Johnny Booker

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JOHNNY BOOKER. AKA and see "Knock John Booker," "Mister Booger," "Old Johnny Booker," "Old Johnny Bucker Wouldn't Do." Old-Time. This widely disseminated song/tune is known as a banjo piece and stems from the minstrel era where it was called "Old Johnny Bigger," among other titles. Sheet music published around 1840 gives the song as "Jonny Boker or the Broken Yoke" [1], "as sung by J. W. Sweeney" [Sweeney's Virginia Melodies]. Gene Winnans mentions an African-American banjo player named Gus Cannon, who worked medicine shows from 1914 to 1929. Cannon's first two tunes (learned in "strumming style") were "Old John Booker You Call that Gone" and "It Ain't Gonna Rain No More," learned from "Old Man Saul" Russell, who "just played around the house fro his own amusement." The New Lost City Ramblers also report the song's use in by minstrel and medicine show comedians "up until 1910, most of them using a tune derived from 'Turkey in the Straw'. There are also some sea shanteys about Johnny Booker" (1964, p. 194). The musical West Virginia Hammons family had members who played this tune, as did Tygart Valley banjo players (Gerald Milnes, 1999). Verses to the song include "floaters" that appear in other songs ("Old Dan Tucker," for one):

There was an old man, and he went to school,
And he made his living by driving a mule;

Cho:
And what Johnny Booker wouldn't do, do, do,
And what Johnny Booker wouldn't do.

I drove him up to the foot of the hill,
And I hollered at the mule and the mule stood still. ... [New Lost City Ramblers. Incomplete--see NLCR Songbook for more]]

Asked Johnny Booker for a crock of salt,
He gimme half a bushel of his old mean jaw.

Cho:
Do Johnny Booker oh do, do-me-do,
Do Johnny Booker, oh do,
Do Johnny Booker, oh do.

Said a little man "I'm almost dead,
Hand me down my pone of bread,
Open the gate and I'll be gone,
Give me a stick and I'll trot on. ... [Cousin Emmy]

Source for notated version: Jerry Jordan [New Lost City Ramblers].

Printed sources: New Lost City Ramblers (Old-Time String Band Songbook), 1964; p. 194.

Recorded sources: County 786, Clyde Davenport (Ky.) - "Gettin Upstairs: Traditional Music From the Cumberland Plateau, vol. 1" (as "Johnny Booger"). Marimac 9000, Dan Gellert and Shoofly - "Forked Deer" (1986. Learned from the New Lost City Ramblers). Silvertone 9407 (78 RPM), Jerry Jordan.

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2]




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