Wheel and Turn Me
DESCRIPTION: A soldier courts the singer, gives her money with which she buys "silk and satin" that John Crow steals and throws away. She begs not to have the cloth torn. She dances with the soldier and asks that he be careful of her belly.
EARLIEST DATE: 1951 (Murray; Lord Fly and Higgs recordings)
LONG DESCRIPTION: A soldier courts the singer; She says she has no man; he gives her small change; she buys silk and satin, washes and sets it out to dry, but "John Crow" flings it away; "Jeremiah ...no tear up me silk an' satin." This is followed by the wheel and turn me verse in which the fear is that the singer will fall, "lick me belly pon tambourina" [and - unstated - have a miscarriage].
KEYWORDS: courting sex request clothes dancing bird soldier
FOUND IN: West Indies
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Murray, pp. 58-59, "One Solja Man" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Noel Dexter and Godfrey Taylor, _Mango Time: Folk Songs of Jamaica_ (Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2007), pp-118-119, "Wheel an' Tun Mi" (1 text, 1 tune)
Edric Connor with the Caribbeans and Earl Inkman, "One Solja Man" (on WIEConnor01)
Blind Blake Higgs, "Wheel and Turn Me" (on WIHIGGS01)
Lord Fly and Dan Williams Orchestra, "Medley of Jamaican Mento-Calypsos(Fan Me Solja Man Fan Me; One Solja Man; Yuh No Yeary Weh De Ole Man Say; Slide Mongoose)" (1951, on Motta MRS 01A, n.d., "Lords of Mento," Marleybone Records MP3)
Lord Flea and the Jamaican Calypsonians, "Wheel and Turn Me" (on "Mento, Not Calypso," Fantastic Voyage CD FVDD163, 2013, reissue of Time Record 78 rpm UD1002, c.1954?; as "Wheel and Tun Me" on "Take Me to Jamaica," Pressure Sounds CD PSCD 51, 2006)
Louise Bennett and the Caribbean Serenaders, "Bongo Man (Jamaican Christmas Song)," (1951, on Melodisc MEL 29, 1951 [recorded 1950])
The Slickers, "Mother Matty" (1969, on Amalgamated Records AMG 852B, 1988, "Joe Gibbs and Friends - The Reggae Train 1968-1971").
One Bungo Man
NOTES [928 words]: The description follows the Murray and Dexter and Taylor texts. At least on the surface, John Crow is "a scavenger bird" [Dexter and Taylor glossary, p. 131]. Murray writes, "John Crow [:] Jamaican scavenger bird, but here used in a derogatory sense, alluding to 'Jeremiah'." "John Crow" ("As soon as it descries something dead, it swoops down majestically with a spread of its disproportionately huge wings. Its featherless red head, greedily curled talons and awkward gait ...." [Helen H Roberts, "A Study of Folk Song Variants Based on Field Work in Jamaica" in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 148 (Apr-Jun 1925 (available online by JSTOR)), p. 178]) is a turkey vulture. Jekyll has an Afro-Jamaican cante fable that ends "from that day every John Crow born with a peel head" (Walter Jekyll, Jamaican Song and Story (New York: Dover Publications, 1966 (Reprint of publication by David Nutt, 1907)), #43 pp. 132-134, "John Crow").
The Bennett version, "Bongo Man," almost exactly follows Murray, and Dexter and Taylor. One significant difference is that in the book version the woman answers the courting by "mi sey mi no ha' nobody" but Bennett sings "me say me don't want nobody." Some comments by Azizi Powell at the pancocojams site, specifically at http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2012/07/caribbean-song-one-solja-man.html, accessed February 25, 2015, who describes herself as "an African American mother, grandmother, and retired human services administrator. For more than forty years I have shared adapted West African stories with audiences in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area." She says, "Also sung as 'One Bungo Man,' Bungo meaning an African" [dated July 22, 2012] and, acknowledging that John Crow is a scavenger bird, "I believe that 'John Crow' in this song is a derogatory referent for a dark skinned Black man." [dated July 16, 2014] The same note also points to the Wailers' use of the wheel and turn me verse in "Rude Boy" [The Wailers' song available as "Walk the Proud Land", is a 1965 political protest song that includes the lines "Me want you come wheel an' turn me Fi go lick a mi head 'pon you tambourine" but does not use the usual "Wheel and Turn Me" tune. See Bob Marley and the Wailers, "Walk the Proud Land" on the 1991 Tuff Gong album "Talkin Blues (Live)"; also see Timothy White, Catch Fire - The Life of Bob Marley (New York: Henry Holt, 1996), pp. 202-203]. The label of the record says it is a "Jamaican Christmas Song." Considering the subject, that seems enigmatic, but there is likely no religious Christmas association intended by Bennett. Cowley says, about this record, that by the "Christmas" reference the performance is "asscociated with the Jonkunnu [or 'John Canoe'] masquerade held in Jamaica at this season" [John Cowley, "London is the Place: Caribbean Music in the Context of Empire 1900-60" in Paul Oliver, ed. Black Music in Britain: Essays on the Afro Asian Contribution to Popular Music, (Milton Keynes, Open University Press, 1990, pp. 57-767, endnotes pp. 181-183 (with factual corrections and refinements), 2011, renumbered as pp. 1-19, downloaded from http://sas-space.sas.ac.uk/2945/1/LITP3.pdf February 24, 2015, p. 6].
The Lord Fly song, "One Solja Man," is the second song in a medley of four. It follows a song in which a soldier gets a girl pregnant [see "Fan Mi Solja Man"]. Then this song which, in spite of its title, does not mention a soldier, is only this chorus, repeated three times: I want you to wheel and turn me/ Oh mind how you wheel and turn me/ [Do] you want me to go ba dung [fall down]/ Bust me belly with the tambourina?" As in the case of "Hold' 'im Joe" and "Jump in the Line" only the tune and chorus travel from singer to singer, and the verses among singers seem unrelated. [Incidentally, the third and fourth songs of the medley do not seem to continue the story.]
Dexter and Taylor have versions of both Lord Fly songs (pp. 29-30, "Fan Mi Solja Man," and "Wheel an' Tun Mi" listed above), and they appear not to be related to each other; Lord Fly has taken the coded[?] story of "Wheel and Turn Me" and made it explicit by tacking the chorus [conclusion] of "Wheel and Turn Me" as a conclusion to "Fan Mi Solja Man".
Lord Flea repeats the "wheel and turn me" chorus six times and has two creole verses I don't understand.
The Higgs version changes the sex of the singer and "cleans up" the story: Singer asks an old lady cooking for some dinner. She has him jump through the window and beat the tambourine with his belly. "The way is wheel and turn" [until he falls?] and hit the tambourine with his belly.
Pearl Lewin has another song, "Dis Long Time Gal," with "wheel an' tun till we tumble dung" - without the tambourine or belly - as "a mento tune used for dance and play" (Olive Lewin, "Forty Folk Songs of Jamaica" (Washington: General Secretariat of the American States, 1973), pp. 59-60).
The Slickers' reggae simplifies the tune and words of Lord Flea's version - already simplified - but makes one more change. Unless there is something in Flea's "creole" verses that reveals the sex of the singer, that is indeterminate. The Slickers' version has the usual lines - "What makes you want to wheel and turn me/ You want me to go fall down/ Bust my belly on a tambourina" - but also "Hold me Mother Matty (if you want me)."
There is an instrumental ska version: Frank Anderson and Tommy McCook, "Wheel and Turn" (on "Ska Bonanza," HeartBeat CD HB 86/87, 1991).
See Hol' Yuh Han" for another example of wheel, turn and tumble down. - BS
Last updated in version 3.7
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.