Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Black Origins Of The Song "Pay Me My Money Down"

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest revision: September 21. 2019

The song "Pay Me My Money Down" has been popularized by Bruce Springsteen so much that it is sometimes billed as "Bruce Springsteen's "Pay Me My Money Down" [for instance, in the summary statements of several YouTube videos of Springsteen performing that song.]

However, as I'm sure Bruce Springsteen acknowledges, the song "Pay Me My Money Down" was composeed by African American roustabouts (dock laborers) and was then picked up by West Indian sailors and sung as a shanty.

This post provides information about and versions of the traditional lyrics for "Pay Me My Money Down". A link to the Bruce Springsteen's lyrics is also provided in this post.

Note: the information in this post is gleaned from three sites whose links are provided below. Special thanks to the Mudcat folk music forum bloggers whose comments are quoted in this post.

Four YouTube examples of "Pay Me..." are also included in this post.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the unknown composer/s of this song. Thanks also to the collectors of this song, and to all those who are quoted in this post. In addition, thanks to all those who are featured in these videos and thanks to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

Quote #1:
From "Origins: Pay Me My Money Down" [hereafter given as "Mudcat: Origins: Pay Me"]
posted by Desert Dancer, 04 Jul 06 - 02:35 PM
... "Folklorist Lydia Parrish edited the book Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands (Creative Age Press, 1942) in which a version of the song was published. She didn't compose the song. Alan Lomax collected what's probably the popular version of the song "from the singing of Negro roustabouts" in Savannah, Georgia, 1944, and undoubtedly shared it with Seeger and others. He published the song in Folk Songs of North America (Doubleday, 1960), and says "see Parrish...."
In contemporary English, the word "now" would probably replace the word "down" in the demand "Pay Me My Money Down".

Quote #2:
From "Mudcat: Origins: Pay Me" posted by Barry Finn, 05 Jul 06 - 04:56 PM
"Lydia Parrish published her collection in 1942 after many years of research & collecting. Here is the version she collected... Note that the chorus repetes. Parrish does not note where the pulls would come in but I would suspect it's a double haul or double pull shanty, each pull coming in on the word PAY, which would probably make it something similar to a quick double haul tops'l or t'gallant shanty, only used for loading logs.


cho: Pay me, Oh pay me,
Pay me my money down,
Oh Pay me or go to jail !
Pay me my money down
Pay me, Oh pay me,
Pay me my money down,
Oh Pay me or go to jail !
Pay me my money down.

Think I heard my captain say,
Pay me my money down,
T'morrow is my sailing day."
Pay me my money down.

Wish't I was Mr. Coffin's son
Pay me my money down
Stay* in the house and drink good rum.
Pay me my money down

You owe me, pay
Pay me my money down
Pay me or go to jail
Pay me my money down

Wish't I was Mr. Foster's son,
Pay me my money down
I'd set on the bank an' see the work done.
Pay me my money down

Lida Parrish says about the last verse
"Mr Foster was the "Big Boss" at the Hilton-Dodge Mill on the west side of St. Simon's & the stevedores tell me they always sang this verse when they saw him coming."

The Hilto-Doge Mill was started in 1868 & supplied much of the lumber used in the building of the Brooklin Bridge in 1878. The Mill industry's hayday on St Simon's span the years from 1874 (when the H-D Mill was finally in full production) until the industry's demise around 1910.

This song seems that, providing my sources are at all close, that the similar sounding songs may have originated elsewhere of from this one. The English deep water shanty "Pay Me The Money Down" Hugill believes to be somewhat related to this log loading shanty. Hugill states that "Miss L.A. Smith, who gives the words & music of one verse in her 'Music Of The Waters' (1888) writes that it was used at the pumps but my West Indian friend (probably Harding) said that it was used on shipboard as a halyard song". Hugill also syas that Miss Smith says that tune (Pay Me The Money Down) is a variant of "Paddle Your Own Canoe" But the 2 shanties don't share to much tune wise only in the words to the chorus.

Pay Me The Money Down

Your money young man is no object to me
Pay me the money down
Oh money down, oh money down
Pay me the money down.
The word "stay" is a correction of that transcription. That correction was posted by Q along with this citation about Lydia Parrish's book: "Lydia Parrish, 1942 (1992) Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands, pp. 208-209, with musical score."

Quote #3
[Pay Me My Money Down is a] "Traditional west Indian Sea shanty dating from the 19th century. It exists in several versions. Check out Dave Marsh's liner notes below for more details...

Bruce Springsteen recorded this traditional song with The Seeger Sessions Band during the "Seeger Sessions". The song is included on Bruce's 2006 cover album, We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions...

Dave Marsh's liner notes about PAY ME MY MONEY DOWN:
A much more rousing sea chantey. "Pay Me" originated as a protest song of the black stevedores in Georgia and South Carolina ports. Unscrupulous ship captains would often insist that their ships be loaded or unloaded upon arrival, then try to pay the workers the next day. That night, they'd slip out of the harbor, stiffing the stevedores. The song then got picked up by other sailors, who created verses about daily life on the ship and the longing for shore leave. The song circulated widely with a calypso rhythm, often described as a Bahamian or West Indian folk song, which is the mode in which the Kingston Trio did their popular folk revival version in 1958. Dan Zanes recently had a children's hit with "Pay Me" in calypso style.

The song was collected by Lydia Parrish, wife of painter Maxfield Parrish, in her book, Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands. Parrish was not the writer (nor could a song in which black workers demanded to be paid emerge from the slave era), but she obtained the copyright by publishing the song first, as was the habit of folklorists until recently. Parris helped give a better sense of what the song might have initially sounded like by helping establish the great Georgia Sea Island Singers. (The Georgia Sea Islands were largely populated by escaped slaves, and the music and other culture of the area is especially important because it has many more African retentions than anything on the U.S. mainland.)

Pete Seeger recorded "Pay Me My Money Down" with the Weavers; it's available on The Weavers at Carnegie Hall and the Weavers' box set, Wasn't That a Time!"
I added italics to highlight these sentences.
The lyrics to Bruce Springsteen's version of "Pay Me My Money Down" is found on that page.

Also, click for what is credited as another "traditional" version of this song.

[Update: September 21, 2019]
Quote #5:
From "Mudcat: Origins: Pay Me" posted by GUEST,Guest Betsy, 15 Oct 14
"Sorry to be a bit twee - but the tune seems to be the same a song I heard as a kid in the 50's Cindy Oh Cindy - Cindy don't let me down .....
Higly likely (I suppose) that Lydia Parrish version is the original - but it was just a thought"


Example #1: Springsteen. Pay me my money down

Laura MarĂ­n, Uploaded on Apr 9, 2006

Pay me my money down
This is just one of numerous videos of Bruce Springsteen performing "Pay Me" in the recording studio and at various venues around the world.

Example #2: The Weavers - Pay me my money down

Taog Verstreute, Published on Dec 26, 2013

Example #3: Pay Me My Money Down By The Kingston Trio

CompVid101, Published on May 11, 2012

The original Kingston Trio of Dave Guard, Bob Shane, and Nick Reynolds singing an old calypso song in a recording that dates back to the group's earliest days...

Example #4: Dan Zanes & Bomba Yo "Pay Me My Money Down" Kindiefest 4.28.12

David Loftin Published on Apr 30, 2012

Second song in the set from Kindiefest 2012.

ADDED: September 21, 2019
Example #5: Pay Me the Money Down [501-503] (369-371)

hultonclint, Published on Aug 11, 2009

Stan Hugill got this halyard chantey from Harry Lauder of St. Lucia, with additional lines from Harding of Barbados. He thought it may have been a West Indian shore work-song taken to sea.

The earliest reference I find is in THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, June 1858, which gives these lyrics to a pumping song:

Solo: Your Money young man is no object to me
Cho: Pay me the money down!
Solo: Half a crown's no great amount
Cho: Pay me the money down!
Solo & Cho: Money down, money down, pay me the money down!

LA Smith's work (1888) basically plagiarizes this source in her notes on the chantey in MUSIC OF THE WATERS. Harriette Wilbur also mentions the song in an issue of THE CATHOLIC WORLD, 1918. It looks to me like a more well disguised plagiarizing of the preceding!

In sum then, there are basically two textual sources, only one with music notation though (Hugills).

Its also instructive to compare it to the well-known "Pay Me My Money Down," as collected by Lydia Parrish in the Georgia Sea Islands in 1942, which is surely a related work-song. Alan Lomaxs recording of the Sea Island singers in 1961 makes it sound something like the menhaden seining songs, in that, rather than working to the rhythm of the song, an extra beat or pause is added after every verse to allow for a grunt and a heave of some sort (they were loading logs onto a schooner by means of some sort of tackle). Lomaxs notes are vague, and the recording seems to be of folks conscious of Parrishs work and maybe even the popularized version of the song by the Weavers, so I wonder how authentic it really was. Heres a link to that historic recording:[9/21/19- Link no longer viable.]

Some interesting side notes about the popularized versions of Pay Me that have gone around, first by the Weavers in 1957, then by the Kingston Trio and others, more recently by the Boss. First, these versions, with their rig-a-jig skiffle feel (The Kingston Trios version even projects a Jamaican mento rhythm) are not characteristic of typical work songs. Most obvious is the big REST they leave before the word pay in the refrain. It is filled by the guitars and such, which keep the rhythm. However, the a cappella work-song would need to show a clear rhythm (not syncopated and dance-like) with the voices alone, and the word Pay would most likely come right smack on the downbeat. I find it interesting, incidentally, that the majority of pop songs today, from Billie Jean to I Kissed a Girl, delay the voice in their first measure, allowing the instruments to sound first. By contrast, older songs tend to land right on the downbeat of the measure. The 2+4 backbeat feel of songs that emerged with R&B and so forth in the 20th century calls for the former sort of phrasing, while work-songs generally call for the latter. Second, while Seegers political consciousness may have resonated with the workers pay me plea, the chantey, at least, has largely a different slant to it: here the lady of the night is the one asking for the down-payment!

While the Sea Islands version has been widely performed, the present Caribbean chantey version does not get performed so much. I suspect that any versions one hears ultimately derive from Hugill's text. Ive done my best to both follow that but also create something new by adding a lot more different verses.

See the whole "Shanties from the Seven Seas" project, here:
I'm not able to transcribe much of this version. However, several of the verses are about "Sally Brown from Kingston town".

I'm not sure what "menhaden seining songs" means, but it probably is a typo.

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  1. I've been looking at early usage of the expression 'pay the money down'. In 1827 it's used to mean 'pay the entire sum immediately': but by the 1850s it usually means 'make payment in advance'.

    Not surprising, really :)

  2. Thanks for that information slam2011.

    I think that Black dockers and shantymen who sung that song meant "pay the entire sum [you owe to me] immediately."

    Nowadays in American English "paying money down" is probably given as "putting money down" - paying a specified amount of the total purchase price for a product or service that you would continually pay in installments until the full amoung was paid. We call that putting a product "on layaway". That's obviously not what that "Pay Me My Money Down" song is about.

    Also, I think it's important to note that given the realities of race in the United States during slavery or even in the 1940s, it's highly that any White person would have gone to jail for failing to pay someone who was Black. For that reason I doubt that the version of that song which was sung in the 19th century had that "or go to jail" line.