The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #130575   Message #2939392
Posted By: GUEST,Bob Coltman
03-Jul-10 - 08:11 PM
Thread Name: Lyr Add/Origin: Can't Lose Me, Charlie
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: You Can't Lose Me, Charlie (Leadbelly
Who knows how Leadbelly learned this? Probably at third- or fourth-hand, especially since I have been unable to find any evidence that "Can't Lose Me, Charlie" was ever recorded either for the pop, blues, jazz or oldtime country market.

But however he learned it, Leadbelly learned enough of the original song to pick up a couple of verses (#s 1 and 3 below), though not complete ... they survive as orphaned couplets only.

By the way, the spelling "Cholly," as in "Been On the Cholly So Long," has a number of slang meanings: dope, the bum, a portion of a train where a hobo can ride, etc. In "You Can't Lose Me, Cholly," however, it is just the name "Charlie," derived from Harry S. Miller's original.

Leadbelly recorded his song first (I believe) for ARC in 1935, and intermittently thereafter for Moe Asch. The versions differed in details but he generally kept in the same verses, though not always in the same order. Here's one frequently heard take:


By Leadbelly

Cho: You can't lose-a me, Charlie,
You can't lose-a me, boy.

Up to Willie Winston's I went a roading,
Down on my knees, I was doing little courting,
Every time she turned around she said it so funny:   CHO

Hog and sheep they went to the pasture,
Hog said to sheep, You'd better go a little faster,
Every time she turned around, she said it so funny, CHO

I went a-rowing and my gal went too,
Down on the river, well the boat broke through,
Every time she turned around she said it so funny,
[in some versions] I got a pretty boy to bring me the money,   CHO

Me and my brother went down the road,
Tryin' to get some money to buy a gourd   
Got to have a gourd to drink water outa,   CHO

Lornell and Wolfe, in their biography Leadbelly, say nothing about how this song had survived to be heard by Leadbelly. It would be nice to know more.

In the 1890-1899 Songbook at

the uncredited author (who had not seen Miller's sheet music and evidently did not know the song lyrics) speculates about this, adding that the author Willa Cather heard "Can't Lose Me, Charlie" performed by minstrels in Lincoln, Nebraska [either 1983 or 1894]. So minstrels may have brought the song within hearing for the black population. The author also notes a reference crediting one Richard Morton for the words; my guess is that this was a later performer who took credit for what surely are Miller's lyrics.

That author also speculates that Miller did not originate the "Can't lose me, Charlie" phrase, but borrowed it from tradition. That's a long shot, but it's possible—given Miller's apparently thorough immersion in African American dialect of the time. Reasoning: he had to learn it somewhere, so perhaps he also picked up the phrase. I emphasize there is no proof for this at all.

More fascinating stuff to come in the next message, bringing the song up to the 1960s.