Mudcat Café message #1576534 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #84959   Message #1576534
Posted By: Don Firth
05-Oct-05 - 12:18 PM
Thread Name: DylanOnTube-PBS/ScorseseDocumentary
Subject: RE: DylanOnTube-PBS/ScorseseDocumentary
GUEST, Rich, I agree, Odetta is fantastic!

I taped a repeat of the Dylan special. I haven't had a chance to watch it yet, but I'm pretty sure the song Odetta was singing was a chain gang song called "Take This Hammer." The first verse goes like this:
Take this hammer (WHUP!), carry it to the captain (WHUP!)
Take this hammer (WHUP!), carry it to the captain (WHUP!)
Take this hammer (WHUP!), carry it to the captain (WHUP!)
Tell 'im I'm gone (WHUP!)! Tell 'im I'm gone (WHUP!)!
There are a whole bunch of verses to this (DT gives a few verses HERE), and a lot of the verses were improvised, much like those of a sea chantey. The percussive "WHUP" or "WHOP" in the song was the grunt as the prisoner swung the hammer or pick-axe. Best Loved American Folk Songs (also published under the title Folk Song U. S. A.) by John and Alan Lomax has a song called "Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder," with essentially the same tune and a lot of the same verses—and more than likely, it's merely a variation of the same song. The first verse goes
I've got a rainbow (WHUP!) 'round my shoulder (WHUP!) [3 times]
But it ain't gonna rain (WHUP!). No, it ain't gonna rain (WHUP!).
The "rainbow" is the flash of the sun on the hammer-head or pick-axe.

I hope this helps.

Don Firth