Johnson Boys

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JOHNSON BOYS. AKA and see "Tennessee Girls." Old-Time, Song and Fiddle Tune. USA; North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas. D Major. ADae or Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. Paul Clayton identifies this as an old courting song, comic in nature. Some see similarity with the Gows' tune "Welcome Whisky Back Again," and the Irish "Finnegan's Wake." Gus Meade found "Johnson Boys" "an adaptation of [the Irish song] 'Doran's Ass' (see Laws Q19), dating from around 1860. It was also used with other Irish songs of the period." Warner (1984) says, "This is a dance tune for the fiddle and banjo - one of the oldest in the mountains. The words are incidental." Despite Warner's assertion, versions of "Johnson Boys" prior to the 20th century have not been found (despite mention of the Civil War in verses to some variants, including the New Lost City Rambler's version). The title appears in a list of traditional Ozark Mountain fiddle tunes compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954.

I hear them Johnson boys a-coming,
Singing and a-hollering and shooting off their guns,
All the other fellers scared as the devil,
Johnson boys has got 'em on the run,
Johnson boys has got 'em on the run.

Johnson boys went to the mountain,
They didn't reckon long to stay,
Met up with some high-borned ladies,
Didn't get back till the break of day,
Didn't get back till the break of day. (Warner)

Al Hopkins and His Buckle Busters, who made the first recording of the tune/song in 1927, sang:

Johnson boys went a-courtin',
The reason why they did not stay,
The reason why they did not stay;
They had no money for to pay their way,
Had no money for to pay their way,
They had no money for to pay their way.

Johnson boys went a-huntin',
Took two dogs and went astray,
The reason why they did not stay;
They had no money for to pay their way,
Had no money for to pay their way,
They had no money for to pay their way.

Johnson boys left the Blue Ridge,
Travelling in a Chevrolet,
The reason why they did not stay;
They had no money for to pay their way,
Had no money for to pay their way,
Had no money for to pay their way.

Johnson boys come to New York,
Have a big time and see the white whale,
The reason why they did not stay;
They had no money for to pay their way,
Had no money for to pay their way,
They had no money for to pay their way.

There is no apparent relationship to the similarly titled "Johnson Gals." However, Dykes Magic City Trio's "Tennessee Girls", recorded in 1927 in New York City, is a variation of "Johnson Boys".

Sources for notated versions: banjoist Frank Proffitt (North Carolina), who learned the tune "from his father's picking and picked up verses from prople on Beech Mountain, friends from Virginia, and others here and there" [Warner]; Jack Aldrich [Silberberg]; Grant Brothers (Tenn., an act that featured members of one of Jimmie Rodgers’ pre-recording bands) [Milliner & Koken].

Printed sources: Milliner & Koken (Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes), 2011; p. 347. New Lost City Ramblers (Old-Time String Band Songbook), 1964; p. 155. Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; p. 76. Warner (Traditional American Folk Songs), 1984; pp. 303-304.

Recorded sources: Brunswick 179 (78 RPM), Al Hopkins and His Bucklebusters (1927). Columbia 15460 (78 RPM), Grant Brothers (1928). County 3511, Grant Brothers - "Rural String Bands of Tennessee" (1997. Various artists). Document 8040, "The Hill Billies/Al Hopkins and His Buckle Busters: Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, vol. 2" (reissue). June Appal 0067, Whitetop Mountain Band - "Seedtime on the Cumberland" (1992). Marimac 9038, Dan Gellert & Brad Leftwich - "A Moment in Time" (1993). Rounder CD0403, The Freight Hoppers - "Where'd You Come From, Where'd You Go?" Tradition TLP 1007, Boone Reid - "Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians" (1956).

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]




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