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Origins: Hooker John (chantey)

Gibb Sahib 08 Sep 11 - 03:48 AM
Gibb Sahib 08 Sep 11 - 03:56 AM
Gibb Sahib 08 Sep 11 - 04:10 AM
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Gibb Sahib 08 Sep 11 - 04:48 AM
Charley Noble 08 Sep 11 - 09:31 AM
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Subject: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 08 Sep 11 - 03:48 AM

This song is fairly obscure, but I think I've seen enough scattered references to it to begin some sort of wider speculation!

"Hooker John" is the name that Stan Hugill gave it in SfSS, so it has stuck as a generic label. However, my feeling is that attempts to take the word "hooker" at face value (as has been done by some of the presenters of this song) may not be productive.

My references will follow.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 08 Sep 11 - 03:56 AM

1869        Kellogg, Rev. Elijah. _The Ark of Elm Island_. Boston: Lee and Shepard.

A work of fiction which nonetheless can give a sense of what work-singing was like prior to that time. And because the songs he cites can be traced to songs we know today, there is good reason to consider them to represent actual songs with which the author was familiar (save for, perhaps, incidental verse-section lyrics). According to the scholarship of Charlie Ipcar, Kellogg, born in Portland ME, went to sea roughly between 1828 and 1835. That he maintained a connection with the seafaring world is evidenced by him becoming pastor for the Mariner's Church in Boston from 1854-1866. He could have learned the chanties in his story at any time up to its publication date, one supposes.

Kellogg includes an anecdote within his story --possibly something he witnessed, and he repeats the anecdote in at least one other work of his. It follows a discussion of the practice of hiring one Black laborer to sing and inspire/coordinate others. The anecdote goes:

A singular illustration of this was given many years ago in Portland, Maine. Eight negroes were hoisting molasses, one very hot day, aboard the brig William. They were having a lively time. Old Craig, a distinguished singer, was opening his mouth like an old-fashioned fallback chaise. A negro, — an agent for the Colonization Society, — very black, dressed in white linen trousers and coat, Marseilles vest, ruffle-bosomed shirt, nice beaver on his head, with a bundle of papers in his hand, came down the wharf, and went into a merchant's counting-room to collect a subscription. As he came out, his ear caught the tune.

He instantly came on board the vessel and listened. He grew nervous, imitated the motions of those at the tackle, and, by and by, off went the linen coat, the hat and papers were laid aside, he rushed among the rest, and, clutching the rope, like a maniac, began to haul, and sing,—

"Eberybody he lub someting;
Hoojun, John a hoojun.
Song he set de heart a beating;
Hoojun, John a hoojun."

When reeking with perspiration, he stopped: the white pants, vest, and ruffled bosom were spoiled. As he went up the wharf, casting many a rueful glance at his dress, Old Craig, looking after him, exclaimed,—
"No use put fine clothes on de 'possum! What bred in de bone, dat come out in de meat."


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 08 Sep 11 - 04:10 AM

1920        Whall, Captain W.B. _Sea Songs and Shanties._ Fourth edition.

Capt. Whall's experiences with chanties date from the early 1860s thru the 1870s.

His 4th edition adds a miscellaneous section with short scraps of sing-outs and chanties. This text is given, untitled, with score:


O my Mary, she’s a blooming lass
    To my Ooker John, my Oo-John
O my Mary, she’s a blooming lass
    To my Ooker John, my Oo-John

    Way, fair lady
    O way-ay-ay-ay-ay
    My Mary’s on the high land
    O yonder’s Maryâ€"yonder.


It's a typical "grand chorus" style chanty form.

Whall was English, and I assume he or whomever he learned it from regularly dropped the "H" in speech.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 08 Sep 11 - 04:28 AM

Capt. Mark Page, born 1835, of Sunderland (Scotland), was one of J.M. Carpenter's oldest informants. His sea service dates were 1849-1879. Ca.1928/29, Carpenter recorded him singing a song which is labeled in his collection as "Mary's On the Island."

The recording is hard to make out, but it sounds to me like:

And a hoojun John, a hoojah
Way, fair lady
O way-ay-ay-ay-ay
My Mary’s on the island
O yonder’s Mary, yonder.


Which is very similar to the grand chorus of Whall.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 08 Sep 11 - 04:48 AM

The last reference I have at present is to a version sung by Harding the Barbarian, collected (and possibly altered/bowdlerized) by Hugill. I don't have my copy of SfSS with me. Perhaps someone else has the details. (I can copy what I think are the lyrics from elsewhere, if not.)

Now-- Any other sources for this song? Any ideas about the direction of flow it may have taken?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Charley Noble
Date: 08 Sep 11 - 09:31 AM

Another intriguing shanty study, Gibb, and nice of you to set out the parameters of the argument so neatly.

Here's the negative, as in no trace of this shanty:

Book of Shanties by C. Fox Smith
Songs of American Sailormen by Joanna Colcord
Chanteying Aboard American Ships by Frederick Harlow
Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman by William Doerflinger
An American Sailor's Treasury by Frank Shay
Songs of Sea Labour by Frank Bullen
Music of the Waters by L. A. Smith

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 08 Sep 11 - 01:16 PM

Thank you for checking, Charley.

I suspect traces of this may appear in "unexpected" places. It was hearing the recording in the Carpenter Collection that inspired me to investigate. I was quite surprised that the obscure gem, "Mary's on the Island", was this song, and I don't think I'd have recognized it if I hadn't earlier learned the song from Hugill's collection.

***

Can we bring the (non-shanty) song "HOOSEN JOHNNY" -- I believe it might be called "The Little Black Bull" -- into this? I am sure others would know know something about it.

I have a few interesting references, but my presentation of them might be naive, due to lack of general familiarity.


So far, from the references here, I'd guess that this song was known far in advance of 1869. My feeling is that the shanties set down by Kellogg are based in experiences from several decades earlier. Maybe it was a very early chantey, which explains it getting "lost," and why only one of Carpenter's oldest informants knew it.

Hugill speculated that it was a cotton-screwing song, but didn't say why. I think it was based off of the "feel" of the text and because the melody is similar to "Roll the Cotton Down." Hugill did not know of the Black stevedore reference in Kellogg when he made the comment. Whall's text has some slight Scottish qualities -- if we may read into "lass"??. And Capt. Page was Scottish. "Scottish" certainly does not exclude "Cotton stowing," and one can almost feel a genre similarity (think prosody) between "Hieland Laddie" and this song.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 08 Sep 11 - 01:28 PM

As I mentioned earlier, I don't have my copy of Hugill's book around -- but I'd like to get his lyrics, based in the singing of Barbadian shipmate Harding, into this thread. Mudcatter radriano had added the lyrics he sings to a thread:

http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=49087#750562

And if memory serves, these are the portions from Hugill (edits appreciated):

HOOKER JOHN

Oh, me Mary she's a sailor's lass
Chorus:To me Hooker John, me Hoo-John!
We sported all day on the grass
Chorus:To me Hooker John, me Hoo-John!

Full Chorus:
Ch: Way Susanna
Solo: Oh, way, hay, high high-ya
Ch: Johnny's on the foreyard
Ch: Yonder, way up yonder

Oh, me Susie she's a sailor's gal
She's nine foot high that gal's so tall

Oh, me Flora she's a hoosier's friend
She's beamy round the old beam end

Oh, Sally Brown she's the gal for me
She court's a bit when her man's at sea


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 08 Sep 11 - 03:30 PM

Here is a reference that mentions this song as a corn-shucking song. It implies that song might be at least as old as the first decade of the 19th century.

1919        Felton, Rebeca Latimer. _Country Life in Georgia: In the Days of My Youth._ Atlanta: Rebeca L. Fenton.

The author was born ca. 1835. The following was a song sung to her by her father in the late 1830s. She believed her father brought it from the Potomac River region of Maryland, where he lived before moving to Georgia at age 7, circa 1806.

I remember also a Maryland corn-shucking song that my father would sing to me in my baby days. He came from his native state when a small boy, but he brought to Georgia many songs that delighted me. One of the many still remains. Among the Maryland chronicles of wills and deeds, mention is seen of the Notleys. The song runs thus:

"Mighty wedding over the River (Potomac)
    Hoosen Johnny --Hoosay!
Notley Dutton courts the widow.
    Hoosen Johnny --Hoosay.''

These Marylanders and Virginians had corn-shuckings. They were almost universal in Georgia in my childhood. The ripened corn was hauled to the barn lot and heaped on the ground outside the crib. Word was sent around that so and so would have a cornshucking on a certain night. White farmers came with their colored men. A great supper was prepared for all who came--substantials--plenty of it. In the big house there was a bountiful table, in the kitchen another table just as plentiful for the blacks. It was a big time for everybody. Before the daylight came the shucked corn was safely housed. Everybody had a good time and "all went home in the morning."


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 08 Sep 11 - 03:37 PM

A tangent, but interesting: The other song that RL Fenton says her dad sang to her as a child was a form of "Billy Boy" -- though Fenton does not recognize it as such, at places emphasis on the seemingly topical lyrics of the version she knew.

...A Mr. William Longstreet had invented a steamboat before that time [ca. early 1840s] and should share honors with the so-called inventor who got the credit. My father used to sing for me the following ditty based on Mr. Billy Longstreet' s new fad.

Billy boy, Billy boy, can you steer the ship to land? 

Billy boy, Billy boy, can you steer the ship to land?

Yes, I can steer the ship to land 

Without a rudder in my hand.

Billy boy, Billy boy, can you row that boat ashore? 

Billy boy, Billy boy, can you row that boat ashore? 

Yes, I can row that boat ashore 

Without a paddle or an oar.


What is interesting is that Capt. Mark Page, who sang "Hooker John" for Carpenter, also gave him a song related to this one. He was the only shanty singer to offer these two songs. One wonders what experiences the Scots sailor might have had for him to have learned both of these "Maryland" songs.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Artful Codger
Date: 08 Sep 11 - 03:54 PM

Gibb, for many users, your lyrics show with bizarre characters in place of some of your punctuation. See this thread (Entering special characters) to understand why and what you can do about it. Of course, this applies to other posters, too.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 08 Sep 11 - 04:05 PM

In anticipation of a possible discussion relating the mystery word in this song to "hoosier", here is a wonderful article summarizing the info about the meanings and origins of that word. Includes references to all kinds of documented variants, like "hoojin" and "hoojer."

http://www.indiana.edu/~librcsd/internet/extra/hoosier.html

We of course know "hoosier" (aside from the "resident of Indiana") as a term for cotton-screwers. It turns up in a couple documented chanty performances. But were cotton screwers, in general, really "hoosiers"? Or was "hoosier" a reference to *White* cotton-screwers specifically? And was this merely incidental -- being that "hoosier" was a more or less contemptible term for poor and/or working class Whites?

The hoosier idea is appealing to me, in relation to chanties, however I'll admit I can't envision how the term might have found its way into a corn-shucking song. Maybe it's just a false friend.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 08 Sep 11 - 05:03 PM

An excerpt from the above linked article by Jeffrey Graf. Just food for thought here. I'm not sure if I have any specific point in mind.

***
Hoojee, Hoojin

      In his Dictionary of Phrase and Fable Brewer finds that Hoosier "probably [derives] from hoosier, a mountaineer, an extension of hoojee, hoojin, a dirty person or tramp. The south of Indiana was mainly settled by Kentucky mountaineers."

      It is unclear what Brewer means by "an extension of hoojee, hoojin." Does he have it backward? The Dictionary of American Regional English records variants of hoosier as hoosher, hoogie, hoojy, hoodger, hoojer, hushier, and hooshur, not the other way around. But if Brewer's hoojee and hoogie are equivalents, a new vista opens in the use of hoosier and its "extensions."

      The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang has an entry for hoogie and explains: [perh. a phonetic spelling of a var of HOOJAH; perh. directly an alter. of HOOSIER] Black E. a white person -- usu. used contemptuously. There are two related entries in Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang, edited by Clarence Major:

Hoogies n. (1940s) white people; same as "honky"; (CM, CW Gayle Jones, "White Rat," p. 375.) Kentucky use.

and

Hoosier; Hoogie n. (1940s-1950s) a word sometimes applied to white racists in the midwest; redneck; hillbilly; filthy, uncouth person; rustic person (FGC, DARE, p. 1091.) SU, MWU

The citation to "White Rat" (1977) is to a widely reprinted short story by the Kentuckian Gayl Jones (yes, Gayl), in which a light-skinned Black man speaks of his life:

"I don't like to walk in no place where they say, 'What's that white man doing in here.' They probably say 'yap' -- that the Kentucky word for honky. ... and when we go to some town where they don't know 'White Rat' everbody look at me like I'm some hoogie ..."

      A similar use appears in Truth Crushed to Earth: The Legacy of Will Parker, a Black American Revolutionary by Harry W. Kendall, although in this case the reference may be more akin to Mr. Johnson's statement in Slave Narratives. Based on an incident in Pennsylvania in 1851, Kendall's historical novel has as its protagonist Will Parker, a fugitive slave. Part of the dialog includes the exchange:

"A hoojie?" Charles said.
"Mean white folks like that one. He'd turn us over to the patrerrollers quick as he'd look at us if he knew we was running."

And Kendall spells the word "Hoojie," surely the first cousin of Brewer's "Hoojee."
***


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 09 Sep 11 - 01:12 AM

OK, scratch the Scottish stuff about Capt. Mark Page ;-)

***

re: "Hoosen Johnny". I am seeing that there is there are extant forms that have "Hoosen Johnny, Hoosen Johnny" for both short refrains and some that have "Long Time Ago" for the second of the two short refrain. Anybody have any thoughts as to whether one or the other is more "authentic" to the 19th century, or if one came, significantly, before the other?

Christy's minstrel song (or *one* of them) called "Long Time Ago," seems to be a relative. It is posted elsewhere on Mudcat, having been harvested from a ca. 1850 songbook. The first short refrain in that version is, "Cousin John, hussa."

Yet while one might think it likely that a popular song such as Christy's was the original (or ground zero for its spread), it looks like Christy may have been borrowing from oral tradition. The minstrel troupe formed in 1843, so unless Fremont was mistaken, she was hearing a corn-shucking song before Christy could have popularized something. In this light, Christy's "Cousin John," rather than suggesting that Hoojun/Hooker is a mishearing, looks like it might have been a mishearing or rationalization itself.

Need to know more.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Sep 11 - 06:04 PM

Good information.
But those "bizarre characters" in posts of the lyrics cause a little head-scratching.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 09 Sep 11 - 07:25 PM

Sorry for the weird characters, guys. I'm only seeing a few on my end. The ones I see look like they are in place of a "--" (long dash). Try mentally replacing them with that? I'll be on the lookout in the future.

If there are many more, then I could re-post the lyrics if needed.

***

I'm curious how Whall and Hugill ended up with "(h)ooKer". The variation between hooS / hooJ (or Z, SH, ZH) sounds makes sense. Perhaps the anomaly was only with Whall -- Hugill had the tendency, in my judgement, to "correct" what he remembered hearing to put it in accord with what he'd read (i.e. Whall) or with a theory. But that's just me speculating.

I don't suspect it means much, except in terms of a productive way of (re)searching.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 10 Sep 11 - 12:03 AM

Wow, there's another one here, I guess.

Carpenter noted the singing (no recording seems to exist) of Capt. Charles Yule of Broughty Ferry (near Dundee), ca. 1928/29. The item is given the title "Mary's On the Isalnd."

His notes say that Yule heard this song on the American ship COLUMBIA, while loading guano on the Chincha islands.

The full text of Carpenter's transcription is not available to us on-line. The current online archive gives only the following fragment of text:

Way are[?] ladies

I'm going to presume that this line corresponds to the "Way, fair lady" in Whall's version.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 10 Sep 11 - 12:04 AM

*the Island


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 01 Oct 11 - 05:13 AM

Perhaps a distant relative? Here, it's "John's on the Island," instead of "Mary's on the island."

1941        Lomax, John. A. Our Singing Country. New York: Macmillan.

Recorded in the Bahamas, 1935. "sometimes sung as a jumping dance song"

BIDDY BIDDY

Biddy, Biddy, hold fast my gold ring,
Hey, Mamma, hoo-ay,
Never get-a London back again,
John saw the island. [John's on the island]

You drink coffee and I drink tea,
Hey, Mamma, hoo-ay,
Never get-a London back again,
John saw the island.


The part in brackets is what I believe is being actually sung.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 02 Oct 11 - 04:39 AM

Another chantey that I think belongs to the "family of resemblance" with this one is "Shake Her, Johnny, Shake Her."

The version in Hugill's SfSS (probably a composite, but in the main supposed to have been learned from Harding the Barbarian), starts,

A gal asleep with a blue dress on,
    Shake 'er Johnny, shake ''er!
She waitin' there for your Uncle Tom,
    Shake 'er and we'll wake 'er.

The rest is here on the 'Cat:

http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=115952

Perhaps others (besides me) also hear the similar melodic contour, rhythmic sensibility, and, most importantly, the 'K" -- which allows "shaker john-y-shaker" map onto "hooker john-a-hoojon."

Harding gave both these shanties to Stan Hugill.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Hooker John (chantey)
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 11 Feb 13 - 04:36 PM

Refresh.


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