Diamond Joe (I)
DESCRIPTION: Singer tells of ranch-owner Diamond Joe, who mistreats his workers, talks too much, and lies. Singer has tried to quit three times, but Joe has talked him out of it. When he dies, "Give my blankets to my buddies And give the fleas to Diamond Joe"
EARLIEST DATE: 1944 (radio program "The Chisholm Trail" on the BBC) (Source: Nicholas Hawes)
KEYWORDS: lie work boss cowboy worker
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Cisco Houston, "Diamond Joe" (on CHouston01, CHoustonCD01, FMUSA)
cf. "The State of Arkansas (The Arkansas Traveler II)" [Laws H1] (tune, lyrics)
NOTES [585 words]: This should not be confused with "Diamond Joe (II)", a river shanty with the distinctive chorus, "Diamond Joe, better come and get me, Diamond Joe." "Diamond Joe (I)" has no chorus, although most verses end with the name of Diamond Joe. Some have speculated that Cisco Houston and/or Lee Hays adapted the song from "The State of Arkansas," but there is no evidence. - PJS
Nicholas Hawes in 2014 wrote to me to clarify this history. I have slightly shortened the material he sent me. His report is below. [-RBW]
It was written in 1944 by my father, Baldwin "Butch" Hawes, in New York City on commission from the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Alan Lomax created two radio programs for a branch of the BBC that was located in New York to produce radio programs for broadcast in the UK. The programs, which he called "ballad operas," were based on traditional songs from the published Lomax collections, and the cast was a mix of traditional artists (like Huddie Leadbetter, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry), semi-traditional artists (like Woody Guthrie), as well as local actors and musicians (Burl Ives, Cisco Houston, Will Geer).
The second program, "The Chisholm Trail," was scripted by Alan's then wife Elizabeth. One of her major characters was the tough cattleman "Diamond Joe," whom she based on a song of the same name from the Lomax book Our Singing Country. ["Diamond Joe (III)" in the Ballad Index.] The words were a good match:
Old Diamond Joe was a rich old jay
With lots of cowboys in his pay
He rode the range with his cowboy band
And many a maverick got his brand
Once the script was finished, the music editor (Alan's sister Bess, my mother Bess Lomax Hawes) discovered that the song Elizabeth set in a rowdy barroom was actually a slow waltz which did not fit the scene. It was too late to restructure the script, so she asked my father to write a new "Diamond Joe" to suit. Since the song was to be performed on the show by Lee Hays, he wrote this new song to the tune of a major number in Lee's repertoire: "The State of Arkansas."
The program's opening announcement that "the songs you will hear are traditional" wasn't revised, and my father received no on-air credit for his work. It's likely that no cast members (other, possibly, than Lee Hays) knew my father had written the song. Cisco Houston was a member of the cast (his copy of the script is currently held by the Woody Guthrie archives), and the version he recorded in 1952 is identical to the version in his "The Chisholm Trail" script. All subsequent versions of the song are clearly based on Cisco's recording.
When the song appeared in Sing Out! magazine in 1954 as a song from Cisco's repertoire, my mother was upset that my father wasn't credited. She urged him to claim credit by writing to the editor, but unfortunately he had just quit the business of songwriting and was somewhat bitter about it. He said he preferred the honor of having been accepted into tradition. He probably expected nothing to come of the song. Ironically, it's turned out to be his biggest "hit," having been recorded by Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Bob Dylan, Ian Tyson, James Taylor, and (thanks to Joe Val) it seems to be on its way to becoming a bluegrass standard.
If you want to hear "The Chisholm Trail," it's streamable from the Lomax archives at culturalequity.org. You can see Cisco's copy of the script in the Woody Guthrie Archives. My father's original lyric sheet is included in the "Bess Lomax Hawes Collection" at the Library of Congress.
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