Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Steamboat Go by Steam, Sailboat Go by Sail

“The John B. Sails”

Come on the sloop John B.,
My grandfather and me,
Round Nassau town ve did roam.
Drinking all night, ve got in a fight,
Ve feel so break-up, ve vant to go home.

So hoist up the John B. sails,
See how the mainsail set,
Send for the captain ashore—let me go home,
Let me go home, let me go home,
I feel so break-up, I vant to go home.

The first mate he got drunk,
Break up the people trunk,
Constable come aboard, take him away—
Mr. Johnstone, leave me alone,
I feel so break-up, I vant to go home.

The poor cook got the fits,
Throw away all o’ my grits,
Captain’s pig done eat up all o’ my corn.
Lemme go home, I vant to go home,
I feel so break-up, I vant to go home.

Steamboat go by steam,
Sailboat go by sail,
My girl’s hat ’ain’t got no tail.
Lemme go home, I vant to go home,
I feel so break-up, I vant to go home.

Send all the things from ashore,
Let all the breezes blow,
I’m so sorry that I can longer stay,
Good-by to you— Tra-la-la-lu,
This is the vorst trip since I vas born.

The John B. was a real ship, and is thought to lie at the bottom of Governor's Harbor in Nassau. Apparently the crew was famous for being a bit on the hell-raising side.
This is a Bahamian folk song first written down by Richard Le Gallienne in 1916, and then published in part by Carl Sandburg in a collection of folksongs. It is difficult to determine when it was first audio-recorded, but The Weavers version (1950) under the title "Wreck of the John B" was the first widely popular one. After that, of course, it was sung by several different groups under various titles. I like Jimmie Rodgers's version (1960). But, of course, the version that was so catchy that it absolutely dominated, to the extent that it's hard to think of the song in any other way, is that of The Beach Boys (1966) under the title "Sloop John B".


  1. I just heard a Johnny Cash cover-but agree that the Beach Boys' cover somehow eclipses the rest. I did not know about the Sanburg connection-it is always fascinating to note (to cite Davenport) the geography of ideas.

  2. branemrys10:56 PM

    Very true. And the voyage of the song is an interesting, taking a path that would certainly not have been predictable from the beginning.


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