This essay is taken from Mike
www.mikeballantyne.ca . Mike has kindly
agreed for me to publish it on the Earlyblues website. Thanks Mike.
The roots of the
blues are many and varied. The two most prominent genres from which they sprang
are Black folksongs, including both play-party songs and animal rhymes, and work
songs. Many of these latter songs evolved from the singing of railroad
track-lining gangs, sugarcane cutters, cotton pickers, road gangs, quarry and
mine workers and the like, commonly within the prison systems of the American
South and South West.
Amongst the early outlets for the performance of the blues were the minstrel
shows and medicine shows. These shows were, in the main, travelling shows,
generally staged from horse-drawn wagons or tents, that roamed from community to
community and camp to camp, selling patent medicines ‘guaranteed’ to be
efficacious - and usually accomplishing this, at least in the short term, by
containing a considerable amount of alcohol, cocaine, heroin or opium, which
dulled the symptoms of an illness. To attract customers, the shows hired
performers of almost every kind but invariably including musicians and singers,
and very often incorporating both black and white performers, with either or
both in blackface, a somewhat modulated continuation of minstrelsy. A very
general cross-section of music could expect to be heard at any of the shows and,
by the early years of the 20the century, this included country blues,
hokum, jug band songs and jazz blues, as well as the music we now think of as
old time, white, string band music - variously played by individuals and by
groups both large and small.
Don’t Think I’m Santa Claus
Mike Ballantyne's transcription],
however, is something of a departure from this. It is an excellent example (and
one of the very few existing examples) of an early, twentieth century, medicine
show singer’s song-medley, and one that belongs almost solely to, and is a
direct product of the shows. It includes verses and/or choruses from four, quite
separate, popular, published songs in a typical device designed to cover a large
amount of material and attract, or keep the attention of a varied audience. Of
the four songs that make up Don’t Think I’m Santa Claus, the title song
is from You Must Think I’m Santa Claus, written by Irving Jones and Frank
Silver. It was recorded by Bob Roberts in 1904 on Victor 4110, Matrix B-1768,
and again the following year, on a wax cylinder, by Tascott (no forename).
Tascott’s version can be heard on line at: http://www.archive.org/details/Tascott-YouMustThinkImSantaClaus1905.
The running chorus (Lindy) is from By The Watermelon Vine, Lindy Lou,
written by Thomas Allen and published in 1904. The two other fragments are from
Keep A Little Cosy Corner in Your Heart for Me, by Jack Drislane and
Theodore F. Morse, published in 1905, and Everybody Works But Father, by
Jean Havez, also published in 1905, but based upon an English music hall
standard We All Go To Work But Father.
This last song was
published under the banner of Lew Dockstader. Dockstader was a vaudevillian and
blackface minstrel who had his own minstrel troupe (with Al Jolson amongst its
Dockstader’s troupe performed by itself as Lew Dockstader and His Great
Minstrel Company, as well as in the company of others (Primrose &
The chorus of
Everybody Works But Father (the first verse of the two included in Don’t
Think I’m Santa Claus) survived well into the second half of the 20th
century. Groucho Marks sang it in both English and German when he was a guest on
a television programme, and the blues minstrel Jesse Fuller recorded it on his
1963 Fantasy recording Brother Lowdown, [released on CD as Fantasy
Ken Romanowski, in
his 1993 notes to Document Records CD Georgia Blues & Gospel (1927-1931)
[DOCD-5160] suggests that ‘Lil’ was probably a shortened version of ‘Little’.
However, although this may well have been the case, it was quite likely that it
had the reverse meaning and that he was called ‘Lil’ either because was tall and
thin or because he was a big man. An on-line video of Don’t Think I’m Santa
Claus, can be found at:
sung by Dom Flemons. One of the notable things about his introduction to the
song is that Flemons holds his hand so high (about four feet off the floor) to
illustrate why McClintock is referred to as ‘Lil’.
McClintock was from
Clinton, South Carolina, near the birthplaces of both The Rev. Gary Davis and
‘The Carolina Bluesman’ Pink Anderson. Although McClintock’s voice was not
recorded until 1930, he and his wife had been interviewed considerably earlier,
in 1923, by Chapman J. Milling. At that time Milling collected a version of
Delia Holmes, later better known as Delia or Delia’s Gone, and
he published the words in the Southern Folklore Quarterly Vol. 1 No. 4
(December, I937, p. 3-7) under the subtitle of “A Neglected Negro Ballad”.
Mike Ballantyne 2010
Mike is a singer
who formerly sang folksongs, folk-blues and blues, together with some country
and jazz. Now, with more than forty years singing experience behind him, and to
the exclusion of all his previous repertoire, he is devoting himself exclusively
to early blues and, for the most part, to their earliest documented lyrics as
they were sung and recorded in the 1920’s and 1930’s. These blues, for the most
part, form a fun and varied repertoire of blues, hokum, ragtime and jug band
songs, rather different from stereotypical, often slow and rather maudlin
For further details see Mike's
Website © Copyright 2000-2011 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.
Essay (this page) © Copyright 2010
Mike Ballantyne. All rights reserved.
For further information please email:
Check out other essays here: