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SONGS

 

I never set out intentionally to record or collect traditional songs. What follows below is largely a collection of songs that the instrumentalists I met happened to know. In particular, one man, Bill Bigford, stands out. Not only was he able to sing numerous, long ballads; he knew a large number of what used to be called "unprintable" songs. In the past, folk song collectors routinely ignored or dismissed these (see Jim Leary's article, "Woodsmen, Shanty Boys, Bawdy Songs, and Folklorists in America's Upper Midwest," The Folklore Historian 24 (2007): 41-63, for an interesting discussion of this phenomenon). I heard these from Bill as well as other old-timers and made a point to record them, in addition to any "clean" songs I happened to hear. Sometimes I had little advance notice to record this spontaneous singing, and conditions (car noise, people partying, etc.) made it hard to get recordings of good quality. Fortunately I was able to visit with Bill often enough to record many different ones.

Lumber Camp

Lumber camp, Midland County (c.1870)

Earl Clifton Beck, in his books published between 1938 and 1955, documented numerous lumberjack songs from elderly former lumberjacks living in Michigan then. The heyday of the Michigan lumber camp, with its attendant traditions, was well before 1900. This means that those who worked in them were long dead by the time I came onto the scene. In the 1970s, one could hear people reminisce about songs like "Little Brown Bulls" and the "Lumberjack's Alphabet," but few if any actually sang them. At Mackinac Island, however, I met Raymond Hoffmeyer, who in the 1920s worked in some of the last lumber camps and knew some songs. The seasonal (summer) work at Mackinac Island then was still reminiscent of the seasonal work in the woods, even if the seasons themselves were reversed. Old-timers like John McCarron or Elmer House drove teams of horses on the island and lived in dormitory-like housing. So some of the old lumber camp atmosphere was still alive.

I don't want to offend anybody with these songs. If family members of the singers hear them and find offense, let me know and I will remove them. In the original performance context, the songs are private, intended the same way that dirty jokes are. In order to preserve as much of the original context as possible, I ask that you only listen to them if you are not willing to be offended by them. If you are under eighteen, they are inappropriate. Teachers should not link or promote this page in connection to Michigan history lesson plans, for example.

Besides the lumberjack songs, the collection below contains a variety of other old songs and recitations. Some of the songs use the melodies of well-known dance tunes.

 

Recordings

 

1. Jam on Gerry's Rock. Sung by Raymond Hoffmeyer, Mackinac Island, Michigan, August 19, 1976. In the 1920s, Ray worked during the winters in some of the last lumber camps in the Lower Peninsula. They used crosscut saws and horses and sang songs like this in the evening.

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2. The Wexford Girl. Sung by Bill Bigford, Evart, Michigan, July, 1977. The woods in the region where Bill grew up had been cut by the time he was a boy, but his father had worked in the lumber camps, and Bill's father-in-law operated a sawmill near Marion.

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3. Johnny German. Sung by Bill Bigford, Portland, Michigan, 1976. The first line or two was not recorded.

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4. Miller's Will. Sung by Bill Bigford, Portland, Michigan, 1978.

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5. My Brother John. Sung by Bill Bigford, Portland, Michigan.

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6. I Met the Old Lady One Morning. Sung by Bill Bigford, Portland, Michigan. This is a version of a song called Dick Darby, the Cobbler, which, in "Types No Longer Typical," Michigan History Magazine 8 (Winter 1929): 92-93, Walter A. Terpenning recalled was in the repertoire of a Lapeer County man.

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7. I'd Married a Dandy Just Nineteen Years Old. Sung by Bill Bigford, Portland, Michigan.

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8. I Once Did Know a Farmer. Sung by Bill Bigford, Portland, Michigan.

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9. Paper of Pins. Sung by Bill Bigford, Portland, Michigan.

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10. Mister Captain, Stop the Ship. Sung by Donna Bigford, Marion, Michigan, January 1978.

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11. There's a Pine Tree on the Hill. Sung by Donna and Bill Bigford, Marion, Michigan, January 1978. This is a parody of "Little Log Cabin in the Lane." I've heard someone else sing this.

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12. There Was an Old Lady Lived over the Hill. Sung by Donna Bigford, Marion, Michigan, January 1978.

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13. We're Just Plain Folk. Sung by Donna and Bill Bigford, Marion, Michigan, January 1978.

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14. My Mother was a Lady. Sung by John McCarron, Mackinac Island, Michigan, August 1976.

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15. Irishman's Shanty. This must be the most widely known song of its type in Michigan. Whenever I played "Irish Washerwoman" at Mackinac Island, it seemed that someone would come up and offer it.

a. Sung by Bill Bigford, Portland, Michigan, September 1976.

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b. Sung by Walter Taylor, Port Hope, Michigan, Apr. 30, 1977.

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warning

You must be at least eighteen years old to listen to the following:

 

16. The Sea Crab. Sung by Bill Bigford, Portland, Michigan.

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17. My Name is John Williams. Sung by Orin Miller, Scottville, Michigan, September 8, 1977. The first line ("My name is John Williams and my age is twenty-one") did not get completely recorded.

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18. Chisholm Trail. Sung by Bill Bigford, Portland, Michigan.

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19. Darby Town. Sung by Walter Taylor, Port Hope, Michigan, April 30, 1977.

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20. This Way and That Way. Sung by Bill Bigford. I sent the words of this song to Ed Cray, a folklorist who has authored a collection of "unprintable" songs, The Erotic Muse. He found that a version of this song in Thomas D'Urfey, Wit and Mirth: Or Pills to Purge Melancholy, published in 1719, but found no subsequent version of it published anywhere, nor any reports of the song appearing in any collection. This certainly means that it had been in oral tradition for almost three hundred years!

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21. Peddler and Joe. Sung by Bill Bigford, en route in car, January 1978.

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22. There Was a Little Bird. Sung by Bill Bigford.

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23. Did You Ever See Sally Make Water? Sung by Bill Bigford. Fen Watkins also knew this.

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24. I Dreamt Last Night. Sung by Bill Bigford.

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25. I Fucked an Old Lady (version 1). Sung by Bill Bigford, en route in car, January 1978.

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26. I Fucked an Old Lady (version 2). Sung by Bill Bigford.

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27. I Went Upstairs to Get a Glass of Cider. Sung by Bill Bigford.

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28. Monroe is a Beautiful Creature. Sung by Bill Bigford. He also sang two others about "Monroe."

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29. Oh, Sally, Come Quick. Sung by Bill Bigford. This seemed to be his favorite dirty song.

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30. a. Old Lady She Shit in the Haymow. Recited by Bill Bigford. He couldn't remember the tune for it.

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b. Old Lady in the Haymow. Sung by Walter Taylor, Port Hope, Michigan, April 30, 1977. Taylor's tune for this song is "New Rigged Ship" (once widely known as a fife tune); Chet Parker associated the tune "Jefferson and Liberty" (another fife tune) with these lyrics and told me in 1973 that it was a favorite with the troops as they marched during the Civil War.

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31. Old Mother Hubbard. Two different versions, one to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw," the other in 6/8 time, are sung by Bill Bigford.

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32. Rory O'More. Sung by Bill Bigford. This does not use the tune of the same name.

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33. Said the Little Ren Rooster to the Little Red Hen. Sung by Bill Bigford.

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34. She Jumped in the Bed. Sung by Bill Bigford. This is still fairly widely known.

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35. a. Up Jumped Sally with Her Feet upon the Drum. Sung by Bill Bigford. One of his favorites.

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b. Oh, She Set with Her Feet Cocked up on a Drum. Sung by Walter Taylor, Port Hope, Michigan, April 30, 1977.

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36. Yankee Doodle Had a Cat. Sung by Bill Bigford.

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37. Oh, Baker, Oh, Baker, He was a Shoemaker. Sung by Peter Seba, Ravenna, Michigan, September 4, 1981.

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38. I Stuck My Nose in a Billy Goat's Ass. Sung by Walter Taylor, Port Hope, Michigan, April 30, 1977.

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39. There's a Pretty Spot on Nellie. Sung by Walter Taylor, Port Hope, Michigan, April 30, 1977.

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40. Was a Rink in My Dink. Sung by Walter Taylor, Port Hope, Michigan, April 30, 1977.

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41. My Name Is Bob Taylor. Sung by Bill Bigford, Portland, Michigan, 1976.

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Recitations and a Joke

 

42. Here's to the Girl Out West. Spoken by Peter Seba, Ravenna, Michigan, September 4, 1981.

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43. The Indian and the Druggist. Spoken by Bill Bigford. All of Bill's songs here were recorded between 1976 and 1978.

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44. I'm Hunt de Skunk. Spoken by Fenton Watkins, Birmingham, Michigan, 1976.

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45. Dangerous Dan McGrew (a parody of the original Robert Service poem). Spoken by Raymond Hoffmeyer, Mackinac Island, Michigan, August 19, 1976.

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46. Down in the Lehigh Valley. Spoken by Orin Miller, Scottville, Michigan, September 8, 1977.

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