Pinery Boys

Songs and Songcatching in the Lumberjack Era
by Franz Rickaby with Gretchen Dykstra and James P Leary

University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN: 978-0-299-31264-0

This is a book about the song collector Franz Rickaby.  In 1926 Harvard University Press published Rickaby's book Ballads and Songs of the Shanty - Boy.  It was well received by people such as Carl Sandburg and a youthful Alan Lomax.  But who exactly was Rickaby and why did he never publish any other songs collections?  Sadly, we now learn that Rickaby died several months before his book was published.  He was only thirty five years old at the time of his death.

Pinery Boys comprises four parts.  Firstly, Rickaby's book Ballads and Songs of the Shanty - Boy is reproduced in its entirety.  Secondly, there is a sixty page account of Rickaby's life, written by his granddaughter, Gretchen Dykstra.  Thirdly, James P Leary, Professor Emeritus of folklore and Scandinavian studies at the University of Wisconsin, has written a brief account of Rickaby's folklore career, and has also selected a further thirteen songs from Rickaby's unpublished collection, which are printed here for the first time.  And finally, we have a title listing of the 269 songs which Rickaby collected, this latter index having being prepared by Matt Appleby from the University of Wisconsin's Mills Music Library.

Franz Rickaby was born in 1889 in Rogers, Arkansas.  His maternal grandfather, William Rickaby, was the manager of a coal mine in High Haswell, a few miles to the east of Durham, in County Durham, England.  William, it seems, was a lay-preacher and also a musician in his spare time.  His son, Thomas Rickaby attended Durham Cathedral as a young boy and was 'steeped in the music, the hymns, and literature of the Church of England', according to Gretchen Dykstra.  In 1887 Thomas Rickaby moved to North America, where, in Deep Water, Missouri, he married a local girl.  Thomas, like his father William, was soon involved in church affairs and began playing the church organ on Sundays.  Franz Rickaby once said that he was brought up in "distinguished poverty with constant music".  Franz dropped out of school and began travelling around the Ozark Mountains keeping himself alive by doing odd jobs.  He had learnt to play both the fiddle and the cornet and would sometimes earn a few cents performing for people.  When he was twenty-one years of age he returned to High School to complete his education.  Later he became a Professor of English at the University of North Dakota.

In 1917 Franz Rickaby set out to travel through the woods of northern America in search of songs.  He travelled over 900 miles, mostly on foot, through North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan noting song texts by hand and using his fiddle to note the tunes.  This was to be the first of several collecting trips, the last being a three week trip during the summer of 1923.  Shortly afterwards Franz and his wife moved to Southern California.  In 1917 Franz Rickaby had been diagnosed with rheumatic fever - actually a heart condition - which had gradually worsened.  He continued to teach and work on his book, but he died in 1925.

Franz Rickaby's book Ballads and Songs of the Shanty - Boy contains 51 songs.  Elsewhere, James P Leary has written that, 'Large camps for workers cutting conifers over a winter's season no longer flourished by the 1930s, nor did the springtime river drives that floated buoyant pine to mills.'1  If this was the case, then we must certainly praise Franz Rickaby for collecting his songs when there were still such places where singers could congregate.

Rickaby found a number of songs which had been composed locally, while others were adaptations of earlier pieces.  Many of these songs are clearly related to Irish songs and it is no surprise to read Rickaby's comment to the song The Clipper Ship Dreadnaught, 'Properly a sea ballad.  But the 'woods were full' of Irishmen who had literally sailed the Seven Seas.'

Some songs employ the 'Come-all-ye' style.  Here is the opening to The Jam on Gerry' Rocks:

Other songs seem related to the Irish dream songs (aisling) in their opening stanzas.  This is from the song The Lost Jimmy Whalen: In this case, however, the girl is lamenting the loss of her truelove, rather than the loss of her Nation.  In some cases expressions used in Irish lyrics have become garbled through lack of understanding.  Here are three phrases from the song Jack Haggerty, together with the phrases found on the singer's lips: Other 'local' songs are based on songs which are not necessarily Irish, though which may have been known to Irish singers.  The song Michigan-I-O is clearly related to the song Canadee-I-O and The Shanty-boy and the Farmer's Son bears a similarity to the song I Love My Sailor Boy with its opening lines: 'Abroad as I rambled one morning in May/So carelessly I rambled down Liverpool's streets so gay.'  This latter song, although set in Liverpool, does seem to show an Irish influence in its use of language.  On the other hand, The Pinery Boy is clearly related to the English song Sweet William.  Compare, for example, these two verses: I mentioned above that Rickaby said that many Irishmen had 'sailed the Seven Seas'.  This comment accompanied the song The Clipper Ship Dreadnaught, and it may explain why he collected so many songs about ships and the sea.  Here are versions of The Flying Cloud, The Bold Daniel (Gavin Greig called this The Saucy Dolphin, though it is not identical to Sam Larner's song The Dolphin), Paul Jones - The Privateer, The Persian's Crew and The Bigler's Crew.  Another song, The Cumberland's Crew, tells of the sinking of the Cumberland by the Confederate iron-clad Merrimac, during the American Civil War.  It must, at one time, have been an immensely popular song and the words were printed in numerous American songsters, including Henry J Wehman's The Great Circus Songster of c.1896, Hirst's Vocalist's Favorite (sic) Songster (1885) and in Delaney's Song Book No.2 (1893).  Interestingly the Manchester broadside printer Thomas Pearson also printed the words on an English slip and collected sets were later found being sung in England by both Ralph Vaughan Williams and Clive Carey, and in Scotland by James M Carpenter.

Ballads and Songs of the Shanty - Boy also contains a few songs found in other American collections, such as versions of the songs Fair Charlotte and The Hunters of Kentucky, a song employing the tune The Golden Days of Good Queen Bess, which can be found in Chappell's Popular Music of the Olden Times.  And there are two songs about prize fighting, Morrissey and the Russian Sailor and Heenan and Sayers.  The first celebrates the Irishman Morrissey and the song was certainly popular in Ireland - there is a spirited version on the CD World Library of Folk and Primitive Music - Volume 11, Ireland - Rounder CD 1742, where it is sung by Seán 'ac Dhonnchadha of Carna, Co Galway - while the second tells of a fight held in 1860 in Farnborough, Hampshire.  Although this fight took place in England, at least two American printers published the words (Henry J Wehman's Irish Song Book 2 of 1889 and in O'Connor's Irish Come-all-Ye's of 1901), both suggesting that it was an Irish song.

The additional thirteen songs selected for this book from the Rickaby manuscript by James P Leary give us a better idea of what can be found in Rickaby's overall collection.  There is, for example, a tune collected from a Native American, Chief White Eagle of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  This was probably Winslow White Eagle, who was recorded in 1946 by Helene-Stratman-Thomas and one of these recordings can be heard on CD 4 which accompanies the book mentioned in the footnote at the end of this review.  There are also two songs about Native Americans, Minnehaha, Laughing Water and The Indian's Lament, but these were almost certainly written by white Americans.  Versions of The Indian's Lament - also known as The Birch bark Canoe have been collected all over Canada and parts of northern North America.  On the other hand, another song, The Dark British Foe - also known as Edwin and Mary - is extremely rare.  There are a couple of other sightings, mentioned in the notes to the song, but there is no mention of the fact that this version of the song, collected by Rickaby from Fred Bainter of Ladysmith, Wisconsin, has previously appeared in Harry Peters' Folk Songs Outs of Wisconsin (1977) pp.142-3.

James P Leary has also selected two songs of German origin for inclusion, together with a song about the Dutch volunteers who fought in the American Civil War, though this latter item is misleadingly titled The Deutscher Volunteers.  I find Die Zwei Soldaten to be the most interesting of the two German songs.  It is, in fact, a version of a song/story which turns up all over Europe under such titles as Le fils asassiné or The Return of the Transformed Son.  Often associated with the Thirty Years War, it tells the story of two brothers who leave home to fight in a war.  When they return they are not recognised.  Their parents murder one of them for his money and only realise the enormity of what they have done when the other son explains who they are.

At the end of the book we have a title listing of all the songs collected by Rickaby.  Titles such as The House Carpenter, Barbary Allen, Mary across the Wild Moor, Brennan on the Moor, The Mon Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn and The Dumb Wife are easily recognisable.  But what of titles such as Three Loving Brothers, Drifting Apart, Johanna Shay or The London Boy?  Several titles given here could refer to more than one song, so why not add Roud numbers to these titles?  I know that Steve Roud has spoken about his Index to American folklorists in Washington, and I believe that he is returning there later this year.  In a recent email Steve told me, 'I do have some enthusiastic supporters in the States but most song people don't know about my indexes and a few are against them.  They seem to think I'm trying to dictate what is 'genuine' and what isn't (and there's quite a few over here - i.e. in the UK - who feel the same.)'  The Roud Index is not about what is 'genuine' and what is not.  It is a non-judgemental index of songs which have been collected over the years.  I use the Roud Index extensively.  In fact the details about the song The Cumberland's Crew given above come from Steve's Index, where it is indexed under Number 707.  I doubt if I could function these days without this essential tool.

Pinery Boys is a fascinating book.  Based fairly and squarely on Franz Rickaby's book Ballads and Songs of the Shanty - Boy, which was first published some ninety years ago, this new edition - because this is really what we have here - has been brought up-to-date by Gretchen Dykstra and James P Leary.  People admired Rickaby's book when it first appeared, though they were probably unaware that within a few years it would have been almost impossible to obtain the material that Rickaby managed to find.  Franz Rickaby's early death meant that he never heard just how much people valued what he had done.  This new edition serves his memory very well indeed.


Mike Yates - 18.7.17

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