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Jordan

[ Roud 2103 ; Ballad Index R305 , CSW188 ; VWML SBG/1/2/718 ; Daniel Decatur Emmett (1853) / trad. arr. Frankie Armstrong / trad. arr. Alison Burns]

Daniel Decatur Emmett wrote Jordan in the 1850s. Peter, Paul & Mary sang this song with the title Old Coat in 1963 on their second LP, Moving.

Frankie Armstrong sang it as Jordan with quite different verses in 1971 on the LP accompanying Roy Palmer's book Room for Company. This recording was also included on the CD reissue of her Topic album Lovely on the Water. Roy Palmer commented in his book:

This curious song, with its rollicking and defiant humour, was used to make political and social comment and a variety of jokes. This version seems to date from the 1850s or early '60s, because of its reference to the campaigns against slavery in America which were going on at that time.

and Frankie Armstrong added to this:

The text comes from a broadside and the tune sung “by an old labourer now dead”, collected by Baring-Gould in Holcombe Burnell, North Devon.

Jez Lowe & The Bad Pennies sang Jordan in 1990 on their Fellside album Briefly on the Street.

Barbara Brown sang Jordan on her and Tom Brown's 2000 WildGoose CD Where Umber Flows. She commented in their liner notes:

A song that dates from at least as early as Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade. It appeared in several broadside versions and was sung on both sides of the Atlantic, but we've only found the surreal imagery of the first verse in English versions. By changing ‘ladies’ to ‘lady’ in the third verse, the song gained a new immediate relevance when Thatcher was in power. Some things never change.

Bellowhead learnt Jordan from Frankie Armstrong's album and recorded it in 2006 for their CD Burlesque; and Jon Boden sang it as the August 24, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. They commented in their sleeve notes:

From the American white minstrel movement, this was written by Daniel Decatur Emmett who was also responsible for Dixie, Old Joe Clark and The Blue-Tailed Fly. Published in America in 1853, it travelled quickly to England where it was printed on a number of broadside ballad sheets which contain new references to the Indian Mutiny of 1857-1858. Sabine Baring-Gould, song collector and author of Onward Christian Soldiers, took two English oral versions from Thomas Darke and Sam Fone of Holcombe Burnell, Devon, in the 1880-90s.

These can be found in Sabine Baring-Gould, Garland of Country Song, London: Methuen, 1895, pp. 22-25, and Roy Palmer, Room for Company, Cambridge: CUP, 1972, pp. 24-35, both out of print. (…) The broadsides are in the Madden Collection in Cambridge and the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Steve Turner sang Jordan in 2012 on his Tradition Bearers CD Rim of the Wheel.

Frankie Armstrong sang a version of this 19th century American protest song in 1971 on a compilation album of songs collected by Roy Palmer called Room for Company. This was also my first ever recording (I was featured on one song) when l was with the band Canny Fettle. After forgetting about it for 40 years I recently got an e-mail from my friend Ali Burns in Scotland telling me that she'd written a variation to the tune given to Baring Gould by Sam Fone [VWML SBG/1/2/718] . I grabbed the opportunity to have a go at such a powerful setting.

The song has mysterious origins having been changed so much over the years. But Dan Emmett (1815-1904) a New York minstrel composer seems to have been the first person to use the song in a show in America in 1853. He took the existing song and substituted political and topical verses.

Jeff Warner sang Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel in 2018 on his WildGoose CD Roam the Country Through. He noted:

Uncle Dave Macon (1870-1952), first star of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, recorded this song in 1927. It was his re-working of Dan Emmett’s song written in 1853—which very well might have been a parody of an earlier song. Emmett (1815-1904), along with his band the Virginia Minstrels, helped bring the minstrel craze to the New York stage in 1843. Uncle Dave’s verses comment humorously on his times, and hint at his talent as a stage entertainer and banjoist. Macon recorded about 170 songs in his career, even though he didn’t become a professional musician until he was in his 50s. He was known as the “Dixie Dewdrop”.

Lyrics

Frankie Armstrong sings Jordan Bellowhead sings Jordan

I looked in the east, I looked in the west,
I saw John Bull a-coming according,
With four blind horses driving in the clouds
To look at the other side of Jordan.

I looked to the east, I looked to the west,
I saw John Bull a-coming according
With four blind horses driving in the clouds
To look at the other side of Jordan.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Pull off your old coat and roll up your sleeves,
Jordan is a hard road to travel, I believe.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Pull off your old coat and roll up your sleeves,
Jordan is a hard road to travel, I believe.

Thunder in the clouds, lightning in the trees,
And what do you think I told him?
It's, Goodbye, Sam, to the next kingdom come
Till I meet you on the other side of Jordan.

Thunder in the clouds, lightning in the trees,
What do you think that I told him?
It's, Goodbye, Sam, till the next kingdom come
And I'll meet you on the other side of Jordan.

The ladies of England have sent a big address
About slavery, and horrors, too, according.
They'd better look at home to their own white slaves,
They're starving on the English side of Jordan.

The ladies of England have made a big address
About slavery and hardships according.
They better look at home to their own white slaves,
They're starving on the English side of Jordan.

There were snakes in Ireland not many years ago,
Saint Patrick saw the vermin all a-crawling.
But with his shillelagh he hit 'em on the head
And he drove 'em 'cross the other side of Jordan.

There were snakes in Ireland not many years ago,
Saint Patrick saw the vermin all a-crawling.
But with his shillelagh he hit 'em on the head
And he drove them 'cross the other side of Jordan.

Jonah spent three days in the belly of a whale,
Three days and two nights too, according.
He tickled him with a straw which caused him to laugh
And he chucked him on the other side of Jordan.

Jonah spent three days in the belly of a whale,
Three days and two nights then according
He tickled him with a straw which caused him to laugh
And he chucked him on the other side of Jordan.

Peter, Paul & Mary sing Old Coat Steve Turner sings Jordan

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Take off your old coat and roll up your sleeves,
Life is a hard road to travel, I believe.

I look to the east, I look to the west,
A youth asking fate to be rewardin'.
But fortune is a blind god, flying through the clouds,
And forgettin' me on this side of Jordan.

I looked in the East and looked in the West
For fortune a chance to me according
But fortune is a blind god flying in the clouds
And forgetting me on this side of Jordan.

I pull off my old coat and roll up my sleeves
Life is a hard road to travel
I pull off my old coat and roll up my sleeves
Life is a hard road to travel I believe

Silver spoons to some mouths, golden spoons to others,
Dare a man to change the given order.
Though they smile and tell us all of us are brothers,
Never was it true this side of Jordan.

Silver spoons to some mouths, golden spoons to others
Providence unequally rewarding
Damn it! Though they tell us all of us be brothers
l don't see it clearly on this side of Jordan.

Thunder in the clouds and lightning in the trees
Shelter to my head no leaf affording
Battered by the hail storms, beaten by the breeze
That's the lot to me on this side of Jordan.

Like some ragged owlet with its wings expanded,
Nailed to some garden gate or boardin'.
Thus will I by some men all my life be branded
Never hurted none this side of Jordan.

Like a ragged owlet with all wings expanded
Nailed against a garden gate or hoarding
such am I, an outlaw, scatterbrain am branded
Yet l never hurt no-one this side of Jordan.

Aloft a pretty cherub is amending every blunder
My troubles and distresses is recording
Better times are coming yet, though beggars shouldn't wonder
Even to me on the other side of Jordan.

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Add: Jordan Is a Hard Road to Travel.