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Author Topic: SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man  (Read 702 times)

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Offline Norfolk Slim

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SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« on: September 16, 2017, 02:39:04 AM »
The origins of this one are pretty murky.  There is clear evidence that by the mid 1920s it was a well known tune performed by a variety of artists, both black and white and is widely thought to have been a vaudeville / medicine show type tune from the time, inevitably spawning a number of variations.
It was recorded in 1924 by a white old time singer called Henry Witter and in 1926 by Dock Walsh.  I’ve not been able to find any online recordings or youtube links for those.  If anyone has those recordings, I’d be intrigued to hear them.

The earliest recording by a “bluesman” was that of Luke Jordan in August 1927 which went by the title “Travelin Coon”:


Coley Jones, a mandolin player with the Dallas String Band, recorded the tune just a few months later in December 1927.  Jones was from Dallas and Jordan from Virginia, so the tune had certainly travelled by then…


There is an interesting old thread on Mudcat.org which discusses the tune and directed me to Paul Oliver’s Saints and Sinner’s book where it is noted that 3 versions had been “collected” by Odum & Johnson.  I didn’t know who Odum & Johnson were so did a little digging and found a fascinating resource which includes full text of two books produced by Odum & Johnson in 1925 and 1926 about “the negro and his songs”.  One has to look past the language and perspective which is, of course, of its time but they are fascinating texts and well worth a look.  There are many familiar tunes and themes to be found.  The texts are here: http://www.bluegrassmessengers.com/the-negro-and-his-songs--odum--johnson-1925.aspx

In the latter of those two books one finds the following:

“A popular bad man song of many versions is the
Travelling Man. No one has ever outdistanced him.
A long story, rapidly moving, miraculously achieving,
triumphantly ending, it represents jazz song, phono-
graph record, banjo ballad, quartet favorite, although
it is not easy to capture. Three versions have been
found in the actual singing, one by a quartet which
came to Dayton, Tennessee, to help entertain the
evolution mongers; another by Kid Ellis, of Spartan-
burg, South Carolina, himself a professed traveling
man; a third by a North Carolina Negro youth who
had, however, migrated to Pennsylvania and re-
turned after traveling in seven or eight other states
of the union. The South Carolina version, which is
given here, is of the Ain't Gonna Rain No Mo'
type of vaudeville and ballad mixture.
Travelin' Man

Now I jus' wanna tell you 'bout travelin' man,
His home was in Tennessee;
He made a livin' stealin' chickens
An' anything he could see.
Chorus:
He was a travelin' man,
He certainly was a travelin' man,
 
He was mos' travelin' man
That ever was in this Ian'.
And when the law got after that coon,
He certainly would get on the road.
An' if a train pass, no matter how fas'.
He certainly would get on boa'd.
He was a travelin' man,
Was seen for miles aroun ',
He never got caught, an' never give up
Until the police shot him down.

The police shot him with a rifle,
An' the bullet went through his head,
The people came for miles aroun'
To see if he was dead.
They sent down South for his mother,
She was grieved and moved with tears,
Then she open the coffin to see her son,
An' the fool had disappeared.

The police got in an auto
An' started to chase that coon,
They run him from six in the mornin'
Till seven that afternoon.
The coon ran so bloomin' fast
That fire come from his heels;
He scorched the cotton an' burnt the corn
An' cut a road through the farmer's* fields.

The coon went to the spring one day
To get a pail of water;
The distance he had to go
Was two miles and a quarter.
He got there an' started back,
But he stumbled an' fell down;
He went to the house and got another pail,
An' caught the water 'fore it hit the ground.

The coon stole a thousand dollars,
Was in broad open day time.
 I ast the coon if he wa'n't ashame
To commit such an awful crime.
They put the coon on the gallows
An' told him he would die;
He crossed his legs an' winked his eye
And sailed up in the sky.

The coon got on the Titanic
An' started up the ocean blue,
But when he saw the iceberg,
Right overboa 'd he flew.
The white folks standin' on the deck,
Said "Coon, you are a fool."
But 'bout three minutes after that
He was shootin' craps in Liverpool.

Interestingly, a couple of the verses there seem to appear only rarely in the well-known modern versions which largely seem to derive from the much better known Pink Anderson recording.  Indeed, one sees the tune attributed to Pink on occasion, which seems unlikely given the song’s history.  Pink recorded the tune in 1961:
 

I have not mined all of the versions available on youtube as people may have favourites they want to add.  I think Bookbinder’s version is well known- he named an album after it.   There are also a number of folk / country singers who have done it- Doc Watson being the most obvious and prominent.


I’d be interested to know about people who currently have the song in repertoire.  The only modern player I have  personally seen doing it is Rick Franklin.  Ben Andrews also recorded a version.


Finally- a bit of self indulgence- here is my version (it is the Back Porch after all).
https://simonfield.bandcamp.com/track/travellin-man

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2017, 05:35:26 AM »
Good choice for SOTM. In my head the chorus always sounded like a variation of "Didn't He Ramble," which was extensively recorded and seems to be derived from a British Isles folk song called "The Darby Ram." There's a lot of great recordings of "Traveling Man" from white and black bands and songsters, and I'm surprised that there isn't a clear sheet music source for it as it has such a "minstrel" pop sound to it.

Jim Jackson



Good version from Virgil Childers:



Another old-time string band version from Prince Albert Hunt:

http://picosong.com/wwfzN/

A sort of unusual variant from the Alabama Sheiks:




Offline Johnm

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Re: SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2017, 07:41:39 AM »
Thanks, Slim, for your Song of the Month choice and for the research that went into your initial post.  I look forward to catching up on unfamiliar versions of the song.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Hwy80

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Re: SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2017, 06:28:51 PM »
The origins of this one are pretty murky.  There is clear evidence that by the mid 1920s it was a well known tune performed by a variety of artists, both black and white and is widely thought to have been a vaudeville / medicine show type tune from the time, inevitably spawning a number of variations.

There is an interesting old thread on Mudcat.org which discusses the tune and directed me to Paul Oliver’s Saints and Sinner’s book where it is noted that 3 versions had been “collected” by Odum & Johnson.  I didn’t know who Odum & Johnson were so did a little digging and found a fascinating resource which includes full text of two books produced by Odum & Johnson in 1925 and 1926 about “the negro and his songs”.  One has to look past the language and perspective which is, of course, of its time but they are fascinating texts and well worth a look.  There are many familiar tunes and themes to be found.  The texts are here: http://www.bluegrassmessengers.com/the-negro-and-his-songs--odum--johnson-1925.aspx

Excellent post!  And many thanks for this link, which also makes available many other biographic and historical links.

I will certainly go through and listen to the various recordings you have unearthed.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2017, 06:33:10 PM by Hwy80 »

Offline Prof Scratchy

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SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2017, 02:56:35 AM »
Great choice of song, NS! You ask about who else has it in their repertoire. I've been doing it since sometime in the eighties when I heard the Roy Bookbinder version and, shortly thereafter, the Virgil Childers version. At some point in the late eighties I was chastised for singing the word 'coon', and, seeing the point, have sung 'fool' ever since. Doesn't rhyme with 'afternoon', but a small price to pay! I've found the song goes down particularly well in folk clubs, where audiences are less inclined to like blues! And of course, it's a chorus song! I sang it as recently as last night, at a friend's 70th birthday party, and others joined in on fiddle, mandolin and dobro. A grand song, and great comedy.


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
« Last Edit: September 17, 2017, 02:57:37 AM by Prof Scratchy »

Offline Hwy80

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Re: SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2017, 08:38:03 AM »
Quote
There is an interesting old thread on Mudcat.org which discusses the tune and directed me to Paul Oliver’s Saints and Sinner’s book

Is this a different Oliver book or just a typo for Songsters and Saints: Vocal Traditions on Race Records ?

Offline Johnm

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Re: SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« Reply #6 on: September 17, 2017, 09:16:32 AM »
Hi all,
Here are links to the lyrics of some of the versions of "Traveling Man" that have been posted thus far in this thread:
   * Luke Jordan's "Traveling Coon":  http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=110.msg56639#msg56639
   * Virgil Childers' "Travelin' Man":  http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=7907.msg63728#msg63728
   * Coley Jones' "Traveling Man":  http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=8868.msg76178#msg76178
   * Alabama Sheiks' "Traveling Railroad Man":  http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=9892.msg83424#msg83424

All best,
Johnm 

Offline Stuart

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Re: SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« Reply #7 on: September 17, 2017, 09:30:51 AM »
My guess is that it's Songsters and Saints.

There is a book by the title Saints and Sinners... that Paul has an article in:

https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/4504078

Also, cf.: https://tinyurl.com/ycvmrpdd

Offline Norfolk Slim

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Re: SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2017, 10:38:06 AM »
Probably correct Stuart- I put this together during a quiet spell at work and may have relied on my short term memory rather than checking the title before typing!

Scratchy- I've not heard you do the song at a Weenie gathering.  Ill be interested to hear how you approach it sometime.

Offline Lignite

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Re: SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« Reply #9 on: September 17, 2017, 05:38:16 PM »
From Monroe Brothers (Charlie and Bill) song booklet "Favorite Hymns and Mountain Songs" from the 1930s;

Offline Lignite

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Re: SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« Reply #10 on: September 17, 2017, 05:45:57 PM »
The chorus;

Offline TenBrook

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Re: SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2017, 09:01:26 AM »
Slim,
Thanks for putting this together. I searched my digital files and I did indeed have Henry Whitter's version which was digitized from the 78 without much cleaning up and was part of a larger batch of his songs I came across on a blog awhile back. I uploaded it to youtube to share with the board and here it is:


While looking through my files I also found this great version from 1928 by Prince Albert Hunt's Texas Ramblers:


And also found this version by Phineas Rockmore, recorded in 1940 by John and Ruby Lomax in Lufkin, Texas. This comes from the Deep River of Song Series, specifically the 'Black Texicans' release:


Alas I do not have a digital file of the Dock Walsh recording though I believe I have a pretty beat up copy of the 78. Perhaps I'll get the impetus to make it my first trial run at digitizing a 78 and uploading it.

Also, for anyone else searching by name it's worth noting that some title the song with two Ls and some with one. I couldn't find the Henry Whitter version at first due to that difference. According to writingexplained.org "Travelling is the preferred spelling in British English. Traveling is the preferred spelling in American English."

Thanks again. Looking forward to hearing more versions.
« Last Edit: September 18, 2017, 09:16:56 AM by TenBrook »

Offline Norfolk Slim

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Re: SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« Reply #12 on: September 18, 2017, 09:25:24 AM »
Thanks for that Tenbrook- much appreciated.  Its a pretty primitive version isn't it?  Seems highly that Luke Jordan had the song from a very different branch of the tree rather than hearing the Witter record or from those sorts of sources.


Offline Lignite

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Re: SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« Reply #13 on: September 18, 2017, 10:45:51 AM »
Here you go! I found that I had a copy of Traveling Man by Dock Walsh on 78 that's in pretty good shape; http://picosong.com/wwVdr
« Last Edit: September 18, 2017, 10:52:21 AM by Lignite »

Offline Stuart

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Re: SOTM 2017 September - Travelling Man
« Reply #14 on: September 18, 2017, 12:17:19 PM »