The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #48893   Message #747648
Posted By: John Minear
13-Jul-02 - 07:45 AM
Thread Name: Origin: Limber Jim
Subject: Lyr Add: BUCKEYE JIM (from Burl Ives/the Lomaxes)
It seems to me that Burl Ives' remake of Mrs. Newman's "Buckeye Jim" was a mid-20th century part of the "folk process". He got his version of the song out there into circulation more successfully than did Fletcher Collins. I'm not saying that his efforts were better or worse, or necessarily an improvement. They were just another step in the tradition. They did become somewhat authoritative, perhaps because very few folks knew the more original version. But the process did not end with Mr. Ives. It has continued to develop over the last 60 some years.

I'm not sure whether it would be better to talk about "Buckeye Jim" being a variant of "Limber Jim" or vice-versa. I realize that this whole discussion may have been somewhat confusing since there are actually two "Limber Jims" at play here. So, I would suggest that we talk about Hearn's "Limber Jim/Shiloh" song and Fletcher Collins'/Patty Newman's "Limber Jim", and Burl Ives'(Alan Lomax's) "Buckeye Jim", even though Collins was the first to call the song "Buckeye Jim" in print and still refers to it as "Buckeye Jim". However, when his original went into print after it's original publication in the ALAMANCE booklet, it seems to have become "Limber Jim". As much as we might like to correct history, that's probably not possible.

Until someone comes up with some more of the missing history that might connect Hearn's "Limber Jim/Shiloh" to Mrs. Newman's/Collins' "Limber Jim", at least we can bring the history of the tradition over the last 60 years up to date.

It would appear that John and Alan Lomax (I've been neglecting to include father, John, in my credits) were the first ones to print "Buckeye Jim" in FOLK SONG U.S.A., in 1947. They gave it pride of place by making it the first song in their book. They got it from Burl Ives. As far as I know, Ives didn't publish it until 1962 in his SONG IN AMERICA. He recorded it on his "Little White Duck" album and probably somewhere else (WAYFARING STRANGER ?), but I don't have a date for the original release of that album. I would guess that Burl was the first one to make a commercial recording of the song. If anybody has different or additional information, I'd like to know.

Burl Ives/Lomaxs' version of "Buckeye Jim":

Way up yonder above the sky
A blue bird lived in a jay bird's eye.

CHORUS: Buckeye Jim you can't go!
Go weave and spin, you can't go,
Buckeye Jim.

Way up yonder above the moon;
A bluejay nest in a silver moon/spoon.

Way down yonder in a woodland/wooden trough
An old woman died of the whooping cough.

Way down yonder in a hollow log
A red bird danced with a green bullfrog.

There are only minor variations in the two sets of words. I've put the words from Ives' book first where there is a difference. The tune is almost exactly the same with a one note difference at the end. I prefer the arrangement by Charles and Ruth Seeger in the Lomax book, but that is because that's where I learned the song.

At least one other person got "Buckeye Jim" into print before Burl Ives. In her classical little gem, THE FIVE STRING BANJO - AMERICAN FOLK STYLES, Peggy Seeger includes a version. She published this in 1960. Peggy rearranges the order of the verses and makes a few changes in the words, and adds two verses. She changes "bluejay" to "jaybird", and she has "jaybird" dancing with the green bullfrog, rather than a redbird. She adds:

Way up yonder on a shooting star,
A bullfrog jumped, but he jumped too far,

Jaybird sittin' on a swinging limb,
He winked at me and I winked at him,

At least she doesn't zonk Mr. Jaybird with a stone in the eye as is usually the case with that last verse!

Also, in 1961, Norman Cazden published a songbook, and all I have is a xeroxed page from it with no other information. He has a version of "Buckeye Jim" with "New Words and New Music Arrangement by Norman Cazden". His tune is slightly different and he adds a bunch of minor chords. He has an eagle nesting in the silver spoon, and the redbird and bullfrog have taken their dance inside of the log instead of on top of it. The old woman died "Away down yonder, and a long ways off," and he adds two new verses:

Away over yonder, across the sea,
I courted a girl, but she wouldn't have me.

And away down yonder, and through the wood,
An old beaver said, he hadn't thought she should.

I am sure that there are other places where "Buckeye Jim" has gone into print and certainly many recordings of it. I've not been able to access the website that lists the recording history of a particular song. I know that Anne Muir recorded a nice version and that it can be found on a Folk-Legacy album A WATER OVER STONE, with Gordon Bok and Ed Trickett. This came out in 1980. She has a bluejay nesting in the jaybird's eye, and the same bluejay nesting in a silver spoon. And everything is "Way up yonder". Their tune sounds slightly different but it is probably more the instrumental accompaniment and the tempo that make it sound different.

Anyone else have additions?