: REQ/HELP African-American Railroad Work Songs
From: Art Thieme
Date: 25 May 98 - 10:37 AM

B.A.Botkin, Once the head of the folksong archive at the Library of Congress, had many books of lore & songs--one _Treasury of Railroad Folkore_ (Others in that series: Southern Folklore, Western Folklore, general Treasury of American Folklore, Jewish Folklore, New England Folklore and Mississippi River Folklore ! Amazing stuff!!

Prompted Bruce U.Utah Phillips to utter:

B.A., B.A. Botkin, Have you any folklore?

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: REQ/HELP African-American Railroad Work Songs
From: Barry Finn
Date: 25 May 98 - 07:04 PM

Rounder, last year, rereleased a Library Of Congress (AFS L61, 1968), Archive of Folk Culture LP, called 'Railroad Songs & Ballads" Rounder CD 1508. These were collected between 1936-1959 & has 22 tracks. The notes are brilliant & encompassing, words are all there, to the songs & coversations. Another "live" source wold be a group of retired track liners, called the Buckingham Lining Bar Gang, Charles W White Sr. is the contact (& preformer) for bookings (& recordings if they have them), his number is published in the Virginia Folk(lore?) Project, so I feel ok in reprinting it (804-969-4169). Their performance includes (15 track liners) the singing of the songs while actually laying down tie & track, & driving the rail spikes. If you want to see/hear this you can find them on the WWW or catch them at Mystic Seaport Sea Music Festival in Conn., this June 11- June 14. Barry


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