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PermaThread: Songs of Johnny Burke, 1851-1930

08 Oct 08 - 07:07 PM (#2460645)
Subject: Songs of Johnny Burke, 1851-1930
From: Joe Offer

I came across Paul Mercer's song "Johnny Burke" on the Herdman/Hills/Mangsen CD Voices, and it piqued my curiosity. Turns out that Burk wrote a lot of familiar songs that I thought were traditional. I think it might be worthwhile to explore his life and songs. Please post song lyrics and whatnot.

Here is a brief biography from The Canadian Encyclopedia:
    Johnny Burke, poet, playwright, songwriter (b at St John's 1851; d there Aug 1930). While working at a variety of jobs, Burke moonlighted as a poet, writing hundreds of broadsheet ballads about events in St John's, printing them on his own press and selling them for 2 to 5 cents a copy. He was said to have used an old-fashioned gramophone with a huge horn to attract customers.

    His first songbook was published in 1901. Some of his most famous songs are "Cod Liver Oil,""The Trinity Cake" and "The Kelligrews Soiree." His musical comedies include The Battle of Foxtrap, The Topsail Geisha and Cotton's Patch.

Here is the Paul Mercer song:

(by Paul Mercer) ©1984

Oh now wasn't it my sister just today gave me the word
And wasn't it myself could not believe it when I heard
And didn't I just see him there the other day in town
Now they tell me Johnny passed away this morning
   So it's farewell to the vaudeville and farewell to the stage
   And likewise to his old time songs,
   Now weren't they all the rage
   When the newsboys sold them through the streets
   A penny for a page
   For Johnny Burke who passed away this morning

Now there never was a shipwreck, a murder or a time
That didn't get recorded in a ballad or a rhyme
It seemed he always had the gift to coin the perfect line
Old Johnny Burke who passed away this morning

There were plays in every theatre from the Nickel to the Star
And the houses packed at every show as they came from near and far
And he left them standing in their seats and shouting out for more
From Johnny Burke who passed away this morning

Oh now won't there be a funeral and won't we have a wake
And won't there be a friend to say goodbye for old times' sake
And remember how he made us laugh until our sides would ache
Old Johnny Burke who passed away this morning

But from time to time as years go by with fires burning low
We may think about some old time song we heard long years ago
And we'll see him there in his bowler hat with his old day pipe aglow
Old Johnny Burke who passed away this morning

Paul Mercer is the editor of The Ballads of Johnny Burke: a short anthology (1974)
Popular songs by Burke include:
  • The Night Paddy Murphy Died
  • Cod Liver Oil
  • Murphy Broke The Pledge
  • Who Shipped The Moonshine To St. John's
  • The Spring Maurice Crotty Fought The Old Dog-hood
  • The Kelligrews Soiree
  • The Trinity Cake
  • Never Been There Before
      This is an edited PermaThread® on Newfoundland songwriter Johnny Burke, intended to provide information about Burke and lyrics to his songs. This thread will be edited by Joe Offer. Feel free to post to this thread, but remember that all messages posted here are subject to editing or deletion.
      -Joe Offer-

08 Oct 08 - 07:08 PM (#2460646)
Subject: RE: Songs of Johnny Burke, 1851-1930
From: Joe Offer

There was a Johnny Burke who collaborated with Jimmy Van Heusen on a number of songs, including "Swinging on a Star" and "Pennies from Heaven." That's a different Johnny Burke - let's not talk about him in this thread.

Here is the biography of the pop songwriter Johnny Burke, from All-Music Guide:
    Johnny Burke, 1908-1964
    Biography by Steve Huey
    Lyricist Johnny Burke co-wrote numerous pop standards in the '30s and '40s, and was best known for his associations with composer Jimmy Van Heusen and singer Bing Crosby. Born in Antioch, CA, in 1908, Burke grew up in Chicago and studied both piano and drama. After a stint at the University of Wisconsin, where he played piano in the orchestra, Burke took a job with the Chicago arm of Irving Berlin's publishing company in 1926, serving as a song salesman and pianist. Following a transfer to the company's New York office, Burke began writing lyrics with composer Harold Spina, and the team made their debut in 1932 with "Shadows on the Swanee." The following year brought their first major hit, "Annie Doesn't Live Here Anymore," which became a success for Guy Lombardo. Over the next several years, Spina and Burke wrote a succession of minor hits for the likes of Paul Whiteman, Ozzie Nelson, Ben Pollack, and Fats Waller; their second big hit came with Waller's interpretation of "My Very Good Friend the Milkman."

    Burke moved to Hollywood in 1936, dissolving his partnership with Spina to take a shot at the movie industry. Teamed with composer Arthur Johnston, Burke wrote lyrics for the classic title song from 1936's Pennies from Heaven, as well as "One, Two, Button Your Shoe" from the same picture. After contributing "The Moon Got in My Eyes" and "All You Want to Do Is Dance" to 1937's Double or Nothing, Burke and Johnston split, and Burke moved on to work with Jimmy Monaco over 1937-1940, which immediately produced hit material for several films (most notably "I've Got a Pocketful of Dreams"). The two penned Bing Crosby's Oscar-nominated smash "Only Forever" in 1940, and also contributed "Too Romantic" and "Sweet Potato Piper" to The Road to Singapore, the first of many "Road" pictures starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Later in 1940, Burke split with Monaco and forged the most fruitful partnership of his career with composer Jimmy Van Heusen; the move paid dividends with 1942's The Road to Morocco, which featured "Imagination," "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" (both hits for Tommy Dorsey's Frank Sinatra-fronted orchestra), and "Moonlight Becomes You." 1943 brought the hit "Sunday, Monday, or Always" (from Dixie), and the following year the duo notched an Academy Award for "Swinging on a Star" (from Going My Way, which also featured the title song and "It Could Happen to You").

    Burke and Van Heusen continued to work together into the '50s, contributing frequently to Bing Crosby pictures (a total of 16 as a team, plus nine more for Burke in collaboration with other writers). In addition to films, the two also co-wrote the Broadway musical Carnival in Flanders, which opened in 1953; unfortunately, without much success. Their partnership began to drift apart after that, not helped by Burke's health problems. Burke wrote the lyrics to jazz pianist Erroll Garner's perennial standard "Misty" in 1955, and the following year contributed four songs to what would be his last film, The Vagabond King. Although Burke continued to write during the rock & roll era, the golden age of American pop had passed, and the hits (and opportunities) dried up. Burke passed away in 1964.

08 Oct 08 - 07:19 PM (#2460655)
Subject: RE: Songs of Johnny Burke, 1851-1930
From: Joe Offer

Back to our Newfoundland Johnny Burle, I suppose this is his best-known song:

Thread Thread #2304   Message #9021
Posted By: Tim Jaques
18-Jul-97 - 05:20 PM
Thread Name: Irish Newfoundland lyrics
Subject: Lyr Add: KELLIGREW'S SOIREE (J. Burke)

(J. Burke)

You may talk of Clara Nolan's ball
Or anything you choose,
But it couldn't hold a snuffbox to the spree at Kelligrew's.
If you want your eyeballs straightened
Just come out next week with me
And you'll have to wear your glasses
At the Kelligrew's Soiree.

There was birch rine, tar twine, Cherry wine and turpentine,
Jowls and cavalances, ginger beer and tea
Pig's feet, cat's meat, dumplings boiled in a sheet
Dandelion and crackies' teeth
At the Kelligrew's Soiree.

Oh, I borrowed Cluney's beaver,
As I squared my yards to sail;
And a swallow-tail from Hogan
That was foxy on the tail;
Billy Cuddahie's old working pants
And Patsy Nolan's shoes,
And an old white vest from Fogarty
To sport at Killegrew's.

There was Dan Milley, Joe Lilly,
Tantan and Mrs. Tilley,
Dancing like a little filly;
'Twould raise your heart to see.
Jim Brine, Din Ryan, Flipper Smith and Caroline;
I tell you boys, we had a time
At the Kelligrew's Soiree.

Oh, when I arrived at Betsy Snook's
That night at half past eight,
The place was blocked with carriages
Stood waiting at the gate.
With Cluney's funnel on my pate
The first words Betsy said:
"Here comes a local preacher
With a pulpit on his head.”

There was Bill Mews, Dan Hughes,
Wilson, Taft, and Teddy Roose,
While Bryant he sat in the blues
And looking hard at me;
Jim Fling, Tom King,
And Johnson, champion of the ring,
And all the boxers I could bring
At the Kelligrew's Soiree.

The Saratoga Lancers first,
Miss Betsy kindly said:
Sure I danced with Nancy Cronan
And her Grannie on the "Head";
And Hogan danced with Betsy
Oh you should have seen his shoes!
As he lashed old muskets from the rack
That night at Kelligrew's.

There was boiled guineas, cold guineas,
Bullocks heads and picaninies
And everything to catch the pennies,
You'd break your heart to see;
Boiled duff, cold duff, apple jam was in a cuff;
I tell you, boys, we had enough
At the Kelligrew's Soiree.

Crooked Flavin struck the fiddler
And a hand I then took in;
You should see George Cluney's beaver
And it flattened to the rim.
And Hogan's coat was like a vest --
The tails were gone, you see.
Says I "The devil haul ye
And your Kelligrew's Soiree!"

This is a popular Newfoundland folk song written by Johnny Burke in the 1920's, closely based on an older New York Irish song called "The Irish Jubilee", which documents a similar party and lists the guests and bill of fare. This version of The Kelligrew's Soiree comes from "Old Time Songs of Newfoundland,” 1955 edition.

Kelligrew's Soiree (with MIDI) in the DT

08 Oct 08 - 08:12 PM (#2460681)
Subject: RE: PermaThread: Songs of Johnny Burke, 1851-1930
From: Joe Offer

I found a longer biography in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography:

    Burke, John, poet, printer, and impresario; born 1851 in St., John's, son of Captain John Burke and Sarah Theresa Rutledge; died there 9 August 1930.
    The most famous of Newfoundland's song makers, John Burke has come to be known as the "Bard of Prescott Street," after the street in downtown St. John's on which he lived almost his entire life. His father, a successful sealing captain, died at sea in 1965 and young John, who had likely been educated at St. Bonaventure's College, began work in the grocery store his mother opened in their home. He, his brother, and his sister, all unmarried, lived together until their deaths. A grocer, auctioneer, printer, actor, singer, poet, theatre manager, and producer of stage showws, he shifted among source of income for years, but never strayed far from being an entertainer. Not known to take part in sports, Burke was a lifelong fan who was especially fond of boxing; he served at least one year (1903) on the prestigious St. John's Regatta committee.
    He was known as a humorous man and a quick rhymer, able to transform the tragic into the comic. From the mid 1880s until the late 1920s, Burke published "slips" - broadside ballads of his own composition. Out of newsworthy events and local tales would come a ditty or commemorative song. Printing them himself, he sold the ballads from his door, and young boys hawked them throughout the city. He used his own press but later he also employed other local printers, expecially for large jobs.
    His turning to alternative sources of income may have been spurred by the 1892 conflagration that destroyed most of downtown St. John's, including his mother's grocery. One of his earliest known songs is "The July Fire," which makes witty jokes of the hardships, losses, and insurance claims that followed the disaster. Around this time he began putting on entertainments. From the 1890s to World War I he was a popular impresario in the city, producing public concerts, skits, and parodic operas. Well received by all classes, his stage shows generated the local saying, "as funny as a Burke play." At his peak at lerast one of his shows was expected every season. Each was a collection of his songs, new and old, ofter with a longer centrepiece. After his high-cultured cousin Charles Hutton produced The geisha: a story of a tea house (an 1896, Gilbert-and-Sullivan-like operetta by Owen Hall, Harry Greenbank, and Sidney Jones), Burke wrote and produced The topsail geisha: a story of the wash house.
    He compiled his songs in a dozen or more small books, 50-90 pages, scattered with jokes and advertisements. Some of his earliest songsters were collaborations with James Murphy (another popular poet) and George To. Oliver. Burke's advertising copy was as entertaining as his songs. Custom-made poems for advertiseers sat next to rhymed curses on merchants who bought no space:
      May his pipe never smoke, may his teapot be broke,
      And to add to the joke may his kettle not boil,
      May two dogs and a crackie munge up his tobaccy,
      The narrow-faced miser who never could smile.
    Burke's satirical songs, about ever conceivable topic, have a cutting, absurdist edge of black humour. His weddings and parties are tumultuous. His dinners are unimaginably huge or inedible. His genteel citizenry is laughably assuming. His self-deprecation is endearing.
    When complaints arose about burning garbage, Burke wrote "Don't you remember the dump, Maggie..." (based on "When you and I were young, Maggie" by George Washington Johnson and James Austin Butterfield). After fire damaged a china warehouse and passers-by helped themselves to the goods, Burke's "Scramble fr the teapots at the fire" mad fun of the people whose kitchens sported new crockery. His "Trinity cake" is pure surrealist humour - a cake so filled with strange ingredients that it is inedible, even uncuttable:
      Ellen Reardigan wanted to taste it,
      And she struggled near ready to bust,
      When the sealers attacked it with hand-spikes,
      To try to remove the top crust,
      Then McCarthy went out for a hatchet,
      And Flannigan grabbed and old saw.
      That cake was enough, be the powers,
      To paralyze every man's jaw.
    In 1927 the city council threatened to cut off the water to citizens who had not paid their taxes. Burke's burlesque song "Stoppage of water" had broad double meanings throughout.
    His most famous song is "The Kelligrews soiree," taking off the townspeople who regularly made the short train ride to Conception Bay for elegant get-togethers. Burke's soiree is anything but elegant. In an effort to extend his popularity, Burke registered it (and two other songs) at the United States Copyright Office. "The Kelligrews soiree" was distributed by an American sheet-music press, but international commercial success eluded him.
    Not all Burke songs are humorous. "Lines on the sad death of..." starts the title of more than a few of them. Drownings, murder, riot, natural deaths, and shipwrecks were all grist for his mill. Local and foreign sporting events, too, were honoured in his poems. Though St. John's had several newspapers, Burkes' slips, printed on the spur of the moment, may have provided the first news that people had of such events.
    More of John Burke's songs have survived than those of any other Newfoundland song maker. No doubt their durability is partly due to his easy access to a press. But it is just as true that his ballads have been reprinted more frequently than others. His songs have remained popular and fresh for a century in both the oral tradition and the commercial repertoire. Ron Hyne's casting of Burke's "Old Brown's Daughter," the original air of which was lose, and Great Big Sea's "Excursion around the bay" (a rendition of "The Harbour Grace excursion") are excellent modern versions of his songs. In 1983 a music award was inaugurated in Burke's name by Esso Petroleum Canada and the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council.
    John Burke died in poverty almost a decade after his last successful show, Cotton's patch, a satire on the use of airplanes to spot seal herds. Cinemas, gramophones, and radio had already made his skills obsolete. His slips were no linger being hawked and his attempts to widen his audience had failed. Burke's better-off cousin Charles Hutton paid for his funeral.

    -Philip Hiscock-

You'll find a nice biographical piece on Burke here (click).

09 Oct 08 - 03:20 AM (#2460831)
Subject: RE: PermaThread: Songs of Johnny Burke, 1851-1930
From: Joe Offer

Thread #323   Message #1015
Posted By: Ian
02-Jan-97 - 01:12 AM
Thread Name: Tune Req: The Night Paddy Murphy Died


I originally learned this song from Stephen Lauderbach (a.k.a. Malcolm the Wanderer) and you may be able to find it on one of his recordings. I'll try to find out which one contains 'The Night Pat Murphy Died' for you. (I think I have it somewhere.) Anyway, here are the lyrics as I know them.

Enjoy! - Ian O'Donnell



The night Pat Murphy died is a night I'll never forget
Everyone got roarin' drunk and some not sober yet;
As long as the bottle was passed around and everyone feeling gay
And a lady came with bagpipes and music for to play
Mrs. Murphy sat in the corner, pourin' out her grief
While Kelly and his friends, those dirty, robbin' thieves
They crept into the anteroom and a bottle of whiskey stole
They placed the bottle on the corpse to keep the liquor cold

CHORUS: And that's how they showed their respect for Paddy Murphy
That's how they showed their honor and their pride;
They said it was a sin and a shame and they winked at one another
Now everything in the wakehouse went, the night Pat Murphy died.

At three o'clock in the morning, Some dirty blue-eyed scamp
He wrote upon the coffin lid, "Herein lies a tramp,"
They stopped the clock so Mrs. Murphy couldn't tell the time
And at a quarter after three, Sure they told her it was nine.
And everyone got merry, they didn't care for prayer
Mrs. Murphy said she'd wait 'til all the gang were there
Of all the sights I've ever seen that made me shiver with fear
They took the ice right off the corpse, and they placed it on the beer CHORUS

Now everything was doin' fine, there was no ill at all
'Til Finnegan told Flannagan, "You've got an awful gall."
I thought that that might start a row, And sure enough it did
For Callahan had carved his name upon the coffin lid
Then the fight got fierce & strong and everybody in
Someone knocked the whiskers off poor old Darby Flynn
And Dirty Andy Burke was there, Now whadda ya think he done?
He placed the corpse right on its head, In the corner just for fun CHORUS

Someone hollered for the cops; They busted down the door
They jumped upon ol' Paddy's back and they laid him on the floor
They knocked him twice behind the ears and they knocked him on the head
When they jumped up from his back, Sure they found out he was dead
Mrs. Murphy started in, Battled with them cops
She chased 'em, every one of them; She chased 'em several blocks
A lovely time was had by all, Eighteen in court were tried
For having caused a riot on the night Pat Murphy died CHORUS

At eight o'clock in the morning, The funeral left the house
And everyone but poor ol' Mrs. Murphy was out soused
They stopped on the way to the churchyard at the old Red Door Saloon
They went in there at nine o'clock and they didn't come out 'til noon
Someone asked ol' Finnegan if anyone had died
"Lou," says he, "I'm not quite sure, I just came for the ride."
They started out for the graveyard all in a very straight line
But when they reached the grave, they found they'd left the corpse behind. CHORUS

09 Oct 08 - 03:34 AM (#2460839)
Subject: ADD: Never Been There Before (Johnny Burke)
From: Joe Offer

(Johnny Burke)

She'd never been there before
She'd never been there before
A young man asked her recently
To come and sit upon his knee
He tickled her in the ribs
And he filled her with delight
She'd never been there before
But now she goes there every night

Me sister Sue was always such a silly little goon
She never really understood the proper way to swoon
A young man asked her recently to sit upon his knee
When she at last consented she behaved so bashfully
She'd never been there before
She'd never been there before
She seemed so proud when Mr Brown
Began to bounce her up and down
He tickled her in the ribs
And he thrilled her with delight
She'd never been there before
But now she goes there every night

A friend of mine whose husband was a stingy little man
Resolved herself to work upon a good old fashion plan
While Willy was sleeping fast that night she said I'll take a chance
Got out of bed and dove into the pockets of Willy's pants
She'd never been there before
She'd never been there before
But she was awful pleased to see
That Willy was sleeping peacefully
She only took half a buck
And it filled her with delight
She'd never been there before
But now she goes there every night

One night a burly policeman was walking on his beat
He happened to shine his flashlight in the alley down the street
The cook was standing in the door she said oh deary me
I feel so terrible lonesome will you keep me company
He'd never been there before
He'd never been there before
He gave the cook a regular treat
Along with a lovely roast of meat
He tickled her in the ribs
And he filled her with delight
She'd never been there before
But now she goes there every night

I can't vouch for the accuracy of these lyrics - they're from Wikipedia.

09 Oct 08 - 03:40 AM (#2460844)
Subject: ADD: Trinity Cake (Johnny Burke, 1851-1930)
From: Joe Offer

(Johnny Burke)

As I leaned o'er the rail of the Eagle,
The letter boy brought unto me,
A little gilt-edged invitation,
Sayin' the girls want you over for tea.
Sure I knew the O'Hooligans sent it,
And I went just for old friendship sake,
And the first thing they gave me to tackle,
Was a slice of the Trinity Cake.

There were bird calls, flutes, and mouth organs,
With handles of double edged files,
Corners of clergymen's pockets,
And pieces of broken bass viols.
Blue lights and petticoat jumpers,
That would build up a fine stomach ache,
For 'twould kill a man twice after eating a slice
Of this wonderful Trinity Cake.

Mrs O'Hooligan, proud as a peacock,
Kept smilin' and blinkin' away,
While her daughter Johanna, a spinster,
Was helping the boys to the "tay".
There was everything on the table,
That a man or a woman could take,
And my eyes nearly burst from their sockets,
For a taste of the Trinity Cake.

Ellen Reardigan wanted to taste it,
And she struggled near ready to bust,
Two sealers attacked it with hand spikes,
To try and remove the top crust.
Then McCarthy went out for a hatchet,
And Flannigan grabbed an old saw,
That cake was enough, by the powers,
To paralyze any man's jaw.

McCarthy complained of his stomach,
And Morgan felt bad in the head,
And Hogan crawled near the melodeon,
And fervently wished he was dead.
And Flannigan grabbed the accordion,
And there he did wriggle and shake,
And all of them swore they were poisoned or more,
From eating this wonderful cake.

There were glass eyes, bull's eyes, and fresh butter,
Lampwicks and liniment, too,
Pastry as hard as a shutter,
That a billy goat's jaw couldn't chew.
Tobacco and whiskers of crackies,
That would give you the fever and ache,
You'd crack off from the knees, if you happen to sneeze,
After eating this Trinity Cake.

from GEST.

04 Apr 12 - 08:57 AM (#3333556)
Subject: RE: PermaThread: Songs of Johnny Burke, 1851-1930
From: GUEST,Brian Grayson

I have a recording of a very old (50s-early 60s?) BBC radio feature about James Joyce, on which is sung, among other pieces, a fragment of a song entitled 'Miss Houlihan's Christmas Cake':

As I sat in me window one evening
A letterman came unto me
With a nice little neat invitation
Saying, "Won't you come over to tea?"
I knew it was Houlihan sent it
I went for old friendship's sake
But the first thing they gave me to tackle
Was a slice of Miss Houlihan's cake


There was plums, and prunes, and cherries
Raisins, and currants, and cinnamon too
There was nuts, and cloves, and berries
But the crust it was nailed on with glue
There were caraway seeds in abundance
'Twould give you a fine headache
'Twould kill any man twice
To be eating a slice
Of Miss Houlihan's Christmas cake

Miss Mulligan wanted to taste it
But really, it was all no use
She worked at it over an hour
But couldn't get any of it loose
Then Houlihan went for a hatchet,
And Kelly came in with a saw
That cake was enough, by the Power
To paralyse any man's jaw

There was plums, and prunes, and cherries
Raisins, and currants, and cinnamon too
There was nuts, and cloves, and berries
But the crust it was nailed on with glue
There were caraway seeds in abundance
'Twould give you a fine headache
'Twould kill any man twice
To be eating a slice
Of Miss Houlihan's Christmas cake

Is this perhaps the precursor of 'The Trinity Cake'?