20 Nov

Sweet Mary Jane

My true love’s name was Mary Jane,
Her epitaph reveals the same,
Her grace and charm I will proclaim,
Through all my days moreover,
Where could you find a fairer dame,
And search this wide world over.

“My love and I we did agree,
That when I would return from sea,
We’d go straightway and married be,
And live a life of leisure,
No more to face the stormy sea,
In quest of gold and treasure.

“But I had not gone across the main,
When cruel death had my companion slain,
The pride and beauty of the plain,
In her cold grave lay moldering,
And our fond plan was all in vain,
Amid the ruins smoldering.

“I am distressed what shall I do,
I’ll roam this wide world through and through,
I’ll sigh and sing for sake of you,
My days I’ll spend in mourning,
And in my dreams I’ll wander through,
The lane that knows no turning.

A sad and beautiful song this month that was collected from several singers in eastern Canada and that was also in the repertoire of Minnesota singer Michael Dean. In most Canadian versions, the lost lover’s name is “Phoebe” (or “Bright Phoebe”). In Maine, singer Carrie Grover learned it as “Sweet Caroline” while in Minnesota, Dean sang “Mary Jane” and printed it as “Sweet Mary Jane” in his 1922 songster The Flying Cloud.

The above melody is my best effort to transcribe the richly ornamented version sung by New Brunswick singer Angelo Dornan. We do not know what melody Dean used but most collected melodies, including Dornan’s, show a resemblance to the famous “Greensleeves” melody. Dornan’s striking twists and turns make his air refreshingly unique. For text, I subbed in Dean’s first line and made a couple small changes of my own but otherwise stayed close to Dornan’s version including its unique six-line poetic structure (most other versions have four-line stanzas). Dornan sang two additional verses to what appears here and a transcription of his full version appears in Helen Creighton’s Maritime Folk Songs.

20 Nov

Morzie Ellsworth

My name is Morzie Ellsworth the truth I’ll tell to you,
I’m in the prime of manhood and my age is twenty-two,
On the fourteenth of October last, I boarded on a train,
And bound for Pennsylvania, I left the state of Maine.

I landed safe in Williamsport, a lumberman’s rendezvous,
And there I hired with Jacob Brown as one of the winter’s crew,
We agreed upon the wages, as you shall plainly see,
And the time of term it was six months to serve him faithfully.

He gave to me a sheathing belt, likewise a bowie knife,
A battle axe and carbine gun for to defend my life,
But woe be on the morning when I did undertake,
A voyage to the forest for gold and riches sake.

There’s the tomtit and the moose-bird and the roving caribou,
The lucifee and partridge that through the forests flew,
And the wild ferocious rabbit from the colder regions came,
And several other animals too numerous to name.

And when the snow began to melt the foreman he did say,
“Lay down your saws and axes boys, and haste to break away,
For the broken ice is floating now in business we will thrive,
And you able-bodied shanty-boys are needed on the drive.”

It would melt your heart with pity, it would make your blood run cold,
To see the work that Nature did in all her rudest mould,
And to see those overhanging rocks along the ice-bound shore,
Where rippling waters fierce do rage and cataracts do roar.

So to conclude and finish, I have one thing more to say,
When I am dead and in my grave, a-mould’ring in the clay,
No artificial German text you can for me sustain,
Just simply say, “Here’s a roving wreck that came from Bangor, Maine.”

Ninety-five years ago, in the summer of 1923, Franz Rickaby collected a version of the above song in Bayport, Minnesota (south of Stillwater) from former lumberjack Hank Underwood who called it “The Maine-ite in Pennsylvania.” Underwood’s four verse version (verses 2, 4, 6 and 7 above) likely descended from the New Brunswick song “Morris Ellsworth” which satirizes a greenhorn logger from Prince Edward Island who comes to the Miramichi woods to log. The St. Croix Valley where Underwood was born, had a high concentration of immigrant loggers from the Miramichi region – including Underwood’s parents. 

Jokes and stories making fun of inexperienced men in the logging camp – especially their fear of animals – were common in the woods. According to folklorist Edward Ives, PEI men were looked down upon in Miramichi. Interestingly, Rickaby reported that “State of Maine” men were often foremen or bosses in Minnesota. Underwood likely learned his version while logging in Pennsylvania where, perhaps, Maine-ites had a different reputation. For a biography of Hank Underwood see the liner notes to my CD Minnesota Lumberjack Songs which also includes an arrangement of this song.

For the version above, I use a melody very close to Underwood’s melody and extend his text with extra verses added in from one of the Miramichi versions and one verse pulled from “Jim Porter’s Shanty Song” also collected by Rickaby.

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.”