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Mule, Get Up In The Alley
(a Tribute to the Mule in the Blues)
Max Haymes


In 1896, Joel Chandler Harris confessed: “So far as I know, ‘Bango’ is a meaningless term, introduced on account of its sources ruggedness.” .(1)  However, “A story by an African descendant, ‘Dick the Negro’ quoted by John Davis (1803-1881) describes another aspect of life before the American War of Independence (1775-1783): I made my court to a wholesome girl who had never bored  [pierced] her ears, and went constantly to meeting … by moonlight I used to play my ‘banger’ under her window, and sing a Guinea love-song my mother had taught me.” (2)  This is “quoted in Epstein 1973:81)”. (3)  The author is referring to Sinful Tunes & Spirituals by Dena Epstein, still an essential read to the blues historian. 

On first glance, as I presumed so with Harris, it would be a common enough understanding in the English-speaking world to render ‘bango’ with a hard ‘g’.  Including as it does the word ‘bang’ associated with a loud noise or explosion.  But the above African tale definitely indicates a musical instrument, the ‘banger’ or banjo.  The latter was spelt dozens of different ways, and as well as Dick the Negro’s ‘banger’, also  included ‘banza’,  ‘banja’, ‘banza’, ‘bangoe’, etc. and ‘banjo’ itself appeared at least as early as 1774. (4)  Therefore the phrase in the song collected by Joel Chandler Harris which runs: ‘Up ‘n down de Bango’ refers to a player’s fingers running up and down the neck of a  banjo-fretless or otherwise; while serenading the current lady of his dreams.

A sketch from, c. 1896 by A.B. Frost. Featured in Uncle Remus, Joel Chandler Harris - p.191.

Copyright Ó Max Haymes 2012


Appendix I
- Plow Hand Blues & Big Bill
Appendix II
- A Mule called Jerry
Appendix III
- Sukey jump/Soo cow
Appendix IV
- Bango



1. Harris J.C. p.184.
2. Kubic G. p.9.
3. Ibid.  
4. Epstein D.

see p.p.359-362.

Additions/Corrections & Transcriptions by Max Haymes.
Website conversion of original transcript by Alan White.


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