Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line

DESCRIPTION: First verse describes leasing out of convicts to act as scabs in a miners' strike; rest of song describes bad conditions for the convicts.
AUTHOR: Uncle Dave Macon?
EARLIEST DATE: 1925 (collected by Robert W. Gordon; text in Green-Miner)
KEYWORDS: strike labor-movement mining work scab prisoner
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Green-Miner, p. 195-197,"Roll Down the Line"; p. 198, "Convict Song" (1 text); p. 210, "Chain Gang Special" (1 text); p. 203, "Roll Down the Line" (1 text, 1 tune); p. 208, "Lone Rock Song" (1 text); p. 216 ,"Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line" (1 text, transcribed from Uncle Dave Macon's recording); p. 220, "Rollin' Down the Line" (1 text); p. 223, "Lone Rock Mine Song" (1 text); p. 225, "Humpy Hargis" (1 text)
Asch/Dunson/Raim, p. 98 "Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cohen/Seeger/Wood, pp. 204-205, "Buddy, Won't You Roll Down the Line" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NAS, pp. 366-367, "Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line" (1 text)

ST ADR98 (Full)
(Vocalion 02818, 1934); "Roll Down the Line" (Victor 23551, 1931; Bluebird B-5700, 1934; Bluebird B-6148/Montgomery Ward M-4799, 1935; rec. 1930); Hey Buddy, Won't You Roll Down the Line" (OKeh 02818/Vocalion 02818, 1934)
Thaddeus Goodson & Belton Rice, "Roll Down the Line" (AFS 3792, 1939)
Uncle Dave Macon, "Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line" (Brunswick 292, 1929; rec. 1928; on AAFM3)
Negro prisoners, Memphis, TN, "Rollin' Down the Line" (AFS 174)
Pete Seeger & Sonny Terry, "Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line" (on SeegerTerry)
Pete Seeger, "Roll Down the Line" (on PeteSeeger13)
William H. Stevens, "Convict Song" (AFS A-107, 1925)
[Wilmer] Watts & [Frank] Wilson "Chain Gang Special" (Paramount 3019, 1927/Broadway 8114 [as Weaver & Wiggins], n.d.; on RoughWays1)

cf. "Coal Creek Troubles" (subject)
cf. "The Irish Girl" (lyrics)
NOTES [198 words]: This strike apparently took place in Tennessee in the 1880s, according to notes in Asch/Dunson/Raim.
Like most of Uncle Dave Macon's songs, this piece is basically free-association. - PJS
Though it may in fact predate him. He gave it the authentic Uncle Dave spin, but how many other Uncle Dave songs have such strong historical roots? Many believe the song to go back to the actual event it describes. (For details, see the notes to "Coal Creek Troubles.") - RBW
Macon's song seems to have been a rewrite of "Chain Gang Special," with the "leased the convicts out" verse tacked onto a song that's basically the lament of a black convict who's been sentenced to the chain gang. The racial overtones that Macon softens are clear in the Watts & Wilson recording: "Big nigger, won't you roll down the line." Interestingly, their song is clearly (and sympathetically) told from the black prisoner's point of view, rare for a white band.
"Lone Rock Mine Song" and "Humpy Hargis" date from the early 1890s, but they are fragments; I've somewhat arbitrarily placed the Earliest Date for a non-fragmentary version of the song at 1925, when it was collected by Gordon from William H. Stevens. - PJS
Last updated in version 3.6
File: ADR98

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