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And I'll walk the road again my boy. Blog the road again and either be fair I'll call on my hair and I'll log the road again. Washington State University presents a wandering ballad singer Barry Tobin with songs that vividly describe the history and folklore of a pioneering country who rose. Very early in man's development he learned that any hard work would be easier for him if he sang something to go along with it. It helped to give a rhythm to his work and his breathing and it helped to pass the time on a long job and probably it let him express how well he liked the job or how much he hated but whatever his reasons were he sang and this is what we have a record of in our modern work songs here's one you've all heard sung by the chain gangs for years comes when the pick comes down and the hammer hits this deal where the shovel sinks into the sand. There
was a laugh. You get I must cry. I don't want the bar.
Hurts my heard you run in. Here. Was that in my blood. But the work song itself goes back to the beginnings of time and we still have a record of the same rhythm in the songs of primitive man. There's a corny grinding song I learned from the Navajos in Montezuma Canyon Utah. And I
say oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh a young you know I went whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa terms away at the mo and I went Oh I mean in Navajo babies mother the baby is crying something like that the Navajos also sing a song to keep rhythm while they spin in the rhythm is a little bit more subtle but you can picture a Navajo woman sitting by a fire spinning her distaff between thumb and fingers. Words mean nothing. Way OTT they are way out today on the way out they are. You know I am a you know Ohio highway. They are a and I am a that goes on and on. Last summer I stopped in kindred North Dakota for a few days and met Mrs. Martin Cruz who
sang me this old Norwegian butter churning song. Notice how the rhythm breaks occasionally Mistah been bought here in America so I saw the God thing. Evidently there are quite a few songs to sing while you churn butter some complicated and some not. Here's a simple tune Mrs. Crewe used to sing to her children while she churned our. Luggage in her butter gate. Guard looking for her butter butter butter.
Quite often a work song becomes popular for its own sake. Maybe some words have been made up that strike the fancy of others who feel like singing it even though they aren't working. Sometimes a good tone will be taken over by the federal ER's and guitar pickers. Here's an example of an old work song from the chain gang in railroad days. Come indoors clean up a little but still having that rhythmic energy that seems characteristic of work songs. Well Rock Island Line it is a mighty good road and it is the road you go to get at this nation on the rock bottom. Well I may be right and I may be wrong. Going to miss me when I'm kind of on the road and the rock you gotta ride it like a station on the Rock Island. Well Jesus died to save our sin he's got to do it again
and I'm going to let it in the road you might get at the rock. Well it certainly wasn't his stand on the rock where Moses. I got in line it is about 9 and I think I wrote you wanna write you gotta write if I can find it on the right going to Moses stood by the Red Sea Shore smoke at the water with a two by four a little tongue got in my room I got and I let it in the road to the rock and I knit in the mud I don't know if you wanna write you gotta write it like it I mean you're on the right. Well one of these nights about 12 o'clock in the whole world is going to realign rock rock and of life rock on tonight it is the road to the run down I did in the my good road and if you want to write
gotta run. I'm getting it at the station on the Rock Island Line rock band and I did it a mighty good road. The Rock Island Line it is the road around mining I wrote in if you gotta write it like you find a good station in Iraq. Another one in the same class as this one which mentions the old jailhouse superstition that if the light from the midnight train shines through your cell bars at night you'll soon be set free. The man I learned from the convict played this introduction to it using a broken jack knife blade for effect. Even worse with a jack knife. What you wake up in the morning hear the ding.
And you go marching to the table. You see the same old thing well and sit there on the table the night before going to land. And in me think anything about it you're in trouble with the man Oh let the midnight special to me finer light on me. Special shine a light on the other end of the night. You ever go down to Georgia and you're better walk right. You had better not hurt. I think you had better not fight. They were going to come
on for the guard at the midnight special the light. Well in the middle. The ever loving light on me it was yonder comes Miss Rosie and the world you know. Well I recognize that that red dress you wore Well you brought me a little coffee and brought me a little well you brought me almost never accept that jailhouse Akil at the Max Mayfield down the hall in the Polo Shiner ever loving
light on me on the midnight special night. And I have. Some work songs really get pretty far from their original form. The song a song in many of the jails across the country and you just but in the name of the jail you happen to be familiar with. But now instead of a work song it's a waltz. When you go oh it amount Ali it's there man whiskey and tobacco and it's hot. Time is down and it's hot. When you can you know.
Though so that you get do this for all of us some scraps of dirty meat and it's time it's high time is when you can you know. Brought in from the kitchen in an odor us deep and that's the way they serve you down in my college and it's down in Mount Holly and it's hot when you can you know. The floors full of the lice and their big is young quail. You can't help get lousy in Mount Holly A.J. You know it's a hard time down in Mount Holly.
It's harder when you can you know and it isn't all that I would have you know every Sunday morning and we have a Holy Joe. It's a hard time in Mount Holly and it's hard when you can't get. There here will stand and the true they will yellow do save us Boer prisoners from Goa but it's harder time known in Bali. It's hard when you can hear no news but it's a hard time and Mount Holly. It's poignant and good. You know that's about all for now I'll see you again next time.
And I'll walk the road again my boy is all along the road again. If the weather be a bear I'll call my hair and I'll listen again next week when Barry token the wandering ballad singer returns with more songs in balance. The preceding was transcribed and was produced by the Radio TV services of Washington State University. This is the end E.B. Radio Network.
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The wandering ballad singer
Chain gang and work songs
Producing Organization
Washington State University
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
In this program, Barre Toelken analyzes and performs various chain gang and work songs.
Series Description
Folk music series hosted by musician Barre Toelken, who collects folk songs and has worked as a dance band musician, a Forest Service employee, and prospector.
Broadcast Date
Chain gangs--Songs and music.
Media type
Host: Toelken, Barre, 1935-
Producing Organization: Washington State University
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 60-33-18 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:14:25
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Chicago: “The wandering ballad singer; Chain gang and work songs,” 1960-10-03, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 27, 2024,
MLA: “The wandering ballad singer; Chain gang and work songs.” 1960-10-03. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 27, 2024. <>.
APA: The wandering ballad singer; Chain gang and work songs. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from