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georgeward Origins: Bootlegger's Song (17) RE: Origins: Bootlegger's Song 19 Aug 06


The song is "Bert LaFountain's Packard" in upstate NY, and concerns a well-known bootlegger of that name who - if memory serves - operated out of Gabriels in the Adirondacks. The names in Charlie's verse 3, line 3 (or Oscar Brand's) are a bit garbled.
"I drove right through Moirah, through Brushton and Malone" is what is usually sung.
That confused me for years, as it has Bert driving essentially parallel to the US-Canada border, on the US side. Bootleggers from his part of the world often made runs southward to Saranac Lake, the clients of whose tuberculosis sanitariums are said to have been an eager market! It was finally explained to me that Bert had a brother who had a "speak" in (I think) Chazy, to the east of the three towns mentioned.

Much of this comes from a woman who remembered hearing Bert himself sing the song when she was young. She also said he played it on a button box or concertina. When I protested that she was too young to have lived through Prohibition, she observed that, having been busted for rumrunning, Bert could never get a liquor license (there were those wealthier and better-connected, of course, who did). So he continued doing business the old way for some years.

Marjorie Lansing Porter collected the song in the Adirondacks. It is on an album (not Pete Seeger's 'Champlain Valley Songs') by someone whose name will come back to me shortly after I post this. Milt Okun, maybe ?

I recall Lee Knight once saying the song used to get some radio airplay in Saranac Lake, but that the family objected.I doubt that, that would have been the Okun recording...probably someone much more local. Lee isn't on line. But if anyone is in touch with him (as I should be), he can probably add to this. He knew and worked with Mrs. Porter.

- George


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