Mudcat Café message #3118765 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #46147   Message #3118765
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
22-Mar-11 - 02:41 AM
Thread Name: Lyr Add: Huckleberry Hunting (Pumping Chantey)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Huckleberry Hunting (Pumping Chantey)
Thanks for that run-down, Jerry!

I have a question and a comment.

Why do the huckleberry verses point to Downeast? What are you Mainiacs aware of that I'm not? :) Is it just because lots of berries grow well in that area? To me (not that it necessarily means anything), huckleberry connotes not Downeast but "downHOME" -- they give it a Southern flavor. Huckleberry Finn, Huckleberry Hound (!)... I dunno.

My comment is that I don't think Hugill's writing can be used to effectively learn about this. What did he know about what would "savor of a Down East or Nova Scotia source"? Perhaps something, but I think it's more likely he read that in Colcord and Doerflinger. Hugill did not "collect" in the same sense that e.g. Doerflinger did. His verses to songs are composites of what he learned (/collected from individuals), what he culled from earlier collections, and what he made up. So his statements/verses that may seem to corroborate another author's are often just repetition.

As an example, Hugill's "An' sing, Hilo me Ranzo way" could be an exact repetition of Colcord's "And sing high-low, my Ranzo Ray." He habitual changed "and" to "an'", changed "my" to "me" and, in accord with his theories about "hi lo," he would presume that "high low" should be rendered as "Hilo."

Strictly speaking, Doerflinger may have also got his feeling from reading Colcord. Colcord baffles me why she says it is "certain" it "must have originated". What is her evidence and/or reasoning? Well, actually it is Whall (1910) who says the language suggests Down East or Nova Scotia origins. He cites not "huckleberry" but rather "beau" and "feller" as the reason. His three verses are exactly the same as Colcord's.

All of these statements, possibly influenced by the first, appear to corroborate each other when we read them, and it's even possible that Charlie unconsciously has absorbed the same feeling from reading them repeatedly all these years. (Any thoughts on that, Charlie?)

Colcord's "certain" conclusion is further in err, to my mind, because the solo lyrics of a chanty do not necessarily tell much about its origins. The chorus and the tune (in some form) are the salient features. Solo lyrics sometimes were originally or later became attached. But here, the chorus of "Hi lo my Ranzo way" -- what I would consider core to the "identity" of the chanty -- isn't accounted for. How does it jive with the "huckleberry" theme? There is a pattern of "hi lo" chanties being connected with African-American (Southern) songs. So the Huckleberry verses may originate in New England, but doesn't tell us that the chanty did.

In _How We Talked_, Verna Mae Sloan, giving an inventory of memories from the early 20th century life in Kentucky (Appalachians), gives the following rhyme in her section on "Children's Rhymes":

"Me and my gal went a huckleberry huntin'.
She fell down and I saw sumpen'."

It is followed by a rhyme on a similar theme:

"My gal Sal went up the hill.
I went along behind her.
She stooped over to tie her shoe
And I saw her coffee grinder."

Randolph also has something about this in his Ozarks collection, but I don't have access.

So it seems to have been a folk-rhyme of some sort. In some spheres, this theme must have gotten spliced to the chanty and became popular. I say that because the "wild goose/plantation" theme also appears in pervasive "regulation verses" and yet the two themes don't seem to go together. The comparison could be made to themes like "The Milkmaid" which, fitting the meter, were sometimes attached to "Rio Grande" or "Blow the Man Down," but which seem unlikely to have been there in the earlier/original singing of the song.

FWIW I think the minstrel song fits more completely as an "original." It has a double chorus built in, and the "Ohio" of the chorus, often used as nonsense syllables as much as it also named the river, is similar to that use of "hilo" in Black songs.

So it looks (to me) like there were 2 common lyrical themes (Plantation and Huckleberry). (Bullen gave the additional, completely different "Leg o' Mutton" verse.) They were not necessarily mixed. Hugill mixed them, but it is clear that he created a composite and we cannot assume this was actual practice. As far as I can see, the only other person to mix them is Terry. He included the one basic Huckleberry verse (non-rhyming) among the Plantation theme verses. The diehard skeptic in me says he could have even gotten that from Sharp (it is the only verse Sharp gave). Or, perhaps both collectors (I know Sharp did) had it from John Short. I can be more specific and break these down, later.