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]

Prior to 1988, the song had been collected from about 18 singers in the oral tradition, limited to Ireland, England and the USA, and there had 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.

Regarding the metrics and the melody, the version common in the British Isles ("Oh my name it is Sam Hall, chimney sweep...") appeared to be based on the tune "Ye Jacobites by Name" (Roud # 5517), whereas the version more common in the USA ("My name it is Sam Hall, T'is Sam Hall...") is a variant of the tune to "Frog Went A-Courting" (Roud # 16).

Versions[edit]

  • Referenced in the Eudora Welty novel, "Delta Wedding."
  • The Mudmen performed this song on their 2012 album Donegal Danny.
  • The Irish Rovers performed this song on their 1969 album The Life of the Rover.
  • 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.
  • Johnny Cash performed the song on Sings the Ballads of the True West (1965) and American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002). The 2002 version was often used by the band Flogging Molly as an intro for their concerts.
  • Carl Sandburg, poet and Abraham Lincoln biographer, recorded it twice, once in 1964, as "Sam Hall" and later as "Gallows Song."
  • Dennis Hopper sings the opening line of the song in an episode of The Lieutenant, "To Set It Right."
  • Clint Eastwood recites it in the movie Two Mules for Sister Sara.
  • It is referenced in Jim Thompson's first novel, Now and On Earth.
  • It is also referenced in Anthony Powell's 1932 novel Venusberg
  • Frank Tovey performed the song on his album Tyranny & the Hired Hand.
  • The Dubliners performed a version of the song.
  • Steeleye Span included the song (as "Jack Hall") on the album Tempted and Tried in 1989, and also released it as a single in 1990.
  • The song, performed by Terry Gilkyson, was the main musical theme of the 1956 film Star in the Dust directed by Charles F. Haas, with John Agar, Mamie van Doren and Richard Boone as Sam Hall in the main roles.
  • 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.
  • Swedish/Dutch troubadour Cornelis Vreeswijk made a Swedish translation called “Mördar-Anders” on his album Visor och oförskämdheter (1965), which also included “Brev från kolonien”, a loose translation of Allan Sherman's “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”.
  • 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.
  • Josh White did a version of the song.
  • 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.
  • Nick Oliveri And The Mondo Generator performed the song and included it as a hidden track on the 2006 Album Dead Planet: SonicSlowMotionTrails.
  • Tex Ritter did a version of the song on his Blood on the Saddle album.
  • Richard Thompson performs the song live as an encore on his 1000 Years of Popular Music collection.
  • 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".
  • The Dregs, a band at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, perform a version on their CD "Thank You Sir, May I Have Another?"
  • 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
  • The French singer Alain Bashung recorded a French drum and bass version of this song on his Fantaisie militaire album released in 1998. The song is renamed "Samuel Hall" and is credited to Olivier Cadiot and Rodolphe Burger.
  • "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.]
  • Trevor Crozier sing this song on the album Let's all go to the Music hall (2008, label Hallmark).
  • 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.
  • A version of the song is featured in the BBC Radio production, The Remarkable Performance of Mr Frederick Merridew, a Bert Coules original short story from the third series of The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from 2008.
  • 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.
  • 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]