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Hey all,


I've gotten a gig as a street vendor in one of the historic touristy towns on the Missouri River. I'd already thought to bring along my concertina when I sit my table, play, and hopefully play not-awful enough to draw people to my table -- as opposed to making them run screaming :P


My "spot" is literally 3 blocks from the river, so I'm hoping for a lot of tourist traffic.


So yesterday I got this brainstorm to play shanties and other stuff that would have been sung by the workers on the boats. Kinda adding to the "local color" and all that.


My local consultant suggested anything by Stephen Foster and not much else (he's not a shanty singer). I will certainly follow this lead, although I expect it to be rather slim. I mean, once you cut out all the racist material...there ain't much left of Stephen Foster.


And most, if not all of the shanties I know are probably British or at least New England whaling ship songs. (almost typed "whaler" and then realized that didn't look too good)




Anyone know of any American shanties that made it at least as far as the Ohio River? (on the assumption that if they made it that far they likely made it to the Mississippi and Missouri)


Or good sources to check for same?


Thanks much

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I think "shanties" is the wrong word, and the wrong emphasis.


Wrong word: Strictly speaking, shanties are work songs, and don't include songs the sailors sang while "off duty", like Greenland Fisheries (or the pop songs of the day). And they were used on deep-water ships, not riverboats, though some work songs of those who loaded and unloaded cargo (of both ships and riverboats) could reasonably be considered shanties... and some were found on both ship and shore.


End of that lecture. :)


Wrong emphasis: I guess what you're really looking for is songs about the river(s). But why stop there? Why not look into songs about -- or even just from -- the watershed or the region? A good place to start, as usual, is Mudcat. A search for songs containing both the words "Ohio" and "river" gave 18 hits, including American Pie. "Missouri" and "river" gave only 5 hits, but one of those is Shenandoah, an actual deep-sea shanty that is variously reputed to have started life as a French-Canadian canoeing song or a ballad about Jim Bridger. "Mississippi" and "river" also gave 18 hits, while "Missouri" alone gave 26, and "river" alone gave far too many to count.


You might also look for a copy of Ozark Folk Songs by Randolph, or other books like it for the regions or states along the rivers. There must be quite a few (I have such collections from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Southern Michigan, and I haven't actually searched for them), though you're probably more likely to find them in libraries than bookstores. I'll bet some of your Berea contacts could be helpful.


I don't think Stephen Foster wrote much that would apply directly, but Glendy Burke is one. And Boatman Dance is an old-time favorite.


But so far I've been restricting myself to songs. You said, "Play," without explicitly indicating that you intend to sing, too. How about a some old-time dance tunes, like Angelina Baker? Either way, you could include Oh, Susannah or Turkey in the Straw, or even the old Disney Davey Crockett song. (A tune should be well known if you want it convey a regional flavor without words.) And so it goes.


Have fun.

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I did my undergraduate work in Fayetteville Arkansas. One day a retired professor I befriended dragged me along to visit a friend of his who was in a nursing home at the time. The guy in the nursing home was Vance Randolf! Too bad it was another 10 years before I became even remotely interested in folk music. Nevertheless, even then I treasured the encounter and still do.


Forgive my off topic remark, but I don't often have a chance to tell this one.

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The song "I Miss the Mississippi and You" is nice, but may be hard to find. The notes on the back of my out-of-print Eric Schoenberg album suggest it was performed by Jimmy Rodgers, but it is credited to Bill Halley (not Haley). The lyrics are available online and I see Emmylou Harris has recorded it.


Do you upriver folk consider New Orleans glamorous or uppity? "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" is fun. "Lakes of Pontchartrain" is great.


www.contemplator.com is the best source to hear real shanties and read the lyrics. This is the only general tip I'll repeat of the many fine ones I received, since you can find them easily below. I got a couple of tunes I plan on keeping in my repertoire, although singing is not my forte. You might check out "Aweigh, Santy Ano", which is a lot of fun and mentions going to San Francisco, at least.


For your stated purpose, I wouldn't necessarily overlook "Gilligan's Island" for general amusement, especially when people start to throw things at you.

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National Geographic put out an album of riverboat songs. I'm not sure if it ever was reissued on cd. Check with your library. It includes half a dozen servicable songs including "Haulin' Sugar in the Hull Below" which I hear as an African American "Donkey Riding" or Hieland Laddie". (It would set very nicely in D modal, Dorian I believe) "Liza Jane" was another popular roustabout or stevadore song. "Mississippi Sawyer" can refer to limbless trees in the water that are a navigational hazard. "Golden Slippers" was a popular steam calliope tune. 'Dink's Song" from the Lomax collection is a Mississippi song. It is a slow pretty tune that would be a nice fit on the concertina. If you have few sassy accidentals, "Frankie and Johnny might be nice, at least for 52% of the general population. Out of the same folk/bluesy tradition you might consider 'Stagolee".


Your local library will have more help waiting on their shelves or in the audio section. Good luck and have fun!



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Do you upriver folk consider New Orleans glamorous or uppity?  "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" is fun.  "Lakes of Pontchartrain" is great.

Dunno about uppity, but I was thinking of N.O. as not "local". Re-reading Rhomylly's original post, maybe I shouldn't have been. In which case: "Battle of New Orleans", plus all that jazz. But if she does want non-uppity, then a short trip into the country and there's Cajun music, no?

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No one has mentioned "The Boatmen" or "Waterbound" which are old-timey about riverboat guys or guys living along the river in search of girls. Both have lyrics or can be played as tunes.


I wouldn't pass up the chance to include John Hartford songs in a set, including those he collected from fiddlers in that area. "Julia Belle Swain" is a riverboat tune.



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No one has mentioned "The Boatmen" or "Waterbound"....

I think "The Boatmen" is one of the names for what I called "Boatman Dance".

Actually, I have it in a book (pencilled date 1885) as "De Boatman Dance, Sung by the Ethiopian Serenaders."


One I remember from my college glee club days is Mississippi Mud. :)

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well, considering my *only* experience with that tune has been the time it was on the Muppet Show...I can only imagine.


Thanks everyone for the excellent suggestions!


I'll keep you posted on how the gig goes...it may be moved up a couple weeks to start on the 24th.

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There is the well-known fiddle tune, Mississippi Sawyer.


"Sawyer" is a American (?) river boaters term for a piece of driftwood hungup on something below the waterline. A river current can cause a tree trunk to bob up and down with great force, perhaps entirely below the surface. A sawyer can remains in one position until it breaks free, or swing about over a wide area. A large sawyer can present a severe hazard to even large ships, yet be invisible to the eye and be totally unpredictible.




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