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Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can / Highwayman

GUEST,Bob Coltman 22 Nov 07 - 06:56 PM
oldhippie 22 Nov 07 - 07:10 PM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 22 Nov 07 - 07:16 PM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 22 Nov 07 - 07:54 PM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 22 Nov 07 - 07:56 PM
Stewie 22 Nov 07 - 08:37 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 22 Nov 07 - 09:19 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 22 Nov 07 - 09:44 PM
12-stringer 23 Nov 07 - 12:12 AM
John Minear 23 Nov 07 - 03:21 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 23 Nov 07 - 05:13 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 23 Nov 07 - 07:31 PM
Goose Gander 23 Nov 07 - 07:49 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 23 Nov 07 - 08:14 PM
John Minear 24 Nov 07 - 07:55 AM
GUEST,Amos 24 Nov 07 - 10:04 AM
John Minear 24 Nov 07 - 04:03 PM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 26 Nov 07 - 05:51 AM
The Sandman 26 Nov 07 - 01:35 PM
GUEST,Lighter 26 Nov 07 - 02:50 PM
John Minear 26 Nov 07 - 06:01 PM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 30 Nov 07 - 10:54 AM
The Sandman 30 Nov 07 - 11:04 AM
Bob the Postman 30 Nov 07 - 08:05 PM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 05 Dec 07 - 08:27 AM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 05 Dec 07 - 08:29 AM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 05 Dec 07 - 08:45 AM
Bob the Postman 05 Dec 07 - 09:42 AM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 05 Dec 07 - 10:38 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 05 Dec 07 - 04:18 PM
Stilly River Sage 05 Oct 12 - 09:25 AM
GUEST,Lighter 05 Oct 12 - 11:31 AM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 03 Apr 18 - 02:33 AM
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Subject: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 22 Nov 07 - 06:56 PM

I'm looking for the earliest sources of the song "Coon Can Game" / "A Game of Coon Can."

North Carolinian Charlie Poole recorded it in 1927 mixed with verses of "Hangman / Maid Freed From the Gallows" as "Highwayman." (In the DT) Kinney Rorer's notes relate only to the "Hangman" part of the song, and say nothing about its strong resemblance in tune and some verses to "Poor Boy" / "Coon Can."

Carl Sandburg's American Songbag (1927) has it in a longer, more detailed version as "Coon Can (Poor Boy)." He seems to have gotten the tune and one verse of it from one Kate Webber of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, and filled it out with verses from Jack Hagerty of Los Angeles. (In the DT forum, mixed into a "Bad Lee Brown/Little Sadie" thread for reasons that escape me. There seems to be no relationship between the two songs except that both are about a gunman killing his girlfriend.)

The American Songbag is where Burl Ives may have gotten the song. He shortened it, and recorded it c. 1951 as "Poor Boy." I believe Cisco Houston must have gotten it from Ives, as he sings a fairly identical version. (This too is in the DT)

"Coon Can" / "Poor Boy's" history before 1927 is obscure. Sandburg learning it in Chicago from a Ft. Smith Arkansas woman may imply a Mississippi riverboat origin. But the song speaks of trains, so may not be connected to the river.

It is not related to any versions of "Pity Po' Boy" or "Poor Boy Long Ways From Home" that I have seen.

Anyone know of versions of this song prior to 1927? Where it originated and from whom? Despite being fairly commonly known, not a lot seems to be said about it anywhere.

I'm doing some digging in early black sources and may be able to report back with more. Meanwhile, can anyone help?

Thanks, Bob


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Subject: Lyr Add: COON CAN SHORTY
From: oldhippie
Date: 22 Nov 07 - 07:10 PM

Bob, probably a different song than you're hunting, but from the black blues:
"Coon Can" - a form of rummy...

Coon Can Shorty Lyrics
Artist(Band):Peetie Wheatstraw (1902-1941)   


Well now, they call me Coon Can Shorty
The man from Coon Can Land
Yeah now, they call me Coon Can Shorty
The man from Coon Can Land
Well, I'm known to play the man
Hoo-well-well, the game they call Coon Can

My dice won't pass
Cards it only game you see
I said, my dice won't pass
Cards is the only the only game you see
An ev'ry chump in town
Hoo-well-well, seems to fall out on me

My babe give me money
Coon Can Shorty is my name
I said, my babe give me money
Coon Can Shorty is my name
A-before I lose her money
Hoo-well, I will spread dueces until I begin

But someday my dice gon' pass
An my money gon' be on the wood
Hm-hm-um-well, my money gon' be on the wood
Any chump in town
Hoo-hoo-well, they ain't gon' be no good

Some say they will coon the devil
If you chain him down
Some said they will coon the devil
If you chain him down
But now you know how good his sound
Ooo-well-well, if you come in this town.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 22 Nov 07 - 07:16 PM

Dorothy Scarborough in "On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs" (1925) reports a version, "The Coon-Can Game," from Mrs. Tom Bartlett of Marlin, Texas. The music was written down by Mrs. Buie of Marlin, and Mrs. Bartlett writes of the difficulty of translating the songs "from African to American music." Her notes:

"Coon-can is said to be a complicated card-game, something like rummy ... only more scientific, and is a great favorite with Negroes. It is also played by certain fashionable white people at present."

So we have a song evidently collected before 1925 by a white woman in Texas from a black source. Scarborough gives no other information Marlin, TX is (in my slightly old road atlas) currently a town of some 6600 SSE of Waco at the crossroads of routes 7 and 6.

No luck in sources of early black songs such as Odum and Johnson or Newman I. White. Thomas Talley's Negro Folk Rhymes is harder to search quickly due to Talley's odd titling scheme, but I do not believe the song occurs there.

The search goes on ... Bob


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Subject: Lyr Add: PO' BOY
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 22 Nov 07 - 07:54 PM

Yes, oldhippie, "Coon Can Shorty" is a different game. Wheatstraw was from Little Rock, though, and later played around St. Louis, so the game was clearly popular along the Big Muddy.

John A. and Alan Lomax report the song as "a cowboy ballad from northwest Texas" in Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, Rev ed, Macmillan, 1955, 159-61. I don't know if it appeared in earlier editions. The version is pretty much the one sung by Burl Ives, so that may be his (and Cisco's) source. It does have the "Bow down your head and cry" refrain, which some versions do not, like the one I wrote down nearly 50 years ago -- I learned it as "Penitentiary Blues" and unfortunately did not note the source. It is more or less like the Lomax version but seems to come from Arkansas or Missouri. However, Randolph doesn't have it.

The following is a little different. It comes relatively late -- 1950 -- and I wouldn't include it except that it seems to point to earlier origins, albeit undated.

What's frustrating is that the song clearly appears African American, but we have no version directly from a black source, only whites.

PO' BOY

From William Owens, Texas Folk Songs,Austin, Texas Folklore Society, 1950, 179-81. He says "My brother Charles brought this song back from one of his hoboing trips through West Texas. Since then I have heard it from many sings, both Negro and white, but I have not found a complete version. Dana Creel reported that he had heard it in Atlanta as 'Ten Thousand Miles Away,' but he could remember only a fragment."

I sat down to a game of cooncan,
I could not play my hand,
For thinking that the woman I used to love
Ran away with another man.

Ran away with another man, po' boy,
Ran away with another man,
For thinking that the woman I used to love
Ran away with another man.

I went down to the old depot,
Thinking I'd take a ride,
When I saw the woman I used to love
Seated by another man's side

Seated by ... etc.

I jumped up on the train platform,
I walked right down the aisle,
Pulled out my forty-four-some odd,
Shot down that wavering child,

Shot down that ... etc.

My mother called me to her deathbed side,
These words she said to me,
If you don't mind your roving ways,
You'll land in the penitentiary.

You'll land ... etc.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 22 Nov 07 - 07:56 PM

Sorry, oldhippie, I meant "different song," not "different game." Same game. Bob


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: Stewie
Date: 22 Nov 07 - 08:37 PM

Bob, in his discussion of Peg Leg Howell's 'Skin Game Blues' (a 1927 recording), Paul Oliver refers to 'The Coon-Can Game' as an 'old' song. Quoting from page 20 of 'Songsters and Saints' Cambridge Uni Press 1984:


'Skin Game' was evidently a song which Howell had worked up from other sources. It related to old songs in both white and black traditions like 'The Roving Gambler' and 'The Coon-Can Game', to which he had added a chorus based on the calls of the 'pikers'.


It might be worth your while trying to contact Oliver.

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 22 Nov 07 - 09:19 PM

Related hreads not yet linked at the top.
Joe Offer posted the Sandburg "Coon Can (Poor Boy)" in thread 54361:
Coon Can, Poor Boy

Seems like a Huntsville (TX) prison song, that is the place mentioned in the Sandburg version.
Fort Smith is near the Oklahoma border, an infamous town during the 'Roaring 20s.' During WW2 time and into the 1950s it supplied much booze to eastern Oklahoma and even Texas. Our bootlegger in Tulsa gave us 24 hour turn-around on liquor deliveries from there; no high state taxes to pay. It was the nearest place that had quality wines and liquors. It was still a pretty wide-open town that made money from neighboring Oklahoma even on bank accounts- Oklahoma had a state tax on bank accounts so many kept their money in Ft. Smith banks. The many motels and hotels were the hot sheet destinations for the adventurous from neighboring states.
Fort Smith is on the Arkansas River, which connects with the Mississippi, but I doubt that there was much 'Mississippi riverboat' influence. It pretends to some 'southern elegance' but the feel is western.
It was an important town in the "wild west" days, and also is known for Ozark Mountain scenery nearby. It was headquarters for the U. S. marshals operating into Indian Territory in the 1800s; the Marshals' Museum is being built there. It still calls itself the "Gateway to the West." The hangman's noose was once a sort of unofficial symbol of the town.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 22 Nov 07 - 09:44 PM

Ft. Smith's connection with steamboats died about 1900 when irrigation in Colorado, etc., essentially dried up the stream. In the 1880s, steamboats had plied the river to Ft. Smith, but their day soon ended. The Chouteau riverboats had gone by 1850.
The song is typical of a type not composed before about 1890.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: 12-stringer
Date: 23 Nov 07 - 12:12 AM

Marina Bokelman's 1968 dissertation at UCLA, "The Coon-Can Game: A Blues Ballad Tradition," might be of some interest.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: John Minear
Date: 23 Nov 07 - 03:21 PM

Bruce Jackson, in his book WAKE UP DEAD MAN, HARD LABOR AND SOUTHERN BLUES, has three versions of "Poor Boy" taken from Texas convicts in 1965, '64, and '66. You will find these on pages 61-66.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 23 Nov 07 - 05:13 PM

John Minear, could you kindly post one or more or those? Are they similar to the one in Sandburg?


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 23 Nov 07 - 07:31 PM

Other recordings, not listed in Traditional Ballads Index:

North Carolina Ramblers, 1928-1930, Biograph BLP-6005

Tarleton and Darby, c. 1930, Old-Timey LP-112 ("Gamblin' Jim" is a variant of Coon Can).
From record reviews, Western Folklore.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: Goose Gander
Date: 23 Nov 07 - 07:49 PM

See also this thread for Poor Boy / Ninety-Nine Years.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 23 Nov 07 - 08:14 PM

Well, we've been going round on this song for quite a spell. Nothing older than 20th c. and lots of floaters and convergence in these prison songs.


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Subject: Lyr Add: POOR BOY (J. B. Smith)
From: John Minear
Date: 24 Nov 07 - 07:55 AM

J.B. Smith's "Poor Boy", (August, 1965), from Bruce Jackson's WAKE UP DEAD MAN, pp.62-64

As I walked into the depot, boy, a train come a rollin' by,
Well, I looked out the window, I see the girl I love, hung down my head and cried.
I hung down my head and I cried, poor boy, hung down my head and cried.
Well, I peeped out the window, I saw the girl I love, hung down my head and cried.

Well, the judge say, "Boy, are you guilty, now?" "No, judge, not guilty, you see."
"Well, if we find you guilty, poor boy, gonna send you to penitentiary.
Yeah, I'll send you to the penitentiary, poor boy, I'll send you to the penitentiary"
Says, "If I find you guilty, poor boy, gonna send you to the penitentiary."

Well, the jury found me guilty, poor boy, and the clerks, they wrote it down,
So they turned me in the hands of the transfer man, till I was Huntsville bound,
Yeah, I was a-Huntsville bound, poor boy, yeah, I was a-Huntsville bound.
Well, they turned me in the hands of the transfer man, till I was Huntsville bound.

Till they give me two sixes upside down, now tlhey call me Ninety-nine,
Yeah they give me two sixes upside down, now they call me Ninety-nine.

When we enter the penitentiary, my nmber was twenty-three,
All I could hear those poor boys say, "Someday we'll all go free.
Someday we'll all go free, poor boy, someday we'll all go free."
All I could hear those poor boys say "Someday we'll all go free."
--------
{Opening}
My mother called me to her bedside...

"I learned this from a bunch a people I was workin' with. Some old inmates like myself. We sing those songs in the field to pass away the time. And there's so much truth in some of them. Some of them is true songs. This practically a true song. I mean either direct or indirect for me or some other guy. but there's a lot of true meanings to it."

My mother called me to her bedside and these is the words she say:
"Son, if you don't stop your rowdy ways, you be in trouble all a your days.
Be in troouble all your days, poor boy, in trouble all a your days,
If you don't stop your rowdy ways, in trouble all a your days."


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: GUEST,Amos
Date: 24 Nov 07 - 10:04 AM

The version I learned as a boy began "I went down to the river, poor boy, to watch the ships go by. ..." and had no railroad images in it. I suppose it was the Burl Ives version. It is most fine to discover the song's antecedents and cousins here -- thanks.


A


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Subject: Lyr Add: COLD PENITENTIARY BLUES (Joseph Johnson)
From: John Minear
Date: 24 Nov 07 - 04:03 PM

Here is the second version of "Poor Boy" collected by Bruce Jackson in his book WAKE UP DEAD MAN. This is "Cold Penitentiary Blues" by Joseph "Chinaman" Johnson, recorded in July 1964. You will find it on pp. 64-65 of Jackson's book.

"Cold Penitentiary Blues"

I got the cold penitentiary blues, poor boys, I got the cold penitentiary blues,
Just thinkin' of the girl I love, I got the cold penitentiary blues

As I set down to play cooncan, I couldn't hardly play my hand,
Just thinkin' of the girl I love, she run away with another man.
She run away with another man, poor boys, she run away with another man,
She run away with another man, poor boys, run away with another man.

My mother called me up to her bedside, and this is the word she said,
"Son, if you don't quit your rowdy ways, you be in trouble all your days.
You be in trouble all your days, poor boy, you be in trouble all your days,
You be in trouble all your days, poor boy, you be in trouble all your days."

I got the cold penitentiary blues, poor boys, I got the cold penitentiary blues,
Just thinkin' of the girl I love, I got the cold penitentiary blues.

As I went down to the old depot, the train was rollin' by,
I saw the woman that I love, I hung down my head and cried.
I hung down my ole head and I cried, poor boys, I hung down my head and cried,
I hung down my head and I cried, poor boys, I hung down my head and cried.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 26 Nov 07 - 05:51 AM

I have better information coming on the origin of this song, or at least its early variants.

For now suffice it to say I've been in touch with Marina Bokelman, who has studied this song in depth, and after hearing what she has to say, there's no question in my mind that the Coon Can / Poor Boy song is not of African-American origin as I guessed above, but white. Where it has been sung by blacks (as in the Wake Up Dead Man versions) it has pretty clearly been taken over from white sources.

More to come as information develops. Bob


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: The Sandman
Date: 26 Nov 07 - 01:35 PM

I recorded this song back in 1985,and understood it to have a
connection with the song the BostonBurglar ,Dick Miles.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 26 Nov 07 - 02:50 PM

My information too, but the texts above seem to show a minor influence at best from "The Boston Burglar."


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Subject: Lyr Add: POOR BOY NUMBER TWO (J. B. Smith)
From: John Minear
Date: 26 Nov 07 - 06:01 PM

Here is "Poor Boy Number Two", by J.B. Smith, recorded on June 12, 1966, by Bruce Jackson, and found in his book WAKE UP DEAD MAN, on pp. 65-66.

Very first day on the Brazos line, poor boy, on the Brazos line,
Number One was a buckin', Number Two was flyin', wo boy, Number Two was flyin',
Number Three was a hurryin', the pull-dos cryin', poor boy, the pull-dos cryin',
Number Three was a hurryin', the pull-dos cryin', poor boy, the pull dos cryin'.

Next day, poor boy, on the old turn row, you know the sun was a hundred degrees,
All I could hear was a poor boy say, "Some day we'll all go free.
Some day we'll all go free, poor boy, some day we'll all go free."
All I could hear was a poor boy say, "Some day we'll all go free."

Hot scalding water rollin' down my eyes, [so] busy I can't hardly see,
Can't keep up with the other boys, won't you please have mercy on me.
Won't you please have mercy on me, poor boy, Captain, have mercy, please.
Now I can't keep up with the other boys, please have mercy on me.

Just one more chance in a-life, poor boy, to do the right or wrong,
This hell wouldn't be my potion, boy, this hell wouldn't be my home,
This hell wouldn't be my home, poor boy, no boy, wouldn't be my home,
Just one more chance in life, poor boy, to do the right or wrong.

I'd go someplace and settle down, contented with well-doin',
Tell all the people on the street I meet what a lesson I have learned.
What a lesson I have learned, poor boy, lesson I have learned,
Go somewhere and settle down, with the lesson I have learned.

To be a disobedient child you often pay full fair,
You boarded your train 'way down the line, to finally pay off here.
You finally pay off here, poor boy, you finally pay off here,
You boarded your train 'way down the line, you finally pay off here.

The sun's goin' down and so am I, wonder who will be the first.
Of all the things ever happened to me, tell me what could be the worst,
Oh tell me what could be the worst, poor boy, tell me waht could be the worst,
Out of all the things ever happened to me, tell me what could be the worst.

Go down sunshine, go down sunshine, oh hurry, please go down,
This aggie hoe, this grassy row, won't let me see sundown.
Won't let me see sundown, poor boy, it won't let me see sundown,
This aggie hoe, this grassy row, won't let me see sundown.

Don't want no supper, just want my bed, get all the rest I can,
Be morning again before you know, I'll be in another strain.
Oh I'll be in another strain, poor boy, I'll be in another strain,
Be morning again before you know, I'll be in another strain.

Wish I had-a listened to mom and dad, they knew the best for me,
I'd never had this bridge to cross, never had this misery.
Never had this misery, poor boy, this misery,
I'd never had this bridge to cross, never had this misery.

Here's to the boys in my home town, Highway Six at Hearn,
Gamin' and chancin' with the law, don't worth the time I'm doin',
It don't worth the time I'm doin', don't worth the time I'm doin',
Gamin' and chancin' with the law, don't worth the time I'm doin'.

Chancin' with the long-armed law, you seldom win or draw,
Gamin' and chancin' with the law, you seldom win or draw.


"That's 'Poor Boy Number Two'! The day then was so hard, hard that I couldn't hardly make it, and it was a strain for me to make it through. And I was so tired I wanted to go to bed. Didn't even want my supper, too tired to eat. And wanted to get all the rest I could 'cause I knew I'd have to go the next day and I'd be in another strain. So I wanted every minute I could possible get of rest."


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 30 Nov 07 - 10:54 AM

Dick, Re Boston Burglar -- no direct relation I know of. Of course someone may have developed a version that mingles the two, but I've not seen any evidence for this in the older variants, apart from the very common floater verses dealing with the judge and sentencing. These were very popular, and appear in several songs, so they don't tell us much about interrelationship.

Amos, the Poor Boy riverboat version was the first I heard -- from Burl Ives c. 1950. They share a common tune and plotline. Puzzling, since the ship and river contrast with the depot and trains of the Coon Can versions. Might not seem such a shift, but I can't recall any other song developing two versions in a single region using such different scenes.

Are we dealing with two songs that became one and shared some verses in the process? I doubt it. But if one split off from the other, then how, where, when? I'd welcome suggestions.

Apart from that, it is remarkable how consistent the tune and general lyric framework are. Almost all the versions that survive sound remarkably similar, except for the riverboat vs. train dichotomy.

It's enough to make you think The Coon Can Game, and Poor Boy, stem from a single composition, composed and distributed. Am I saying it's possibly a pop song, say, c. 1890s-1910???? Not sure. And in that connection --

Q, I share your frustration. Discussion via email with Marina Bokelman -- I've requested her thesis via interlibrary loan -- implies at least one version she quotes may point to origin of "The Coon Can Game" at or before the turn of the century.

My loan copy may take a while to arrive, but I'll update this thread when I know more.

Bob


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: The Sandman
Date: 30 Nov 07 - 11:04 AM

Bob,in the Penguin book of American folksongs,By Alan Lomax,he describes it as an American variant of the Anglo Irish Ballad,The Boston Burglar.
I dont know if Lomax was correct,but when I recorded the song in 1985,I assumed Lomax was correct.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: Bob the Postman
Date: 30 Nov 07 - 08:05 PM

An American pop song composed between 1890 and 1910, with the word "coon" in the title? There must be about five or ten million of them. Given the existence of a card game called "coon can", it's almost inconceivable that some hack didn't use it in a song title during the infamous coon-song era.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 05 Dec 07 - 08:27 AM

Bob the Postman,

Yeah, that comes immediately to mind, and I also thought there might be a connection. But word origins suggest otherwise, at least if Merriam-Webster is correct. Here's their definition.

cooncan: a game of rummy played with two packs including two jokers
Etymology: from Mexican Spanish conquián conquian, from Spanish ¿con quién? with whom?   
Date: 1889

The derivation seems not unlikely, since we're looking at a Texas origin for this song, with strong Spanish influence from Mexico.

Bob


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 05 Dec 07 - 08:29 AM

Missed this earlier:

Encarta says the game itself is from Mexico.

Bob


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 05 Dec 07 - 08:45 AM

Dick, I don't have the Lomax Penguin ... I have, I think, all his other folk song books, and it doesn't appear there (unless under an unpredictable title) apart from the versions in Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads I mentioned above. So I can't look for myself.

Must say I see little internal likeness, beyond the stock judge-and-trial verses that appear in other songs too. But Lomax is a hard man to argue with. Does the book comment further on its assertion?

I'm glad to be proven wrong, but I'd like to see evidence firmly linking the two songs. (Such as some common lyric originating not later than say 1920 or so.)

Puzzled,

Bob


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: Bob the Postman
Date: 05 Dec 07 - 09:42 AM

There is another popular etymology of "cooncan" besides "con quien" which derives the word from a Chinese game supposedly called "kon khin". This is plausible because the Chinese labourers who could have spread the game and its name around the continent were fond of gambling on rummy-type games such as mah-jong. I don't think either etymology affects the hypothesis that the possible missing source-song of the coon-can verses in the song-cluster under discussion is a pop song from the 1895 to 1905 hey-day of the coon song. The song-smiths of the day fastened onto any and all things coon in their attempts to flog the near-dead horse into one more lap around the track and wouldn't have passed up "coon can", particularly as gambling was a staple theme of coon songs.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 05 Dec 07 - 10:38 AM

Bob, I agree. Moreover in Texas the pun would be inescapable in that era, and for that matter today too, sorry to say.

Bob


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can /Highwayman
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 05 Dec 07 - 04:18 PM

From A. H. Morehead, Ed., "Official Rules of Card Games," many editions from 1887 to the present, United States Playing Card Company (later editions by Fawcett).

"CONQUIAN, or COON-CAN

"This was the original type of Rummy played in the United States. It is a two-hand game."

(The name Coon-Can was applied also to the first two-pack Rummy game played with two jokers- this is not the original Coon-Can game described here, although it is the one cited in Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. The date 1889 in Webster's is from Century Magazine, and probably applies to the game described here, not to 2-pack Rummy as implied by the Webster's entry; see quotations below).

Description of game:
"The pack has 40 cards (a regular pack stripped of all tens, nines and eights). Jack and seven are in sequence. Ace counts only low in sequence- A-2-3, not A-K-Q.
Each of the two players is dealt ten cards. The remaining cards form the stock; no upcard is turned.
Melds ("spreads") are as in regular Rummy- three or four of a kind, or a sequence of three or more cards of the same suit."
I will not describe the play, the book is readily available.

The game employing two decks is described in the book as "DOUBLE RUM, also called Coon-Can"; it is as a variant of Rummy.

The first reference in print that I could find is in the OED: Century Magazine, 1889, April. "The men got out a pack of Mexican cards and gambled at a game called "coon-can." In 1905, it appeared in Hoyle's "Games." It was in Hoyle 1907 that the name was attributed to 'conquian,' from Spanish 'con quien', "with whom." Both Kipling and Somerset Maugham mentioned the game (1913, 1925) as Coon Can.
I find nothing in Spanish Dictionaries such as Velasquez. Could playing with a short deck could suggest that it was a game played by poor or prisoners, who did not have the means to buy cards? (Just idle speculation).


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Subject: Lyr ADD: Po' Boy
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 05 Oct 12 - 09:25 AM

PO' BOY

1 My mammy's in the cold, cold ground;
My daddy went away;
My sister married a gamblin' man;
And now I've gone astray.
I sit here in the prison;
I do the best I can;
But I get to thinkin' of the woman I love;
She ran away with another man.

Chorus: She ran away with another man, po' boy,
She ran away with another man.
I get to thinkin' of the woman I love;
She ran away with another man.

2 Away out on the prairie,
I stopped that Katy train;
I took the mail from the baggage car;
And walked away in the rain.
They got the bloodhounds on me,
And chased me up a tree;
And then they said, " Come down, my boy,
And go to the penitentiaree."

Chorus: She ran away with another man, po' boy, etc.

3 "Oh, mister judge, oh, mister judge,
What are you going to do to me? "
" If the jury finds you guilty, my boy,
I'm going to send you to the penitentiaree."
They took me to the railroad station;
A train came rolling by;
I looked in the window, saw the woman I love;
Hung down my head and cried.

Chorus: Hung down my head in shame, po' boy,
Hung down my head and cried;
I looked in the window, saw the woman I love,
Hung down my head and cried, po' boy!

Collected by Carl Sandburg in The American Songbag, 1927, Harcourt Brace & co, pp. 30-33.

Notes on pg. 30:

Po' Boy is a jail song in Oklahoma and Texas. It is also heard among post-graduates from jail in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. We are left to infer that if the "po' boy" had made a safe getaway after taking a bag of mail from the baggage car, the woman in the case would not have run away with another man but would have stayed with him to enjoy the loot. The lilt of the song is almost gay throughout except for the steady beat of the mournful, melodious vocables of "po' boy." The "Katy" train is a reference to the Missouri, Kansas & Texas, or "K.T." railway. Of course, though this is a jail song, it is sung by many who are free and "outside."
Arr. L. R. G.

About L.R.G.
From the Songbag front matter, pg xv, "Data concerning the composers and writers of musical settings, harmonizations, and accompaniments" - the notes were made by Lillian Rosedale Goodman (Mrs. Mark Goodman) --Born, Mitchell, S.D. Graduate Institute of Musicial Art, New York. Studied in Europe under Buzzi-Peccia. (truncated).

MD


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can / Highwayman
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 05 Oct 12 - 11:31 AM

"The Weekly Arizona Miner" (Prescott, Ariz.) (Nov. 30, 1877):

"Many of [the San Carlos Apaches] are old scouts who have already served a term with Lieutenant Rucker, and who having got rid of their 'gweenbacks,' as they call it at 'coon-can' or monte, made up their minds to go soldiering again for Chiricahua scalps and U.S. paper currency."


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Subject: RE: Origin: Poor Boy / Coon Can / Highwayman
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 03 Apr 18 - 02:33 AM

"I learned it as 'Penitentiary Blues' and unfortunately did not note the source" The source may have been "Cold Penitentiary Blues" by B.F. Shelton, 1927.

"no version directly from a black source" "Dollar Bill Blues" by Charley Jordan, 1930. Jordan was most likely 12 years older than Shelton.


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