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That's a dirty song, I better stop there, that's too dirty, that's a dirty song, that's that Rollin' Stone - Scott Dunbar cracks himself up in Sweet Mama Rollin' Stone

Author Topic: The Titanic  (Read 11698 times)

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Online Johnm

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The Titanic
« on: July 27, 2006, 10:00:52 PM »
Hi all,
I have an interest in songs and instrumentals that have had an active life in both the Black and White American traditions, like "Buckdancer's Choice", "Spanish Fandango" and "Reuben", and it occurred to me recently that songs about the sinking of the Titanic definitely fell into that category.  I thought I would round up as many of them as I could, and see what we had.

   * Blind Willie Johnson--"God Moves On The Water".  This version was recorded in 1929, and is one of the earlier recorded versions, at least among the sample group I found.  Willie Johnson does the song at a tremendous clip, and his playing on it is notable for its simultaneous extreme force and extreme accuracy and finesse.  How did he do that?  Like many or most of the versions of "The Titanic" it suggests that the Titanic's fate was at least partially due to Man's hubris in imagining that he could construct a boat that could not be sunk--I guess we were shown otherwise!
   * Dixon Brothers--"Down With The Old Canoe".  Dorsey and Howard Dixon hailed from Darlington County, South Carolina, and sang in close harmony, accompanying themselves on Hawaiian guitar played lap-style and finger-picked guitar (almost always in D).  Dorsey was rediscovered in the '60s and appeared at at least one Newport Folk Festival, as well as recording an album (for Testament?) entitled "Babies In The Mill".  This version of the song, from 1938, is particularly preachy, but is made more palatable by the smooth instrumental and vocal sound of the Dixons and the inexplicably jolly melody.  It can be found on an old RCA Vintage Series LP, "Smoky Mountain Ballads", that might be available in libraries, as well as Document DOCD-8048, "The Dixon Brothers, Vol. 3", if it is still available.
   * William and Versey Smith--"When That Great Ship Went Down".  This husband/wife duo recorded their version in Chicago in 1927.  Their slant on the subject is quite religious, as you would expect based on the rest of their repertoire, and their sound was all their own, with a simple guitar accompaniment in Spanish tuning, William's lead singing, and the very aggressive tambourine and almost monotonic shouted response lines of Versey Smith.  Their version can be found on "America Primitive, Vol. 1" on Revenant, or Document DOCD-5045, "The Songster Tradition".
   * Leadbelly--"The Titanic".  Leadbelly's version, from his "Last Sessions", available on Smithsonian/Folkways, has probably the least religious slant of the bunch.  He uses a happy ragtimey melody for his version, and in it rejoices at then-heavyweight champion Jack Johnson first being denied passage on the Titanic because of his race and then, as a result being spared from the ensuing disastrous collision with the iceberg. 
   * Hobart Smith--"The Great Titanic".  This version from the great Appalachian musician came out on a 1964 Folk-Legacy recording.  Hobart accompanies himself in C, standard tuning, with the drive you hear in all his playing, and interestingly, like Henry Thomas, when going to the IV chord of C, F, chooses to leave the first string open, not fretting the F note found at the first fret. 
   * Mance Lipscomb--"God Moves On The Water".  Taken from his "Texas Sharecropper and Songster, Vol. 2" album on Arhoolie, this is a terrific version.  Based on Willie Johnson's version (or a source shared in common with it), Mance's version is also played knife-style in Vestapol, but at a considerably slower tempo than Willie's.  Mance's version is an eerie one, and he sings it beautifully, with an impressive gravity.
   * New Lost City Ramblers--"The Titanic".  The Ramblers' version, from their album "Remembrance Of Things To Come", on Verve/Folkways, is from a late recording by the Carter Family from the '50s that I have never heard.  The melody of this version is exceptionally beautiful, and the words odd, alternating between dreamy images and concern over the fate of surviving family members of those who were lost in the sea.  The final verse concludes, "Oh surely somebody, somewhere, will raise the Titanic someday."!
   * Pink Anderson--"The Titanic".  Pink's version is from his album "The Blues Of Pink Anderson--Ballad & Folksinger, Vol. 3", until recently available on Original Blues Classics OBCCD-577-2.  The CD may still be available from Red Lick.  Pink's version, played in G, standard tuning, clocks in at 4:04, and has a lot of verses not found in any of the other versions, just as Pink's version of "The Wreck Of The Old 97", from the same recording does.  Pink's version, while not exactly jolly, benefits from his droll delivery.  He sounds like it took a lot to make him feel really serious.
   * John Miller--"The Titanic".  I recorded this on my first Blue Goose album.  I used Leadbelly's melody and many of his lyrics, but wanted to do an accompaniment that was more closely influenced by Mance Lipscomb's sound, with a driving monotonic bass.  I played it out of dropped D in standard tuning.  It is fast, as I did most things back then.

I'd be interested in hearing about other versions of "The Titanic" that I didn't mention, and where I could find them.  There is something about the story of the Titanic that still exerts an imaginative tug on many of us, I think.
All best,
Johnm       
   
« Last Edit: July 29, 2006, 07:52:17 AM by Johnm »

Offline Doc Brainerd

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Re: The Titanic
« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2006, 11:23:54 PM »
John,

A quick Google search adds to the list "Titanic" by Lesley Riddle (an influence on the Carter Family) on his Rounder album Step By Step and "Titanic (It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down)" by Vernon Dalhart (c.1920s).

By the way for those interested in the Dixon Brothers, I recently found a nice Dixon Brothers compilation (How Can A Broke Man Be Happy?, Acrobat (import)) containing "Down With Old Canoe" through Tower Records.

As an aside, other historico-political old-time song topics that might be interesting to compile lists for would be assasinations (for example "Charles Giteau" by Kelly Harrell) and the sales tax ("Sales Tax on the Women" by the Dixon Bros and "Sale Tax" by the Mississippi Sheiks).

Greg

Online Johnm

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Re: The Titanic
« Reply #2 on: July 28, 2006, 08:29:34 AM »
Thanks for those finds, Greg.  I used to have that Lesley Riddle album.  I wish I had held on to it.  It would be interesting to hear if his melody was the same as that used by the Carter Family.  I know he was a "song-finder" for them.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Doc Brainerd

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Re: The Titanic
« Reply #3 on: July 28, 2006, 08:57:20 AM »
John,
I had a hunch you were already familiar with Lesley Riddle ;D. His CD is currently on my 'wish list' so I don't (yet) know about the melody.
Greg

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: The Titanic
« Reply #4 on: July 28, 2006, 10:43:35 AM »
Some folk hereabouts might like to know that Chris Smith wrote an extremely interesting and detailed examination of the topic in "When That Great Ship Went Down: Black Songs About the 'Titanic'." Talking Blues no. 9/10 (1979, p 24-31, 43) which, of course, took on board all the 'travellin' man' elements and narrative 'toasts'. He updated this for talk he gave at a black music seminar in 1991, "The Titanic, a Case Study of Religious and Secular Attitudes in African-American Song". This was published in the 1996 as a chapter in the book Saints And Sinners (ed. R. Sacre). It's 15 pages long but should anybody require a OCR scan, PM me with an email address and I'll set about doing it.

Online Johnm

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Re: The Titanic
« Reply #5 on: July 28, 2006, 03:37:54 PM »
Good catch on the humorous songs and toasts pertaining to the Titanic, Bunker Hill.  They had completely slipped my mind.  I love all that "Get your ass in the water and swim like everybody else!" stuff.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: July 29, 2006, 07:49:07 AM by Johnm »

Offline Alexei McDonald

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Re: The Titanic
« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2006, 04:38:12 PM »
There's a Darby and Tarlton "After the sinking of the Titanic", Charley Jordan and Hi Henry Brown's "Titanic blues", and Frank Hutchinson's "Last scene of the Titanic".   Rabbit Brown also recorded a "Sinking of the Titanic."

Online Johnm

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Re: The Titanic
« Reply #7 on: July 28, 2006, 11:37:34 PM »
Thank you for those finds, Alexei.  I know I have the Hi Henry Brown somewhere, I will have to dig it up and give it a listen.  I hope to hear the remainder of those soon, especially the Rabbit Brown.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Doug

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Re: The Titanic
« Reply #8 on: July 29, 2006, 07:47:07 AM »
Most of these have been mentioned already, but I thought it might be interesting...

"Released to cash in on the resulting craze around the time of the motion picture Titanic, Titanic Songs compiles 18 songs recorded between 1912 and 1948 that deal with you-know-what. Vernon Dalhart, the Dixon Brothers, Blind Willie Johnson, Leadbelly and Ernest V. Stoneman are represented, as well as a number of very obscure artists."

http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=10:0xfixqyjldte

Offline OMpicker

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Re: The Titanic
« Reply #9 on: July 29, 2006, 03:34:41 PM »
I love that attitude in the Leadbelly version.  Looking around I saw mention of this interesting book that considers the sinking of the Titanic on the basis of its cultural impact on drama, art, music, etc.  Just thought I'd mention it; here's a summary and a link to a page with all sorts of Titanic information, including a bibliography:

"Down With the Old Canoe :
A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster
by Steven Biel -
 

Steven Biel takes a new approach to the Titanic. Instead of discussing the ship itself and her disaster, he explores the cultural legacy of the Titanic. Almost immediately after the sinking, people and groups sought to categorize and exploit the Titanic disaster in their own world view. Politics, music, literature and philosophy were all influenced by Titanic. The symbolism and metaphors created after 1912 still affect us today. Biel covers every detail and parts of his prose may seem a bit too scholarly for some readers. However, for anyone really interested in the total history of the Titanic, this book provides an important perspective.

Hyperion, Reprint Edition Paperback, 1995.
W.W. Norton & Co., 1997. 300 pages"

Titanic page: http://www.keyflux.com/titanic/  But also note the "links" page on that site, which has a "Arts, Graphics, Theatre & Music" section containing links to song lyrics, etc.: http://www.keyflux.com/titanic/links.htm#ART


Dennis

Offline dj

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Re: The Titanic
« Reply #10 on: August 16, 2006, 03:18:33 AM »
A bit of a historical curiosity:

Motown once had a Country-Western subsidiary called Mel-O-Dy.  The last record to be released on the label, Mel-O-Dy M-121, came out on April 27, 1965.  The record was by Howard Crockett (real name Howard Hausey), and one side was "The Great Titanic".  The song was written by Hausey, and was more influenced by Johnny Horton's recent hits like "Sink The Bismark" than by any of the tunes mentioned earlier in this thread.  But it's interesting to note that as late as 1965 there was a Titanic song aimed at the commercial market.     

Offline Stuart

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Re: The Titanic
« Reply #11 on: August 16, 2006, 08:25:38 AM »
I seem to recall a novelty song ca. 1970 that was either about the Titanic or had a verse or two about the Titanic--it had some spoken parts. It made reference to the Jack Johnson the boxer doing the Eagle Rock, etc. Maybe by Jimmy Buffett? It certainly is not in the same vein as the other songs, but I mention it owing to the recording date, etc. Anyone have a clearer recollection?

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: The Titanic
« Reply #12 on: August 16, 2006, 09:35:52 AM »
I seem to recall a novelty song ca. 1970 that was either about the Titanic or had a verse or two about the Titanic--it had some spoken parts. It made reference to the Jack Johnson the boxer doing the Eagle Rock, etc. Maybe by Jimmy Buffett? It certainly is not in the same vein as the other songs, but I mention it owing to the recording date, etc. Anyone have a clearer recollection?
Hardly a novelty song, but you're not by any chance thinking of the x-rated "Hey Shine" by Snatch & The Poontangs (aka Johnny Otis Band with Delmar Evans) which was recorded 1970ish?

Offline Stuart

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Re: The Titanic
« Reply #13 on: August 16, 2006, 12:16:28 PM »
I seem to recall a novelty song ca. 1970 that was either about the Titanic or had a verse or two about the Titanic--it had some spoken parts. It made reference to the Jack Johnson the boxer doing the Eagle Rock, etc. Maybe by Jimmy Buffett? It certainly is not in the same vein as the other songs, but I mention it owing to the recording date, etc. Anyone have a clearer recollection?
Hardly a novelty song, but you're not by any chance thinking of the x-rated "Hey Shine" by Snatch & The Poontangs (aka Johnny Otis Band with Delmar Evans) which was recorded 1970ish?

Hi Bunker Hill:

No, it definitely wasn't an x-rated song. It was played occasionally on the University of Vermont radio station by the student DJs. I just did a search and the name "Jaime Brockett" popped up. Here's the link:

http://www.richieunterberger.com/brockett.html

At least I had his initials right.

And it is available on CD:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00078GHT8/sr=8-1/qid=1155756134/ref=pd_bbs_1/002-0357355-5527247?ie=UTF8

Over and Out,

Uncle Stuie
« Last Edit: August 16, 2006, 12:26:15 PM by Stuart »

Offline onewent

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Re: The Titanic
« Reply #14 on: August 17, 2006, 06:18:48 AM »
..if more modern covers count, Steve Mann does a lilting slide cover of Blind Willie Johnson's version of Titanic on one of his 70's albums..

 


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