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John B. Sails
Author: Bahamian Traditional
Date/Studio: 2009 KMW Fest, Bardstown, KY
Engineer: Bing Futch
Producer: Bing Futch
Original Release: Key West Dulcimer Fest (JOB7)
Original Release: Key West Dulcimer Fest (JOB7)

imageI have had so much fun with this tune! I rock it. I take it to the wall with fast chord changes and really bombastic dynamics. It doesn't have to be your laid-back, down-island version with visions of palm trees, startling blue waters and the tantalizing smell of fried conch wafting across a bone-white beach on the wispy feathers of a tropical zephyr. Oh no!

Playing a tune that everyone knows and just blasting it is a great way to involve an audience. They know the story and have probably sung it as a camp song while growing up. It's one of those tunes, like Puff the Magic Dragon, that lives inside of us. We've heard this song done countless ways. Heck, I still play it as a camp song!

The one recorded (released) rendition of me doing that tune is on the Key West Dulcimer Fest sampler that Bing Futch put out to spread the word about his first fest of the same name that he and his wife, Jae, were hosting just outside of Key West on Stock Island. I believe there is even a short YouTube of Bing and I and Stephen Seifert playing it aboard a schooner sailing off Key West. I should say we are at least attempting the tune. We're on a slanting deck while also being a tad slanted ourselves-- at least three sheets to the wind. Ah, the folk process!

Bing needed a cut from me for his sampler cd. Although I had “down island” cuts like Paradise Boy I could have supplied, I thought the rocked-out John B Sails where I had him jamming with me at Nancy Barker's Kentucky Music Festival would work better. He agreed. That piece also had Guy George on steel drums and Butch Ross on guitar, so were were already in the groove.

For my two songs at the performer showcase that year I played the John B Sails twice. I did a calypso version that was slow and “islandy”. That was moderately well received. Then I said for my second piece I am going to play the same song again, noting that they (the audience) had probably never heard of anyone playing the same song twice at a showcase. Usually folks want to demonstrate their diversity. Well, we did that, actually. That 2nd version got hoops and hollers and stompin' and whistlin'. The original video of this session is out there on the net-- Dulcimerica Episode 122.

Bing extracted the audio from the video of the concert and combined it with a second audio source that was also taping the performances. Once he had the tracks separated he sent it out to Dave Batti in LA to add bass. Dave had played that tune with us a lot over the years at Manitou Springs. Used to be-- for a laugh-- back in my production days in San Francisco, someone would say, “Don't worry, I'll phone in my part.” Guess what? Now you can. Essentially Dave phoned in his part and Bing went to mixing and added it to the cd.

Lots of people know this tune as popularized by the Kingston Trio. That is also why no one in the folk world calls it the Sloop John B, at least from the stage. That would a violation of their copywrite. Instead, a lot of folkies revert, as did I, to calling it after the original version in the Public Domain. This traditional Bahamian folk song first appeared in Harpers Magazine in 1916 and was later also published in 1927 by the poet, Carl Sandburg, in his folksong collection, The American Songbag.

Oh, and as some commentators have noted in response to Bing's posting of the video, it good to do it barefoot, preferably while wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

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