The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #8085   Message #953477
Posted By: Stewie
15-May-03 - 09:20 PM
Thread Name: Origins: State of Arkansas
Subject: Lyr Add: ARKANSAS
All the comments on 'State of Arkansas/John Johanna' I have seen - Kinney Rorer in notes to County Harrell LP; Paul Oliver in 'Songsters and Saints'; Dr D.K. Wilgus in notes to 'Native American Ballads' RCA LP; Tony Russell and Janet Kerr in OTM #2; and Mack McCormick in notes to the Herwin Henry Thomas LP set - indicate that it is from the 19th white minstrel tradition. I have seen no reference to an Irish connection for the tune.

In July 1927, the songster Henry 'Ragtime Texas' Thomas recorded a version in a medley of songs that he titled 'Arkansas' - 'Let Me Bring My Clothes Back Home', 'State of Arkansas' and 'Travelin' Man'. The 'State of Arkansas' section fuses a verse from 'The Roving Gambler'.

ARKANSAS
(medley by Henry 'Ragtime Texas' Thomas)

I am a rambling, gambling man
I gambled in many towns
I rambled this wide world over
I rambled this world around
I had my ups and downs through life
And bitter times I saw
But I never knew what mis'ry was
Till I lit on Arkansas

I started out one morning
To meet that early train
He said, 'You better work with me
I have some land to drain
I'll give you fifty cents a day
Your washing, board and all
And you shall be a different man
In the state of old Arkansas

I worked six months for the rascal
Joe Herrin was his name
He fed me on corn-dodgers
They were as hard as any rock
My tooth is all got loosened
And my knees begin to knock
That was the kind of hash I got
In the state of Arkansas

Source: transcription in Mack McCormick's essay accompanying Henry Thomas 'Ragtime Texas: Complete Recorded Works 1927-1929' Herwin LP 209.

There is another transcription by Paul Oliver in his 'Songsters & Saints: Vocal Traditions on Race Records' at pp 112-113. The only variation is that he has 'Johanna' for 'Joe Herrin' and 'My tooth is all got loosened/And my knee-bone 'gin to raw'.

According to Godrich & Dixon - I only have an older edition - the Thomas recording was not issued at the time. Harrell recorded it ealier, but the recording was not issued until 1928.

Wilgus notes that the piece was spread by professional minstrels who inserted their own names. They probably inserted place names as well and Harrell, a Virginian, picked up a version that had 'Buffalo'.

--Stewie.