13 Jul

The Deep Deep Sea

“Oh, bury me not in the deep, deep sea,” these words came faint and mournfully,
From the pallid lips of a youth who lay on his cabin couch from day to day,
He had wasted and pined till o’er his brow the death shade slowly passed, and now,
When the land of his fond loved home was nigh they had gathered around to see him die.

For in fancy we listened to well-known words, the free wild winds and the songs of the birds,
“I had thought of home, of cot and bower, and of scenery I loved in childhood’s hour,
I had ever hoped to be laid when I died in the church-yard there on the green hill-side,
By the home of my father my grave should be. Oh, bury me not in the deep, deep sea.”

“Let my death slumbers be where a father’s prayer and a sister’s tears will be blended there,
Oh, it will be sweet ere the heart-throb is o’er to know where its fountains will gush no more,
Let those it so fondly has yearned for to come and plant wild flowers of spring on my tomb,
Let me lie where my loved ones will weep o’er me, oh, bury me not in the deep, deep sea.”

And there is another that tears shall shed for him that lies in the cold ocean bed,
“In hours that it pains me to think of now she hath twined these locks and kissed the brow,
In the hair she wreathed will the sea-serpent hiss, the brow she pressed will the cold wave kiss,
For the sake of that bright one who waits for me, oh, bury me not in the deep, deep sea.”

“She hath been in my dreams…” His voice failed there, they gave no heed to his dying prayer,
They lowered him slow o’er the vessel’s side and above him closed the dark blue tide,
Where to dip her wing the sea fowl rests, where the blue waves dance with their foaming crest,
Where the billows bound and the winds sport free, oh, bury me not in the deep, deep sea.

I had had a string of inquiries lately about this song which Randy Gosa and I recorded on our Falling of the Pine album so it seemed like a good time to cover it in this column. The above version is closely based on one collected from Sarah Neilson of Hoople, North Dakota in the early 1920s by Franz Rickaby. Hoople is about 60 miles northwest of Grand Forks and about as far away as one can get from the deep, deep sea!

The song began as a poem called “The Ocean Buried” first published in 1839 and written by American Universalist preacher Edwin Hubbell Chapin on the east coast. It was later set to music by George N. Allen and distributed widely as a song sheet in the eastern US. The song entered oral tradition in New England and Atlantic Canada and eventually became the model for another widespread folk song “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie.” Interestingly, Neilson (born in Canada) did not sing Allen’s (rather bland in my opinion) melody but rather a variant of the beautiful tune associated with “The Parting Glass.”

28 Nov

Sweet Recale

I am a rich merchant’s only son, my age is twenty-two,
I fell in love with a handsome girl, the truth I will tell you,
And because that I had riches great and she was of a low degree,
Which caused my parents for to frown and prove my destiny.

They sent me to Americay, my fortune for to seek,
I was shipwrecked on the Austria, that now lies in the deep,
But Providence to me proved kind, a plank brought me to shore,
I’m in hopes to see my handsome girl at Sweet Recale once more.

It was on the morning of the fourth just by the break of day,
This handsome girl stepped up to me and this to me did say,
“Where are you from, my nice young man, come quickly tell to me,
Or are you from the heavens above, where is your country?”

“Oh I am a stranger in this place, the truth to you I’ll tell,
For loving of a pretty fair maiden in the town of sweet Recale.
And because that I had riches great and she was of a low degree,
Which caused my parents for to frown which proved my destiny.”

“Oh come tell me are you married to that girl you left behind?”
“No, but I’m already promised and a promise that’s good and kind,
I am already promised to that girl in sweet Recale,
And except her no other fair maids will ever my favor gain.”

And this fair maid fell a-weeping tears rolled down her rosy cheeks,
“Oh here is twenty guineas in gold for to bear you o’er the sea,
For love is better, I do find, than gold or earthly store,
May heavens above return you love, to sweet Recale once more.”

In 1934, Minnesota music teacher Bessie Stanchfield put out a call for old St. Croix Valley lumbermen to send in songs for publication in the Stillwater Post-Messenger. A man living in North Dakota who said he had been a lumberjack on the St. Croix Valley fifty years before wrote saying “I spent two winters working in one of Isaac Staples’ camps on the Apple River [WI]. The foreman was Andy McGrath. Every Saturday night we had a dance. Every Sunday night we sang. Tom Harrington, the camp blacksmith, was a fiddler, and the singers included Hendy Lane, James Riley, and young Jim McGrath.” The letter writer referred to one old song once popular in the area and remarked “Jim McGrath sang it fine.”

This Jim McGrath may likely have been James E. McGrath, son of John McGrath from Wicklow, Ireland and a successful (for a time) lumber company operator for whom the town of McGrath, MN is named. In any case, singer Jim McGrath was still in the Stillwater area in 1934 and in Stanchfield’s unpublished papers at the Minnesota Historical Society, she writes that, though he was a reluctant singer, “after one old-timer, then another, dropped into the office to tell of [McGrath’s] clear tenor and his great memory for the old songs” McGrath finally relented and began recalling for her “those pleasant evenings in the bunk house” and the songs that went with them.

The Stanchfield papers include part of McGrath’s text for “Sweet Recale.” I have mixed the McGrath text with melody and text again recorded by Alan Lomax in 1938 from Beaver Island, Michigan singer John W. Green (you can listen to Green’s version online via the Library of Congress) and a few lines nabbed from a third version collected in 1935 in Alger, Michigan by Gardner and Chickering.

I have found three 19th century broadside versions of this ballad from Ireland where the place name is either Belfast, Derry or Limerick instead of Recale. Lomax spells it Raquale and Gardner spells it Recail. I assumed it was a Great Lakes place name until another version recently turned up on the Irish Traditional Music Archive from Inishowen Penninsula singer Denis McDaid who sings Rycale. I’m at a loss as to the location of this mysterious place name!

01 Feb

The Clipper Ship Dreadnaught (revisited)

The Clipper Ship Dreadnaught_Gordon_Miller.musx

We have a flash packet, she’s a packet of fame,
She belongs to New York and the Dreadnaught’s her name;
She is bound for the ocean where the stormy winds blow,
Bound away on the “Dreadnaught” to the Westward we’ll go.

The “Dreadnaught” is lying at Liverpool dock.
Where the boys and the girls on the pier-heads do flock,
And they give us three cheers as their tears down do flow,
Bound away on the “Dreadnaught” to the Westward we’ll go.

And now we are howling on the wild Irish sea,
Where the sailors and passengers together agree,
For the sailors are perched on the yard arms, you know,
Bound away on the “Dreadnaught” to the Westward we’ll go.

Now we are sailing on the ocean so wide,
Where the great open billows dash against her black side,
And the sailors off watch are sleeping below,
Bound away on the “Dreadnaught” to the Westward we’ll go.

And now we are howling off the banks of New Foundland,
Where the waters are deep and the bottom is sand,
Where the fish of the ocean they swim to and fro,
Bound away on the “Dreadnaught” to the Westward we’ll go.

And now we are safe in New York Harbor once more,
I will go and see Nancy, she’s the girl I adore,
To the parson’s I’ll take her, my bride for to be,
And bid adieu to the “Dreadnaught” and the deep stormy sea.


This is the first song I am featuring as part of The Lost Forty Project I announced last month. The video is of The Lost Forty (Randy Gosa and I) performing our brand new arrangement of the above song. For the next eleven songs printed in Northwoods Songs, Randy and I will arrange the song and post a video on the first of the month. We are excited to be working with Cliff Dahlberg of Twelve Plus Media who is shooting the videos. You can access these videos and an archive of all previous Northwoods Songs columns and videos here or via my Youtube Channel.

“The Clipper Ship Dreadnaught” was already the focus of a Northwoods Songs post in November 2014. I return to it this month because it was the first song Randy and I chose to arrange for The Lost Forty Project. We based our arrangement on the 1924 field recording of Minnesota singer Michael Dean. The Dean recording will be part of the Minnesota Folksong Collection website I am building.

A central goal of The Lost Forty Project is to inspire others to learn and sing these songs themselves. This could mean singing the song unaccompanied, the way Dean and other woods singers of his generation would have done, or it could also mean creating an accompanied arrangement as Randy and I have done for “The Dreadnaught.” It is my opinion that both are musically satisfying and valuable approaches.

I learned and sang this song unaccompanied first. From that, I found my voice likes pitching it in B (it’s transcribed in D above). For our arrangement, I started by making up a guitar part using an unusual tuning associated with English guitarist/singer Nic Jones: BF#BF#BC#. Randy then created a harmonizing mandola part in CGDG tuning capoed at the 4th fret. I often use a combination of sheet music and the handy voice memo app on my phone to remember bits of my part as I make them up. Randy tends to work more by ear and memory. It is often a labor-intensive (but fun) process to come up with two complementary parts that we both like. Along the way, I decided to drop two verses from Dean’s version and change a few words here and there. I have transcribed it above more or less how I now sing it.

Next month, I will return to giving historical notes in my discussion of another song from the project: “The Crafty Miss.” For those interested in learning how to arrange songs in a style similar to Randy and me, when I launch my Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign this month one incentive I will be offering is a set of guitar and bouzouki/mandola part transcriptions for all twelve songs in the project.

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This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.