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Roll the Woodpile Down

[ Roud 4443 ; Ballad Index Hugi160 ; trad.]

The pumping or capstan shanty Roll the Woodpile Down can be found in Stan Hugill's Shanties from the Seven Seas, pp. 160-161.

The Wassailers sang Roll the Wood Pile Down in 1978 on their eponymous Fellside album Wassailers. This track was also included in 1999 on the Jolly Jack & Friends' CD Rolling Down to Old Maui: Shanties and Songs of the Sea. They noted:

A lusty shanty given to us by the even more lusty Brian Dewhurst. Not surprisingly it can be found in Stan Hugill's Shanties from the Seven Seas.

Johnny Collins sang Roll the Wood Pile Down with Dave Webber and Pete Watkinson in 1996 on their CD Shanties & Songs of the Sea.

Bellowhead recorded Roll the Woodpile Down in March 2012 for their CD Broadside. This YouTube video shows them at Hampton Pool on July 13, 2012:

Vic Shepherd and John Bowden with Linda Lee Welch sang Roll the Woodpile Down in 2015 on their Hallamshire Traditions CD Still Waters. They noted:

John learned this song from the singing of Helen Schneyer at the Mariposa Folk Festival Toronto in 1971 and she later recorded it on her first LP. We've often been asked why our version of this song ends on a major cadence rather than the usual minor one and always used to answer confidently that that was how Helen's version went—until one day we re-played the LP and found that hers is minor too! We like to think that this is an example of the ‘folk process’—if only because that sounds better than ‘learned it wrong’ (we have however heard one other singer in York who sings it like us!)

This is another song which is linked to Ned Harrigan who composed Jolly Roving Tar. Harrigan's song Haul the Woodpile Down, which has a different text but similar structure and chorus to our version, dates to 1887 and was recorded by Uncle Dave Macon among others. It is likely to have been based on a much older song from African American riverboat workers—Hugill believed it originated in either the West Indies or the Southern States of America, most probably the latter, being perhaps one of the many rivermen songs that reached deep water.

Lyrics

Bellowhead sing Roll the Woodpile Down

Way down south where the cocks do crow
   'Way down in Florida
The gals all dance to the old banjo
   And we'll roll the woodpile down!

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Rollin'! Rollin'! Rollin' the whole world 'round
That brown girl o' mine's down the Georgia Line
And we'll roll the woodpile down!

When I was a young man in me prime
I'd take them yaller gals two at a time.

We'll roll him high and we'll roll him low
We'll heave him up and away we'll go.

Oh rouse and bust 'er is the cry
A black man's wage is never high.

O Curly goes on the old ran-tan
O Curly's just a down-east man.

O one more heave and that will do
We're the bullies for to kick 'er through.