Mudcat Café message #749559 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #48893   Message #749559
Posted By: John Minear
17-Jul-02 - 06:32 AM
Thread Name: Origin: Limber Jim
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Limber Jim: History & Lyrics
At the library that I frequent, parking is always a problem and has a two hour limit, and as is too often the case, I was rushing when I looked through the Brown material again, and missed the "Kitty Alone". Thanks for the cross-referencing, Dicho. I like the cat spinning tow.

I had a followup note from Fletcher Collins. Our conversation inspired him to do some more research on the word "limber". From the O.E.D. he found an item on "limber-holes" and "limber-ropes". He says that "Limber-holes are holes made in the floor timbers of a ship to allow bilge water to pass through [along with mud from boots etc.] for pumping." And a "limber-rope" is a "rope used to clean the limber-holes so the stuff can go through for pumping out." Perhaps there is a shanty connection for "Limber Jim"/"Buckeye Jim".

Dr. Collins suggests the possibility that the song is about a roustabout on the Ohio/Mississippi rivers whose job it is to pump the bilges and that he has been ordered to do this instead of going ashore for "fun and games". So, "Go, limber, Jim. You can't go. Weave and spin, Buckeye Jim. You can't go." Contrary to the more noral dancing image of "weaving and spinning", Dr. Collins suggests the opposite, of "sitting rather motionless, like twiddling your thumbs."

There certainly are many instances of cross-overs between riverboat and sea-going chanties, as well as black roustabout songs becoming sea-going chantey's, such as:

Was you ever in Mobile Bay,
Bonnie Laddie, Hieland Laddie?
Screwing cotton by the day
My Bonnie, Hieland Laddie!

And there are instances of sea-going chanties coming back ashore and taking on life as dance tunes. I believe that was the case for a version of "Hog-eye Man". And lively chanties or square dance tunes can always be used for lullabies, whether you slow them down or not. My son used to go to sleep with "What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor?" and he loved "Johnny's Gone to Rio".

Does anyone know more about "limber holes" and can you imagine "Buckeye Jim" at sea?