The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #94329   Message #3558488
Posted By: GUEST,Bob Walser
12-Sep-13 - 04:07 PM
Thread Name: Origins: Stowing Sugar in the Hold
Subject: RE: Origins: Stowing Sugar in the Hold
A folksong and its travels. I had some fun a while back chasing this one down. Here's what I found:

As noted, the Lafcadio Hearn text is one source of the song but his verses lack a melody and offer no hints or suggestions. This was noted by Dr. Harry Oster as he was compiling material for the 1976 National Geographic LP "Steamboat's A-Comin'" (Issue number 07787. "Wish I was in Mobile Bay" appears on side 1, track 3). In the liner notes, Oster and James A. Cox write: "In folk music, good tunes appear over and over in different forms, serving as molds into which fresh words can be poured. This roustabout song, which talks of loading cotton and sugar in the riverboat, is such a synthesis, for the lyrics are grafted on to a traditional 19th-century sea-chantey called Highland Laddie. In Mobile and other southern ports visited by sailing packets, rousters and deepwater sailors often exchanged chanteys and other rhythmic tunes and soon adapted them into new work songs of their own."

On the LP sleeve with the lyrics the title is marked with an asterisk which takes you (when you turn it over) to the note "*Collected and adapted by Dr. Harry Oster"

Curious about how the song got from the album to its current (relative) popularity, I followed the trail back from NexTradition and it led me to Marc Bridgham. Years ago, Marc (who sang with William Pint and Mary Malloy in the group 'Morrigan') heard the song. He e-mailed me: "That is the right recording. I've never had a copy of personally. I heard it at a now un-remembered acquaintance's house (not folksingers) and just listened to over and over again in one afternoon so I could memorize it."

If I remember the path correctly, in turn the song then passed to Mariide, thence to Mary Benson and Victory Sings at Sea then over the puddle to Poland (don't know the singer's name) and back again to NexTradition (was it Ken or Alison who brought it?). Been making the rounds ever since. It would be fun to try and figure who added particular verses . . .

Here are the lyrics as printed on the sleeve:

Wish I was in Mobile Bay
Rollin' cotton by the day
Stown' sugar in the hull below,
Below, below, below

Chorus: Hey ho, below, below
Stowin' sugar in the hull below.

The J.M. White is a new boat
From stem to stern she's mighty fine
Beat any boat on the Orleans line
Stowin' sugar in the hull below

Engineer yells through his trumpet
He give the firemen bad news
Couldn't make the steam for the fire in the flue
Stowin' sugar in the hull below

Capt'n on the boiler deck
Scratchin' away at his head
Hollers, 'Heave the larboard lead."
Stowin' sugar in the hull below.

On this recording the song was sung by Raymone Bazemore Harry Brown, William Common, Melvyn Ivy, the Gentlemen of Harmony (Ralph Bolden, Harry Brown, William Cammon, Melvyn Ivy, and Elliot Williams)

Hope this is of interest.

Bob Walser