Song of the Week 10: Harry McClintock – Big Rock Candy Mountain

Howdy pardners,

This week´s Song of the Week will probably be familiar to most of you. It was featured on the ´Oh, Brother Where Art Thou´ soundtrack.

The first recorded version is from 1928 by Harry ‘Haywire’ McClintock, who rewrote the lyric to an old folk tune, ´An Invitation to Lubberland´, from the 19th century, which he used to play as a busker in 1897. It was featured on the LP ´Hallelujah! I’m a Bum´. (1928, Victor Label)

Harry was the son of a railroad cabinet maker, and four of his uncles
were ´boomer trainmen´. He had a pretty typical childhood by all
accounts, running away to join the circus as a kid. 🙂 He later
railroaded in Africa; then worked as a seaman for a while; helped out American troops in the Phillipines packing mule-trains with food and ammunition; after which he ended up in China as an assistant to journalists covering the ´Boxer Rebellion´. Then back to America on the boomer trail, where he spent his time as a railroader and a minstrel.

The original version of the song was about a child being recruited
into the Hobo lifestyle by tales of the “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, and this kind of thing used to happen back then by all accounts, kids
being drawn in by so-called ´Hobo Ghost Stories´. Harry cleaned up the lyrics for his version, cut out the following verse*, and added some new lyrics.

*The punk rolled up his big blue eyes
And said to the jocker, “Sandy,
I’ve hiked and hiked and wandered too,
But I ain’t seen any candy.
I’ve hiked and hiked till my feet are sore
And I’ll be damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo’s whore
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.”

There´s still plenty of stuff you wouldn´t expect to come across in a
utopia: cigarette trees, cops with wooden legs, hens laying
soft-boiled eggs, jails made of tin, a lake of stew and whiskey, a
place where you never have to change your socks, where you can sleep all day, where they hung the jerk who invented work. Sound appealing?

Another feller, Billy Mac, copywrited the song in 1928, and Harry sued him, but failed in his attempt, the song being listed as ´public domain´ thereafter.

It reached  #1 in the country music charts in 1939. Burt Ives recorded a version in 1949, and there have been lots of sanitized children´s versions ever since, singing about a soda pop lake instead a whiskey lake and peppermint trees instead of cigarette trees.

“In 1945, George Orwell parodied this phrase in the book Animal Farm with an animal version of heaven named Sugarcandy Mountain.” wiki

So, welcome to a Hobo´s paradise. Enjoy…

“I´ll see you all this coming Fall in the Big Rock Candy Mountains”

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