A ubiquitous sea song, beloved by most everyone in this genre. Here in Connecticut, we mostly associate it with the great voice of Don Sinetti; however, Cliff holds court with this as well. There are more verses than the four we sing, but we also feel that the way we present it makes a good sing while adding every verse known to man begins to wear our audience down.
I recently heard someone muse, innocently, that the song is a composition of Stan Rogers. It’s unfortunately common that when folk songs are posted, for lyrics or chords, online for public consumption they are often misattributed to some recording artist who merely covered the song. “Rolling Down To Old Maui” is much older than Stan… The melody to the song comes from “The Miller of Dee” (AKA, The Jolly Miller, and much later, The Jolly Grinder). It first appears in print in 1762 in the ballad opera “Love in a Village” by Isaac Bickerstaffe, and became a rather popular song in northwest England at that time. By the 1830s or 40s the variant “The Jolly Grinder” is found with a rather similar storyline, seemingly updated for that generation. Within a couple of decades the melody has gone to sea and with a change in the time signature has been merged with the words to “Old Mohee” or “Old Maui”; it’s in reference to Kamchatka bowhead whale and Pacific sperm whale fishing, and the Hawaiian Islands, and was found in a journal made aboard the ship the Atkins Adams, which had sailed out of New Bedford, MA in 1858. Gale Huntington includes it in his book “Songs the Whalemen Sang” (p.27) with a different melody than “The Miller of Dee” and in 4 time. He writes he had collected from Frederick Pease Harlow’s “Chanteying Aboard American Ships”. Also found in a “copy book” of a one George Piper who served aboard a whaling vessel from 1866 to 1872.
For Cliff’s page and recording of the song, see his page link here.
It’s a damn tough life full of toil and strife we whalermen undergo.
And we don’t give a damn when the day is done how hard the winds did blow.
We’re a-homeward bound from the Arctic ground with a good ship, taut and free.
And we won’t give a damn when we drink our rum with the girls of Old Maui.
Rolling down to Old Maui, me boys
Rolling down to Old Maui
We’re homeward bound from the Arctic ground
Rolling down to Old Maui.
Once more we sail with a northerly gale towards our island home.
Our mainmast sprung, our whaling done, And we ain’t got far to roam.
Six hellish months have passed away on the cold Kamchatka Sea,
But now we’re bound from the Arctic ground rolling down to Old Maui.
Once more we sail with a northerly gale through the ice and wind and rain.
Them coconut fronds, them tropical lands we soon shall see again.
Our stu’n’s’l boom is carried away; what care we for that sound?
A living gale is after us; thank God we’re homeward bound.
How soft the breeze through the island trees; now the ice is far astern.
Them native maids, them tropical glades, is a-waiting our return.
Even now their big brown eyes look out hoping some fine day to see
Our baggy sails runnin’ ‘fore the gales rolling down to old Maui.