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Author Topic: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"  (Read 822 times)

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Offline Norfolk Slim

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SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« on: June 01, 2018, 12:36:49 AM »
This is an old song, composer unknown, which probably originated in slavery times and became developed / became popular in and around Texas prisons and work parties in the early 1900s.  The Brazos is a river running through Texas and into the Gulf of Mexico.  There are counties called Brazoria and Brazos in Texas as well.

There are a number of interesting articles and resources on the song readily available- this one is an enjoyable (and fairly lengthy) historical consideration of the song and its background:

http://bostonreview.net/arts-culture/dave-byrne-ground-down-to-molasses-american-folk

The article explains, among other things, that the soil and climate along the Brazos was particularly suitable for sugarcane and following the Molasses Act of 1733 putting import taxes on molasses from the West Indies, the growing of cane using cheap slave labour became attractive.  The lyrics feature notably stark references to the hardships of working along the river, cutting cane.

It is noted in several places (the referencedarticle included) that the song probably cross- fertilised with, or shares a common ancestor with Go Down Old Hannah.  Many versions of that song contain versions of the seminal ?No Cane? lines :

?You should-a been on this old Brazos
Back in nineteen and fo'

You could find a dead man
Layin' across your row

You should-a been on this old river,
Nineteen and ten,...
You could find them workin' the women
And killin' the men?


The earliest recording appears to come from a Lomax field trip to  visit to a Texas prison called ?Central Unit? on the Brazos river.  It is by Ernest Williams and James (Iron Head) Baker.



The Library of Congress also has a version from 1939- free to listen to or download (and seemingly with no copyright to worry about) by a Rev. Platt.  I am unable to embed the player here but the link should take you straight to it.

https://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000686/

I hesitate to offer this version by Lonnie Donegan (from 1958)- given that, well, its by Lonnie Donegan....  I really love the harmonica sound though and he does it pretty well and sensitively I think.




The two versions via which I was introduced to the song are both modern recordings.  Firstly Eric Bibb.  There are better recorded versions by Eric available on Youtube but I picked this one in part as it features friend of many Weenies, Grant Dermody.   


I am unable to find a video of Chris Smither's version, which must have been the first I heard and which he has since re-recorded on his 2014 double CD, 'Still on the Levee'.  I tried to embed the bandcamp player containing the song but the Weenie electronic policeman doesn't like it- so here's a plain old link to the page where the recording is streamable without charge.

https://chrissmither.bandcamp.com/track/no-more-cane-on-the-brazos

Finally, I am given to understand that Odetta did much to bring the song to public attention (though it was before my time!)



« Last Edit: June 01, 2018, 12:39:20 AM by Norfolk Slim »

Offline alyoung

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Re: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« Reply #1 on: June 01, 2018, 05:26:36 AM »
Related...


Online Prof Scratchy

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Re: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« Reply #2 on: June 01, 2018, 08:00:01 AM »
Here?s a question. If you search the song on YouTube there are several performances by recent singers and bands claiming the song to be a Leadbelly cover. But did Leadbelly ever record it?


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Offline TenBrook

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Re: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« Reply #3 on: June 01, 2018, 08:22:42 AM »
Prof.,
I did a quick search and wikipedia has this:
"The song is sometimes attributed to Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly), but a recording of him singing the song is obscure or non-existent. A song titled "Ain't No More Cane on this Brazos" does not appear in the extensive discography of Leadbelly recordings contained in Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell's book The Life and Legend of Leadbelly. Alan Lomax suggests, in the notes for his recording, another source from the Texas prison community. Possibly the song became associated with Leadbelly through his various recordings of another Texas prison song titled 'Go Down, Ol' Hannah' which shares some verses with 'Ain't No More Cane on this Brazos'."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ain%27t_No_More_Cane

Offline TenBrook

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Re: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« Reply #4 on: June 01, 2018, 08:29:13 AM »
I stumbled on the Mose Platt version on youtube (same as the LOC link that Slim provides):

Online Prof Scratchy

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Re: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« Reply #5 on: June 01, 2018, 08:55:19 AM »
Thanks Tenbrook.

Online Johnm

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Re: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« Reply #6 on: June 01, 2018, 08:57:56 AM »
Thanks very much for your Song of the Month choice, Simon, and the research you did.  I found a prison version recorded by John Lomax of Ernest "Mexico" Williams, in 1933.  Maybe it is the version that people attribute to Leadbelly.



Doh, I just realized this is a version that was posted in the thread's initial post.  Oh well.

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 01, 2018, 09:16:25 AM by Johnm »

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« Reply #7 on: June 01, 2018, 12:01:45 PM »
Smoky Hogg created Penitentiary Blues clearly based on It Ain't No More Cane ? or on a common source. His song is (most of the time) more similar in structure to the work song than to a conventional blues.



Lightnin' Hopkins created his Penitentiary Blues with some of the same lyrics. Structurally, though it's further from the work song.



To my ear, this is closer to the work song than is Bud Russell Blues posted by alyoung.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2018, 07:16:12 PM by DavidCrosbie »

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« Reply #8 on: June 01, 2018, 12:47:57 PM »

Doh, I just realized this is a version that was posted in the thread's initial post.  Oh well.
Maybe not, John. That link won't play in the UK, but the CD that it's from Jailhouse Bound has two versions. So yours might be the one that's not in Norfolk Slim's post.

Ernest Williams recorded a solo version in around July 1933. As reissued on the CD, it's poorer in sound quality ? apparently from a cylinder recording ? and Williams pitches it too low to show off his powerful tenor.

He recorded the second version in December 1933 backed by "'Ironhead' Baker and his quartet". It has a much cleaner sound and is pitched higher.

The first one is good, but the second is magnificent.
« Last Edit: June 02, 2018, 10:14:56 AM by DavidCrosbie »

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« Reply #9 on: June 02, 2018, 09:59:59 AM »
Bob Dylan and The Band recorded the song together and separately. If anybody wants to post, there are performances (separate ones) on YouTube.

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« Reply #10 on: June 02, 2018, 11:55:52 AM »
The earliest recording appears to come from a Lomax field trip to  visit to a Texas prison called ?Central Unit? on the Brazos river.  It is by Ernest Williams and James (Iron Head) Baker.

The Library of Congress also has a version from 1939- free to listen to or download (and seemingly with no copyright to worry about) by a Rev. Platt. 
The earliest recording was actually by Ernest Williams alone ? see my post above.

The 1939 version is clearly by the man with the prison name Mose Platt and the nickname Clear Rock. There are numerous reissued recording of him, some with James 'Iron Head' Baker. I'm not sure if he was recoded with Ernest Williams.

It's unlikely than another singer could have taken the same prison name and nickname. And to clinch it, the recording was made in Taylor, Texas ? the town where Clear Rock lived after his release.

He told John Lomax that 30,000 Taylor worthies had signed a petition for his release. Lomax noted that the population of Taylor was then less that 5,000.

John Lomax's notes for this particular recording don't include Rev or Winedot/Wyandotte, although they appear in notes elsewhere. Perhaps he got religion at the end of his life. And perhaps Winedot/Wyandotte was his real name.

Clear Rock's great recordings were made when he was seventy-one years old. That was in 1933, so he's a little less impressive on this 1939 recording.

Offline jphauser

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Re: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« Reply #11 on: June 03, 2018, 03:06:27 PM »
I found this description (see below) on the web of what it was like to chop cane in the Texas prison system.  It was written by a man named Barron Dowling whom I am fairly certain is an attorney for a Texas oil industry company.  From living in south Florida, I have come to learn that cutting cane is a terribly dangerous and miserable thing to have to do.  The machetes used to cut the cane have permanently maimed many a man.  Here is Dowling's description:

Chopping cane is one of the most unpleasant jobs imaginable. It required that the inmates stand in several inches of muddy water in dense, snake-infested stands of cane, stooping over to chop cane with a machete, during oppressive summer heat, with mosquitoes too thick to even bother swatting them. White guards watched the inmates from horseback, with rifles ready to shoot anyone who tried to escape. These chain gangs continued to exist into the 1960s. They could easily be seen from the main highways passing west of Houston. The town with the prison headquarters and sugar mill was named "Sugarland." It is now a Houston suburb. The prisons are still there, but the chain gangs are gone. They were one of the worst legacies of segregation when Texas was part of the old South.



Alan Lomax's book The Land Where the Blues Began includes a harrowing story told by a convict named Doc Reese who served time at the Sugarland prison.  I'm pretty sure I've come across Reese's name in various songbooks, and I know he appeared at the Newport folk festival.

« Last Edit: June 03, 2018, 03:08:45 PM by jphauser »

Offline Lignite

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Re: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« Reply #12 on: June 03, 2018, 05:42:16 PM »
Dock Reese - Go Down Old Hannah


« Last Edit: June 03, 2018, 05:44:07 PM by Lignite »

Online Johnm

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Re: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« Reply #13 on: June 03, 2018, 06:09:51 PM »
Hi all,
I think it may have been Doc Reed, a preacher and friend of Vera Hall's who sometimes sang with her that appeared at the Newport Folk Festival rather than Doc Reese.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Lignite

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Re: SOTM - June 2018 - "No More Cane on the Brazos"
« Reply #14 on: June 04, 2018, 06:32:27 AM »
From notes to Asch Recordings/1939-1945 Volume 2.
Looks like Dock Resse's introduction to northern audiences was through a Town Hall concert in NYC in the 1940s. Interesting connection with John Henry Faulk.
« Last Edit: June 04, 2018, 06:33:36 AM by Lignite »

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