The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #76884   Message #1366344
Posted By: sixtieschick
28-Dec-04 - 07:31 PM
Thread Name: Origins: Hallelujah I'm a Bum
Subject: Origins: Hallelujah I'm a Bum
Here's some interesting research on this song. I was always told it had been found scrawled on the wall of a jail cell.


Tune: "Revive Us Again" (trad.)

This old song heard at the water tanks of railroads in Kansas in 1897 and from harvest hands who worked in the wheat fields of Pawnee County, was picked up later by the I. W. W.'s, who made verses of their own for it, and gave it a wide fame.
Carl Sandburg, The American Songbag, New York, NY, 1990 (originally published in 1927), p. 184.

For years "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum" was considered a folk song authored by no one in particular -- at least no one whose identity was known. However, Harry McClintock, an old Wobbly songleader who recorded the song in 1926, has made a good case for his authorship.

While hoboing on the open road in 1897 or 1898, bumming his meals or singing for his supper, McClintock says he put new words to "Revive Us Again," and called it "Hallelulia on the Bum."

"There were only two or three verses at first but new ones practically wrote themselves. The junglestiffs liked the song and so did the saloon audiences, most of whom had hit the road at one time or another, and the rolicking, devil-may-care lilt of the thing appealed to them."
During the Spanish American War, McClintock says, he sang the song in an army training camp in Tennessee, and the soldiers took it up, adding new verses. After the war they helped to spread the song around the country. By the late 1920s, more than a dozen publishers had turned out sheet music of the song. McClintock then charged them with infringement of copyright, and managed to establish his authorship legally.
Edith Fowke and Joe Glazer, eds., Songs of Work and Protest, New York, NY, 1973, p. 127.

The I.W.W. was using songs to inspire militancy and solidarity in its ranks and to help enlist new members prior to the time Joe Hill joined the organization, probably in 1910. The date of the first I.W.W. parody is not certain, but the technique of using songs in organizational activities was perfected in Spokane, Washington, around 1908 by J. H. Walsh, a national organizer for the I.W.W., who moved to Spokane from Alaska, late in 1907....

In late 1908, as economic conditions began to improve and jobs were more readily available, the "employment agencies" became active. In retaliation, the I.W.W. in Spokane warned incoming workers of the treachery of the sharks.... I.W.W. soapboxers... found themselves competing against the Salvation Army band with sufficient frequency to rouse the suspicion that the employment agencies had persuaded the band to time its performances to interfere with Wobbly meetings.

It was Walsh who hit upon the idea of using I.W.W. parodies, some based on Salvation Army tunes, to compete for the attention of crowds, and he organized a red-uniformed I.W.W. band to accompany the Wobbly singers. Cards bearing improvised lyrics to familiar tunes were printed and sold to the audience. These Wobbly innovations began a noisy contest for followers between the I.W.W. and the Salvation Army.

Gibbs M. Smith, Labor Martyr Joe Hill, New York, NY, 1969, pp. 16-17.

First published on a four-tune song card in 1908.

Why don't you work like other folks do?
How the hell can I work when there's no work to do?
[ALTERNATE LAST LINES: How the hell can I work when the sky is so blue?
OR: How can I get a job when you're holding down two?]
Hallelujah, I'm a bum,
Hallelujah, bum again,
Hallelujah, give us a handout
To revive us again.
Oh, why don't you save all the money you earn?
If I didn't eat, I'd have money to burn.

Whenever I get all the money I earn,
The boss will be broke, and to work he must turn.

Oh, I like my boss, he's a good friend of mine,
That's why I am starving out on the breadline.

When springtime it comes, oh, won't we have fun;
We'll throw off our jobs, and go on the bum.


I can't buy a job 'cause I ain't got the dough,
So I ride in a boxcar 'cause I'm a hobo.

I went to a bar and I asked for a drink,
They gave me a glass and they showed me the sink.

ADDITIONAL VERSES FROM CARL SANDBURG, THE AMERICAN SONGBAG, New York, NY, 1990 (originally published in 1927), p. 185.

I went to a house,
And I knocked on the door;
A lady came out, says,
"You been here before."

I went to a house,
And I asked for a piece of bread;
A lady came out, says,
"The baker is dead."

Click to play

Click for "Revive Us Again'