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Gonna put you in the river see if you can't drown, tie a rock around your neck and see if that'll keep you down - Casey Bill Weldon, No Good Woman 1937

Author Topic: SOTM 31 July 2015: Diamond Joe  (Read 1120 times)

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Offline uncle bud

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SOTM 31 July 2015: Diamond Joe
« on: July 31, 2015, 08:58:53 PM »
I've gone to a pre-blues folk song for my song of the moment. There are a number of Diamond Joes out there: one, a Texas cowboy song collected by the Lomaxes in Our Singing Country acquired from J.B. Dillingham; another, a variation of "The State of Arkansas" that was popularized by Cisco Houston, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Bob Dylan, and these days in countless bluegrass interpretations. This latter Diamond Joe looks in fact like it may have originally been composed for a Lomax radio show, "The Chisholm Trail", by Baldwin "Butch" Hawes, husband of Bess Lomax Hawes, Alan's sister. The show featured Cisco Houston in the cast. (See http://www.fresnostate.edu/folklore/ballads/RcDJoe1.html for the story.)

But the Diamond Joe I'm looking at comes from two versions recorded 10 years apart, one sung by Big Charlie Butler for John Lomax in 1937, and the other recorded by the Georgia Crackers for OKeh in 1927.

Charlie Butler was recorded on Lomax's '37 visit to Parchman Farm, where Butler was serving time for attempted murder after attacking a man with an axe. Despite that nasty business, he seems to have had a clean prison record and eventually served as a gateman trusty. (Whether that's a good thing is another story.) But his version of Diamond Joe is one of the great unaccompanied vocal performances in field recording history, IMO:



Sharing some of the melody and a similar refrain, but taking a more rollicking approach, is the Georgia Crackers 1927 version:



(That photo isn't the Georgia Crackers)

The Georgia Crackers were Paul Cofer (fiddle) and Leon Cofer (banjo), along with Ben Evans on guitar, and Weenie old-time fans will know of course that Paul and Leon also recorded as the Cofer Brothers. Several songs in their recorded repertoire come out of black musical traditions, including a Furniture Man-themed song, and versions of Deep Elum Blues (as Georgia Black Bottom), and I'm Gonna Start a Graveyard of My Own (as The Coon From Tennessee). Their music is raw and exciting -- and as the above title shows, sometimes dealing in racist stereotypes. For those who like their music gamey, says Tony Russell in Country Music Originals. They're memorably described here as "two skinny-headed peckerwoods with cheap suits and Christopher Walken hair." Document's Georgia Stringbands Vol. 1 collects both Cofer Brothers and Georgia Crackers material. It's a great record.

Despite Diamond Joe being documented by sociologists/musicologists prior to these two versions, there aren't many other recorded performances of the song available to us. The earliest were captured by Robert Winslow Gordon, the founder of the Archive of American Folk Song in the Library of Congress, recorded on cylinders in 1926 in Georgia. They are not available online that I can find (they're listed as "archive only" at the LoC). I'd be very curious to hear them - musician and writer Stephen Wade has much higher security clearance and discusses them in his book, The Beautiful Music All Around Us, noting they resemble Butler's version melodically, and it looks like lyrically they bear some similarity to the Georgia Crackers' version.

Prior to these, Howard Odum published lyrics for Diamond Joe in 1911, and E.C. Perrow published another version in 1912. I'll post lyrics in a separate reply.

The common refrain that runs through each version in some form or another is:

Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe

John Lomax returned to Parchman in 1939 and liked Charlie Butler's Diamond Joe enough to have him sing it again. The American Folklife Center has an alternate version from 1939 online:

catalog information: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.afc.afcss39.2681b1/default.html
MP3: http://memory.loc.gov/afc/afcss39/268/2681b1.mp3

It's a similar performance, though not as perfectly shaped as the version captured two years earlier. Butler does briefly talk though, saying he learned the song in prison in the field.

I finally picked up Stephen Wade's The Beautiful Music All Around Us mentioned above, prompted in part by my selecting this song for SOTM, since Wade devotes a chapter to Charlie Butler and Diamond Joe. I haven't read the rest of the book yet, but if it is anything like the Butler chapter, it's going to be a very enjoyable read. Wade traces the song's mysterious history as much as is possible, since the song sort of defies explanation, at least any definitive nailing down of source and subject. Howard Odum called it a love song sung by a woman, others have suggested it's a reference to the Diamond Jo steamboat line -- a tempting but unproven theory originated by Art Thieme that doesn't quite fit. For more on this see http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=59040 and Wade's book.

Alan Lomax recorded Bessie Jones, of Georgia Sea Island Singers fame, singing the song in 1961. If anyone is able to make you forget Charlie Butler for a moment, it's Bessie:



There's a Lomax interview with her about the song on the Cultural Equity site:
http://research.culturalequity.org/get-audio-detailed-recording.do?recordingId=23016
The song, she says, is "About a person in trouble..." and a call to be rescued by Diamond Joe. "There's a lot of verses to it. And it's pitiful too, Diamond Joe."

The other version that has really caught my ear and which is a much more recent performance is Dan Gellert's arrangement of the Charlie Butler version on 4-string gourd banjo:

http://youtu.be/0KNF8EoMeIM?t=2m7s

(you'll have to fast forward to the 2min 7sec mark. Or just enjoy Dan's Glendy Burk as well!)

It looks like Dan has the banjo tuned dBEA.

There is a lot more information about alternate versions and histories of Diamond Joe in Wade's book. The Georgia Crackers' version influenced Tex Logan, whose version made its way to Jerry Garcia's Acoustic Band. Dylan also performed the Georgia Crackers' version in Masked and Anonymous, having previously recorded the Butch Hawes/Cisco Houston/Jack Elliot version in the '90s.

As for Charlie Butler, when the Library of Congress wrote to him at the prison early in 1943 for permission to issue "Diamond Joe", the letter was returned with the message "gone free left no address."

I've done a version on banjo myself that started from Dan Gellert's and went off in a somewhat different direction. I haven't had a chance to record it yet, but will try to get something on here in the next couple days.
« Last Edit: July 31, 2015, 09:22:41 PM by uncle bud »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: SOTM 31 July 2015: Diamond Joe
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2015, 09:17:04 PM »
Here are a bunch of different lyrics for the versions of Diamond Joe under discussion.

Stephen Wade's transcription of Charlie Butler's version differs from what you might see elsewhere. I think he's right about "Forrest's Farm" though you'll see it transcribed as Parchman Farm, which makes sense of course. But the sound  isn't quite there IMO. The other main difference is "she gonna call a-me t'home" instead of "call me Tom". It could indeed be Tom, but again I'm more convinced by Wade's version.

Diamond Joe - Big Charlie Butler

Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe

Went up on that mountain
Give my horn a blow
Thought I heard Miss Maybelle say
"Yonder come my beau"

Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe

(Talk it, man)

Ain?t gonna work in the country
And neither on Forrest's Farm
I?m gonna stay till my Maybelle comes
And she gonna call-a me t'home

Diamond Joe-oooh, come a-git me
Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe

(Sing it, man. You can do it)

Ain?t gonna tell you no story
And neither woulld I lie
Wonder did my Maybelle stay?
Did she keep on by?

Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe

(Sing Joe, boy)

Diamond Joe, where'd you find him
Diamond Joe, where'd you find him
Diamond Joe, where'd you find him
Diamond Joe

Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe

Ain?t gonna work in the country
And neither on Forrest's Farm
I?m gonna stay till my Maybelle come
And she gonna call-a me t'home

Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe, come a-git me
Diamond Joe, oh-oo-oh,
My black Joe


Diamond Joe - Georgia Crackers (1927)

Diamond Joe, come and get me
My wife done and quit me
Diamond Joe, you better come get me, Diamond Joe.

I'm gonna buy me a sack of flour
Cook me a hoecake every hour
Diamond Joe, you better come get me, Diamond Joe.

I'm gonna buy me a piece of meat
Cook me a slice once a week
Diamond Joe, you better come get me, Diamond Joe.

I'm gonna buy me a peck of meal
Takes me a hoecake to the field
Diamond Joe, you better come get me, Diamond Joe.

I'm gonna buy me a jug of whiskey
I'm gonna make my baby frisky
Diamond Joe, you better come get me, Diamond Joe.

I' gonna buy me a jug of rum
I'm gonna give my Ida some
Diamond Joe, you better come get me, Diamond Joe.

Diamond Joe, come and get me
My wife done and quit me
Diamond Joe, you better come get me, Diamond Joe.

Diamond Joe, come and get me
My gal done and quit me
Diamond Joe, you better come get me, Diamond Joe.

I'm gonna buy me a sack of flour
Cook me a hoecake every hour
Diamond Joe, you better come get me, Diamond Joe.

I'm gonna buy me a piece of meat
Cook me a slice once a week
Diamond Joe, you better come get me, Diamond Joe.


Diamond Joe - Bessie Jones

Diamond Joe, you better come and get me
Diamond Joe, you better come and get me
Diamond Joe, you better come and get me
Diamond Joe

My britches torn, I got no patches
Diamond Joe, you better come at me
Diamond Joe, you better come 'n get me
Diamond Joe

Diamond Joe, you better come 'n get me
Diamond Joe, you better come 'n get me
Diamond Joe, you better come 'n get me
Diamond Joe

I'm out of doors an' I got no clothes
Wanna go home but I can't go
Diamond Joe, you better come 'n get me
Diamond Joe

Diamond Joe, you better come 'n get me
Diamond Joe, you better come get me
Diamond Joe, you better come get me
Diamond Joe

I'm down here on the hog
Diamond Joe, you better come on
Diamond Joe, you better come 'n get me
Diamond Joe

(it's a lot of verses to it)   



From Howard Odum, Folk Song and Folk Poetry as Found in the Secular Songs of the Southern Negroes, published in 1911:

DIAMON' JOE
Very much like the above in general tone, but sung by a woman, "Diamon' Joe" typifies the usual custom common in every negro community. It is a love-song.

Diamon' Joe, you better come an' git me:
Don't you see my man done quit?
Diamon' Joe com'n git me.

Diamon' Joe he had a wife, they parted every night;
When the weather it got cool,
Ole Joe he come back to that black gal.

But time come to pass,
When old Joe quit his last,
An' he never went to see her any mo'.


Odum & Guy Johnson published another two verses in 1926 in Negro Workadays Songs:


Diamond Joe wants a sack of flour,
Diamond Joe wants a sack of flour,
Diamond Joe he don't work by de hour.
Drive on, Diamond Joe.

Sometimes he works in de country,
Sometimes he works in de town,
Sometimes he has a good notion
To jump in de river an' drown.
Drive on, Diamond Joe.


The lyrics collected by E.C. Perrow published in 1912 are more of a gambling song:

Diamond Joe

If I come out on two,
Then I'll hand em back to you.

Chorus: Diamond Joe, Diamond Joe,
Run get me Diamond Joe.

If I come out on three,
Then you'll hand em back to me.

If I come out on fo',
Then I'll beat you a dolla mo'.

If I come out on six,
Then you knows yo money's fixed.

If I come out on seben,
Then I'll roll you fer eleben.

If I come out on nine,
Then yo money will be mine.

Then I'll buy me a bar'l o' flour,
Cook and eat it every hour.

Yes; an buy me a middlin' o' meat,
Cook and eat it twict a week.

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: SOTM 31 July 2015: Diamond Joe
« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2015, 02:22:56 AM »
Great choice, UB. The Charlie Butler track is outstanding.
« Last Edit: August 01, 2015, 02:25:16 AM by Prof Scratchy »

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: SOTM 31 July 2015: Diamond Joe
« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2015, 06:11:31 AM »
Great choice for SOTM. The Charlie Butler version is one of my favorite field recordings; Its just captivating in its beauty and simplicity.

On the lyrics side of things, I've always heard it as "Forster's Farm".

Offline alyoung

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Re: SOTM 31 July 2015: Diamond Joe
« Reply #4 on: August 01, 2015, 06:41:22 AM »
Stephen Wade's "The Beautiful Music All Around Me" is indeed an excellent read -- informative and well written; recommended for anyone with an interest in the history of some well-known songs. One of the stand-out chapters for me was his research on Bozie Sturdivant and "Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down". Re Diamond Joe: Are you going to bring in the version "written" by country fiddler Tex Logan? From memory it bears quite a resemblance to the Georgia Crackers' version.

Offline CF

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Re: SOTM 31 July 2015: Diamond Joe
« Reply #5 on: August 01, 2015, 06:54:09 AM »
Well done UB, loved all the versions & forgot how much I enjoyed Gellert's playing & singing.
I play second guitar to a version an old musical pal does but it must be the cowboy version, Diamond Joe is a mean boss in this one. Possibly he got it from a singer-songwriter.
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline uncle bud

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Re: SOTM 31 July 2015: Diamond Joe
« Reply #6 on: August 02, 2015, 06:52:17 AM »
CF, the mean boss version of Diamond Joe is likely the Butch Hawes/Cisco Houston one, as those lyrics fit that description. Among the singer-songwriter crowd, it's quite possible this came via Bob Dylan, who does a very nice version on Good As I Been to You. It's not the one on YouTube, btw, which is him doing the Georgia Crackers' version (also sounding good, imo). Dylan himself likely got the former via Ramblin' Jack Elliott, is my guess. It seems to have also taken on a life in bluegrass circles recently, obviously more upbeat versions (that don't do the song justice).

Al, I mentioned Tex Logan at the end but didn't include his lyric. Wade recounts how Logan did indeed start from the Georgia Crackers and wrote new lyrics for his version but didn't release a record of it himself. He did play it at his 85th birthday party though:


Offline alyoung

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Re: SOTM 31 July 2015: Diamond Joe
« Reply #7 on: August 03, 2015, 05:19:14 AM »
Damn. Must pay more attention (like it used to say on my school reports years ago). And I'd somehow forgotten that when I was having a bit of a dig around for info on Logan I found it in Wade. Now, what was my name??? 

Offline Johnm

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Re: SOTM 31 July 2015: Diamond Joe
« Reply #8 on: August 10, 2015, 05:05:32 PM »
Thanks very much for your choice of song of the month, uncle bud.  I wouldn't have thought it possible that I could love two versions of a song as different as Charlie Butler's and the Georgia Yellow Hammers', but I do.  I would dearly like to know how the Yellow Hammers were able to get that organ-y sounding mass of moving air, that mid-rangy WAAAAH, filling up the background of their rendition.  You can hear a similar quality on Dad Blackard's "Sandy River Belle".  As good as modern Old-Time playing can be, I've never heard that sound come from a present-day band.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: August 10, 2015, 05:58:45 PM by Johnm »

Offline harry

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Re: SOTM 31 July 2015: Diamond Joe
« Reply #9 on: August 12, 2015, 04:20:18 AM »
Thanks Uncle Bud,

Saw this Sam Bush version with completely different lyrics.


Offline Stuart

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Re: SOTM 31 July 2015: Diamond Joe
« Reply #10 on: August 12, 2015, 08:29:53 AM »
I'm late to the party, but great choice, Andrew. I'll second the recommendation for  Stephen Wade's book, along with the CD he put together for Rounder:

http://www.amazon.com/Treasury-Library-Congress-Field-Rcdgs/dp/B0000002UB

I remember hearing two covers of two versions of "Diamond Joe" back in the late 60's/early 70's and being somewhat puzzled by the "different songs with the same title." Of course, I didn't have access to any background info, so I remained puzzled for a while. The versions are both on Youtube:





Offline frankie

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Re: SOTM 31 July 2015: Diamond Joe
« Reply #11 on: August 20, 2015, 12:55:32 PM »
Thanks for this, UncleBud...  hard to top that Charlie Butler version...  somehow manages to sum up all the longing in the world into about 3 minutes. "Gone free... left no address."
« Last Edit: August 26, 2016, 03:29:22 AM by frankie »

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