29 March 2012

#114 The Fire Ship

This bawdy ballad seems to me one of the furthest from a classic chanty form as one can get. Of course, it does have a chorus, which makes it usable as a chanty! Based on form, the work task suggested can only be capstan heaving or pumping; the bawdy theme confirms further that it is most appropriate to pumping. And yet Stan Hugill, in Shanties from the Seven Seas, is the only author to attest its use as a chanty.

I find little of historical interest here, and so this may end up being my briefest post yet. Of most interest was the small puzzle of filling in the expurgated lyrics. That is, Hugill omitted two “unprintable” verses from his text presentation. I used Salty Dick's recording as the source for these verses.
(Note that the singer was present during a session of unexpurgated chanty-singing by Stan Hugill at Mystic Seaport in the late ‘80s.)

Anyways, here’s what I recorded at the time when I last drove across country, California to Connecticut.

I sang an improved rendition recently for a crowd of stiff-faced prudes. It was quite good, if I may say so. A fun song, sung in moderation; but not standing shoulder to shoulder, in my world of chanties, with Sally Brown or ol’ Mister Stormalong.

Roving out each evening for a night’s career,

Ranzo :{

28 March 2012

#113 Roll, Boys, Roll

There a numerous little valleys in Stan Hugill’s Shanties from the Seven Seas, between the towering “classic” and widely sourced chanties, in which we find the real gems that Hugill contributed as a collector of chanties. 

I am often uncomfortable uncritically taking the word of Hugill when he is speaking as a historian or scholar of chanties, so sometimes I find his presentation of the “big” chanties to be off.  It’s for this reason that I think the major contribution of his text is the rarely or never before published chanties it presents, without the speculative notes, plainly and as he gathered them from personal informants. This material largely consists of chanties gathered from West Indian informants, and the one among them who contributed the most (at least 37 chanties) was Harding the Barbadian Barbarian.

We are presently in one of these “valleys” of the text, having just seen the unique “Where Am I to Go, M'Johnnies” from Harding and now another one-souce chanty from that individual, “Roll, Boys, Roll.”

The lyrics, on a rough “Sally Brown” theme, have what we’ve come to perceive as a rather Caribbean air. Hugill noted that when Harding say this “it had its full compliment of grace notes and yells.” I may have gone a bit overboard in interpreting that!

As with “Where Am I to Go,” Hugill’s text has been the one source for revival interpretations of “Roll, Boys, Roll.” Tom Sullivan may have been the first to do it, with his working version of 1980. Here’s a comparison of a couple styles available for full hearing.

1. Led by Tony Latimer at an informal session in British Columbia. Much like with “Where Am I to Go,” this scene of singers has evidently interpreted the choruses to have an awkward pause in them that doesn’t make rhythmic sense to me. I am sure they find it makes sense in the swinging fun they are having, so more power to them! But let’s be honest: it would not function as a halyard chanty.

2. This rendition by Shantygruppe Breitling, by contrast to the above, shows how the proper notated rhythm is necessary for hauling halyards.

En route to Sally's bungalow,

Ranzo :{

27 March 2012

#112 Where Am I to Go M' Johnnies?

Ah well, this is one of those “one source” songs.

Stan Hugill said, in Shanties from the Seven Seas, that he learned this chanty from his friend Harding of Barbados, and that he’d not found it elsewhere in print. That’s all we know!

Here’s my rendition of Hugill’s text.

Because of the single source, it’s clear that all revival versions would go back to this…unless of course they come from the mouth of Stan Hugill. So one finds, in one example, that The Shanty Crew (1996) recorded a version very similar to mine, i.e. a faithful rendition of the straightforward notation in text.

On the other hand, we have Hugill’s own recorded version on a 1989 album, where the backing chorus (Stormalong John) is singing something a bit different. To be honest, what they are singing sounds “wrong”; the rhythm just does not make sense—or at least it’s not consistent with other chanties’ rhythmic style. Just my opinion? And why would Hugill not “correct” them; is it tacit approval?

One thing is clear: If Hugill did not make a mistake in this recording, then he made a mistake in his book... It’s recognizing inconsistencies like this that formed a part of my project of critically using “The Bible.”

Don’t just imitate—ruminate!

Ranzo :{

#111 High O, Come Roll Me Over!

The historiography of this chanty is as short, as one I last 'b-logged, “Randy Dandy O.” And like that one, there seems to be a direct path between an early 20th century publication and Stan Hugill’s later presentation. Likewise, Hugill’s version is supposed to have come from a personal informant—the same one, Harding the Barbarian—though it differs little (one might typically expect more of a divergence in two authentic collections) from the earlier print version. I’m not calling Hugill a liar! But in this case there is certainly something funky going on.

The early print version comes from John Masefield. I’ve earlier critiqued his reliability as an information source about chanties. To sum it up, he seems to have been exposed to some chanties at sea, but his personal experience only accounts for some of the chanties he chose to present. In addition, he often made what I deem to be suspicious changes to chanty lyrics (for reasons that need not be elaborated here).

Masefield mentioned the song in a January 1906 article called “Sea-Songs.” In the following passage from that, he claims that a Danish sailor personally made up the song!

In a sailor's repertory there are many chanties, which are seldom heard. The men grow tired of the old words and the old music, and do not work so lustily to them… As the old songs die out, new songs are made, or, it may be, yet older songs regain their popularity. I knew a Danish sailor who passed his spare moments in inventing chanties. He had one half-finished specimen of which he was very proud. It may have been perfected since I knew him, and perhaps it is now well known "from Callao to Rio, by the west." It was not a literary chanty, nor was the tune very remarkable. It ran as follows:

Oho, why don't you blow?
A, ha, come roll him over.
Oho, why don't you blow?
A, ha, come roll him over.

Masefield gave just one verse; indeed, he called the chanty “half-finished.” The tune was not supplied.

Later that year, Masefield’s A Sailor’s Garland was published, in which he presented the same chanty items that were in the earlier article, but usually in fuller versions. In a number of cases it seems clear (i.e. in my estimation) that he composed additional verses at the time of publication. Here there are more verses to a halyards version of “Come Roll Him Over,” which, based on what he said in the earlier publication, seem they may have been newly composed.

Oho, why don't you blow?
Aha. Come roll him over; 

Oho, why don't you blow?
Aha. Come roll him over

One man. To strike the bell, 

Two men. To take the wheel,

Three men. Top-gallant braces,

Coming to Hugill's notes, which are very brief, he says he got it from Harding. The Barbadian claimed at the time (1932) that it was still being used in the West Indies for "rolling logs." If that was the case, it seems unlikely that Masefield’s "Dane" made it up.

According to Hugill’s presentation, there is only one "pull" per chorus; he states he thought it would have been good for tacks/sheets, probably for this reason, but ascribes it to halyards (like Masefield).  Hugill also seems to have extrapolated (made up) or supplied the “rest” of the verses, along the “1 man, 2 men, 3 men, etc.” pattern.

Hugill’s would seem to be the first presentation to give a melody, though his notation is irregular in its rhythm. This is one of those cases where I'd suspect there is something funky that goes on, in the singing of the song, that his basic notation was not able to capture well. Either the song was indeed not in strict meter or there was some overlapping of soloist and chorus that, when rendered by a singer without chorus, or when notated on a single staff, does not come out quite right. I decided to imagine it in the slower, non-metered (breathing-like) rhythmic style.

Revival renditions prior to mine had made the decision to keep the singing in strict meter and at a faster tempo, although I am having a hard time imagining the work done to such an arrangement.

Jim Mageean was perhaps first to record a version of this (i.e. based off of Hugill), on the 1978 album The Capstan Bar. [The rendition may be heard at this link, if one skips towards the end of the program.] It goes along steadily, in a different rhythm than notated by Hugill, in 4/4 meter. A variation of this version, as heard here performed by Caryl Weiss and friends at Mystic Seaport, overlaps solo and chorus to fit the song over a 3/4 meter.

Something major is certainly “missing” from our knowledge this chanty. Hugill and Masefield seem to corroborate its existence, yet one or both would seem also to be not completely genuine. Is this a chanty whose performance style is now “lost” to us, due to a break in tradition? My interpretation, created from the written page of Hugill, is significantly different from other revival renditions that I presume (?) were based on Hugill. This one is open for debate!


Ranzo :{

25 March 2012

#110 Randy Dandy O!

Short story here, as this is a chanty with few sources.

Capt. John Robinson, who began sailing in Liverpool vessels of the nitrate trade to the West Coast of South America in the mid-1860s, prepared a series of articles on chanties published in 1917. As such, he notes several chanties that were rather particular to those ships, that trade. They seem to be chanties of a relatively later time, coming after the “classic,” often African-American-styled songs of the first four or more decades of modern chantying. These nitrate trade chanties were also notably of a brazenly bawdy style, with a bit more of a swaggering Sailor John sentiment than the quirky minstrel fun or longing and separation-themed sentiment of earlier songs. Robinson says,

In point of fact, many of the original words were quite unprintable, and never
intended for delicate ears. For instance, in "Bangidero," "Galloping Randy Dandy"
and "Slav Ho," the words of some verses were really shocking, and the choruses
quite unfit to be written, yet they were three good chanties, too.

Robinson offered just one verse (with score) of the present chanty, in which the word “galloping” is a clear bowdlerization.

Now we’re warping her into the docks,
     Way aye roll and go!
Where the pretty young girls come down in flocks.
     My galloping Randy Dandy o!
Heave and pull and heave away,
     Way aye roll and go!
The anchor’s aboard, and the cables are stowed,
     My galloping Randy Dandy o!

Joanna Colcord, who harvested several of Robinson’s unique chanties for her collection, reprinted this version in 1924. None of the other early chanty collectors or observers noted this song.

Stan Hugill, then, was the only other to claim to represent an authentic version in his Shanties from the Seven Seas. He got it from his Bajan friend Harding (a sea career ca.1870s-90s), who said he’d sung it in a Nova Scotian barque in which he’d once shipped.

As for the lyrics, Hugill also noted that the true lyrics had to be “camouflaged.” He asserted, however, that his bowdlerization left at least one word closer to the original. One presumes he meant the “rollicking” (Robinson’s “galloping”). I guessed the original word was “bollocky,” which is what I sing in my rendition—and which I don’t think is very risqué in this day and age.

This was recorded when I was trying to sing very loudly, but had less consistency and control than I do now! A little embarrassed by this performance, but I’m sure I’ll also be embarrassed by today’s performances tomorrow.

Hugill/Harding’s melody here is nearly the same as Robinson’s. Hugill steals a verse from Robinson’s publication, fleshing it out with more of his own. A couple of these also contain camouflaged versions of something a bit “rough.” I attempted to un-camouflaged them; I figure that somebody has to at least try to “go for it,” whatever it’s worth.

In fact, there is a pretty standard “revival” way of singing this song that has gone around. The English Folk group The Young Tradition (from their 1968 Chicken on a Raft EP) popularized it, in a bleating rendition that is clearly a face-value reading of Hugill’s text.

Here’s to future original renditions of the chanty—not “cover versions”! However, with no direct sources of info at our disposal, one will have to use one’s general knowledge of the chanty genre and some creativity to craft them.

Rounding the Horn with a stinky cargo of guano,

Bollocky Ranzo Danzo :{

15 March 2012

#109 Roll and Go

While solo lyrics that sing of Sally, and a “roll and go” refrain, this chanty has yet again a different framework than the “default” “Sally Brown.”

I confess to this being one of my favorite chanties learned from Stan Hugill’s Shanties from the Seven Seas. Somewhat surprising that it has not been (to my knowledge) revived. So, my rendition was completely of my imagination, based on the text.

I have sung it many times since, and now sing it better than in the video, which was after I’d just learned it. I sang it at an open mic night earlier this year, in a very booming voice! It was fun and, I think, something of a new experience for the audience, especially when presented with received ideas of chanties.

Hugill actually just reprinted this from Cecil Sharp’s collection, English Folk-Chanteys. (Although I really don't hear it as "English Folk.") It’s a capstan song that John Short sang for him in 1914. No other versions have turned up in print.

The recent Short Sharp Shanties project, being a set of recorded renditions of the songs that John Short sang for C. Sharp and RR Terry, has since included this on their Vol. 2 CD. It is sung by Roger Watson and chorus, at a faster tempo.

My rendition, I suppose, reads a little bit more plaintiveness into the chanty.

Slighted and done sailed away,


14 March 2012

#107-108 Tommy’s on the Tops’l Yard / What is in the Pot A-boiling?

More chanties here that seem to have been cut from the same cloth as the “Sally Brown” framework—that is, they have similar melody shapes and “roll and go” in the refrains.

First is “Tommy’s on the Tops’l Yard.” This was a chanty that Hugill “picked up in the West Indies.” It seems to have been a short, quick chanty, for Hugill said it was used for the lighter royal halyards, or for tack and sheets.

Hugill gives an alternate second refrain, which is simply the same “roll and go” as the first. I wonder if that points to any more similarity to this historically noted chanty (already described in my “Sally Brown” post):

The Taskar [name of whaleship] is the thing to roll
     O ee roll & go
Her bottom’s round as any bowl!
     O ho roll & go

The only other author to print a version of this chanty was John Masefield in 1906, who called it “Roll and Go.”

There was a ship—she sailed to Spain,
     O. Roll and go;
There was a ship—she sailed to Spain,
     O Tommy's on the topsail yard.
There was a ship came home again,
What d'ye think was in her hold?
There was diamonds, there was gold,
And what was in her lazareet?
Good split peas and bad bull meat,
Many sailormen gets drowned,

In fact, even though Stan Hugill, in Shanties from the Seven Seas, said he learned his version from Tobago Smith, he used mostly these verses.

The other related chanty is a tidbit presented, under the name of its first line, “What is in the pot a-boiling?”,  by Cecil Sharp. It appeared in a 1916 article; collected from Robert Ellison in 1914. One verse only was given.

What is in the pot a-boiling?
     O row, heave and go.
Two sheep’s spunks and an apple dumpling,
     O row, heave and go.

Hugill reproduced it in his work. I fleshed out my rendition with more lyrics that I improvised.

That’s all there is of the odds and ends for now.

Boiling sheep’s spunks and dumplings,


#106 Walkalong, You Sally Brown

Although it may share the customary lyrical theme, and its chorus contains the name “Sally Brown,” this is a different framework than the typical “Sally Brown” chanty.

Melodically, it more closely resembles “Shenandoah.” Yet doesn’t Shenandoah have a family resemblance to Sally Brown? It’s chorus phrase also reminds one of the chanty “Walk Him Along, John,” and the “patting juba” song from Louisiana, “Hop Jim along/Walk Jim along/Talk Jim along” (in Northup’s Twelve Years of a Slave, 1855), along with other African-American “walkalong” lyrics.

The chanty turns up a few times in the historical record.

Referring to the late 1860s is Adams’ account (On Board the Rocket, 1879) mentions the ship Dublin, which shipped with an all Black crew out of Boston.  While in port at Genoa (Italy), cargo was unloaded:

Every morning they were waked up by the song of the crew, as they commenced at five o'clock in the morning to hoist out the tobacco, for it is not customary in port to “ turn to “until six, and all day long such choruses as “Walk along my Sally Brown,” and “Hoist her up from down below,” rang over the harbor, with all the force that a dozen hearty negroes could give them. When the “shanty man “ became hoarse, another relieved him, and thus the song and work went along,...

Remembering chanties from his experience ca. 1870s, Capt. Robinson (1917) also noted this song. He gives a melody (similar to Hugill’s) and the following lyric:

Sally Brown's a bright Mulatto,
     Way, yah!
Oh Sally Brown's a bright Mulatto--
     Oh walk along, you Sally Brown.

Hugill’s presentation is very brief, giving only one verse (“The words are the same as for Sally Brown”) and saying he got it from his West Indian informant “Tobago” Smith.

The suggestion is that this is a particularly “Caribbean” sort of chanty. As such I decided to give it some harmony.

 My rendition here was included on the Mudcat Café’s 2011 members’ CD set.



11 March 2012

#104-105 Sally Brown (series)

The name “Sally Brown” is practically synonymous with the chanty genre. More than a song, it’s a theme that has been drawn upon by chantymen to fill many a different chanty. I distinguish between what I call “frameworks,” which are the stable chanty pieces (consisting of a skeleton of melody and refrains), and “lyrical themes,” which are common formulae or moveable lyrical ideas. Frameworks can be fitted with any number of lyrical themes (in addition to, or instead of their “regulation verses,” floating verses, etc.). “Sally Brown” is a lyrical theme, but also is associated with a few frameworks. Indeed, its theme is so ubiquitous, so ingrained, that it turns up in the early evidence for several frameworks not necessarily associated with it these days. Because the theme is so expansive, it would be difficult to deal with in a blog post here, so instead I’ll just deal with the main framework whose refrain contains the theme and where it constitutes the regulation verses.

Some or other chanty with the “Sally Brown” theme—or at least the name?—seems to have been there from the “start” of the chanty genre. I consider it one of the landmark chanties, one of those hoary songs like the already discussed “Hieland Laddie,” “Stormy,” and “Santiana.” “Sally Brown” is among the top three or four chanties, in frequency, to appear in my reckoning of chanties attested up through the 1920s.

I am attempting to deal with just one framework (or a set of closely related frameworks) here. However, since this is the first “Sally Brown” post, I will also bring in some miscellaneous mentions of the theme that don’t necessarily fit into one pattern. Still, my notes will be ignoring several otherwise important clues about the general development of the Sally Brown “complex” (or whatever you’d want to call it).

Some sort of “Sally Brown” phrase, at least, in connection with sailor work-songs, was in existence by the 1820s. This means it predates the time when I believe “chanties” generally emerged. My first encounter with “Sally Brown,” incidentally, was in Jamaican music, in songs like Laurel Aitken’s “Sally Brown.”

As one will see, the Sally Brown “character” is often West Indian. The theme seems to have at least incubated in the Caribbean. But the first reference we find, whether influenced by exposure to work-songs in the Caribbean or not, is “British.”

Evidence that a work-song involving “Sally Brown” was in existence by the 1820s comes in the form of an 1826 reference to a performer on the New York stage. This person (who was supposed to have some experience in the British navy) played a sailor character, which was enhanced by a “chant” which had,

…a sort of ‘Sally Brown, oh, ho,’ chorus; and requiring the action of pulling a rope, spitting upon the hand, and the accompaniment of a horrid yell.

[Clason, Isaac Starr. 1826. Horace in New York, Part 1. New York: James M. Campbell.]

I suspect this chant was along the lines of the old hauling song “Cheer’ly Man,” or the similar “Sally Racket,” both of which include the names of stereotypical flash gals like Sally Brown. It does not seem to be the developed “Sally Brown” chanty framework as we now know it.

Dobinson’s pump windlass was invented in the 1830s, and by the second half of that decade modern chanties seem to have emerged. “Sally Brown” is among these. Capt. Frederick Marryat, in A Diary in America (1837) relates a voyage in the ship Quebec from Portsmouth (England) to New York, April 1837. As her anchor was hoisted by the windlass, Marryat, a passenger at the time, noted the following scene. Note that both the device and the song appear to have been new to Marryat.

>>>10, A. M.—“All hands up anchor.” I was repeating to myself some of the stanzas of Mrs. Norton’s “Here’s a Health to the Outward-bound,” when I cast my eyes forward I could not imagine what the seamen were about; they appeared to be pumping, instead of heaving, at the windlass. I forced my way through the heterogeneous mixture of human beings, animals, and baggage which crowded the decks, and discovered that they were working a patent windlass, by Dobbinson—a very ingenious and superior invention. The seamen, as usual, lightened their labour with the song and chorus, forbidden by the etiquette of a man-of-war. The one they sung was peculiarly musical, although not refined; and the chorus of “Oh! Sally Brown,” was given with great emphasis by the whole crew between every line of the song, sung by an athletic young third mate. I took my seat on the knight-heads—turned my face aft— looked and listened.

“Heave away there, forward.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“‘Sally Brown—oh! my dear Sally.”’ (Single voice),
“‘Oh ! Sally Brown.’” (Chorus)
“‘Sally Brown, of Buble Ally.’” (Single voice).
“‘Oh ! Sally Brown.’” (Chorus).
“Avast heaving there; send all aft to clear the boat.”
“Now, then, my lads, forward to the windlass.”
“ ‘I went to town to get some toddy’”
“‘Oh! Sally Brown.”
“ ‘T’wasn’t fit for any body.’”
“ ‘Oh! Sally Brown.’”—
“Out there, and clear away the jib.”
“ Aye, aye, sir.”
“ Mr. Fisher, how much cable is there out ?”
“ Plenty yet, sir.—Heave away, my lads.’”
“‘Sally is a bright mulattar.’”
“‘Oh! Sally Brown.’”
“‘Pretty girl, but can’t get at her.’”
“Avast heaving;
—Forward now, my men ; heave away!”
“‘Seven years I courted Sally.’”
“‘Oh! Sally Brown.’“
“‘Seven more of shilley-shally.’”
“‘Oh! Sally Brown.’”
“‘She won’t wed”—
“Avast heaving….
“Aye, aye, sir.—Heave away, my lads.”
“‘She won’t wed a Yankee sailor.’”
“‘Oh! Sally Brown.’”
“ ‘For she’s in love with the nigger tailor.”
“‘Oh! Sally Brown.’”—
“Heave away, my men ; heave, and in sight. Hurrah ! my lads.”
“ ‘Sally Brown—oh ! my dear Sally !’”
“‘Oh! Sally Brown!’”
“ ‘Sally Brown, of Buble Alley.’”
“‘Oh! Sally Brown.”’
“ ‘Sally has a cross old granny.’”
“Oh !’”— <<<<

Several of the customary themes are already there. In fact, with just this one source, “Sally Brown” may be the best-documented early chanty of them all.

Herman Melville, whose sailing experience took place ca.1841/42, seems to have also known “Sally Brown” in this early form. For in Moby Dick he has the hands at the windlass,

…who roared forth some sort of a chorus about the girls in Booble Alley, with hearty good will.

Based on Marryat’s verses, this may well have been in reference to “Sally Brown.” Evidently the refrain of Marryat’s “Sally Brown,” however, did not yet contain the phrase “roll and go.” And yet a contemporary reference, in a whaleship diary from Sept. 1842, has a chanty with such a chorus.

The Taskar [name of whaleship] is the thing to roll
     O ee roll & go
Her bottom’s round as any bowl!
     O ho roll & go

[In: Creighton, Margaret S. 1995. “Rites and Passages.”]

Aside from a mention by Marryat’s son, who heard sailor’s mining for gold in California, 1852, working to the tune of “Sally Brown,” the chanty is not mentioned again for a while. We can suppose from several later informants that it was being well-sung in the 1860s.

Charles Robbins, who may have started his sailing career around the 1860s, sang this version for Cecil Sharp in 1909.

I shipped on board of a Liverpool liner,
     Way-Ho, a rolling go,
And we shipped on board of a Liverpool liner,
     For I spent my money ‘long with Sally Brown.

Now up aloft this yard must go, etc.

And we spread her wings and we let her go free boys, etc.

Now we sailed three days when a storm arose boys, etc.

We screw in cotton by the day boys, etc.

O Sally Brown was a bright mulatter, etc.

Now we spread her wings and away we sail boys, etc.

O seven years I courted Sally, etc.

And now we’re married and we’re living nice and comfor’ble, etc.

[Sharp, Cecil J., A.G. Gilchrist, and Lucy R. Broadwood. 1914. “Sailors’ Chanties.” Journal of the Folk-Song Society 5(18):31-44.]

The melody noted is chromatic, a mix of minor and major that, perhaps, was meant to convey something of “blue” notes—and perhaps indicative of its continued association with African-American song? Stan Hugill, in his Shanties from the Seven Seas, reproduced part of this as an example, his Version (B). Here is my rendition.

Captain Whall’s days were definitely the 1860s. His sense was that the song was “of negro origin.” From the version he presented (1913), we can suppose the “roll and go” chorus was a part of the chanty by then. It also has the sort of melody that is familiar these days, and the verses, he indicated, were typical.

O Sally Brown she’s a bright mullatta,
     Way-ay, roll and go!
O she drinks rum and chews tobacca,
     Bet my money on Sally Brown.

Seven long years I courted Sally.
She said, “O boy, why do you dally?”

O Sally Brown, I long to see you!
Sally Brown, I'll not deceive you!

Sally Brown's a Creole lady;
I guess she's got a nigger baby.

O Sally Brown, what is the matter?
Pretty gal, but can't get at her.

O Sally lives on the old plantation,
A member of the wild-goose nation.

Out of many versions collected by J.M. Carpenter (from informants with experience over a long period), we can see that the most common regulation verses were about Sally as a “bright mullato,” Sally as a “creole lady,” or having a lovely daughter. Here’s one verse, from J.S. Scott, who first shipped in a Nova Scotia vessel in 1863.

Sally Brown she’s a bright mulatto
     Hey ho, roll and go.
Oh, Sally Brown she’s a bright mulatto
     Spend my money on Sally Brown.

Adam’s On Board the Rocket (1879) gives testimony to the use of “Sally Brown” in the late 1860s. At one point he is on the ship Dublin bound from Boston to Richmond, VA.

The ship was bound to Richmond, Virginia, in ballast, there to load a cargo of tobacco for the Mediterranean. In the forenoon, a negro crew of fourteen men and two boys came on board. They were mostly fine “strapping” fellows, with bright eyes and shining “ivories,” and as we proceeded down the bay they made the decks ring with their songs; the maintopsail going to the mast-head to the tune of “Come down you bunch o’ roses, come down,” and the foretopsail halyards answering to the strong pulls following the sentiment:

“Sally Brown’s a bright Mulatto,
She drinks rum and chews tobacco.”

Oh, Sally Brown’s a bright mulatto;
    Blow, boys, blow!
Oh, she drinks rum and chews tobacco,
    Blow, my bully boys, blow!

Oh, Sally Brown’s a Creole lady,
Oh, Sally Brown, I long to see you,
Oh, Sally Brown, I’ll ne’er deceive you.

Here we have the “Sally Brown” lyrical theme, but what seems to be the “Blow, Boys, Blow” framework! Alden’s rather early (1882) published version of “Shenandoah” also had the Sally Brown lyrical theme.

1870s era versions include Robinson’s (1917), which he gave with score.

Sally Brown’s a bright-eyed beauty.
     Way… roll and go.
Oh Sally is sweet and pretty.
     I’ll spend my money on Sally Brown.

Then there is Dick Maitland’s (Doerflinger 1951):

Sally Brown was a gay old lady,
     Way-ay, roll and go!
Sally Brown was a Creole lady,
     Spent my money on Sally Brown

She had a farm in the isle of Jamaica,
Where she raised sugarcane, rum, an’ terbacker.

[etc., incl. lines about “fine young daughter,” “seven long years I courted Sally,” “would not have a tarry sailor,” “married to a nigger soldier,” “left her with a nigger baby,” and “Why did you ever jilt me?”]

R.R. Terry, who would later go on to collect chanties (1921), said he learned his version as a boy in Northumberland. It differs little from others of the time, both in tune and lyrics (with possibly some influence from Whall).

1. Sally Brown she's a bright Mulatter.

     Way Ay-y Roll and go.

She drinks rum and chews terbacker.

     Spend my money on Sally Brown.

2. Sally Brown shë has a daughter

Sent me sailin' 'cross the water.

3. Seven long years Ï courted Sally. (twice)

4. Sally Brown I'm bound to leave you

Sally Brown I'll not deceive you.

5. Sally she's a 'Badian' beauty. (twice)

6. Sally lives on the old plantation

She belongs the Wild Goose Nation.

7. Sally Brown is a bright Mulatter

She drinks rum and chews terbacker.

Neither does a version from a sailor of this time, John Farr (Thomas 1928) differ much in the lyrics, though it’s melody has some resemblance to the “Version (B)” discussed earlier.

O Sally Brown was a creole lady,
     Way O roll and go,
Sally Brown was a creole lady,
     Spent my money on Sally Brown.

Sally Brown is a captain’s daughter (twice)

Sally Brown is a bright Mulatter,
She drinks rum and chews terbaccer.

Having reached the 1880s, we have again published material to look at. First there is Davis and Tozer’s collection (1887), the version in which is quite dainty, and probably at least slightly contrived for publication. Though for the most part the lyrics are plausible, I wonder why Sally is suddenly no longer a “mulatto” or “creole,” and how her eyes become blue!

I love a maid across the water,
     Aye, aye, roll and go!
She is Sal herself, yet Sally’s daughter
     Spend my money on Sally Brown.

Seven long years I courted Sally,
She called me ‘boy and Dilly Dally,’

Seven long years and she wouldn’t marry,
And I no longer cared to tarry,

So I courted Sal, her only daughter,
For her I sail upon the water,

Sally’s teeth are white and pearly,
Her eyes are blue, her hair is curly,

The sweetest flower of the valley.
Is my dear girl, my pretty Sally,

Oh! Sally Brown, I had to leave you,
But trust me that I’ll not deceive you.

Sally Brown, I love your daughter,
For her I sail upon the water,

L.A. Smith’s published version dates from the same time, but she collected it in the field.

Sally Brown was a bright mulatto,
     Way! heigh! Roll and go.
Oh! Sally Brown was a bright mulatto,
     I’ll spend my money on Sally Brown.
Sally Brown was a bright mulatto.
Sally Brown she had a daughter,
Oh! Sally Brown she had a daughter,
Her name it was Matilda Jane.
Sally Brown she had a daughter.
Seven long years I courted Sally,
Oh! seven long years I courted Sally,
I mean to marry Sally Brown.
Oh! seven long years I courted Sally.

[The parsing of couplets is unclear.]

In this light, Davis and Tozer’s lyrical tone seems a bit “off.” Indeed, another ‘80s sailor’s version, perhaps not filtered through the female collector Smith, included the following line:

Aw, Sally Brown, well I loves your daughter,

Followed by the note that the rest of the couplet was “too forthright to print”!

[From Captain Patrick Tayluer, documented by Doerflinger (1951).]

Whether based on direct knowledge or inferred from the lyrics—or possibly from something they’d read (though I don’t see what this would have been)—writers at the turn of the century connected “Sally Brown” with cotton-stowing and Black singers.

Then there is a rousing good song called “Sally Brown,” and another, “Blow, boys, blow.” These originated in the southern cotton ports, and there are several of the same kind, all good stirring chanteys, but of comparatively modern origin.

[Lahee, Henry C. “Sailors’ Chanteys.” The Sea Breeze 13(1) (Oct. 1900):13-14.]

Most of the melodies are undoubtedly of English origin, though in many cases they have been influenced by contact with other nations. Thus we find a number of ancient airs set to words distinctly American, such as those of “Shenandoah,” “Sally Brown,” and “On the Banks of the Sacramento.” The first two doubtless came from some Southern cotton ports, as they bear ear-marks of negro singers.

[Whitmarsh, H. Phelps. “The Chantey-man.” Harper’s Monthly Magazine 106(632) (Jan. 1903): 319-323.]

At this point we see how popular landsmen versions may have developed. Bradford and Fagge’s (1904) made-for-performance collection simply grabbed lyrics from Davis and Tozer. The version was recorded by the Minster Singers on the Victor label in 1905. Then we have Masefield’s presentation in his highly influential A Sailor’s Garland (1906). Evidently in his mind, Sally was not a “bright mullater”!

Sally Brown, you are very pretty,
Your cheeks are red, your hair is golden,

These arguably contrived versions do not seem to have had much of an influence, however. The consensus form was rather like most versions attested since the 1870s at least. These include Bullen’s version. Writing in 1914, Bullen provides us with the fascinating detail that, along with “Drunken Sailor,” he heard “Sally Brown” sung for entertainment at meetings of London’s Savage Club.

The chanty went on to be featured in two films, the first being The Phantom Ship (1935):

The other was an adaptation of Great Expectations (1946).

Because Hugill’s versions came from Caribbean informants, it’s perhaps of interest to see some other specifically Caribbean versions. One comes from the notation of an all-Jamaican crew on the bark Ahkera in 1886.

Saly Brown was a bright mulatto,
     Yay ho o, roll and go!
Roll on, go on to roll me over,
     Spend my money on Sally Brown

Spend my money on the black-eyed Susannah.

[Hatfield, James Taft. 1946. “Some Nineteenth Century Shanties.” Journal of American Folklore 59(232):108-113.]

Another was recorded by Alan Lomax in Nevis in 1962, under the name of “Feeny Brown” (sample here).

Abrahams presented its lyrics and tune in his 1974 book, of which the following is a sample:

Feeny Brown is the belle of Bermuda.
     Ay yo, Feeny.
Feeny Brown is the belle of Bermuda,
     Spend my money on Feeny Brown.

Hugill’s informant, Harding of Barbados, told him at the time (1930s) that the chanty was still being used then to roll logs in lumber ports of the Caribbean. Hugill’s Version (A) consists of a composite of lyrics, some of which he got from Harding. I was actually in Kingston, Jamaica (and very excited…and sunburnt!) when I recorded this one.

Hugill also accounted for a couple variations in this rather consistent melody. I’ve demonstrated them here.

A final note on “Sally Brown” to express a pet peeve: A number of performers in the Folk Revival have rendered the second refrain as “Spend my money ALONG WITH Sally Brown.” Perhaps this was popularized by the Irish group Sweeney’s Men, and continued with PlanxtyI don’t think they made it up; it may actually derive from the Charles Robbins version (lyrics only) presented by C. Sharp (above). But all other versions, that I can see, say “Spend my money ON Sally Brown.” Perhaps the implications of this (i.e. that Sally Brown may have been a prostitute) seemed a bit risqué? In comes off sounding, in my opinion, as a bowdlerization. Worse (!), it comes off sounding as a cover version of an Irish revival band who inadvertently took the tooth out of the song. Oh well.

Wondering if it’s really so off-color to be singing a song about a “mulatto” in this day,

Ranzo :{