In eighteen-hundred and ninety two, I bought a sharp axe and cut working too
In eighteen-hundred and ninety three, somebody had a job was looking for me
In eighteen-hundred and ninety four, I swear by God she wouldn't work no more
Couldn't do it boy
You shall be free
I'm too lazy boy
You shall be free
When the Good Lord sets you free
Not to be confused with the American blues guitar virtuoso, Blake Alphonso Higgs of Nassau, Bahamas, was an early folk calypso artist who enjoyed some commercial success selling those LPs to cruise passengers put out by tourist board type organizations that show up in the racks with some frequency. Indeed, Blake may have been the main reason for the launching of ART (American Recording and Transcription) Records, a label based out of a Miami hotel, as the first three records in their discography feature Mr. Blake and his Royal Victoria Hotel "Calypsonians."
Featuring all the hallmarks of great calypso- a dancing beat, bawdy wordplay, jokes about booze, excellent musicianship (tight and loose), this album also has something more. Blake has a charisma that still works- the jokes are still funny and the sadness is still sad. It also features an early version of Sloop John B. There are about 3 skips on the album, but I've edited them out so they only make for minimal unpleasantness on the playback. Please email me if you have any of his other stuff- the 78s or the other version of "Conch Ain't Got No Bone" on King...I would love to hear it.
Hoist up the John Botched Surgery
[Original Liner Notes]
Blake (center), and his boys, strum their tunes in the dreamy, near-tropical atmosphere of their native Bahamas. From time to time, they are joined by a pair of drums, cleaver (or "catacoo"), "Music" (a dog), and a pair of itinerant maracas. The result is a blend of folk-song, calypso, and "early" jazz that, combined with a really amazing repertoire of local ballads (if Blake doesn't know it, he'll invent it) has kept the coins jingling in their hats for over twenty years now. Blake's popular first album of records (also on LP) included "J.P. Morgan," "Jones (Oh Jones," "Yes, Yes, Yes," "Pretty Boy," "Run Come See," "Love, Love Alone," "Lord Got Tomatoes," "Pigeon," "Watermelon Spoilin' on the Vine," and "Never Interfere With Man and Wife", and eleven more selections are hereby added to the list. We have included several which, though not Bahamian in origin, have been around Nassau long enough to have acquired a definite Bahamian accent. While our "Gin and Coconut Water" varies but little from the standard Caribbean version, the three tunes in the "West Indian Melody" are heavily embroidered with local references, most of them from the old "bootlegging" days. "My Freckle-Faced Consumptive Sara Jane," and "1891", longtime local favorites, are often recognized as versions of old American folk tunes.
But thoroughly Bahamian is "Peas and Rice" ("Mama don' Wants no Peas, no Rice, no Coconut Oil...") sometimes referred to as the "Bahamian National Anthem," and sure to be familiar to all but the deafest cruise passenger who has spent a day in Nassau. The tune originated here during the first World War, when the scarcity of imported cooking fats forced the substitution of local coconut oil as a culinary medium- to the increasing disgust of its users. By stinting himself on verses (of which there are "several"), Blake has included on the same record another favourite of those guitar-slung, straw-hatted troubadours who peddle their musical wares from Bay Street to Grant's Town and back again. As surely as Mr. and Mrs. Cruise Passenger are greeted at the dock by "Peas and Rice and Coconut Oil"- they climb wearily aboard the tender, that night, clutching their straw bags and their perfume, their two gallons of duty-free liquor, and their heads, to the insistent and now familiar refrain of "Little Nassau, little Nassau- you'll have a won-der-ful time in Nassau-u-u!" It's a real tourist tune, with its obvious origin during the days of "Prohibition", when the tourist trade was still in its barefooted infancy, and Nassau had something more important than sunshine, palm trees, and eternal June, to offer its thirsty American visitors.
One of the oldest and best-loved Bahamian songs is the tragi-comic ballad "The John B. Sail". The "John B." was an old sponger boat whose crew were in the habit of getting notoriously merry, whenever they made port. A popular version of this song has recently become well-known in the U.S., under the title "The Wreck of the John B."...."A Conch Ain't Got Not Bone" drifted into Nassau town, with Blake on an Out-Island sloop, about 20 years back. We hope its references to "mosquito" and "sandfly," some of our less ingratiating local characters, will not offend the Development Board. We hasten to add that the song refers to tame ones, who will not bite! As for "Conch," that talented univalve whose exotic shell adorned Grandma's what-not, makes cameos, buttons- "he" is delicious- stewed, fried, in fritters, chowder, or "en casserole"- no bones either.