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 :{ 

1 comment:

  1. Good ol Sally! Love this gal. Good job, Mr. Chantyman. J.