Remembering The Old Songs:


by Bob Waltz
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, April 2003)

Sometimes I get the urge to be very "Midwestern." This is one such month.

If I asked you who is the greatest Upper Midwest songwriter, who would you name? Bob Dylan? Becky Buller? Someone who still lives in this area?

I'm going to come out with a completely different name: William N. Allen, who wrote as Shan T. Boy. Allen was a logger in the 1870s, and in that time wrote a large collection of songs which he sang in the lumber camps. Several of these became genuine folk songs; The Banks of the Little Eau Pleine [Laws C2], in fact, is reported to have produced cowboy versions. And, reading them, you can tell that this was a real midwesterner writing them.

Allen set most of his texts to well-known tunes. Unfortunately, what's well-known to him is not what's well-known to us. In at least one case, The Shanty Boy on the Big Eau Claire, Allen actually forgot what tune he used! It's been collected in tradition, with a tune, but I don't know that version. And I've never managed to really learn Loch Erin's Shore, the tune he used for The Little Eau Pleine.

But this one -- this one we all know, because the tune is Tramps and Hawkers (also known as Paddy West, Remember the Barley Straw, and I don't know how many others). I don't know which of its many incarnations Allen knew (he told Franz Rickaby that it was a song about a mother who sent her son away to the Crimean War, which sounds like Laws J9, The Crimean War/As I Rode Down through Irishtown, but I can't prove it). But Rickaby's tune is almost Tramps and Hawkers, and the text can be sung to the standard Tramps and Hawkers melody.

What follows is the text printed by Rickaby, which is based on Allen's autograph copy of 1873. The tune is Tramps and Hawkers as I've learned it. If you want to see the official version -- well, beg, steal, or borrow a copy of Rickaby. It should be required reading for Minnesota folk types anyway.

The song itself has had modest success in tradition. Allen made it known in Wisconsin; in addition, Edith Fowke found a version in Ontario. Pierre La Dieu recorded it in 1928 on Columbia 15278-D.


Complete Lyrics:
There walked on Plover's shady banks
One evening last July
A mother of a shanty-boy,
And doleful was her cry,
Saying, "God be with you, Johnnie,
Although you're far away,
Driving saw-logs on the Plover,
And you'll never get your pay.

"Oh, Johnnie, I gave you schooling,
I gave you a trade likewise.
You need not been a shanty-boy
Had you taken my advice.
You need not gone from your dear home
To the forest far away,
Driving saw-logs on the Plover,
And you'll never get your pay.

"O Johnnie, you were your father's hope,
Your mother's only joy.
Why is it that you ramble so,
My own, my darling boy?
What could induce you, Johnnie,
From your own dear home to stray,
Driving saw-logs on the Plover,
And you'll never get your pay.

"Why didn 't you stay upon the farm
And feed the ducks and hens,
And drive the pigs and sheep each night
And put them in their pens?
Far better for you to help your dad
To cut his com and hay
Than to drive saw-logs on the Plover
And you'll never get your pay."

A log canoe came floating
Adown the quiet stream.
As peacefully it glided
As some young lover's dream.
A youth crept out upon the bank
And thus to her did say,
"Dear mother, I have jumped the game
And I haven't got my pay.

"The boys called me a sucker
And a son-of-agun to boot.
I said to myself, 'O Johnnie,
It is time for you to scoot.'
I stole a canoe and I started
Upon my weary way,
And now I have got home again --
But nary a cent of pay. "

Now all young men take this advice:
If e'er you wish to roam,
Be sure and kiss your mothers
Before you leave your home.
You had better work upon a farm
For a half a dollar a day
Than to drive saw-logs on the Plover,
And you'll never get your pay.

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