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My mama's gettin' old, hair is turnin' gray, you know it'd break her heart knowin' I'm livin' this-a-way - Charlie Patton, Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues

Author Topic: John Bray Lyrics  (Read 1979 times)

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Offline dj

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John Bray Lyrics
« on: January 25, 2012, 06:12:37 PM »
(I almost put this in the "Tunes you've been listening to" thread, but decided that the lyrics really deserve to be printed out in full, so am putting it here.)

John Bray, known as "Big Nig", worked as the leader of a crew that hauled cypress logs from Louisiana swamps.  He was recorded by John Lomax near Morgan City, Louisiana on October 17th, 1934.  Bray recorded three versions of "Trench Blues" for Lomax as well as a version of "Stackolee" and two apparently spoken stories.  Apparently, only this one version of "Trench Blues" has come out on CD.

"Trenches Blues" is an unusually detailed and coherent tale of overseas service in World War I.  It could well be semi-autobiographical, as John Bray served in France during the war, though as he told Lomax "They didn't give me a gun.  All the weapons I ever had was my guitar, a shovel, and a mop."  Bray plays the song in E position, standard tuning, capoed up to Bb, with an alternating bass and, mostly, brushed chords.  At the end of the second and third lines, he plays a simple but very nifty figure:  B on the open second string (relative to the base E position), then E on the open first string, then G# at the 4th fret of the first string.  Bray takes the song at a good clip, and the words just come tumbling out in torrents.  This is a superb performance.  I wish I could hear more from John Bray.

The song is on Document 5411:  Too Late, Too Late Volume 5.  Guido van Rijn transcribes the lyrics in the booklet to the CD, but I've corrected them in a couple of places.  To be fair, while I've corrected Guido in half a dozen places, there are a dozen places that I would not have gotten without help from his transcription.  Here is "Trench Blues":



I went a sailin', cross the deep blue sea
Lord I was worryin' with those submarines
Worryin' with those submarines
Hey, hey hey hey

My home in the trenches, livin' in a big dugout
Lord my home in the trenches livin' in a big dugout
Home in the trenches livin' in a big dugout
Hey, hey hey hey

We went a hikin', to the firin' line
Lord I was standin' hearin' mens a cryin'
Standin' hearin' mens a cryin'
Hey, hey hey hey

We went a hikin', to old [Montsac ?] Hill
Lord forty thousand soldiers called out to drill
Forty thousand soldiers called out to drill
Hey, hey hey hey

I went to Belgium, blowed my bugle horn
Lord, time I blowed, motherless Germans is gone
Time I blowed, motherless Germans is gone
Hey, hey hey hey

We went to Berlin, went with all our will
Lord if the whites don't get him the niggers certainly will
White 'uns don't get him the niggers certainly will
Hey, hey hey hey

Last old word, heard old Kaiser say
Lord he was callin' those Germans long way long away
Callin' those Germans long way long away
Hey, hey hey hey

Here she come, with her hair let down
Lord here she come with her hair let down
Here she come with her hair let down
Hey, hey hey hey

The Belgian women: "No, I no comprend"
Lord women in France hollerin' "No comprend"
Women in France hollerin' "No comprend"
Hey, hey hey hey

Rainin' here, stormin' on the sea
Lord rainin' here stormin' on the sea
Rainin' here stormin' on the sea
Hey, hey hey hey

Whistle's blowin', big bell sadly tones
Lord many a soldier, Lord, is dead and gone
Many a soldier, Lord, is dead and gone
Hey, hey hey hey

Called him in the mornin', chased him in the night
Lord hit 'im in the head, make him treat the Americans right
Hit 'im in the head make him treat the Americans right
Hey, hey hey hey 
« Last Edit: June 30, 2020, 10:54:09 PM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: John Bray Lyrics
« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2012, 06:36:58 PM »
Wow, those are great lyrics, dj.  Thanks for posting them, and telling of the circumstances in which they were recorded.
All best,
Johnm

Offline dj

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Re: John Bray Lyrics
« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2012, 05:14:36 PM »
Uncle Bud pointed out that there are two pictures of John Bray online at the Library of Congress website.  Here's the half-length portrait.

To see the other picture, go to http://www.loc.gov/pictures/ and search for John Bray.


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