Sam Hall (song)

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Sam Hall” is an old English folk song about a bitterly unrepentant criminal condemned to death (Roud #369). Prior to the mid-19th century it was called “Jack Hall”, after an infamous English thief, who was hanged in 1707 at Tyburn. Jack Hall’s parents sold him as a climbing boy for one guinea, which is why most versions of the song identify Sam or Jack Hall as a chimney sweep.[1]

History[edit]

The song has only been collected from about 18 singers in the oral tradition, limited to Ireland, England and the USA, and there have been only six sound recordings made.[2] Comic Minstrel W.G. Ross adapted one version probably in the 1840s, and changed the name from “Jack Hall” to “Sam Hall”. The song also appears to have been adapted to fit the region in which it was sung; some versions refer to Sam Hall being hanged at Tyburn, some at Cootehill. Also it is unclear what, if any, uncouth language was original to the song. Various versions have Sam Hall call his executioners “muckers”, “fuckers”, “buggers”, “muggers”, "critters" or “bastards”.

To add to the confusion, the song is associated with the song “Captain Kidd”, aka “Robert Kidd”, as William Kidd was executed in the same year. The songs have similar metre and style, and it is unknown which came first.

A more vulgar variant has become an enduring cultural phenomenon among United States Air Force pilots. Known as "Sammy Small", this may be the best known drinking song among American fighter pilots. Covered by Dos Gringos in 2006 on their album "2", the lyrics have remained consistent at least since the Vietnam War.

See also "Samuel Hall's Family Tree" an article by Bertrand H. Bronson in California Folklore Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Jan., 1942), pp. 47–64, Published by: Western States Folklore Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1495727. Bronson explores the use to which the particular song form has been put over a long period.

Versions[edit]

  • The Mudmen performed this song on their 2012 album Donegal Danny.
  • The Irish Descendants performed this song in its traditional Irish form on their album We are the Irish Descendants and re-released it on their compilation album So Far so Good: The Best of the Irish Descendants.
  • Frank Tovey performed the song on his album Tyranny & the Hired Hand.
  • Poul Anderson's 1953 novelette Sam Hall features a disgruntled bureaucrat who creates fake records about a rebel named Sam Hall (after the song) who fights against the totalitarian government.
  • Swill (also of The Men They Couldn't Hang) and the Swaggerband recorded a version of the song for their 2006 album Doh, Ray, ME,ME,ME,me,me featuring Cootehill as the location for the execution.
  • Black 47 recorded a version of this song for their Green Suede Shoes album, released in 1996.
  • "Sam Hall" is also adapted to one of the main characters in the Norwegian comic series Malkiel.
  • Oscar Brand performs the song on Bawdy Songs and Backroom Ballads (vol.1, 1955). In concert, e.g. Le Hibou Coffee House, Ottawa, 1966, Brand used the following lyric: "... My name is Samuel Hall, and I hate you one and all, You're a bunch of fuckers all, Goddamn your eyes, Son of a bitch, Shit. If a young person came into the club, Brand would edit this for comic effect to "... Gall darn his eyes, Son of a Gun, Shucks."
  • The Pilgrims (s British band) recorded a version of this song on their album Here To Stay.
  • Poor Angus, a Canadian Celtic and folk band, performed a version of "Sam Hall" on their self-titled album.
  • Rocky Creek, a Dayton Ohio Celtic Bluegrass Band performs a version on "Our Celtic Beginnings".
  • Lynn Riggs included it in his 1931 play Green Grow the Lilacs, the play that would later be adapted with new songs as the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!.
  • The Canadian Celtic Punk band The Mahones performed a version of the song on their album T.A.F.K.A.H.I.M. released in 1997
  • "Sam Hall" is referred in the radio adaptation of the Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Remarkable Performance of Mr. Merridew where the Mr. Merridew is a music hall actor who, in the persona of Samuel Hall, confesses a murder and his defiance against the public.
  • In Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson's Hoka stories, the Hokas sing this song as they are being hanged. [Note: this is comical, as the Hokas' necks are stronger than those of humans, so they just hang each other for fun. It's a strange world.]
  • The self-professed "steamcrunk" band Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys performed a version of this song on their album Steamship Killers released in 2010.
  • Ed Kuepper covered this song on his album The Exotic Mail Order Moods of Ed Kuepper.
  • A 19th century version is sung by Sam Shepard (as Butch Cassidy) and Eduardo Noriega, the actors who portrayed the main characters in Blackthorn, a Bolivian western movie released in 2011.
  • Performed in the epilogue of Upstairs Downstairs, Season 3, episode 31, "Rose's Pigeon," on Masterpiece Theatre on November 24, 1973 by a performer named John, last name unknown by this writer.
  • Sam Shepard sang "Sam Holl" in the 2011 movie, Blackthorn.
  • Adapted by the Derbyshire, UK-based folk singer songwriters David Gibb and Elly Lucas in 2012 for their album Old Chairs To Mend in the song entitled "Sam Hall".
  • Irish folk singer Paddy Reilly often performs a version of this song in concert, referencing Cootehill as the hanging place. It appears on the 1983 album Paddy Reilly Live.
  • Ten Strings and a Goat Skin, a PEI-based folk trio, performs a version on their 2011 debut album.

References[edit]