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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Grizzly Bear (as sung by Black Texas Prison Inmates, 1951)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series about the African American work song entitled "Grizzly Bear".
Part I showcases a sound file of & lyrics to a rendition of this song by Black Texas Prison inmates which was collected by Pete & Toshi Seeger in 1951.


Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2014/01/grizzly-bear-black-texas-inmates-led-by.html for Part II of this post.

Part II showcases a sound file of & lyrics to a rendition of this song by Black Texas prison inmates led by Benny Richardson in 1966. That post also includes an excerpt of comments written by Bruce Jackson about the "Grizzly Bear" song.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

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SHOWCASE EXAMPLE: Grizzly Bear



Matias Karystiano Uploaded on Dec 2, 2011

V/A - Negro Prison Camp Worksongs

Recorded by Pete & Toshi Seeger in the winter of 1951 at two Texas prison farms, this album represents some of the oldest and most traditional work songs found among African American prison communities in the southern United States. Traditionally a participatory art form, these songs were typically sung while groups of 10-30 prisoners performed tasks such as chopping and hoeing. With origins reaching back to their West African ancestry as well as during the era of African American slavery, work songs served the purpose of alleviating the mundane nature of repetitive tasks as well as providing a forum for the song leader to keep the group together through rhythms and lyrics. 10 songs, 40 minutes, with liner notes featuring an introduction by Pete Seeger and song lyrics.

Year of Recording 1956
Record Label Folkways Records
-snip-
"Recorded by" here indicates the persons who made a recording of others singing that song.

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LYRICS: GRIZZLY BEAR
(as sung in 1951 by Black Texas prison inmates)

Lead -Oh that Grizzly Grizzly
Group -(Grizzly Bear)
Lead -Oh that Grizzly Grizzly,
(Grizzly Bear)
Tell me who was that Grizzly
(Grizzly Bear)
Tell me who was that Grizzly
(Grizzly Bear)
Oh Jack o’ Diamond was that Grizzly
(Grizzly Bear)
Oh Jack o’ Diamond was that Grizzly
(Grizzly Bear)
He had great long tushes just like ah
(Grizzly Bear)
He had great long toes just like ah
(Grizzly Bear)
He made ah track in the bottom just like ah
(Grizzly Bear)
He made ah track in the bottom just like ah
(Grizzly Bear)
Well that Grizzly Grizzly
(Grizzly Bear)
Oh that Grizzly Grizzly
(Grizzly Bear)
Tell me who was that Grizzly

[continue with same pattern as above]

Jack o’ Diamond was that Grizzly...
He made a noise in the bottom like ah...
Well, my mama was scared of that...
Well my papa went-ah huntin for the...
Well, my brother wasn’t scared of that...
Oh that Grizzly, Grizzly...
Well, I’m gone kill that...
Well, that Grizzly, Grizzly...
Well, I looked in Lou’sana for that...
Oh that Grizzly, Grizzly...
I’m gonna tell you a story bout...
Jack O’ Diamond wasn’t nothin but ah...
He come ah huffin and ah blowin like ah...
He had great long tushes just like ah...
He come ah wabblin and ah squabblin like ah...
And Jack o’ Diamond was ah great big...
He was ah great big Grizzly...
Everybody was scared of that...
Oh the Grizzly, Grizzly...
Jack o’ Diamond was ah great big...
He come ah wabblin and ah squabblin like...
He come ah huffin and ah blowin like...
He come ah walkin and ah talkin like ah...
He had great long toes just like ah...
He had big blue eyes like...
He had great long hair like...
Oh the Grizzly Grizzly...
I’m gonna tell you peoples bout...
I’m gonna warn you, gonna tell you bout...
You betta watch that Grizzly...
Oh well the bad gonna get you now...
Oh the Grizzly Grizzly...
Oh that great big Grizzly...
Oh Jack o’ Diamonds was ah nothing but ah
(Grizzly Bear)
-snip-
Transcription by Azizi Powell from the recording embedded above. Additions and corrections welcome.

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NOTES
"Grizzly" is pronounced "grizzily" throughout this song.
**
ah = the word "a"
**
He made ah track in the bottom = "track" (footprints); "bottom" (fertile land near one of the rivers) definition of "bottom" from Bruce Jackson's glossary in his book Wake Up Dead Man: Afro-American Worksongs from Texas Prisons (Harvard University Press, 1972)
**
He had great long tushes = great long claws [This was previously given as "he had long toes". I corrected that word per the comment sent in by Joy Sedley' Thanks!]
**
Lou'sana = the state of Louisiana
**
wabblin = wobbling

**
I believe that this version of "Grizzly Bear" is a song in which the inmates expressed their opinions in coded fashion about the man known as "Jack of Diamonds" and "Grizzly Bear". The early references to hunting an actual animal and a description of the grizzly bear having "long toes" serve to hid the true meaning of that referent in this song. If that song was actually (or mostly) about a prison guard and/or a prison warden, it would have been in the inmates best interest to hide that fact by singing lines about hunting a grizzly bear.

In his notes for his album Wake Up Dead Man Bruce Jackson wrote that Texas prison inmates in 1966 told him that "Grizzly Bear" was a name used for a (White) prison guard and that "Jack O' Diamonds" was a name used for the (White) prison warden. An excerpt of those notes are given in Part II of this pancocojams series on "Grizzly Bear".

Notice the lines ("Jack o’ Diamond was that Grizzly"...; "Oh Jack o’ Diamonds was ah nothing but ah Grizzly Bear"; "He had blue eyes like ah Grizzly Bear" and "he had great long hair like ah Grizzly Bear".)

Also, note this referent to a Texas prison guard named "Bullin Jack O’ Diamonds" in the Google Book American Folklore: An Encyclopedia
edited by Jan Harold Brunvand (Routledge, Apr 4, 2006; page 1247)
“Prison folklore is rich in stories about local characters, men who escape, stupid guards, clever convicts, and how it was in the old days. These tales are rarely migratory Inmates in Texas told of “Bullin Jack O’ Diamonds”, the meanest guard on Central Farm, a man so mean he had to be chained down to die. “If he catch you”, one inmate said, “a dark cloud would go over”. One story has him tell Satan, “Stand aside. I’m gonna rule hell myself”.
-snip-
I don't know the name of the Texas prison farm that the inmates were in that Pete & Toshi Seeger recorded singing that 1951 version of "Grizzly Bear". Jan Harold Brunvand refers to a guard at "Central Farm", but doesn't give a date for that reference at least not in that comment for when that guard was on Central Farm). The versions of "Grizzly Bear" collected by Bruce Jackson were from the Texas prison known as "Ellis Farm" in the mid 1960s.

In contrast, in the Blues songs "Jack Of Diamonds (Is A Hard Card To Beat)", "Jack o’ Diamonds" refers to the card in a card game. Click the Jack Of Diamonds tag below for pancocojams posts about that song.
**
Notice that in this song (as indicated in lines of the song) the singer warns people about "the Grizzly Bear". The song also warns people that "the bad gonna get you now" (Doing bad things will get you in trouble.) I think those lines further support my theory that this song refers to the prison guard known as "The Grizzly Bear".

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Thanks to the men who sang this song. Thanks also to the collectors of this song and the publisher of this sound file on YouTube.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome

2 comments:

  1. I hear it as "great long tushes" rather than toes. My family is from rural North Carolina and tushes is used to describe tusks or teeth like those found on wild boars.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Joy Sedgley for that correction.

      I changed the words in the lyrics above.

      Best wishes!

      Delete