20 Nov

The Lakes of Champlain

It was early in the morning Willie Lambert arose,
Straightway to the chamber of his comrade he goes,
He said “wake up my comrade, let nobody know,
It’s a fine summer’s morning and a-bathing we’ll go.”

The walked and they talked til they came to a lane,
There they met a keeper, a keeper of the game,
He said “Go back Willie Lambert, do not venture in,
These are deep and false waters in the Lakes of Champlain.”

Willie stripped himself off and the lake he swam round,
He swam to an island but not on dry ground,
He said “Go back my comrade, do not venture in,
There’s deep and false water in the Lakes of Champlain

It was early in the morning Willie’s sister arose,
Straightway to the chamber of her mother she goes,
She said “Mother, dear Mother, I had a true dream,
I dreamed I saw Willie in the clear watery stream.

It was early in the morning Willie’s mother was there,
Wringin’ of her hands and a-tearin’ of her hair,
“Oh murder, oh murder was nobody nigh,
For to venture their life for my own darlin’ boy?”

It was early in the morning Willie’s uncle was there,
He swum the lake round like a man in despair,
“Oh was he sure murdered or did he fall in,
These are deep and false waters in the Lakes of Champlain.”

For to see Willie’s funeral ’twill be a great sight,
There’ll be four and twenty young men all dressed up in white,
They’ll take him to the graveyard, lay him in the clay
Sayin’ “Fare you well Willie” and go weepin’ away.

To see Willie’s sister, ’twill grieve your heart sore,
To see Willie’s mother, ’twill grieve your heart more,
To see Willie’s true love, ’twill grieve your heart pain,
There’s deep and false water in the Lakes of Champlain.

I recently had the opportunity to accompany my friend (and sometimes performance partner) Sara Grey for some concerts out in New England and Sara introduced me to this beautiful American version of what in Ireland is usually called “Lakes of Coolfin” or “Willie Leonard.” Sara’s version is a composite of a few collected in Vermont and I transcribed it here from her singing with help from the text she prints in her book Song Migration from Ireland & Scotland to North America.

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.