A Bit Like You And Me Radio

October 19, 2016

Dave Van Ronk - Leave Her Johnny (1960)

Nicknamed the “Mayor of MacDougal Street,” Dave Van Ronk (June 30, 1936 – February 10, 2002) spent a large portion of his youth singing in a barbershop quartet and twice sailing with the Merchant Marine. In the mid-1950s, he desperately wanted to play with a traditional jazz band, and thus joined up with one in his native New York, playing the banjo and singing unamplified. Unfortunately, jazz had seen its day, and the outfit didn’t last very long. One day, while searching for jazz records in a music shop, Van Ronk stumbled upon blues artists like Mississippi John Hurt and Blind Lemon Jefferson. After finding this new style of music he could get into, he began to emulate the voices and styles which he heard during his own performances. And while doing so, Van Ronk continued to sing as if he was still unamplified and trying to be heard over the jazz arrangements. What resulted was a very loud, brash, and gritty style, which Van Ronk became known for, and which vastly contrasted with the other folk artists of the time who generally sang in a much more subdued style.

The song heard below was released in 1991 on the album The Folkway Years, 1959-1961. And although the specific year this song was recorded is not mentioned, the track listings for compilation albums such as these are usually listed in a sequential order. Assuming this to be true for this album, and noting that this song is smack-dab in the middle of the track listing, I'm taking the liberty of assuming it was recorded in 1960.

The song itself is a traditional sea shanty whose author or authors have been lost to time. Songs like this one were often sung by the crews of wooden ships to pass the time during the more menial tasks required to maintain a vessel. This song in particular was the song sung when a crew reached their final destination, after docking and being tied up in port, telling the everyman “Johnny” that it’s time to “leave her,” the ship.

album art

Dave Van Ronk - Leave Her Johnny (1960)

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Lyrics:

Oh, times were hard and the wages low
(Leave her, Johnny, leave her)
I guess it’s time for us to go
(It’s time for us to leave her)
Beware these packet ships, I say
(Leave her, Johnny, leave her)
They’ll steal your stores and your clothes away
(It’s time for us to leave her)
There’s Liverpool Pat with his tarpaulin hat
(Leave her, Johnny, leave her)
And Yankee John, the packet rat
(It’s time for us to leave her)
She would not wear and she would not stay
(Leave her, Johnny, leave her)
She shipped great seas both night and day
(It’s time for us to leave her)
It’s rotten beef and waverly bread
(Leave her, Johnny, leave her)
It was “pump or drown,” the old man said
(It’s time for us to leave her)
The sails all furled, our work is done
(Leave her, Johnny, leave her)
And now ashore, we’ll take our run
(It’s time for us to leave her)
Oh, what will us poor shellbacks do?
(Leave her, Johnny, leave her)
Our money’s gone; no work to do
(It’s time for us to leave her)

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