ALMANAC SINGERS: The Sea, The Soil And The Struggle

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The Sea, The Soil and The Struggle

Original Recordings 1941-1942

The brief time that the Almanac Singers were together wentby like a meteor shower, only with more lasting effects. During the two yearsof their existence, the ad hoc assemblage of folk singers, left-wing activists,and writers who got their name from the rooming house that they shared recordedfive albums and a handful of singles for independent New York-based recordlabels including General, Asch, and Keynote. But more than sixty years aftertheir short time together, their recordings continue to fascinate not onlymusical but cultural and political historians. The core members of the groupincluded Pete Seeger (b. 1919) and Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), althoughperformers such as Lee Hays, Millard Lampell, Tom Glazer, Josh White, ButchHawes, and others drifted in and out, with no set group appearing from sessionto session.

On this CD we have included a variety of selections recordedby the Almanac Singers during 1941 and 1942, both politically oriented as wellas those reflecting authentic folk traditions. The albums Deep Sea Chanteys andWhaling Songs and Sod Buster Ballads were trailblazers in documentingtraditional American folk songs from, respectively, Pete Seeger's seafaring NewEngland ancestors and frontier songs from the plains of Woody Guthrie'sSouthwest. The album Songs of the Lincoln Battalion commemorated the SpanishCivil War (1936-39), in which German and Italian fascist forces succeeded inoverthrowing the democratically elected Republic of Spain. 



The songs featured on Sod Buster Ballads and Deep SeaChanteys & Whaling Ballads were record-ed on 7 July 1941 and issued on JohnGreen's General label. On Sod Buster Ballads, the group included Pete Seeger,Woody Guthrie, Lee Hays (1914-1981), and Millard Lampell (1919-1997). 

The Dodger Song, sung with sardonic glee by Lee Hays, hadits origins in the 1884 presidential election, which pitted Democrat GroverCleveland vs. Republican James Blaine. The populist song cynically warnsagainst promises made by lawyers, merchants, and other authority figures(including politicians!). It had been collected from an Ozark balladeer andfirst published by Pete Seeger's father, Charles, a noted educator andethnomusicologist.

Ground Hog, which had its origins in the SouthernAppalachians, featured Pete Seeger and his banjo in describing the hunting downand feasting on one of the smallest and least fierce of animals.

State of Arkansas is sung by Lee Hays from the point of viewof an Irish immigrant who comments on the backwoods ways of the state'sinhabitants.

Hard, Ain't it Hard is a Woody Guthrie tune that may havebeen based on the Delmore Brothers 1938 Bluebird recording, \Ain't it Hard toLove". The song became one of Guthrie's most popular compositions, and made itsway into the repertoires of many folk groups of the urban folk revival,including the Weavers and the Limeliters.

The cowboy song I Ride an Old Paint is credited by CarlSandburg in The American Songbag to balladeer Margaret Larkin and playwrightLinn Riggs, who collaborated on the Broadway play Green Grown the Lilacs, theliterary basis for the hit musical Oklahoma!  In 1931, Larkin was the first collector to publish a book ofcowboy songs that included musical notation.

Although House of the Rising Sun in its most familiar formdescribes a New Orleans brothel, the song's origins go back as far as 17thcentury Britain, where the symbol of a rising sun often represented a house ofill repute.


For this collection, also issued on General, Lee Hays wasreplaced by John "Peter" Hawes, Butch Hawes' older brother, who sang thebaritone part on the recordings. Hawes grew up in New England, listening to thesea chanteys sung by old-time seafarers. The songs represented on this albumwere all occupational work songs, sung to the rhythm of whatever menial taskswere required by sailors, and flexible enough to allow infinite verses tolessen the load of the dreary labour.

Haul Away, Joe is a short-haul shanty, sung to accompany thehoisting of sails and other chores that required synchronized labour (similarto songs sung by railroad workers and chain gangs).

Blow Ye Winds, High-O relates the hardships and inequitiesof a whaler's life, from the meagre and unappetizing rations to the paltry payearned on the long journeys.

The familiar Blow the Man Down tells of the shore activityof a na?â?»ve sailor looking for female companionship on Paradise Street, thered-light district of Liverpool.

The Golden Vanity (Child #286) dates back as far as 1682when a broadside was printed making reference to a ship built by Sir WalterRaleigh called the Sweet Trinity. The song tells of a cabin boy's bargain withthe ship's captain to save the vessel from being captured by a galley ship,only to be double-crossed by the captain after doing so and drowned.

Away Rio translated well to the American West, with someperformers believing it referred to Texas' Rio Grande River. Its true meaningis probably more obscure, possibly referring to a mythical golden river wheresailors' dreams come true, but it could also refer to the Brazilian port of RioGrande do Sul, a favorite of sailors.

The Coast of High Barbary tells of a fierce battle in theEnglish Channel between a British clipper ship, the Prince of Luther, and apirate ship, the Prince of Wales.


Songs of the Lincoln Battalion was recorded by Moe Asch in1942 at the request of veterans of the Spanish Civil War. Pete Seeger led thegroup, which included his boyhood friend Tom Glazer (1914-2003), Baldwin"Butch" Hawes (1919-1971), and Bess Lomax Hawes (b.1921), sister of folkloristAlan Lomax, who had married Butch Hawes in 1942.

Jarama Valley (sung to the tune of "Red River Valley") marksa reunion of survivors of the 15th brigade of the Lincoln Battalion who werekilled in a battle at Jarama in February 1937.

Cookhouse is a brief sarcastic complaint about the foodserved to the soldiers, and includes the line 'old soldiers never die, theyjust fade away', which was most famously invoked by Gen. Douglas MacArthur inhis famous 1952 farewell speech (the quote had its origins in Britain duringWorld War I).

The melody used for The Young Man from Alcala comes from a19th century song called "Yip-Ay-Addie-I-Ay" that was later adapted as thetheme song for the animated spinach-loving seafarer, Popeye, in the 1930s.

Similarly, Quartermaster Song also features griping aboutfood, and has its origins in another old British army song called "TheQuartermaster's Store". With its easy adaptability for endless verses, the songhas since been adapted as a campfire song by the Boy Scouts.

The haunting melody for the Spanish marching song Viva LaQuince Brigada ('Long Live the 15th Brigade') comes from an old Spanish folksong that was later transformed by the Limeliters into a funereal lament for aloyal burro ("The Little Burro"), first he
Item number 8120733
Barcode 636943273326
Release date 03/01/2004
Category Folk
Label Naxos Jazz Legends
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Hawes, Butch
Hays, Lee
Seeger, Pete
Hawes, Peter
Glazer, Tom
Guthrie, Woody
Hawes, Butch
Hays, Lee
Seeger, Pete
Hawes, Peter
Glazer, Tom
Guthrie, Woody
Composers Hawes, Baldwin
Guthrie, Woody
Hawes, Baldwin
Guthrie, Woody
Orchestras Singers, Almanac
Singers, Almanac
Producers Lennick, David
Lennick, David
Disc: 1
Quartermaster Song
1 Blow Ye Winds High-O
2 Haul Away Joe
3 Blow The Man Down
4 The Golden Vanity
5 Away Rio
6 Coast Of High Barbary
7 The Dodger Song
8 Ground Hog
9 State Of Arkansas
10 Hard, Ain't It Hard
11 I Ride An Old Paint
12 House Of The Rising Sun
13 Boontown Bill
14 Keep That Oil A-Rollin'
15 Viva La Quince Brigada
16 Jarama Valley
17 Spanish Marching Song
18 Cookhouse; The Young Man From Alcala
19 Quinto Regimiento
20 Quartermaster Song
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