Rock about My Saro Jane

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ROCK ABOUT MY SARO JANE. AKA - "Saro Jane." Old-Time, Song Air. A Civil War-era song about a riverboat, popularized by Tennessee banjoist and entertainer Uncle Dave Macon [1] (1870-1952) who (according to researcher Charles Wolfe) claimed to have learned it from African-American stevedores on the Cumberland River in the l880s. The words Uncle Dave sang on his 1927 Vocalion recording go:

Uncle Dave Macon

I've got a wife and five little chillun
Believe I'll take a trip on the big MacMillan
Oh Saro Jane!

Oh, there's nothing to do but to sit down and sing
And rock about my Saro Jane
Oh, rock about my Saro Jane
Oh, there's nothing to do but to sit down and sing
And rock about my Saro Jane

Boiler busted and the whistle done blowed
The head captain done fell overboard
Oh Saro Jane!

Oh, there's nothing to do but to sit down and sing
And rock about my Saro Jane
Oh, rock about my Saro Jane
Oh, there's nothing to do but to sit down and sing
And rock about my Saro Jane

Engine gave a crack and the whistle gave a squall
The engineer gone to the hole in the wall
Oh Saro Jane!

Oh, there's nothing to do but to sit down and sing
And rock about my Saro Jane
Oh, rock about my Saro Jane
Oh, there's nothing to do but to sit down and sing
And rock about my Saro Jane

Mike Yates reports on interviews with Macon toward the end of his life by Tennessee folklorist George Worley Boswell (1920-1995), and describes a related song sung by Macon that was based on "Rockabout my Saro Jane." The protagonist was Tom Ryman (1843–1904), who in 1892 built the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, home from 1943 to 1974 of the Grand Ole Opry (although originally opened as the Union Gospel Tabernacle). Macon did not commercially record this version, but he allowed Boswell to record him privately. The words to this version go:

Cap'n Tom Ryman was a steamboat man,
But Sam Jones sent him to the heavenly land,
Oh, sail away

Oh, there's nothing to do but to sit down and sing
Oh, rockabout my Saro Jane, oh rockabout my Saro Jane,
Oh, rockabout my Saro Jane
Oh, rockabout my Saro Jane
Oh, rockabout my Saro Jane
Oh, there's nothing to do but to sit down and sing
Oh, rockabout my Saro Jane

Engine give a scratch and the whistle gave a squall
The engineer going to a hole in the wall,
Oh, Saro Jane

There's nothing to do but to sit down and sing
Oh, rockabout my Saro Jane

According to Charles Wolfe [A Good-Natured Riot: The Birth of the Grand Ole Opry, 1999, pp. 116-117], Macon recalled:

Now that tabernacle what was built down there where we play, Rev'rend Sam Jones converted Cap'n Tom Ryman. He had six steamboats on the Cumberland River and you ought to have seen that wharf just lined with horses and mules and wagons hauling freight to those boats and bringing it back. And Sam Jones preached the low country to him so straight he took them niggers all down there Monday morning and bought all that whiskey and poured it in the river. Took them card tables and built a bonfire and burned 'em up. Clean up. Niggers started this song.


Additional notes

Source for notated version: -

Printed sources : -

Recorded sources: - County 521, Uncle Dave Macon and His Fruit Jar Drinkers - "Original Recordings 1925-1935." FW31035_108, New Lost City Ramblers - "Remembrance of Things to Come" (1973). JSP CD 7729, "Uncle Dave Macon Classic Sides, 1924-1938." Vocalion 5152 (78 RPM), Uncle Dave Macon (1927).

See also listing at:
Hear Uncle Dave Macon's 1927 recording on youtube.com [2]
Read Lyle Lofgren's 2101 article on the title origins in Inside Bluegress [3]
Read Mike Yates 2010 article "Uncle Dave Macon: A Study in Repertoire" at Musical Traditions [4]
Read the Ballad Index entry on the song [5]
See the Bluegrass Messengers notes on the song [6]



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