Leave Her, Johnny

January 31, 2011 10:49 PM

Here is an entry for the January Challenge! It is by me and rangefinder 1.4. It is a cover of "Leave Her, Johnny," a traditional sea shanty that was sung by sailors at the end of a voyage, as they were preparing to leave their ship ("her" in the song).

rangefinder 1.4:
- guitars, lead and background vocals

- keys, drum loop (riq, bodhran, shaker), marxophone, distorted autoharp, and backing vox. (Also, Karlos' wife did a tiny bit of backing vox as well.)

Most of the lyrics are from Stan Hugill's Shanties from the Seven Seas, I think -- rangefinder assembled the verses she wanted and will correct me if I'm wrong.

posted by Karlos the Jackal (13 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite


More background on the song:

The song's melody and some of the lyrics apparently began life as "Across the Rockies" and then "Across the Western Ocean" (or at least they're all very closely related). There are also variations of "Leave Her, Johnny" with lyrics that are more about working on the ship rather than leaving the ship. (For folk song geeks: "Leave Her, Johnny" is Roud Folk Song Index # 354.)

Karlos was nice and let me have final say on the lyrics, but he helped majorly with the prep work of figuring out which ones to keep, how many to use, word choices, and how to order them. We found over 30 verses for the "voyage ending" version of "Leave Her, Johnny" (thanks to Karlos and his Stan Hugill book, and thanks to the internets). Karlos is right -- most of the verses we chose are from the Hugill book. I borrowed a few from "Across the Western Ocean" and I think we also melded a verse together from a couple of different ones.

Here are the lyrics for this version:
Leave Her, Johnny

Oh, I thought I heard the old man say
Leave her, Johnny, leave her
It's a long, hard pull to the next pay day
And it's time for us to leave her

Leave her, Johnny, leave her
Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her
Oh, the voyage is done and the winds don't blow
And it's time for us to leave her

The times were hard and the wages low
Leave her, Johnny, leave her
And now once more ashore we'll go
And it's time for us to leave her

Well, the skipper was bad, but the mate was worse
Leave her, Johnny, leave her
He would blow you down with a spite and a curse
And it's time for us to leave her

There's Liverpool Pat with his tarpaulin hat
Leave her, Johnny, leave her
And Yankee Jack the packet rat
And it's time for us to leave her

The wind was foul an' the sea ran high
Leave her, Johnny, leave her
She shipped it green an' none went by
And it's time for us to leave her

Oh, I thought I heard the old man say
Leave her, Johnny, leave her
One more good pull an' then belay
And it's time for us to leave her

Some notes from me:

When I first heard the final mix tonight, I was floored. I've said this to him already, but I would like to say again here: Karlos, I am seriously, seriously impressed by the awesomeness you added, and thanks to Mrs. Karlos, too!

Big thanks also to Karlos for introducing me to the song in the first place, being so patient with me and my unpolished performances/tracks, doing such a fierce and fantastic job with his part of the arrangement *and* corralling everything together and mixing the song in time to meet the challenge deadline. Huzzah!
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 11:29 PM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

that's beautiful, thanks ! I love these folk songs, and you've provided such a sweet rendition here.
posted by nicolin at 1:57 AM on February 1, 2011

yes, lovely!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:10 AM on February 1, 2011

Those guitars are gorgeous, likewise the vocal performance, and I really love the autoharp drone throughout. The whole thing is beautiful.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:05 AM on February 1, 2011

This is really pretty. The vocals are beautiful.

I love the gently distorted autoharp. It has this uncanny its-a-guitar/-its-not-a-guitar sound that makes you do a double take.

I also like how singer is idling her motorcycle at the dock, impatient for Johnny to get off that confounded boat so that they can take a trip to the chalk cliffs.
posted by umbú at 6:54 AM on February 1, 2011

Just lovely. That particular zithery sound (that's the marxophone, no?) is amazing.
posted by mintcake! at 8:35 AM on February 1, 2011

Yeah, the Marxophone is the plinky bit that starts at 2:10 and runs through the next verse and chorus. The reedy-droney stuff is a NanoSynth.

The distorted autoharp (starting around 3:00) is interesting (to me!) because the key of A is not a key that the autoharp is real good with -- it has no built-in C#m chord, for instance. The cool thing, though, about the autoharp is the mechanical way it makes chords; I pulled out one of my backup 'harps and cut some custom felt chord bars for it, and since I knew I'd be running it through my Hi-Watt and distorting it, I went ahead and made them power chords. (It's still not ideal for A, since there's a lack of the right strings in the bass section, but the way I was using it here, it didn't matter.) Power chords, as it turns out, are pretty neat.

It was cool working with rangefinder on this; I lucked out getting her in the draw. Our method was: after choosing a song to cover, I made a simple chords-and-rhythm "bed" which rangefinder used to record vox, backup vox, a guitar track, and two guitar solo tracks (hardpanned in the final mix). Then I took that, restructured the chords and rhythm, dumped some more stuff in, and Bob's your uncle. Aces!
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 12:33 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gah, just beautiful. The mix is great, the vocals gorgeous. The distorted autoharp is perfect in a way I never would have guessed. It's so distant that I just thought it was part of the organ sound at first. They fit really well together.
posted by Corduroy at 2:24 PM on February 1, 2011

Just totally gorgeous. Such a cozy lullaby feel.
posted by cortex at 4:12 PM on February 1, 2011

Wow, you guys are really amazing! You're right Karlos, that was a very lucky draw and I'm very happy that it turned out this way. You two compliment each other beautifully!
posted by snsranch at 5:48 PM on February 1, 2011

Absolutely stunning. More like this please!
posted by chrchr at 10:35 PM on February 1, 2011

i've heard some great stuff on here over the last year or so but this is something else. i would pay money for an album of this kind of thing. honest. i've done it before. and karlos has a marxophone, which almost outdoes flapjax's korg synth in the cool stakes. seriously though, this is utterly fucking gorgeous. immaculately done. thankyou.
posted by peterkins at 4:14 PM on February 2, 2011

Wow, thanks everyone for your kind words.

I was really enthused when I found out Karlos was my random collaborator. Admittedly I'm more of a lurker, especially on MeMu, but I knew he was a regular here and that he played a lot of really neat instruments.

During our discussions, I was disappointed to find out that autoharp wasn't ideal for the key of A (which my voice picked out for this song), so it was a very nice surprise to hear the crunchy autoharp chords in the mix later. As a fan of zither I think it's especially cool to be in a recording with a Marxophone as well. (BTW Karlos, as someone who knows pretty much nothing about autoharps, I had no idea that you could make new chord bars like that! That is interesting.)

I was telling Karlos yesterday that I'd be open to revisiting the song sometime and working on it some more. I did find that the lead vocal part was a bit of a challenge...the track that made it onto the mix was done pretty quickly because of time restraints, and I just know I could do better with some of the pitches. That aside though, I'm definitely happy with what we were able to get done. We've already broached the idea of another collaboration down the line sometime. Hopefully whatever it is will be in a key that's good for autoharp...

Tangential note, for anyone who downloaded the mp3: the artist name (Rangefindarrr & Karrrlos) is based on a jokey suggestion I'd made after wondering if we should have a group name. It made me chuckle when I got the file from Karlos and saw that he'd actually taken the suggestion and added a couple of more "R"s (I agree it works better that way). He also switched the order of our names so that I was first (you didn't have to do that, you know...thanks :-) ).
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 9:53 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

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