Section Gang Song
DESCRIPTION: "Oh, captain, captain, I'm goin' away to leave you (x3), By next payday, oh captain, next payday." The singer talks of work on the section gang, complains about not being paid, and declares that he will leave
EARLIEST DATE: 1927 (T. C. I. Section Crew, according to Cohen)
KEYWORDS: worksong railroading nonballad
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Cohen-LSRail, p. 647, "Section Gang Song" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Harold Anderson, "Spotlight on Culture: Menhaden Chanteys - An African American Maritime Legacy" in Maryland Marine Notes, Vol 14, No 1 (Jan-Feb 2000) available at http://www.mdsg.umd.edu/maryland-marine-notes-archive accessed November 12, 2016, p. 5, ("Captain don't you know") (1 text)
Bright Light Quartet, ("Cap'n don't you know all your crew is goin' to leave you") (on LomaxCD1708)
T. C. I. Section Crew, "Section Gang Song" (Paramount 12478, 1927)
NOTES [306 words]: According to Cohen, this is one of only two railroad worksongs released on a commercial 78 (the other being "Track Linin'," which appears to be a version of "Can'cha Line 'Em"). He thinks they may be the earliest worksong recordings of any sort. - RBW
Almost, but not quite; Robert Winslow Gordon was recording sea chanteys in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1920s" - PJS
Odum and Johnson have the following verses in a song among the set they refer to as worker and wanderer "'captain' songs": "Lawd, captain, captain, did you hear, Lawd, captain, did you hear about it? All your men gonna leave you, All your men gonna leave you on next pay day" "On next pay day, Lawd, On next pay day, Lawd. Captain, all your men gonna be gone On next pay day" (Howard W. Odum and Guy B. Johnson, Negro Workaday Songs (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press ("Digitized by Internet Archive")), pp. 100-101, "Captain, I'll Be Gone" (1 text)).
The T. C. I. Section Crew recording has a leader lining out at least the beginning of each verse and the crew harmonizing. This brings up the question of how the song sounded when the men were working. When was the work done -- during the singing or between lines -- or between lines? If the work was a rest-while-singing-and-pull-between-lines then it is instructive to listen to the menhaden chantey versions, which are exactly like that. Further, the menhaden chanteys were harmonized, like church hymns, during the work.
The T.C.I. Section Crew recording includes the "told the high sheriff" verse of "Poor Lazarus." The menhaden chanteymen freely mixed songs that had the same line structure, and "Poor Lazarus" was a favorite among them.
The LomaxCD1708 song is part of the "Menhaden Chanteys" track.
See the notes to "Help Me to Raise Them" for information about menhaden chanteys. - BS
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