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Historic titles from my Library

Here are some songs based on originals that are quite old, I’ve traced some songs back to the late 1800’s that I have in my library and other’s the recordings are from the early 1900’s. Ever since Leon Scott de Martinville invented a device for recording sound in Paris 1857, developments by Charles Cross, Edison and Alexander Graham Bell pushed forward the ability to record sound and eventually of course-music.

The Gramophone was invented by Emile Berliner in 1887, and by 1902 cylinder molding developments made mass production of recorded music possible. By 1929 Flat discs became popular and the old cylinders became obsolete.

"Sloop John B." as I knew it through the Beach Boys was a favorite of mine, seems its been around for quite some time.

It was a Bahamian Sailing song from what I can gather, the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. First documented in 1923 by American poet-Carl Sandburg​, in what was called the American Songbag, a collection of songs from all corners of the U.S. including other songs such as; None Can Love Like an Irishman, ​Midnight Special​ and Foggy Foggy Dew. ​Renowned music historian Alan Lomax would make a recording of the song in the Bahama’s sometime in the early 1930’s, I’m not sure who recorded the following version, could have been Lomax.

Here is "Sloop John B." or then know as “Histe Up the John B. Sail” by the Cleveland Simmons Group ​in ​1935 it’s the earliest recording I can find.

Another​ version​ by Blind Blake Higgs, also known as The Bahamian Blind Blake​ (yes there's another Blind Blake circa 1920's)​ he performed from the 1930s - 1960s.

Recorded many times with names such as “Wreck of the John B.” by the Kingston Trio in 1958 and was said to be the inspiration for Al Jardine to talk Brian Wilson into recording it.  As “I want to go Home” by Johnny Cash in 1959 and still a few more song titles and word changes and 114 versions of the song. Another name is “John B. Sails” and passages are apparently referenced by British author Richard Le Gallienne and was published in 1916 in Harpers Monthly Magazine.

I also came across a reference to an actual ship (a Sloop being a single masted sailing ship) called the John B.  that sank off the Bahamian coast in 1900 or so, the relic is reportedly in Nassau-this of course post dates earlier references but suffice to say it has been a song in one form or another for a good 60 some years before the Beach Boys made it famous.

Here is the definitive version for me, the Beach Boys of course, 1966 from Pet Sounds

Another very old tune that I had in my library from Elvis “Are You Lonesome Tonight”, originally sung by Charles Hart in 1926 and written by Roy Turk and Lou Handman.

Elvis recorded it in 1960, it was done a dozen times before he did it, total covers for this song is 219 versions up to the year 2016.  Apparently, a favorite song of Marie Mott, Colonel Tom Parker’s wife and he of course Elvis’s manager at the time suggested he record it.

Another surprising song was “Black Betty” a hard driving rock song from 1977 that was played incessantly on the jukebox at the “Ceeps” a London Ontario watering hole where I worked with most of my closest friends. It was popular for the University crowd, baseball teams and anyone else wanting cheap draft beer, a burger and plate of fries.  
Turns out the song has quite the long history, often credited to Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter an African American musical legend, but recordings pre-date his from 1939. What or whom is a Black Betty seems to vary but the notes from the first recording by Alan Lomax of James “Iron Head” Baker mentions a whip used by slavers. Other references mention guns and prison wagons.

Here is Iron Head Baker in 1933.
Leadbelly in 1939
Manfred Man in 1968
And finally, Ram Jam in 1977


  1. Love the blog Randy, especially the historical aspects! The fact that you've managed to trace such well known songs back to such early origins is fascinating. Very interesting - keep them coming!

  2. Thanks so much Darren! I shall keep plodding along and with hundreds of cover songs in my library they’ll likely outlive me��

  3. I heard on Q107 today about the Calgary Stampeders coach using covers of Black Betty to motivate the team and found this.....

    As one of those who did pump quarters into the jukebox at the Ceeps to play this song when I was working I'm intrigued by the Tom Jones version and will have to check it out! Go Stamps!

    1. That's a great one Shayne! Seems the Stamps need some learn'in on what makes a song an original as they think it's the Ram Jam version.


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