Plumb the Line
DESCRIPTION: "Well, I'm so glad I can plumb the line (x3), It takes a number one (driver/tamper) to plumb the line." "Won't you come on, buddy, we can plumb the line." The singer describes his exploits, or asks for help in his work
EARLIEST DATE: 1942 (Parrish)
KEYWORDS: work bragging prison nonballad religious
FOUND IN: US(SE,So)
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Jackson-DeadMan, pp. 218-222, "Plumb the Line" (3 texts, 2 tunes); pp. 280-281, "Down the Line" (1 text, 1 tune)
Parrish 9, pp. 67-70, "Plumb de Line" (1 text, 1 tune)
Dock Reed & Vera Hall Ward, "Plumb the Line" (on NFMAla5)
NOTES: Jackson thinks that "Plumb the Line" may have originated as a tie-tamping song, and I think it nearly certain that his version derives from a tamping text-- at least, it is certain that it has close analogies among tampers. But it seems to have become a specialized prison song.
Jackson's "Down the Line" is used for a different purpose (flatweeding rather than crosscutting), but in Jacskon's versions, the similarities are so great that they can still be treated as one song. Whether that would remain true after future evolution is another question, but given the rarity of both songs, it's not worth splitting at this time.
The Parrish and Reed/Ward texts are religious; Ben Schwartz gave this description of the Parrish text: "The tag line of each verse is 'If you want to go to heaven you've got to Plumb the line.' Verses are 'O members (sister, deacon), Plumb the line" and "You've got to sing (shout) right, Plumb the line. The Dock Reed & Vera Hall recording has a different tag line: 'Anchor (?) in my Jesus, Plumb the line.'" It is not clear to me whether the religious or secular text is older; I lean slightly toward the religious version. Conceptually, they are different enough that they might be split, but there aren't enough versions of either to make it worthwhile. - RBW
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