Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Granny's in the Cellar - Song #24

Song #23, "Ain't Gonna Grieve My Lord," begins "Oh the deacon went down to the cellar to pray, but he got drunk and stayed all day." So why not post about the only other Camp Ajawah song that uses the word "cellar" (I always say "basement" myself, "cellar" is more evocative, I have to admit). And it's a song mentioned in the last two posts about Lisa Loeb's new CD: "Granny's In The Cellar."

Evidently lots of beloved authority figures get in trouble in cellars.

Just as "Ain't Gonna" is mildly scandalous, making fun of a deacon and drinking, "Granny" is playful with grandma and grossness. All in good fun...

Granny's in the cellar
Lordy, can't you smell her
Cooking greasy biscuits on the stove
In her eye there is some matter
That keeps dripping in the batter
And she whistles as the [sniff] runs down her nose
Down her nose, down her nose
She whistles as the [sniff] runs down her nose
In her eye there is some matter
That keeps dripping in the batter
And she whistles as the [sniff] runs down her nose

Granpa's in the basement
And to his amazement
There is something in the wine he made last fall
And his eyes are getting redder
As his tongue is getting wetter
'Cause it's ninety-seven percent alcohol
Alcohol, alcohol
It's ninety-seven percent alcohol
His eyes are getting redder
As his tongue is getting wetter
'Cause it's nInety-seven percent alcohol.

Granny's in the laundry
And she's in a quandary
'Cause she put some starch in with her underwear
And it's gonna be disaster
When it dries as hard as plaster
But she's tough as nails and so she doesn't care
Underwear, underwear
She put some starch in with her underwear
And It's gonna be disaster when it dries as hard as plaster
But she's tough as nails so she don't care.

Tune: "Y'All Come"

From _A Prairie Home Companion Folksong Book_ by Marcia & Jon
Pankake; (Viking, 1988)

Instructions given in text: "Where it says [sniff] just wind 'er up
and give a real good snort. Just don't be too long about it, and
don't be too disgusting, and above all, try not to get any on you."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Link to Camp Lisa

Here, at last, is the link to the new album I mentioned in the last post - check it out...

Lisa Loeb - Camp Lisa

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lisa Loeb's new album

Just saw on iTunes' new releases that Lisa Loeb, who had a big alternative hit with "Stay" a few years back, has just put out "Camp Lisa." Listened to two excerpts of songs from Camp Ajawah which couldn't be more different:

Granny's in the Cellar - a rarely sung humorously gross song from Boys' Camp.

Linger - A sweet song that was part of the closing medley at all Girls' Camp evening campfires.

Check them out; I will try to get a link up soon...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Third and final cat post

There is an excellent wikipedia entry on "The Cat Came Back." Here is the cover of the sheet music (1893):

And here is another video of the song being sung, this time by Boy Scouts around a campfire, so closer to approximating the summer camp experience...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More Cats

Following up on my last post, perhaps some of you may remember this National Film Board of Canada animated version of The Cat Came Back. Or, if not, check it out anyway...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Cat Came Back - thanks to technology

Yahoo's homepage features this story:

And even had a link to search for the song "The Cat Came Back." The song was (is?) sung at Camp Ajawah, but never became a Top 40 hit, so to speak. To me, while the lyrics are quite fun, the melody was neither easy nor memorable enough. The chorus is okay, but to this day the tune for the verses is hard to recall - a vaguely monotonous rush of words.

One version I like listening to is Garrison Keillor's. He grew up in Anoka, not far from Ajawah. Perhaps we are Camp Woebegone? I can't find a link to the version of TCCB that I know, but he did a version on his CD "Songs of the Cat."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ain't Gonna Grieve - Song #23

Continuing on the religious theme (very loosely), this next song starts "Oh the Deacon went down to the cellar to pray." But then things take a subversive turn: "But he got drunk and stayed all day." In these days of political correctness, perhaps this is not something that would be easy to introduce, but as far as I know this song like many others was de facto "grandfathered in."

Which is a good thing. A little good natured humor about anything never hurt anyone.

So those are the first two lines, which are sung in call and response fashion by the song leader. Then the verse is repeated without the call and response, followed by "I ain't gonna grieve my Lord no more." Then that line is repeated three times to the same melody, with a nice drawn out "grieeeeeeeve."

Then anyone can raise his (this was a boys' camp song) hand and the song leader points to one of the handraisers, who then leads the call and response with an original (or not) joke. The one I remember best is "Oh you can't get to Heaven with (insert name)'s shoes, 'cause (insert name)'s shoes are big as canoes." Then the usual chorus followed by someone else's joke. They always began with "Oh you can't get to Heaven with..." Good way to tease a counselor or make fun of the food or the weather, etc.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Swing Low - Song #22

For some reason I felt like singing in the shower this morning and the first song that popped into my head was Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, for no apparent reason. It's a good tune for the resonant surfaces of a bathroom, given its slow and simple melody.

Camp Ajawah was founded by a Boy Scout troop and sponsored by Minneapolis's big downtown Presbyterian church, but is not a "church camp" as some might understand the term. Always inclusive of children of any or no faith, Ajawah has always had a strong spiritual element that is best emphasized as "love thy neighbor as thyself."

And so there are a handful of songs that have some religious element, but not a majority of the songs by any stretch. And Swing Low is among the best known.

A 2000s version, then one from the 1960s:

But I prefer this version (from one half of the Righteous Brothers):

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ballgame - song #21

In honor of yesterday's All Star Game, I turn my attention now to the unofficial baseball anthem, Take Me Out to the Ballgame. At camp we would sing it occasionally. For many years there was a traditional game of softball one of the last days of each session, pitting the staff versus the "all stars" campers from the softball league that played games during morning swims.

I believe that all may have transitioned to soccer - don't get me started on that - but back in the day we sang TMOTTB, which perhaps many already knew from the 7th inning stretch at Twins' games.

So, here are three sites about the song:

Now we know that this is the 100th anniversary of the song's debut as a pop music hit. And that it is the third most commonly sung song in America.

A Minnesota indie band (now based in Brooklyn) covers the song for the Twins (do they now play this at the Metrodome??)

Nine popular acts record versions for an ESPN battle of the bands.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

More "Wha Saw"

Here is a link with a few of the traditional versions of the lyrics as well as the sheet music. As you can see, it's from a bagpipe site. Whenever I think of what a bagpiper usually plays, it's something along the lines of "Wha Saw."

When sung as a round, starting a new group every two beats, it makes for a fun ending as the droning, steady rhythm gives way to an increasingly clear "bramble briar... bramble briar... bramble briar."

Here is a link to a midi file of the bagpipe version - chose the third medley down:

Not really finding any sung version on iTunes, etc. Anyone?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Warsaw/Wausau/Wha Saw? - Song #20

Mack reminded me of another song I can't believe I forgot, as most of the ones falling into that category are ones I never particularly liked. But "Wausau the 42nd" (as I recall it) was an old workhorse of a round, a dependable, lively and easily sung tune.

As I sang it, the words were:

Wausau the 42nd
Wausau gone to war
Wausau the 42nd
Marching through the bramble briar

Zoom diddy boom diddy
boots and stockings
Zoom diddy boom diddy
Lay et twa
Zoom diddy boom diddy
boots and stockings
matching through the bramble briar

I was never sure if it was supposed to be "Warsaw" or "Wausau" or some other place; what war; and the second verse doesn't make any sense - is "lay et twa" French? Or did I have the words wrong? Etc.

So my first look into this turns up not a lot, but it did turn up these Scottish lyrics:

Wha saw the forty-second,/ Wha saw them gang awa',/ Wha saw the forty-second,/ Mairchin' doon the Broomielaw. / Some o' them had buits an' stockins,/ some o' them had nane at a',/ Some o' them had umberellas [4 syllables!]/ Mairchin' doon the Broomielaw

I like that; makes a litle more sense and evokes a vivid picture. And who doesn't like a Scottish brogue?

(PS - I have added a post with a recording of "Wha Saw" that I made at a summer camp; you can see it here)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Boy(s) Meet Girl(s)?

I was doing some research on a round sung at the girls' sessions at Camp Ajawah titled "Rose, Rose." A slow, haunting tune seemingly about a medieval young woman's betrothal plans, but it turns out no one has been able to trace it back any further than the 1900s.

But I learned a lot of camps and groups sing it along with a song we sing at the boys' sessions, "Hey Ho, Nobody Home," which indeed has a similar melody. We always sung it as if we were hiking.

So maybe at Ajawah this summer they should try the combo platter - here is one version I found, along with another verse or two thrown in from elsewhere:

rose, rose, rose, rose,
will I ever see thee wed?
I shall marry at my will,
sire, at my will.

ding, dong, ding, dong,
wedding bells on an April morning,
carve thy name on a moss-covered stone,
on a moss-covered stone.

Hey ho, nobody's home,
meat nor drink nor money have I none,
still I will be very merry,
hey ho, nobody's home.

Mother, Father, dig my grave,
dig it with a golden spade,
bring some friends and a morning dove,
to show my die for love.

Au poor bird,
take thy flight,
high above the sorrows,
of this cruel dark night.

Should make the campers all cheerful for bedtime, eh? And a note: many of the versions of Rose have the line as "at thy will" instead of "at my will." I seem to remember our version being "as I will" which sounds better, I think (as well as being more feminist than "at thy will").

Monday, June 23, 2008

More Boomdiada

Or Boom Dee A Da... or whatever spelling you prefer.

I posted a while back about how Discovery Channel had co-opted this song as the centerpiece of their multi-million dollar rebranding around the silly tag line "The world is just awesome." Now they are having contests for people to submit their own versions of the song, etc.

While looking into that, I came across this - just a handful of teenage girls in someone's home, singing the song correctly, if not harmoniously:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Austrian Song: Song #19

I got an email from Mack asking me about the Austrian Song, along with some lyrics he'd remembered. It didn't ring a bell immediately but then started coming back to me, especially as I did a little research on it. What threw me off, I think, is that I only recall it as a Girls Camp song and Mack only went to Boys Camp.

Looking for an audio file to jog my memory, I stumbled across something interesting or perhaps a little bizarre: a "virtual karaoke" site where people can post their Sims version of songs. There are a few for the Austrian Song. Check this one out - it also links to others:

Thursday, June 5, 2008

John Brown's still a-mouldering

Here is a link to the original song, a Civil War tune about the famed abolitionist, using a tune that had arisen earlier in the century:

Of course, this tune was then used as the basis for the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Not finding much online about the origins of the nonsensical version we sing at Ajawah. There is another Civil War song to the same tune that begins "Hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree, down went McGinty to the bottom of the sea..."

Monday, June 2, 2008

John Brown's Body - Song #18

A few posts ago I wrote about a song used to dismiss campers from the Mess Hall after meals (Tramp, Tramp, Tramp). Another one was suggested to me by my friend Mack:

John Brown's Body lies a'molding in the grave
Down with McGinty to the bottom of the sea
She's my Nellie
I'm her Joe
So listen to my tail of... woe

Any ice today ladies?

More about these seemingly random lyrics in my next post.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More Mr. Moon

1 - At Girls' Camp we also sang the same tune with altered lyrics: Mr. Sun (not at campfire, of course, but during the day).

Oh Mister Sun, Sun, great big shining sun
won't you please shine down on me
Oh Mister Sun, Sun, great big shining sun
won't you come from behind that tree

There stands (insert name of current Beach Director) with a whistle in hand
Ready for to blow it if you warm the sand
So Sun, Sun, great big shining sun
won't you please shine down on, talk about your shining
won't you please shine down on me

2 - Bob Coltman at did some fine detective work and found the original version - here is the first part:

Smith & Bowman
Boston: Walter Jacobs, 1903.

VERSE 1. Ole Parson Jones was coming home this morn twixt one and two,
When lots of boys that hangs around has nothing else to do
But interfere with people ev'ry evening when it's dark.
Last night they saw the parson coming. One made this remark:
Says, “Yonder comes the parson. Now, let's try to make him run.
He thinks he's brave. We’ll test his nerve. I'll fiah off this gun.”
And when the parson heard the shot, 'twas then he got right scared
And started running up the road and this the way he prayed:

CHORUS 1: Oh, Mister Moon, Moon, silvery moon, kindly come out and shine.
Do Mister Moon, Moon, come out soon. My home I wants to find.
I'm brave, 'tis true, was never known to run,
But the boys behind me with a Gatling gun.
Oh, Mister Moon, Moon, silvery moon, kindly come out and shine.

Read his full post at

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mr. Moon - Song #17

In general, songs at Ajawah are either campfire songs (usually slower songs) and mess hall songs (usually rowdier and often involving physical action). A perfect example of the former is Mr. Moon, often sung as the first song at the evening campfire.

Oh Mr Moon, moon, great big silvery moon, won't you please shine down on me
Oh Mr Moon, moon, great big silvery moon, won't you come from behind that tree
There stands a man with a big shot gun
ready for to shoot you if you start to run
So Mr Moon, moon, won't you please shine down on - talk about your shining -
Please shine down on me

Jim Dixon posted the following on a thread at

"This song is oddly hard to track down. It seems like an old pop song, yet I have failed to find any web site that credits an author, or gives any specific information like a date of publication. There are a lot of variants out there. Some even change it to "Mister Sun." It is a popular kids' song, and often appears on lists of camp songs. One version appears on a Barney video. The Delta Delta Delta sorority has adapted it for their purposes. It is popular with barbershop quartets, and I have seen many ads for songbooks that include it, but no actual lyrics."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tramp, Tramp, Tramp: Song #16

How many songs from Camp Ajawah were written by members of the Songwriting Hall of Fame? Well, at least one:

Written for the Civil War in the words of a POW awaiting rescue, it eventual was given words more appropriate for a summer camp:

Tramp Tramp Tramp the scouts are marching
Under smiling skies above (skies above!)
For the red, the white, the blue
We will stay forever true
For the glory of the country that we love

We used it as one of a handful of songs that served to dismiss campers after meals. The song leader would point to whichever table was singing best, indicating that they could leave the Mess Hall. Then the next best table, and so on, down to the last one. This kept the exit from becoming a riot of kids struggling to be first out the door.

The melody also has some pop music fame; it serves as the melody for the introduction to Ray Stevens' Grammy-winning #1 song from 1970, "Everything is Beautiful." George Root's melody was set to Biblically inspired words by a lyricist he knew named C. Herbert Woolston ("Jesus loves the little children") and became a Sunday school favorite for decades.

Military prison to the hiking path to church - a pretty versatile tune...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Atkins and Idol

First, as a follow up to yesterday's post, here is Nicole Atkin's performing "The Way It Is" on David Letterman:

Second, as long as I am on pop music, here's an idea - why not have one episode's theme for American Idol be "summer camp songs"? They would probably never do it, but it sure could be a fun change of pace.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Nicole Atkins

OK, so it would be a stretch to really tie this post to summer camp songs, but I think Nicole Atkins is such an amazing new artist that I just want to get word out. Maybe I can claim that repeated exposure to the same songs at summer camp over many summers influences all campers' musical tastes. Maybe I can say that would incline them to like some of the same pop music I like. Or maybe I can just post a link and let you decide for yourself.

Nicole Atkins - Neptune City

My favorites: The Way It Is; Neptune City.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sixteen Tons: Song #15

I suppose I should have made this song the next one (#16), but why wait? This one was a perennial favorite at boys' camp. With the economy struggling now, the line "another day older and deeper in dept" rings a little too true.

This song originated as one of the biggest pop recordings of the 1950s. Here it is in all its glory:

Friday, May 2, 2008

Sara the Whale - Song #14

Thanks to Kendra's comments to a previous post, I have added two songs to my list: Sara the Whale and My Aunt Greet. To be honest, when she brought these songs to mind I realized I was never a big fan of either, so maybe my subconscious was (not) telling me something. But Sara is a fun, silly song. A little digging finds a few variations, including it as part of a Horse Named Bill, which appears in Carl Sandburg's landmark book, American Songs.

And it turns out Burl Ives ("Frosty the Snowman") does a version of it called Whale Song. Two other Ajawah songs appear on this particular album: Mr. Rabbit (see an earlier post) and The Goat (aka Bill Grogan's Goat).

Here is the link to it on iTunes:

Burl Ives - Burl Ives Sings Little White Duck (And Other Children's Favorites)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Taps - Song #13

I don't believe the number 13 is unlucky, but since some people do I thought I would post "Taps" as my 13th song. Virtually everyone is familiar with it, even if he or she never attended summer camp:

At Camp Ajawah, the bugler would play this every night at 10 pm to signal lights out, no more talking, everyone should go to sleep. Hearing it echo across Lake Linwood and through the pines was a lovely way to end the day.

At Girls' Camp, it was also part of the medley of songs that ended each evening's campfire, where we all held hands and sung. One camper famously misconstrued the following lyrics:

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.

She thought the song began "Dave is done..." because that was (and is) the Camp Director's first name. It works.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

U2's version of "Springhill Mine Disaster"

Since I am in Toronto tonight I was thinking of the Canadian songs we sing at camp. One I blogged about last month is the Springhill Mine Disaster. At the time, the clip of U2 performing this song was unavailable. Lo and behold, it is now up and running. Great stuff. Check it out at:

Monday, April 21, 2008

Camp Songs That Annoy

In a comment to my previous post, Kendra reminds me of two songs we sang at Girls' Camp and not at Boys'. I also thought of a couple others and added them as well.

I will have to confess - not all camp songs are beloved. Most people have one or two - or more - that just rubs them the wrong way. Perhaps through overuse; or inane lyrics; or melodic melody. One man's meat is another man's poison.

One song that I never cared for is one I just added: The Bubblegum Song. It combines inane lyrics and melodic monotony. Just looking at the always useful forums at leads to some interesting origins for this one, though. One discussion mentions its use as a Bazooka Bubblegum jingle year ago; and another traces it back to Dean Martin to George Gershwin to Latin American marches from a century ago and longer:

Who knew?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Mr Rabbit - Song #12

Where does the time go? I have not posted for a while, but will try to get back on a more regular basis. Now, let me talk about a simple song that our Camp Director, Dave, taught us one summer. I believe it was something they used to sing at Ajawah a while back but had long disappeared from the "playlist" before Dave revived it.

While putting together the Ajawah iMix (link on the left side of this page), I found a raucous version by Paul Westerberg of Replacements fame. Since he grew up in St. Louis Park, a Twin Cities suburb which many campers have called home, I wonder if he learned it from someone who went to Ajawah. Or was it a more prevalent song in various youth groups, families, etc?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Another Camp's Song

My friend Dan recently emailed me about his experiences at a Boy Scout Camp in Virginia. Here is the song unique to their camp:

" Our particular camp was Camp Bowman. Theme song was "The Yellow Rope of Bowman" sung to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas". It spoke of the yellow rope we used for everything onsite. Whenever I hear Yellow Rose, which isn't often, I always remember the song and those days at camp.

Oh, the yellow rope of Bowman
Is good enough for me.
And when it's very dark out
The rope you'll always see.
And when you tie a square knot
Your work will always shine.
The yellow rope of Bowman
Will melt in turpentine."

Monday, April 7, 2008

Source of this blog's title

Many summer camps have their own song, consisting of unique lyrics set to a familiar tune. We have one at Camp Ajawah. I borrowed the first three words of the lyrics for the title of this blog, as it encapsulates exactly what this is all about - people singing together for pleasure rather than for performance.

So, to the tune of the Army's official song (, "The Army Goes Rolling Along," here is the Ajawah Rouser:

When we sing, when we shout
We all know what we're about
And we'll sing you a chorus or two (three, four)
You can bet we have the snap
that will put us on the map
There no reason why we should feel blue

For it's hi hi hee, Camp Ajawah for me
Shout out your praises loud and strong (Ajawah!)
With all our pep
We'll make the others step
And we'll march at the head of the throng (keep on marching!)
And we'll march at the head of the throng

On the land, in the lake
Everywhere we take the cake
In whatever we're doing we shine (shine, shine)
If you want to shine with us
fall in line without a fuss
pull your belt in and straighten your spine


We're a bunch of husky lads
We'll be better than our dads
and our mothers will feel mighty proud (proud, proud)
We don't brag, we don't boast
We're just telling you the truth
Come on fellows, sing this chorus loud


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Another commercial use of a camp song

I worked at Discovery Networks for many years and was recently sent this link to a promo spot for Discovery Channel's new branding campaign:

The new tag line is awful: "The World is Just Awesome." Like, totally, dude.

But the use of the song variously known as "I Love the Mountains," "I Love the Flowers," or "Boom-de-a-da" (spelled numerous ways) as the basis for what the experts sing in this spot amused me. Nothing fantastic, but mildly funny - and I am always happy to keep songs like this in the public's ears...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sweet Violets - Song #11

My long list of songs from Ajawah on the left side of this page is never finished. There are always songs that come to me as I walk along that I have forgotten to add. Today one such tune popped into my head.

We sung this one at the Girls' Camp (you can see why boys would not be into it). "Sweet Violets" is an exemplar of lyrics that mine humor from setting up expectations for "naughty" rhymes but then subverts this by going in a different direction.

I found a site that has the lyrics as well as a short snippet of a Dinah Shore version of the song:

There are also versions of this song that are more bawdy, many from the UK, many on recordings from the 1940s-1960s. Homer and Jethro, Mitch Miller and Gang, etc.

One version spent two months in the Top 40 in 1951, sung by Dinah Shore.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Springhill Mine Disaster - Song #10

We sang a few mining songs at Ajawah, such as Sixteen Tons. Another is today's topic. It's sung in a minor key, befitting the vivid tale of being trapped underground among the dead and the dying.

Looking up the song I found out that U2 has performed the song in concert. Not available on iTunes, and the clips on YouTube have been retracted due to copyright. Would love to hear it.

A few years ago I was in a bookstore in the Uptown area of Minneapolis and found an excellent book on the remainders table about the disaster. Here is the author's website for her book:

My only disappointment is the book didn't tell much of anything about Caleb Rushton, who "stars" in the lyrics of the song with a dramatic line: "there is no water nor hope nor bread, so we'll live on song and hope instead." Poetic license by the songwriters?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tom Paxton

An entry or two back I mentioned Tom Paxton's great song, "I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound." We only sang one other Paxton song, but it was certainly another favorite for many; we even named the camp sailboat after the title, which is "Rambling Boy."

I can't get the following to play, but here is Tom playing this song with Pete Seeger (tying back to yet another recent post):

Friday, February 29, 2008

If I Had a Seeger

I caught the last half of PBS's "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song" the other night and need to see the first part. A traditional, laudatory bio, it captivated me. Even though there was not a lot that was new to me, it is impressive to review his impact musically and politically. A bit like Zelig or Forrest Gump - he's on the Top 40, he's banned from TV as a Communist, he's teaching MLK "We Shall Overcome," etc.

Here's a link to more:

At camp, the Seeger songs we sing are, to the best of my knowledge:

Where Have All the Flowers Gone
If I Had a Hammer
We Shall Overcome

I don't think we ever sang "Turn, Turn, Turn," though I do remember singing it at progressive Catholic masses as a child. Not to mention "Blowing in the Wind" with that phrase changed to "the answer is living in all men," which always annoyed me - and nowadays would be considered sexist...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Borrowed" melodies

A couple of postings ago I mentioned a new CD that has a version of "The Wreck of the Old '97." The funny thing about this song is that I had missed something obvious until I recently read the following fact: its melody was used as the basis of the Kingston Trio's hit, "The MTA." Come to think of it, it is! How did I miss that?

But I have done that before. I did realized that "Roll On Columbia" by Woody Guthrie is a reworking of "Goodnight, Irene." This borrowing is not unusual in the folk tradition.

At my camp we sang Tom Paxton's "Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound," which was one of my favorites. Many years after learning it at a campfire one summer, I got a hold of a Paxton album and listened to him sing it. And his melody was different - and stunk! Well, it didn't really stink, it just wasn't the one I knew. Not radically different as far as tempo and range and overall feel, but not the same.

Then someone pointed out to me that the Ajawah version of "Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound" is sung to the tune of "Blowing In the Wind" (with an additional and crucial three notes in the chorus for the second "where I'm bound."

Maybe I will investigate some day, but I wonder how this happened. Was it introduced this way? Just at Ajawah? Or from somewhere else? Or did the original tune morph over time into the more familiar one that Dylan wrote?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Tom Dooley - Song #9

There is a lot of good information on the web for "Tom Dooley" that a simple search will turn up, so I won't go into much detail on that. But the song is based on an actual event, which always makes a tune more interesting to me. How much is fact and how much is fiction is always debatable, but something in that mix must resonate, given "Tom Dooley"s resonance through the decades.

I always noticed the unique POV - the verses are first person, the choruses second person. Can you think of any other songs that do this? And it's not like different people sing the two parts in any version I've been part of or heard.

The last verse's lines about "down in some lonesome valley, hanging from a white oak tree" calls to mind Judas Iscariot, intentionally, I presume.

In Wilkes, NC, where the murder took place, has a Tom Dooley Museum and an annual play about the love triangle. Here is a link to the theatre:

Tom Dooley's last words: "“Gentlemen, do you see this hand? I never harmed a hair on Laura Foster’s head”

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Excellent new album out

I was on iTunes yesterday an in the new CDs section they featured "People Take Warning: Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs 1913-1938," which features 70 old time recordings. A number of songs about the Titanic, the Wreck of the Old 97, and other such cheery topics. Here is a link to a version of "Tom Dooley" which is not like the smooth, well-known Kingston Trio hit record:

Grayson and Whitter

Check it out... any songs stand out to you?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Group singing article in NY Times

This appeared almost two weeks ago, but better late than never. It's good to see that the joy of singing these great songs in informal groups is having a revival, or at least remains strong with a niche of followers across America.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Blow Ye Winds - Song #8

Let me pass this on from my friend, Gary, a long time camper and counselor who now lives in Fresno:

Here are some more verses to that whaling song. At Camp Ajawah we sang only verses: #1,4,10,11,and 12. Even those verses were modified a bit. Was it to simplify the vocabulary or did the person teaching the song to camp do it by memory?

'Tis advertised in Boston,
New York and Buffalo,
Five hundred brave Americans,
A-whaling for to go, singing,

Blow, ye winds in the morning,
And blow, ye winds, high-o!
Clear away your running gear,
And blow, ye winds, high-o!

2. They send you to New Bedford,
That famous whaling port,
And give you some land-sharks
To board and fit you out.

3. They send you to a boarding house,
There for a time to dwell;
The thieves they there are thicker
Than the other side of hell!

4. They tell you of the clipper ships
A-going in and out,
And say you'll take five hundred sperm
Before you're six months out.

5. It's now we're out to sea, my boys,
The wind comes on to blow;
One half the watch is sick on deck,
The other half below.

6. But as for the provisions,
We don't get half enough;
A little piece of stinking beef
And a blamed small bag of duff.

7. Now comes that damned old compass,
It will grieve your heart full sore.
For theirs is two and thirty points
And we have forty four.

8. Next comes the running rigging,
Which you're all supposed to know;
'Tis "Lay aloft, you son of a gun,
Or overboard you go!"
9. The coopers's at the vise bench,
A-making iron poles,
And the mate's upon the main hatch
A-cursing all our souls.

10. The Skipper's on the quarterdeck
A-squinting at the sails,
When up aloft the lookout sights
A school of whales.

11. "Now clear away the boats, my boys,
And after him we'll travel,
But if you get too near his fluke,
He'll kick you to the devil!"

12. Now we have got him turned up,
We tow him alongside;
We over with our blubber hooks,
And rob him of his hide.

13. Now the boat steerer overside
The tackle overhauls,
The Skipper's in the main-chains,
So loudly does he bawl!

14. Next comes the stowing down, my boys,
'Twill take both night and day,
And you'll all have fifty cents apiece
On the hundred and ninetieth lay.

15. Now we are bound into Tonbas,
That blasted whaling port,
And if you run away, my boys,
You surely will get caught.

16. Now we are bound into Tuckoona,
Full more in their power,
Where the skippers can buy the Consul up
For half a barrel of flour!

17. But now that our old ship is full
And we don't give a damn,
We'll bend on all our stu'nsails
And sail for Yankee land.

18. When we get home, our ship made fast,
And we get through our sailing,
A winding glass around we'll pass
And damn this blubber whaling!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Johnny Appleseed - Song # 8

This song appears to be sung as a grace before meals at many camps, by Girl Scouts, by church youth groups. It was one of a handful of songs we sang standing at our tables in the mess hall before eating. I thought it had probably been written by a parson or school teacher a hundred years ago and passed along.

But a quick search finds that, like yesterday's song, it was composed by professional songwriters. In this case, the team of Kim Cannon and Walter Kent wrote it for a Disney short on Johnny Appleseed in 1948.

Who knew?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Early in the Mornin' - Song #7

I always liked this simple song, which begins "I remember Grandpa telling me that I was born as the sun was coming up early (pronounced "ur-lie" for some reason) in the morn." It's in the tradition of the restless rambler who comes and goes, which I guess is why I like it. Other songs in this vein include Rambling Man (both the Hank Williams and Allman Brothers songs), Please Come to Boston, I've Been Everywhere, etc.

Couldn't find a recording on iTunes, but looked it up and found that it's a Kingston Trio song, written by Randy Starr and Dick Wolf (no, not the Law & Order producer). But it's based on the old sea shanty, "What do you do with a drunken sailor," so feels older than its 1950s origins.

Of course, there are a number of Kingston Trio songs on my list - Charlie and the MTA, Tijuana Jail, Tom Dooley being the three biggies - but now I will have to track down their recording of this song as well.

Monday, February 11, 2008

One Meat Ball (The Little Man) - song #6

When I searched iTunes for versions of this song, I could only find a bluesy version with modified lyrics. The way we sung this song was to sing a two-line rhyme and then repeat it. The first time through, the melody has a fun leap; the second is the same until the end, when it dips down and resolves.

It starts "The little man walked up and down, to see what he could find in to-how-hown; the little man walked up and down to see what he could find in town."

The odd story then unfolds of the little man going into a nice place, ordering a meatball, getting yelled at by the waiter when he asks for bread, and then going outside and killing himself.

The black humor always appealed to me, as did the dynamics of singing the little man's lines gently and the waiter's line gruffly. So why could I only find a version with a very different feel on iTunes?

Turns out in 1944 the original song was rewritten by two professional songwriters and eventually became a signature song for Josh White. The Andrews Sisters and Ry Cooder are among many others who have recorded this version.

But the true origins date back to the mid 19th century, when it was composed as a ditty by a Harvard professor, used in an opera buffa performed to raise money during the Civil War, and perhaps based upon a "Boston fact."

Two good links:

Does anyone know of a recording of this with the original melody?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Camp songs in commercials

Once or twice a year I will hear a familiar tune being used by the plunderers of Madison Avenue. I don't really begrudge the commercializing of public domain songs as it's usually interesting to see how they are used.

As a matter of fact, I recently saw a pretty creative commercial that uses "The Happy Wanderer" as its score; at the end, it turned out to be a commercial for

Here it is:

Have you heard this one? Or any other commercial uses of a summer camp song?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

iMix of 70+ songs from Camp Ajawah

I've spent a fair amount of time finding which Ajawah songs are available on iTunes; some are covered a zillion times; some not at all; and some take a little research to see what various titles have been used for the same song.

In this collection, I tried to take the "best" version available, tried to choose a variety of styles, and in some cases was unable to find versions I have found elsewhere. Please send me any suggestions or comments. The link is on the top left corner of the page, in case you missed it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Song #5 - I've Got Sixpence

Back to the UK for this one. I will write more about this song some other time, but for now I just want to provide a link that gives chords and lyrics for "I've Got Sixpence," because I just discovered this useful site:

The interesting thing about the page for this song is that it tells the origins of the song - it was sold for a pint of beer...

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Song #4 - Life of a Voyageur

I did a little digging on this song today, sometimes known as "Canadian Wilderness." Since Camp Ajawah is in Minnesota and canoeing is a fun part of the lakefront activities, this song always felt apropos.

It has an interesting, complex melody, the lyrics paint a vivid picture, and the theme resonates will all who love the outdoors. And it's fun to sing the parts like "smoke rising from the fire, reach for sky in a stately spire" when the melody rises in a quick, steep burst.

On iTunes, where I am compiling an iMix of Camp Ajawah songs, this was one of the few for which I could find none.

But I did find a cool site which I have yet to fully explore, but seems to include huge database of folk songs as well as good discussions of various summer camp song origins, lyrics, etc.

Find it here:

A poster there give the song's origins:

****I learned this song in the mid-'70's at Camp Manito-Wish in northern Wisconsin. It was written by a woman affiliated with that camp, and I believe it must have dispersed from there.

It's a beautiful song and well received whenever I sing it.

Quoting from: "Songs of the Northland, Manito-Wish Song Book."

"... written in 1960 by Mary Satterfield Swanson. On the first of many trips back to the Quetico, Mary brought along her baritone ukulele, which she fondly named Sarah after her adventures on Sarah Lake as a camper in 1959. It was on Sarah Lake that the words and music to 'The Life of a Voyageur' came to her. Mary brought the song to camp with her that summer and taught it to her cabin and later to the entire camp community."***

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Song #3 - Row, Row, Row

Here is a song that virtually all Americans know, even if they've never been within a hundred miles of a summer camp. It's sung in preschools, families, on children's CDs, etc. The twist at Camp Ajawah is how we sung it. After singing it once through, we would sing is again but leave off the final word, "stream." Sing again, leave off the last two words, "the stream." And thus we would continue, leaving off one more word each time. We would end with the chant-like "row, row, row... row, row... row."

It's a fun variation on a familiar tune, one which require concentration. There is always someone who forgets (or pretends to) to stop and sings out a word or two solo, leading to laughter and gentle embarrassment.

It can also be sung as a round, but we never went that route.

Wikipedia has an excellent entry on this old English song:
Good trivia section!

Finally, this simplest of children's songs is distinctive for being so subtly complex philosophical - one could write an entire blog contemplating the line "life is but a dream."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Song #2 - To Stop The Train

I may as well continue with unlikely songs from England... so I have chosen another song I remember being introduced to Camp Ajawah (unlike most songs, which had been sung long before I came along). Bruce, like Bob a great camp leader for many years and a teacher during the school years, taught us this simple song:

To stop the train in cases of emergency pull down the chain
pull down the chain
penalty for improper use: 5 Pounds

I picture some really bored songwriter riding the tube years ago, distractedly reading one of those informational signs that blend into the background in public spaces, and challenging himself to put the words to music.

A little searching on the internet turns up nothing on the songs history. Anyone?

Here is a version of it with a slightly different tune from Ajawah's version:

Finally, like some of the songs at Ajawah (and more so during the girls sessions), there are physical actions that accompany this song. Waving one's hand to stop the train, pulling down the chain, wagging a finger to warn of the penalty, and ending with a five fingers held out (5 Pounds) and a palm out for money on the last two notes of the song.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Song #1 - Rule Britannia

One of the things I relished at Ajawah was the very long and diverse roster of songs we sang. By the time I showed up as a nine year old, the camp had been going strong for 40 years. Also, there was a great deal of continuity of leadership and campers from year to year, so the institutional memory was terrific.

So while some may think of camp songs as being a roster of a few dozen upifting songs like "Kumbaya" (which we did sing), at Ajawah the music ranged from spiritual to nonsense, Broadway to Boy Scouts, pop charts to traditional. While we sang of peace, love and understanding, we also sang of murder, deadly disasters, and mayhem... of cowboys, sailors, soldiers... and of Irish bandleaders, Zulu warriors, and Australian sheep.

So I thought the first song I would write about is one that probably is sung at few camps: Rule Britannia. Most people would recognize the bombastic instrumental version of the chorus; the lyrics and the verses, not likely. (Hear it at

When Bob, the Assistant Camp Director, handed out copies of the lyrics to all the tables in the Mess Hall one summer day, I was amused that he thought he could get 80 young boys to learn the complex melody and archaic language. For example, the first line of the song is "When Britain first at Heaven's command arose from out the azure main." The word "first" stretches across five notes... and "arose" over ten. Insanity!

But a funny thing happened. Bob kept leading the song and before you know it, we were all booming it out with gusto. It was - and is - a fun song. The things that make it challenging to sing also make it rewarding. And the chorus is simple and powerful enough that it's easy to sing that part while getting up to snuff on the verses.

Thus, an 18th century British anthem became a 20th century American camp song. As is often the case, Wikipedia has good information on the song, including lyrics, at

Finally, I remember a few years later, after camp had ended for the summer, a few dozen leaders were driving in the camp bus near the Minnesota-Canadian border for a canoe trip. We picked up a pair of hitchhikers who turns out to be Brits. As soon as we realized this, to the amusement and amazement of our guests, we all burst forth into "Rule Britannia."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Why "When We Sing"

I would like to answer the question I pose in the title twice - why this blog? And why this title?

My intention in writing here is to share with other the lasting joy I have derived from the songs I learned over many summers at Camp Ajawah in Minnesota. By writing a little bit about each song and linking to recorded versions and other resources, I hope this blog will help spread this music to those who also enjoy the types of songs by groups around a campfire... or on a hike up a hill... or after a meal.

As for the phrase "When We Sing," it is simply the first three words of the lyrics to one of the enduring songs at my camp: "The Ajawah Rouser," which I will write about soon. These three words evoke the spirit of communal song. Works for me...

I welcome any suggestions, questions, and contributions.