25 November 2011

#29 Yankee John, Stormalong

Whereas all in the "Stormalong" family seem to have an Afro-American or Afro-Caribbean provenance, this one seems further to have been rather limited and attached—at least so far as it has been documented—to that cultural sphere.

Fred Buryeson makes the earliest mention in his 1909 article in Coast Seamen's Journal. Buryeson went to sea as early as the late 1860s, and he learned most of his chanties in his early career. He said this was a "timber shanty," sung by longshoremen whose job it was to stow timber in ships' holds.
The most popular of the timber shanties were Miss Rosa Lee, Somebody Told Me So, and Yankee John, Storm Along. They are still sung by the negro timber stowers in the seaports of the South.
Bullen (1914), who probably heard it in the early 1870s, called it a halyard chanty (with implied Black origins), under the name of "Liza Lee":

Oh you Lize-er Lee
Yankee John Stormalong
Lize-er Lee is de gal fer me
Yankee John Stormalong

In the same year as Bullen's publication, Sharp collected a similar "Liza Lee" from John Short (whose career started in the late 1850s):

Liza Lee she promised me;
Yankee John, Stormalong;
She promised for to marry me;
Yankee John, Stormalong.

Terry's version (1926) also came from John Short; he claimed that Sir Richard Runciman and "others" also sang it.

Coming to Hugill's version, it's odd that he does not say where he learned it. The melody is related but clearly distinct from the others in print. The first two verses are like Buryeson and Short's verses, with the rest easily ad-libbed by Hugill, yet this doesn't explain his melody, notated in 6/8 meter. Perhaps he got it from Harding or Barbados, but neglected to note it because he had already noted Harding for preceding songs.

After Hugill's Shanties from the Seven Seas was published, this song continued to turn up in the Caribbean. Alan Lomax recorded it, along with Roger Abrahams as sung by some folks in Nevis in July 1962. (Lomax also seems to have recorded it that month in Anguilla. See here.) Abrahams later included the Nevis version, with score, in his short book Deep The Water, Shallow the Shore (1974), saying it was used for the work of rowing (in Nevis) and hoeing (elsewhere?). And Horace Beck, in Folklore and the Sea (1973), noted yet another Caribbean version.

To round out this survey, in 2005 Peter Kasin and Richard Adrianowicz gave a take on what seems to be the Abrahams/Nevis-collected version. The only group I've heard try to do Hugill's version—as this chanty is rare in the Revival—is The Shanty Crew on a 1996 album.

Ranzo :{

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