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I am in the middle of a fascinating book;  Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World.

The remarkable life and times of the man who popularized American folk music and created the science of song

Folklorist, archivist, anthropologist, singer, political activist, talent scout, ethnomusicologist, filmmaker, concert and record producer, Alan Lomax is best remembered as the man who introduced folk music to the masses. Lomax began his career making field recordings of rural music for the Library of Congress and by the late 1930s brought his discoveries to radio, including Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Burl Ives. By the 1940s he was producing concerts that brought white and black performers together, and in the 1950s he set out to record the whole world.

Lomax was also a controversial figure. When he worked for the U. S. government he was tracked by the FBI, and when he worked in Britain, MI5 continued the surveillance. In his last years he turned to digital media and developed technology that anticipated today's breakthroughs. Featuring a cast of characters including Eleanor Roosevelt, Leadbelly, Carl Sandburg, Carl Sagan, Jelly Roll Morton, Muddy Waters, and Bob Dylan, Szwed's fascinating biography memorably captures Lomax and provides a definitive account of an era as seen through the life of one extraordinary man.

While Lomax recorded some sea themed songs, they were not a main focus.
The Library of Congress lists these:
AFS 377-381; 418; 420-424; 430; 431; 436; 440; 445; 499; 505; 510-512; 515; 516; 531: Approximately thirty pulling shanties sung by Pappie, Henry Lundie, and others in Florida, Georgia, and the Bahamas. Recorded in 1935 by the Alan Lomax-Zora Neale Hurston-Mary Elizabeth Barnicle expedition.

AFS 651-652: Four deepwater shanties and fo'c'sle songs sung by John M. "Sailor Dad" Hunt in Whitetop, Virginia. Recorded by John A. Lomax in 1935.

AFS 2515-2533: Thirty-seven deepwater shanties and fo'c'sle songs sung by Captain Richard Maitland of Sailors Snug Harbor, Staten Island, New York. Recorded in May 1939 by Alan Lomax.

Having mis-spent my youth and post Vietnam years listening to folk music on and off, I knew a few shanties and songs of the men who "went down to the sea in ships".

I was turned on to Stan Rogers in about 1991 by one of my vet friends and was blown away. Stan is probably best know (in the states at least) for Barrett's Privateers.

"Barrett's Privateers" is sung from the point of view of a young fisherman who enlisted on Elcid Barrett's ill-fated Antelope. The Antelope is described as the "scummiest vessel [he'd] ever seen", and the song describes the many faults of the decrepit sloop.

After describing the initial voyage to Jamaica seeking American merchantmen and the problems with the Antelope, the unnamed narrator sings about how they finally found one, loaded down with gold. Unfortunately, the Antelope's main-mast is knocked down with one volley from the American vessel, and Barrett is killed.

The remainder of the song (and the chorus) conveys the narrator's disillusionment with privateering, and how he's a "broken man on a Halifax pier, the last of Barrett's privateers". The last two stanzas reveal that he is only "in (his) twenty-third year", and lost both his legs in the battle six years earlier, and that it had taken all six years to beg his way home.

The chorus resonates today still as a indictment of the lies that fool the young into going to war:
God damn them all
I was told we'd cruise the seas for American gold
We'd fire no guns, shed no tears
Now I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier,
The last of Barrett's Privateers

I used to sing Barrett's Privateers at the top of my lungs while riding my horse through the woods, a good way to learn a song :)

Follow below the Fleur-de-Kos for a few tunes.

Harmonies are one of the hallmarks of the shanty chorus, and this, although not a shanty, raises the hair on the back of my neck.    

Stan Rogers - Northwest Passage

Fisher folk are really what its all about in many respects. While whalers, war ships, schooners and Clippers ply the deep water far from home, the fisherman may go out and back everyday or spend days following their elusive pray.

Here an old one and a new one.

Ewan MacColl - The Shoals Of Herring

Billy Joel - The Downeaster "Alexa"

As mentioned above, I spent a few pints listening to shanties and other sea songs. One local group that I became good friends with as the "Howling Gael". This is the title track from their 1978 album.

Howlinā€™ Gael ā€“ Rant & Roar

Another song they did was the "Mingulay Boat Song". The story is about fishermen returning home to the isle of  Mingulay.

The Corries - Mingulay Boat Song
Notice how the audience joins in.

One thing about those who sail the sea is their tenacity and love of the vessels that keep them alive. I'll finish with another Stan Rogers tune. "The Mary Ellen Carter", in which
he reminds us to keep on fighting against the man.

"And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again."

Stan Rogers - The Mary Ellen Carter

Anyway just wanted to post a few thoughts and songs about those who work the water.

Add your own in the comments.

Originally posted to Bend Over Here It Comes Again on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 07:10 AM PDT.

Also republished by Protest Music and DKOMA.

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