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.

msab_logo_bw          legacy_logo_bw

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.

01 Sep

The Bold Privateer

Bold Privateer

Farewell lovely Ellen, it is now we must part,
Must I leave you behind me, the love of my heart,
I must leave you behind me, and all that I hold dear,
Once more to go a-roving, in the Bold Privateer.

The foe they are treacherous, right very well you know,
Did they not kill their own poor king, not so very long ago,
You had better stay at home, with the girl that loves you dear,
Then to roam the wild ocean, in the Bold Privateer.

Our boat lies on the strand, and our ship lies in the bay,
Farewell my dearest jewel, for I can no longer stay,
Our ship she lies awaiting, so fare you well my dear,
I must now go on board of the Bold Privateer.

There is no one can tell, what hazards you may run,
So many have been slain, since this cruel war’s begun,
You had better not go, and leave your Ellen here,
For I dread to see you leaving, in the Bold Privateer.

Fear naught lovely Ellen, I fain would with thee stay,
But gold I must gather, for our wedding day,
We will soon beat down the pride, of the lofty Mounseer,
And will soon let them know, she’s the Bold Privateer.

Then since you are a-going, Good Luck attend to thee,
May kind Heaven protect you, on land or at sea,
May kind Heaven protect you, wherever you may steer,
And send you safe back, in the Bold Privateer.

Now the prizes we have taken, are from France and from Spain,
And my true love at home, she shall share the gain,
And when the war’s are over, I’ll return unto my dear,
And go no more a-roving, in the Bold Privateer.



On Februray 20th, 1927, the New York Times “Queries and Answers” section ran a request from one Joseph F. McGinnis for a full text of the above ballad to which McGinnis knew the melody but only the first two verses. McGinnis (featured in last month’s Northwoods Songs) was born in Kingston, Ontario and learned songs as a sailor on the Great Lakes before settling in New York City. McGinnis’s New York Times request was answered by none other than renowned Derry song collector Sam Henry. Henry supplied McGinnis with the missing verses and went on to correspond with McGinnis over the next few years. Henry even printed two songs contributed by McGinnis (“The Deserter” and “The ‘Crummy’ Cow”) in his “Songs of the People” column that has since been published in book form and is regarded as one of the finest collections of Irish traditional song in the English language.

McGinnis, who traded songs by mail with Minnesota singer Michael Cassius Dean, also sent Henry a copy of Dean’s songster The Flying Cloud. Irish song scholar John Moulden theorizes that Dean’s songster had a significant influence on Henry’s subsequent “Songs of the People” columns! (see this 2007 talk by Moulden)

The above text comes from a typescript prepared by McGinnis for “Songs of the Dogwatch”—his own collection of songs which was never published. The above melody is also based on the transcription that appears in the McGinnis typescript but I have taken liberties with rhythm and key signature to conform the air to what I believe is more probable.