05 Mar

Johnny Jarmin

He says “Dear honored lady, what makes you so cast down?”
Right modestly she answered, without a tear or frown,
“My true love’s gone and left me, he’s sailing to and fro,
And he left me no true love’s token, whether he would return or no.”

“Perhaps I saw your darling, when I was last at sea,
And if I do describe him, the truth you’ll tell to me,
And if I do describe him, I hope you’ll tell me so,
That you’ll agree and marry me, let him return or no.”

“Your true love’s tall and handsome where ’er he turns his back,
He’s comely in his features, and they call him Handsome Jack,
He’s away on board the Rainbow, he’s sailing to and fro,
Your true love’s Johnny Jarmin. Is he the lad or no?”

“He’s just the very sailor lad that you have mention-ed,
Pray tell to me, kind sir, is he alive or dead?
He was away on board the Rainbow, and sailing to and fro,
Your true love John Jarmin, is dead nine months ago.”

When she heard this doleful news, she fell in deep despair,
To the wringing of her hands and the tearing of her hair,
She fled unto her chamber, all for to make great moan,
It’s expected any moment, that death wil claim it’s own.

He has dressed himself in scarlet red, and is away to her again,
To ease her of her sorrows, and cure her killing pain,
“Cheer up, cheer up, my Mary, for there’s none so blithe as thee,
There’s not two doves in all the world, to equal you and me.”

“The moon exceeds the sun, the sun exceeds the rose,
And upon your bosom, darling, that flower both buds and grows,
There is none shall e’er enjoy me, but you that feels the smart,
And I’ll bid adieu to the Rainbow, since Mary has won my heart.”

The Minnesota Historical Society has an oral history interview made in the 1950s with Mary Orr O’Neill who cooked meals in her father’s lumber camps on Tamarac River, Loon Lake and Sioux Portage, Wisconsin in the 1880s. In it, Orr O’Neill recalls hearing several songs in her father’s camps including “Johnny German.” Versions of this song were once sung across the Great Lakes and in the Canadian Maritimes as well as in Ireland where Sam Henry collected a version. The above text come from an unpublished typescript compiled by New York singer Joseph McGinnis in the 1920s and titled The Songs of the Dogwatch. The melody is adapted from McGinnis as well with some modifications (McGinnis did strange things with key signatures and rhythm that I believe are more a function of his understanding of staff notation than a representation of what he actually sung).

Like the more well-known “Banks of Claudy,” “Johnny Jarmin” is what folklorists term a Riley Ballad—a story in which a man leaves his girlfriend behind, returns years later and tests her faithfulness by pretending to not be who he is. I was first introduced to this plot line as a kid by Rob Reiner’s 1987 cult classic The Princess Bride which I must have watched a thousand times. The trick seemed cruel, confusing and strangely romantic to me then and now. I think McGinnis’ “Johnny Jarmin” deals with the resolution in a very satisfying, poetic way.

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.

05 Jul

Georgian Bay Ho Ho

Georgian Bay Ho Ho

Bartender! Fill our glasses up,
There’s time for one round more,
For soon our mudhook we’ll break out,
Off Garden Island shore,
We’ll toss our dunnage right aboard,
And up the Lakes we’ll go,
In an able timber hooker, bound,
For Georgian Bay, Ho! Ho!

For Georgian Bay, Ho! Ho! My boys!
It’s lively we do go!
Bound up again and “flying light,”
For Georgian Bay, Ho! Ho!

The fores’l, main and mizzen’s made,
Gafftops’ls two also,
Our anchor it is now hove short,
It’s time for us to go.
So man your topsail halliards, boys,
Sheet home! And then belay!
Hoist and back! Forestays’l! jibs!
Up anchor! And fill away!

The wind it is dead aft, my boys,
From the Nor’east it does blow,
So give her the squarefores’l,
And raffees two, also.
Wing out fore, main and mizzen booms!
Square yards! Haul taut! Belay!
O! Watch her tearin’ through the foam,
She’s bound for Georgian Bay.

Now we have made Port Dalhousie,
The Canal we have passed through,
Lake Erie and both “Rivers,”
And up Lake Huron, Blue.
We’re anchored in our loading berth,
While small isles ‘round us lay,
And pine timber floats in booms, there,
‘Way up in Georgian Bay.

Now ship your timber davit, boys,
Reeve off the hoisting gear,
Price up the lower stern ports,
See you heaving cable clear,
Horse-boy, ship your capstan bar,
Hitch on the horses, two,
Soon we’ll load square timber in,
On board of the “Buckaroo.”

The stick it being hooked end on,
To the port sill it does move,
The hooks are then clapped on it,
And inboard it is hove.
The mate he breasts it in to place,
With timber dogs, you know,
And is watchful or he’ll lose some toes,
At Georgian Bay, Ho! Ho!

The water now has reached both sills,
Close lower ports! Make fast!
And caulk them up with oakum!
The hold is filled at last.
It’s next the deck ports open,
Then hoist on deck and stow,
‘Till all the deckload is on board,

O, it’s a-rolling, boys, a-rolling,
As homeward bound we go,
All the way down to Garden Isle,
From Georgian Bay, Ho! Ho!

This month’s song comes from an incredible, unpublished manuscript compiled by Joseph F. McGinnis. McGinnis was born in Kingston, Ontario in 1867 and was a sailor on the Great Lakes where singing played a similar role to what it did on seafaring vessels. After contributing Great Lakes songs and sea songs to collector Joanna Colcord in the early 1920s, McGinnis enthusiastically set out to add to his own repertoire/collection with songs gathered from other singers. He collected many songs via mail and even corresponded with Minnesota singer Michael C. Dean who sent him song lyrics and (with the help of a friend) transcriptions of song melodies. Sadly, McGinnis fell ill in the late 1920s and never succeeded in publishing his book.

Another of McGinnis’s correspondents was folk song collector Robert Winslow Gordon. It was Gordon that ended up with McGinnis’s unpublished collection, “Songs of the Dogwatch,” which I accessed via the University of Oregon’s archival collection of Robert Winslow Gordon materials. McGinnis’s transcriptions of song melodies are somewhat erratic so I made some educated guesses in writing out the melody above.

McGinnis wrote songs himself and “Georgian Bay, Ho! Ho!” was most likely one of his own compositions, though it fits well into the traditional style. Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay was a key access point to the vast pine forests of Ontario. The sailors in the song set off from (and return to) Garden Island—just outside McGinnis’s native Kingston. Garden Island was the base of a major shipping and lumber operation for most of the 19th century. Logs were squared off in the woods, loaded on ships in Georgian Bay, shipped to Garden Island, gathered into rafts and floated to Quebec City and, finally, loaded on to ships and shipped to Britain. The same timber ships that took Canadian wood to Liverpool transported Irish immigrants to Canada on the return trip.