17 May

Cole Younger


I am a noble-minded man, Cole Younger is my name,
Of my many a depredation my friends I brought to shame,
For robbing of the Northfield bank and the same I will never deny,
And it leaves me a life’s prisoner in Stillwater jail to die.

The first of my many robberies I mean to let you know,
Was a poor Californian a miner lad and for the same I rue,
We took from him his money my boys and we bade him go his way,
For which I will be sorry until my dying day.

Then after getting his money my brother Bob did say,
“It is now we’ll buy fast horses and from home we’ll ride away,”
——-[no text for third line of melody, Green skips to fourth line]——
And we’ll chase the mountain guerrillas until our dying day.

Then we started out to Texas to that good old Lone Star state,
And on the Nebraska prairie the James boys we did meet,
With knives and revolvers we there sat down to play,
A-drinking lots of good old brandy for to drive the blues away.

And the Union Pacific Railroad was the next we did surprise,
And robbing with our bloody hands would take tears on to your eyes,
A-robbing with our bloody hands would take tears on to your eyes,
And on the Nebraska prairie their mouldering body lies.

And then we left that pretty place and northward we did go,
To that God-forsaken country called Minnesot-i-o,
Our mind was fixed on Mankatah [Mankato] bank but brother Bob did say
“Oh if you undertake that job I fear you’ll rue the day.”

Then we stationed out our pickets and up to the bank did go
And there behind the counter, I struck the deadly blow,
“Oh hand me out your money boys and make no long delay,
For we’re the noted Younger boys who gives no time to pray.”

In ten years of searching through archives and old song books for Irish-influenced songs from the Great Lakes region, I have found only a handful of texts that include Minnesota place names. Of the few I have found, I consider this one the best! It is about one of our state’s most notorious historical events: the raid by the James Gang and the Younger Brothers on the Northfield Bank in September 1876. Cole Younger survived the shots fired by citizens of Northfield that day and then 25 years in the Stillwater prison before being released. His celebrity as a real outlaw helped him make a living after release and he attempted to cash in with his own “wild west show” and a published memoir. Today, there are many resources online and in print that tell the fascinating stories of the James Gang, Cole Younger and the Northfield raid-gone-wrong.

I came across the ballad “Cole Younger” in a few books but fell in love with it when I heard it sung by Beaver Island, Michigan singer John W. Green. Versions of the ballad were collected all over the US but Green’s is by far the most Irish-sounding treatment I have found. Green was a prolific traditional singer and the focus of Alan Lomax’s field recordings during his visit to Beaver Island in 1938. You can hear Green singing the song online thanks to the Library of Congress’s recent digitization of Lomax’s Michigan recordings. It is impossible in a transcription (such as mine above) to do justice to the lovely variations and ornamentations that Green puts into each verse as he sings. He was an older man at the time of the recordings and not always in command of his voice but his singing includes many flourishes that hint at the masterful singing community, full of first generation immigrants from Donegal, that Green grew up in on the island in the late 1800s.

31 Oct

Three Nations

PrintMusic! 2004 - [Three Nations]

In the year of eighteen hundred, I believe, and twenty-five,
A story true I’ll tell to you as sure as I’m alive,
It was of three jolly heroes bold who happened to meet by chance,
For the sake of fun each man begun his country to advance.

Refrain (use first two lines of melody):
With your shamrock green, the thistle keen, together with the rose,
Your abundant sons with their swords and guns have oft times faced their foes.

Says George “We are a nation that’s proper neat and tall,
There is no one that can us resist, or break our wooden wall,
Oh, our ships can beat all nations no odds would come again’ ’em,”
“Arrah faith” says Pat “you may well say that when the Irish lads are in ’em.” (refrain)

Says Pat “we are a nation that ramble up and down,
And on the fields of battle we are in thousands found.
Give me the Fág an Bealach boys and the Connaught Rangers too,
And we’ll stand our ground ’gin all the French who fought at Waterloo. (refrain)

Says Andrew “We are a nation and that I’ll not deny,
We’ve never lost a battle, nor from our colors fly.
We have often proved good soldiers true where the bullets like hailstones flew,”
“Oh yes” says Pat “I remember that that day at Waterloo.” (refrain)

So Andrew drank to St. Andrew, for to cause another duel,
And George drank to St. George, who did the dragon kill,
And Pat drank to St. Patrick, and he mentioned Wallace too,
And they all shook hands and blessed the land that’s far from Waterloo.
_______________________________________

This rare song harkens back to Napoleon and the English, Scottish and Irish men that fought against him under the English flag. Helene Stratman-Thomas collected it in 1941 from second-generation Scotsman Thomas Hunter [b. 1868] of Galesville, Wisconsin. Hunter learned it on a log drive on the Prairie River north of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, from Ross Byers of Michigan who got it from his own Scottish immigrant father. You can hear Stratman-Thomas’ recording of Hunter online via the wonderful Wisconsin Folksong Collection made available by the University of Wisconsin.

Unsatisfied with Hunter’s melody for the song, I borrowed another popular Great Lakes melody when I recorded “The Three Nations” for my CD Minnesota Lumberjack Songs. Since then, I came across a version sung by Beaver Island, Michigan singer Mike J. O’Donnell (recorded in 1938 by Ivan Walton). O’Donnell uses the above air which I think works quite well. O’Donnell (a source for last month’s song as well) learned it from Hughie Boyle of Harbor Springs, Michigan.

The Napoleonic Wars actually had a hand in spurring the northwoods song tradition itself. Napoleon’s blockade British shipping routes to Baltic timber suppliers helped open up Canadian forests as a source for replenishing the British fleet. Timber ships heading from Liverpool to St. John, New Brunswick or Quebec City for Canadian timber brought thousands of war-weary Irish settlers to Canada where they worked in the woods, sang songs and made new lives “far from Waterloo.”

11 Sep

Hibernia’s Lovely Jane

(as usual, I forgot/changed a few words and notes here and there when I went to sing it)

Hibernia's Lovely Jane

 

When parting from the Scottish shore on the highland mossy banks,
To Germany we all sailed o’er to meet the hostile ranks,
Till at length in Ireland we arrived after a long campaign,
There a bonny maid my heart betrayed, she’s Hibernia’s lovely Jane.

Her cheeks were of the rosed hue; the bright glance of her een,
Just like the drops of dew bespangled o’er the meadows green,
Jane Cameron ne’er was half so fair; no, nor Jessie of Dunblane,
No princess fine could her outshine, she’s Hibernia’s lovely Jane.

My tartan plaid I will forsake, my commission I’ll resign.
I’ll make this bonnie lass my bride if the lassie will be mine.
And in Ireland where her graces are, forever I’ll remain,
In Hymen’s band join heart and hand with Hibernia’s lovely Jane.

This bonny lass of Irish braw being of a high degree,
Her parents said a soldier’s bride their daughter ne’er should be,
O’erwhelmed with care, grief and despair, no hopes do now remain,
Since this near divine cannot be mine, she’s Hibernia’s lovely Jane.

If war triumphant sounds again to call her sons to arms,
Or Neptune waft me o’er the deep far, far from Janie’s arms,
Or was I laid on honor’s bed, by a dart or a ball be slain,
Death’s pangs will cure the pains I bear for Hibernia’s lovely Jane.

_____________________________________

The text of this version of “Hibernia’s Lovely Jane” was given by Andrew Ross of Charlevoix, Michigan to collector Franz Rickaby in the early 1920s. Ross (1853-1930) was born in Quebec to Highland Scottish parents. He came to Charlevoix around 1880 and worked his way up the local lumbering industry, eventually serving as mayor of Charlevoix. Ross’s obituary says he “had a natural ear for music, and abundance of wit and humor, and his stock of Scotch songs and dances were known to many.” It continues, “As an entertainer in the early days he was in constant demand, and even in later years was frequently called upon to display his talents.”  (http://obits.charlevoixlibrary.org/articles/article30207.jpg, accessed Aug. 20, 2015)

“Hibernia’s Lovely Jane” (sometimes “Jean”) is a broadside ballad dating from the early 1800s that depicts a Scottish soldier in love with an Irish girl. In 1932, collector Sam Henry found a version sung (to a different air) in Ballycastle, County Antrim which he printed in his Songs of the People. Other than Henry’s version, I have found no other published version from tradition. However, during my research trip to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress last summer, I discovered two versions recorded by Ivan Walton during his 1940 trip to Beaver Island, Michigan. The melody above is a composite of the airs sung by Beaver Island singers John W. Green and Mike J. O’Donnnell. That the song would surface in both Charlevoix and Beaver Island makes sense. For over a century, Charlevoix has been the chief “mainland” town connected to Beaver Island by ferry. O’Donnell said he learned his version from singer Maggie Boyle of Harbor Springs, Michigan who may have learned it in Scotland.

A few words in the Ross text were misspelled or otherwise garbled and I have replaced these with words found in broadside texts held by the Bodleian Library.