The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #1995   Message #2016695
Posted By: Azizi
04-Apr-07 - 07:32 PM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: Down in the Cane Break? / ...Canebrake
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Down in the Cane Break
Fwiw, here's some random comments about some of the lines from the version posted by Lorraine-28 Jun 97 - 09:40 AM:

"Boatman dance and boatman sing
And boatman do most anything."

'sounds' a like like this verse from the 19th century African American dance song "Juba"

"Juba dance and Juba sing
Juba cut the pigeon wing"

Which came first?

"Down in the canebrake, close by the mill,
There lived a coloured girl. Her name was Nancy Dill".


"Down in the canebrake close by the mill,
There liv'd a yellow girl, her name was Nancy Till"


"Down by the canebrake, close by the mill,
Lived a pretty little girl, her name of 'Nessa Field."

I bet the earliest adjective was 'yella' or 'yellow' {referring to an African American woman with light skin color}. "Colored" was probably a later 'politically correct' substitution. "Pretty girl" removes any racial referent and is probably an even later substitution for 'yella girl'.

"Sky-blue jacket and tarpaulin hat,
Look out, boys, for the nine-tailed cat"

See this excerpt from about the "nine tailed cat":

"The Cat of Nine tails is a whip made of usually nine knotted lines or cords fastened to a handle. An ancient design whip of 9 braided black leather 'tails' was popular through the centuries. The Cat of Nine Tails' overall length is 23 inches."


If the singer is a Black man who is asking his lady love to come with him to escape being beated by the cat of nine tails, it would be more reasonable for him to say "Come, love, come, won't you go along with me?/I'll take you away from Tennessee."


Given this point, unless the chorus was changed, I don't think this is an authentic African American folk song, not that anyone posting to this thread said that it was.

However, imo, the "Come Love Come" version posted by Lorraine on 28 Jun 97 - 09:40 AM seems to follow the African American dance song tradition of mixing & matching verses that don't need to follow the same story line but serve to extend the length of the song.

It appears to me that the first verse of that song really doesn't have anything to do with the subsequent boatman verses. And-besides mentioning the shore, the last verse of that song:

"I've come this way and I won't come no more.
Let me by and I'll go on shore.
There I'll turn my passions loose,
And they'll cram me in the calaboose"

has little to do with the first verse or the other verse.

If this song were sung in true folk fashion, it would be open ended with no fixed verse order-except possibly the first verse.

But, that last verse {of this rendition of that song} seems newer than the other verses. However, this may be because I think the term word 'calaboose' seems much more recent than the mid 19th century when this song purportedly was composed.

Here's a reference for calaboose meaning caboose meaning jail: