Crooked Jack

Lyrics by Dominic Behan, but the melody is a variation of the tune used for “Star of the County Down”, commonly ascribed as “traditional”; Cliff uses this melody for “The Lancaster Lads” on the Living Folk Records release “Here’s A Health to the Man & the Maid“, Cambridge, Mass. 1976.   The tune is believed by musicologists to date to the Middle Ages and is actually known as “Kingsfold”, although in the 18th century was also known as “Gilderoy”, is used for several old and popular church hymns (the hymn Kingsfold was arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1906), Child Ballad #56 named “Dives and Lazarus”, the ballad “The Unquiet Grave” (Child #78), and quite a few others.

This song is an account of Irish and Scottish workers and their horrid working conditions on a hydro dam project.  This song is not specifically American for it is in reference to work back in the “old country”, but Irish and Scots coming to America looking for work and a freer life were all too often obligated to take hard labour jobs such as building the railroad or, in this case, large dams for a power source.

 

.          Em                     G                 D
Come Irishmen both young and stern

.             Em                       D
With adventure in your soul

.                 Em                     G                  D
There are better ways to spend your days

.             Em         D            Em
Than in working down a hole

Chorus:

.          G                                D
I was tall and true, all of 6 foot 2

.                Em                               D
But they broke me across the back

.       Em                                         G           D
By a name I’m known, but it’s not my own

.         Em         D             Em
They call me Crooked Jack

 

The ganger’s* blue-eyed boy
Big Jack could do no wrong
And the reason simply was because
I could work hard hours and long

I’ve seen men old before their time
Their faces drawn and gray
But I never thought so soon would mine
Be lined the self-same way

I cursed the day I went away
To work on the hydro dams
Our sweat and tears, our hopes and fears
Bound up in shuttering jams

They say that honest toil is good
For the spirit and the soul
But believe me, boys, it’s for sweat and blood
That they want you down the hole

 

  • A Ganger is a foreman on the job site.

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