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Friday, March 8, 2013

African American Work Song "Hammer Ring" (Lyrics)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcase a sound file & a short film clip of the African American* work song "Hammer Ring".

*This category of songs is also referred to as "Negro work songs" and "prison work songs". "Hammer Ring" is a cross-cutting (timber cutting) song.

Information about the song "Hammer Ring" that is presented below is quoted from Bruce Jackson, one of the collectors of versions of that song.

The content of this post is presented for historical, folkloric, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

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INFORMATION & LYRICS
From http://www.folkstreams.net/context,172 Bruce Jackson,
Center for Studios in American Culture, State University of New York at Buffalo
"Hammer" Ring Henry Scott and group, crosscutting, Ellis, August 21, 1965 (38)

This simple song — all stanzas are simply one line sung twice, with the group joining for the brief chorus — is probably the most frequently sung axe song in Texas prisons. I have recorded 19 versions by 13 different leaders; the Archive of Folk Song Check-List of Recorded Song lists nine performances, all but one from Texas. There are hundreds of stanzas for "Hammer Ring," but older inmates often include in the lyrics a group of stanzas about Noah being sent to cut big timber for his ark (hence the association)...
"Jack O Diamonds" figures in many versions of this song, mainly because most versions (not this one for some reason) have a few lines about the worker's diamond (argot for his axe), which leads to thoughts about the guard with the same name."
-snip-
Click the link given above for more information about "cross-cutting" work songs.

LYRICS -HAMMER RING*
(Henry Scott and group, crosscutting, Ellis, August 21, 1965)

I'm goin' down to the bottom*, let your hammer ring... (2x)

A-just to ring my hammer*...

I got a nine-pound hammer...

I'm gonna ring it in the bottom...

Well my partner's got worried...

I can't hear my partner's holler...

I'm gonna call a little louder...

I'm goin' down to the Braley [Brazos]*...

Oh just to cool my hammer...

Oh well I believe I call baby...

Oh well my baby's Evalina...

Oh Evalina I call you...

I got a letter from baby...

'Cause well my baby's Elnora...

'Cause well I believe I spied [the] rider*...

Oh well who was [the] rider...

Oh well he rode 'em on the Brazos...

Oh Jack O Diamonds [was] a ruler...

A well he drove 'em on the Brazos...

A well butt-cut* crackin'*...

You better watch-a my timber...

'Cause there won't be no more jackin'*...

Why don't you bring me a drink a water...

Oh well a pull-do* can't hold 'em...

A he's a number one driver...

I don't believe he can hold 'em...

Why don't you drop 'em down together...

I'm gonna cool my hammer...

Oh well my partner's got worried...

Oh well he worried about his baby...

I can't hear nobody holler...

Oh well drop 'em down together...

I'm gonna cross the big Brazos...

(shouted: Timber gettin' limber!)

Oh just to cool my hammer...

Oh Black Betty's* in the bottom...

Why don't you call a little louder...

Oh Evalina, Evalina...

(spoken: Jack, jack it off!* You're not goin' burn down...Rollin' it up here*... etc....)

Glossary:
Black Betty: Wagon or truck used to take men from the county jails to the prison farms.

bottom: fertile land near one of the rivers

butt-cut: the thickest cut on a felled tree

Brazos: river on whose banks all the "lower farms" (Ramsey, Retrieve, Harlem, Darrington) are located

crackin': the noise a tree trunk makes as the tree is about to fall

hammer: axe

jack: pause in the working

pull-do: bad worker, clumsy worker

rider: guard on horseback

Rollin' it up here, boss: call telling the rider in charge of a squad that one is pausing to roll a cigarette
-snip-
*This is just one version of this work song. Bruce Jackson (editor of the CD) collected 7 versions of "Hammer Ring", and published them in his book Wake Up Dead Man: Afro-American Worksongs from Texas Prisons (Harvard University Press, 1972, pp. 193-201; two versions are with music).

(Hat tip to masato sakurai on http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=48886 for information about Bruce Jackson's 1972 book.)

This version of "Hammer Ring" is also found in the 1994 CD Wake Up Dead Man: Black Convict Worksongs From Texas Prisons 1994 Rounder Records Corp (Rounder ROU 2013).

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FEATURED EXAMPLES
Example #1: Work Songs in a Texas Prison



folkstreamer, Uploaded on Jul 8, 2006

Pete and Toshi Seeger, their son Daniel, and folklorist bruce jackson visited a Texas prison in huntsville in March of 1966 and produced this rare document of worksongs by inmates of the Ellis Unit.

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Example #2: Wake Up Dead Man - Hammer Ring (work song in a Texas prison,1965)



velivas1, Uploaded on Jun 12, 2011

Bruce Jackson's 1994 album notes for the CD release of his recordings of work songs in a Texas prison.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND THANKS
Thanks to the musical legacy of all those who composed and sung prison work songs. Thanks also to the collectors of these songs & the uploaders of these featured sound files.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.

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