The John B. Sails
|The John B. Sails|
Sloops off Nassau, Bahama Islands, c. 1900.
Banjo/vocal performance of "The John B. Sails" (3:25)
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"The John B. Sails" is a Bahamian folk song from Nassau. A transcription by Richard Le Gallienne was published in 1916, and a version was included in Carl Sandburg's The American Songbag in 1927. Since the early 1950s there have been many recordings; variant titles include "I Want to Go Home", "Wreck of the John B", and most famously, "Sloop John B," as recorded by American rock band the Beach Boys in 1966.
The song was transcribed by Richard Le Gallienne, with five verses and the chorus published in his article “Coral Islands and Mangrove-Trees” in the December 1916 issue of Harper’s Monthly Magazine (pp. 81–90). The first two verses and chorus were also published in Chapter IV of Gallienne’s 1917 novel Pieces of Eight.
Carl Sandburg included the first three verses and chorus of "The John B. Sails" in his 1927 collection of folksongs, The American Songbag. He states that he collected it from John T. McCutcheon (a political cartoonist from Chicago) and his wife, Evelyn Shaw McCutcheon, who at the time owned Blue Lagoon Island, a Cay off of Nassau. The McCutcheons told him:
Time and usage have given this song almost the dignity of a national anthem around Nassau. The weathered ribs of the historic craft lie imbedded in the sand at Governor's Harbor, whence an expedition, especially sent up for the purpose in 1926, extracted a knee of horseflesh and a ring-bolt. These relics are now preserved and built into the Watch Tower, designed by Mr. Howard Shaw (ed. note: Evelyn Shaw McCutcheon's father) and built on our southern coast a couple of points east by north of the star Canopus.
Sandburg's version of "The John B. Sails" is the one most often recorded. It is perhaps from the remarks by the McCutcheons, which Sandburg attached to the song, that a frequent title—"Wreck of the John B"—is derived, since no lyrics report a wreck. Alan Lomax included the song in his 1935 collection, Deep River of Song, as "Histe Up The John B Sail"; sung by the Cleveland Simmons Group, Old Bight, Cat Island, Bahamas, July 1935. In 1950, the Weavers released "Wreck of the John B", bringing the song wider notice and beginning a string of recordings by other artists. Several artists/bands released a version of the song between 1951 and 1966:
- 1952 – Blind Blake (Blake Alphonso Higgs) – "John B. Sails"
- 1958 – The Kingston Trio – "(The Wreck of the) John B"
- 1959 – Johnny Cash – "I Want To Go Home"
- 1960 – Lonnie Donegan – "I Wanna Go Home (Wreck of the John B)"
- 1960 – Jimmie Rodgers - "Wreck of the John B"
- 1961 – Jerry Butler
- 1962 – Arthur Lyman Group - "(The Sloop) John B."
- 1962 – Dick Dale - "Sloop John B"
- 1963 – The Brothers Four - "The John B. Sails"
- 1963 – Jon & Alun - "John B", Relax Your Mind
- 1965 – Barry McGuire - "Sloop John B."
1966: The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys' version of the song entitled "Sloop John B", influenced by the Kingston Trio's 1958 version, and with modified minor chord changes by Al Jardine and slightly altered lyrics by Brian Wilson, entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart on April 2, 1966 and peaked at #3 on May 7, remaining on the chart, in total, for 11 weeks. It also charted highly throughout the world, becoming one of the group's most popular recordings. According to music archivist Joseph Murrells (1978) it was the fastest Beach Boys seller to date, moving more than half a million copies in less than two weeks after release. The song was covered on at least two popular TV shows shortly thereafter, The Wild Wild West in 1966 (Episode 2.3) and Lost in Space in 1967 (Episode 3.14)
- 1966 - The Merrymen featuring Emile Straker - "Wreck of the John B" on album Caribbean Treasure Chest
- 1966 – Cornelis Vreeswijk and Ann-Louise Hansson - "Jag hade en gång en båt" ("Once I Had A Boat")
- 1972 – Joseph Spence - "Sloop John B" on album "Good Morning Mr. Walker"
- 1981 – David Thomas & the Pedestrians - "Sloop John B"
- 1997 – Arjen Anthony Lucassen - "Sloop John B", Strange Hobby
- 1998 – Jerry Jeff Walker - "Sloop John B"
- 2000 – Catch 22 - "Wreck of the Sloop John B"
- 2001 – Me First and the Gimme Gimmes - "Sloop John B"
- 2003 – Ulfuls - "Sleep John B" (Japanese)
- 2004 – Dan Zanes & Festival Five Folk - "Sloop John B" on "Sea Music"
- 2004 – The Dicey Doh Singers - "Sloop John B" on Classic Maritime Music from Smithsonian Folkways
- 2007 – Relient K - "Sloop John B"
- 2007 – Okkervil River - "John Allyn Smith Sails"
- 2009 – Simple Minds - "Sloop John B" on deluxe edition of 2-CD Graffiti Soul album
- 2010 – Westminster Chorus - "Sloop John B" on "It Only Takes a Moment"
- 2011 – Bounding Main - "Sloop John B" on Kraken Up
- 2012 – Tom McRae - "Sloop John B" on From The Lowlands
- 2012 – Al Jardine - "Sloop John B", A Postcard from California
- 2012 – Aurelio Voltaire - "Screw the Ocampa", on BiTrektual
- 2014 – Jay Malinowski & The Deadcoast - "Sloop John B" on Martel
- 2016 – Triángulo de Amor Bizarro - "A cantiga de Juan C"
In popular culture
- Dr. Miguelito Loveless, in the TV series The Wild Wild West sang a version of this in a duet with Antoinette in the episode titled "The Night of the Raven" (original air date 30 September 1966).
- Bill Mumy as Will Robinson and Marta Kristen as Judy Robinson, sang a version of this song in the "Castles in Space" episode of the TV series Lost in Space (original air date 20 December 1967).
- During the BBC programme Three Men in Another Boat with Griff Rhys Jones, Dara Ó Briain and Rory McGrath, McGrath is heard singing the popular song whilst out sailing in the English Channel.
- A choral arrangement was performed in episode 3 of the BBC Drama All the Small Things. It was arranged by Colin Hanson-Orr and Chris O'Hara.
- In the 2002 film "Glory Glory (2000 film)", the piano player in the bar is playing Sloop John B as the main characters are flirting with the posse.
- In the 2003 film Calendar Girls, the instrumental track is used as the press swoops down on the little village of Knapely after the calendar comes out.
- In the 2007 film Full of It, the main character Sam and his family sing the song while driving Sam to school.
- In Alan Dean Foster's book Spellsinger, the main character sings this song as a spell to conjure up a boat, but he also succeeds in making himself drunk, facing a horrible storm, and just missing his chance to get back to his own dimension.
- In Sarah Vowell's book Assassination Vacation, the author sings it while experiencing severe seasickness traveling to the Dry Tortugas by boat.
- Circa 1980 the phrase and melody of "I Want To Go Home" appeared on a drunk driving Public Service Announcement on Los Angeles area television stations in a humorous ad depicting golf balls with the intoxicated driver as the ball rolling erratically and singing the phrase, being pursued by a plain white ball with a single black stripe accompanied by a siren sound effect.
- In many Jewish communities, the poem ”Dror Yikra” by Dunash ben Labrat is sometimes sung to the tune of ”Sloop John B” because of its similar meter.
- The 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street prominently features the cover of "Sloop John B" by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.
- It is the traditional closing song by Jonathan Coulton and fellow performers on the annual JoCo Cruise.
Since then more high-profile teams have followed suit, usually with different lyrics for their own teams, most notably Watford, with Newcastle, Blackpool, Middlesbrough and Hull also adopting the song as their own. It was perhaps most famously sung by Phil Brown, the manager of Hull City FC, shortly after Hull had avoided relegation from the Premiership in 2009.
The tune from the song's chorus is often sung with alternative lyrics, particularly "He scores when he wants", "You know what you are" and "We know what we are".
- Le Gallienne, Ricard. Pieces of Eight: Being the Authentic Narrative of a Treasure Discovered in the Bahama Islands, in the Year 1903—Now First Given to the Public. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & Company (1922) (Copyright 1917, The Butterick Publishing Co.).
- McCutcheon, John and Evelyn. The Island Song Book, illustrated with photographs and cartoons by the author. Self-published, 1927. Contains the song "The John B. Sails".
- Waltz, Robert B; David G. Engle. "The John B. Sails". The Traditional Ballad Index: An Annotated Bibliography of the Folk Songs of the English-Speaking World. Hosted by California State University, Fresno, Folklore, 2007.
- Le Gallienne, Pieces of Eight, p. 30: " 'And you, boys, there; haven't you got a song you can put up? How about 'The John B. sails?' ' And I led them off, the hiss and swirl of the sea, and the wind making a brisk undertone as we sang one of the quaint Nassau ditties."
- The Pet Sounds Sessions: "The Making Of Pet Sounds" booklet, pp. 25 & 26
- "Smithsonian Folkways - Classic Maritime Music from Smithsonian Folkways - Various Artists". Smithsonian Folkways. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
- Performance of "Sloop John B" on JoCo Cruise 5 February, 2015
- Conn, David (May 9, 2007). "FC United rise and shine on a sense of community". The Guardian. London.
- FC United of Manchester - Sloop John B Retrieved 09-21-11
- Phil Brown singing Sloop John B