Mudcat Café message #4086357 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #151600   Message #4086357
Posted By: cnd
03-Jan-21 - 09:27 PM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: I'll be down on the last bread wagon
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: I'll be down on the last bread wagon
This certainly must be one of Leadbelly's most obscure songs; aside from here, I've only found 2 other attempts at transcribing the lyrics, one of which was partial.

The partial attempt comes from Michael Winter's Into the Blizzard. I'll include his attempt here for posterity even though I strongly disagree with its results. In place of "When the boys goes over the top / I'll, be in the kitchen doing the eatin' raw" he writes:
"when the boys go over the top
he won't be dodging shotgun shells but doing the eagle rock"

The other attempt at transcribing the lyrics comes from the inimitable Weenie Campbell website, which you can see here -- it's much closer in my opinion, but not quite right.

I also thought it was important to consider the story Leadbelly told before the song: about women fleecing soldiers of their little money by inviting them to parties before they left for war. So I had the thought that the lyrics might be slightly sarcastic, sang from the perspective of a woman who is using the soldiers to earn herself some money. From there, I made the assumption that some of the jokes of the song were sexual innuendos relating to the promiscuity of soldiers or the prostitution of a woman who would hang around the soldiers' barracks (you can read more about brothels before WWI here).

Combining the attempts from RelativitySetters, Willie Poor Boy, and others:

[Instrumental Prelude] (Then they got the invitation)

I'll be down at the last bread wagon
I'll be there with a "helpin' a-hand"*
When the boys go to no man's land
I'll be there

But I won't be fightin'
I'll be there pumpin' shotgun shells*
I won't be fightin'
But I'll be running like hell

When the boys goes over the top I'll
Be in the kitchen doin' the eagle rock*
I'm gonna beat 'em to the dugout
And dodge those shotgun shells

[Instrumental Interlude] (Then they got the invitation)

I got sad news, honey (boom boom boom)
I'm gonna take you to the dancin' hall (boom boom boom)
Everything is sad, but it's fair
And all the soldiers will be there

I'll be down at the last bread wagon
I'll be there with a "helpin' a-hand"
When the boys go to no man's land
I'll be there

But I won't be fightin'
I'll be there pumpin' shotgun shells
I won't be fightin'
But I'll be running like hell

When the boys goes over the top I'll
Be in the kitchen doin' the eagle rock
I'm gonna beat 'em to the dugout
And dodge those shotgun shells

[Instrumental Finale] (pick it up now)

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Explanations of asterisks:
- the "helping hand" line is the promiscuous woman saying she's there to help in a less-than-sincere way
- Given that I'm assuming this song is from the perspective of a woman, I assumed most of the lines about "pumping shotgun shells" were slang for giving a handjob
- the "eagle rock" was a type of dance originating in the early 1900s; to do the dance, you "extend your arms in the shape of an 'Eagles wing,' .... The head tilts back while the body sways back and forth." Such a dance has clear sexual innuendos to it, and other people have commented that the dance had a clearly sexual meaning in the blues idiom (click)

I am, of course, operating under some large assumptions so I'd be welcome to any feedback