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Lyr Add: The Ward Line


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Q (Frank Staplin) 31 Mar 05 - 04:42 PM
Nancy King 31 Mar 05 - 10:25 PM
Charley Noble 01 Apr 05 - 09:28 AM
radriano 01 Apr 05 - 01:18 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 01 Apr 05 - 02:58 PM
radriano 01 Apr 05 - 04:02 PM
radriano 28 Sep 09 - 06:42 PM
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Subject: Lyr Add: THE WARD LINE
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 31 Mar 05 - 04:42 PM

This was a work chantey of the black men who loaded iron ore and copper pigs on the ships in the Upper Great Lakes. The "Sam Ward" was one of the steamers which would stop in Detroit and ship a team of twenty or more black men to load copper pigs at the Keeweena Peninsula, and to unload them at their destination. Do not confuse this Ward Line with The New York and Cuba Mail, often called the "Ward."


De cap'n's in de pilot house ringin' de bell,
Who's on the way boys, who's on de way?
'N' de mate's down 'atween decks giv'n de niggas hell!
Tell me, whar yo' goin'?

When I sign on de cap'n say,
"On dis fine ship, no wo'k all play."

De mate he say "no wo'k on de ship,
Jes' lay aroun' an' enjoy de trip."

De mate he say "one trip up de lake,
Jes' set yo' up like a plutocrate."

Ah'd rudd'r be daid 'n' a'lyin' in de san',
Dan make a'nudda trip on de "Old Black Sam."

Her smokestack's black 'n' her whis'l's brown,
'N' I wish de Lawd ah'd a'stay'd in town.

Ah don' min' wo'kin' by de light o' de moon,
If de cap'n giv' us a half-hour noon.

"Git along, der, Mose, yo' feet ain't stuck,
Jes' hump yo' back an' push dat truck."

"Git along, der, Mose, push dat truck,
By 'n' by yo' dead, 'n' yo' have good luck."

Takes tons o' coppa' t' fill dat hol',
"Step along, der, nigga, damn yo' soul."

It's wo'k all night an' wo'k all day,
An' all yo' get am not half pay.

De mate say, "Sam, I'se raise yo' pay,
Yo' now git fifty cents a day!"

Roll 'em up dat long gangplank,
It make yo' thin 'n' lean 'n' lank.

City folks, dey's gon' to bed,
But we push coppa till we's dead.

De cap'n he give us a *tub o' suds,
It burn yo' belly 'n' rot yo' guts.

Jes' one drink fum de cap'n's tin,
'N' it makes yo' feel like commit'n sin.

Black boy, tick'l dat ol' banjo,
It lif' yo' heels an' make 'em go.

It make me think o' ma Liza Lou,
When she hear music, man! What she do!

Lake Superior's col'er 'n' ice,
Fall in jes' once, freeze all yo' lice.

Lake Superior's big an' rough,
'N' fo' dis nigga, one trip's enough.

It mus' be hours pas' dinna time,
'N' boss, ah's sho' da eat'n kind.

De Ward's boun' up, de Moran's boun' down,
'N' de John M. Nichol am hawd agroun'.

De Wm. H. Stevens is a'lyin' roun' de ben',
'N' all she's doin' is a'killin' good men.

Now I'se goin' back to Detrite,
'N' no more wo'k both day 'n' night.

'N' ah's goin' way down to Mobile
Whar white man bring de nigga's meal.

'N' ah's goin' down to Baltimore,
'N ah's ain't goin' to wo'k at all no more.

*Tub o' suds- watered down liquor dosed with hot pepper.

Other couplets-

I'se a'goin' back whar de shugga' cane grow,
Who's on de way, boys, who's on de way?
I'se a'goin' far away from dis ice 'n' snow.
Tell me, whar yo' goin'?

Der come mister parson in his long black coat,
Who's on de way, boys, who's on de way?
He'll go to heav'n, a'ridin' on a goat!
Tell me whar yo' goin?

Beech an' maple, beech an' maple,
Shove dat co'd wood long's you's able.
Heard at fueling dock at Amherstburg (where the Detroit River enters Lake Erie).
With music, pp. 41-45, Walton & Grimm, 2002, "Windjammers, Songs of the Great Lakes Sailors,"

Teams of blacks coaling up steamboats and tugs at Amherstburg, Ontario, and other ports, are remembered singing the same chantey.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: THE WARD LINE
From: Nancy King
Date: 31 Mar 05 - 10:25 PM

"The Ward Line" is included in the third recording by The Boarding Party ("Too Far From the Shore, Folk-Legacy CD-131). They sing only (!) 15 of the 29 or so verses listed above -- plenty enough to get across the feeling of the song. The album notes for this song give some good background information:

        This wonderful stevedoring shanty comes from the Ivan H. Walton Collection of Great Lakes songs... Many thanks to our good friend Dick Swain, who sent us a transcript of some notes about the song, from a manuscript Walton was working on prior to his death in 1968. Walton writes:
        "Captain Harvey Kendall of Marysville, Michigan, from whom much of the following song was obtained in July, 1933, stated at the time that he had served for several seasons in the early 1890s as mate in the propeller *Sam Ward,* the "Old Black Sam" of the song. He added that the Wards of Detroit...had...a number of [ships]...engaged in carrying copper pigs from Houghton and Hancock on Lake Superior to Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo. On the up-trip they would stop over at Detroit and ship a deck crew of 20 or more husky Negroes...and then on the down-trip send them ashore at the same place. They were paid at the rate of about fifteen dollars a month.
        "When the vessel was at the loading dock the deckhands brought the copper on board by means of hand trucks. They pushed them along as they walked in a slow shuffling gait in a loose circle between the warehouse and the vessel. Two or three days were required, the men working continuously with only brief 'time outs,' and they sang songs during the entire loading period. The favorites were of the sea-shanty type that permitted free improvisation. As soon as the work started, someone would start a song, and, as soon as a pause came, anyone else who thought up a fitting stanza or stanzas, or could recall some old ones, would break in, and so the song continued until a new one was begun. The singers strove for original stanzas, preferably of the kind that would get a laugh from the group."
        Sometimes, near the end of the loading job, the pace would begin to slow and the officers on duty would liven things up by providing a tub of cheap liquor "doped up" with hot peppers--the "suds" of the song. Captain Kendall remarked on the one hand that the choruses of these work songs "usually made no sense," but also said he had forgotten practically all of the songs except this one, "and I probably remember it because of the choruses. Even they knew they wasn't goin' anywhere on the wages they received and the kind of life they led."
        Walton included 24 verses of "Ward Line" in his collection, obtained from Capt. Kendall and several others who served as officers on the Ward vessels. "Each stated that there were scores of other stanzas and not all were printable...The air given is that used by Captain Hayes." Walton tried to reproduce the Negro dialect, though he claimed "no proficiency" in writing it. Jonathan has adapted his stanzas from those in Walton's collection.

The Boarding Party's rendition of "The Ward Line" is really fine, IMHO, and I encourage those who don't have this album to order it pronto from Folk-Legacy or Camsco. There are 16 other great songs as well!


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: THE WARD LINE
From: Charley Noble
Date: 01 Apr 05 - 09:28 AM

Nice notes.

Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: THE WARD LINE
From: radriano
Date: 01 Apr 05 - 01:18 PM

The Ward Line is a great work song. I've just started singing this song although I prefer singing the version done by the Boarding Party rather than the verses shown in the "Windjammers" book because I prefer not singing in dialect whenever possible and because some might find the original lyrics quite offensive.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: THE WARD LINE
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 01 Apr 05 - 02:58 PM

The unvarnished lyrics of the people are the best starting place because they reflect the times, beliefs, prejudices and place of a song. It is up to the singer to arrange them to suit his sensibilities and those of the audience, but in a way that preserves the story behind the song.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: THE WARD LINE
From: radriano
Date: 01 Apr 05 - 04:02 PM

Just so, Q. Well said.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: The Ward Line
From: radriano
Date: 28 Sep 09 - 06:42 PM

The Windjammers book states that the chorus of "The Ward Line" refers to the stevedores not really getting anywhere on their wages.

I've also heard that the lines "Who's on the way, boys, who's on the way" and "Tell me where you going" may refer to questions asked of ships coming by, in terms of what's the ship's name and it's destination - in case of shipwrecks. Are there any mudcatters out there who have here a similar explanation?


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