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Ola Belle Reed -- Boat's Up The River

Posted by rrode on Saturday, December 22, 2012

On swapacd.com I posted a bunch of old CDs that I no longer listen to.  And in return occasionally pick up something interesting.  One of the better albums is titled Blue Ribbon Banjo which includes "Boat's up the river" by Ola Belle Reed.  Something about her singing and that song captivated me.  It was the first I heard of her, but it took only a little digging to discover her legacy in country music and as a 'banjo pickin' gal.'  For more on Ola Belle Reed pick up a copy of A Banjo Pickin' Girl by Judy H. Marti, 1934 Wenksville Rd., Biglerville, PA 17307, www.broadvalleyorchard.com .  I think Elderly Music also carries it.

Judy Marti provides a complete overview of Reed's life and musical story, informed in large part by her personal relationship with Ola.  The book includes music tab for some of Ola's songs, including Boat's up the river.  But I found the tab a little difficult to read and it didn't seem to match the recording I have on Blue Ribbon Banjo.  Using the Music Trainer app on my iPhone I worked up my own tab version, and just posted it in the tab archive under the name Alabama Bound.  In this version I have added two verses based on a thread I found on mudcat.org.  Ola's version only has two verses, and it felt like it was missing something. 

Based on Marti's notes, and some other online research, I believe the roots of this song are an african-american worksong from the river packet days.  In the mid-late 19th century there were over 2,000 Mississippi river system steamers each with about 50 roustabouts on board.  The roustabout carried everything from live pigs to cotton bales. Between loading and unloading, the men rested on deck, gambled and ate -- and maybe sang or played a banjar?  The old Waterbury?  It is a pocket watch manufactured in Waterbury Connecticut.

I will post an mp3 of the song sometime in the next couple of days.  Here are the words:

Well boat's up the river, won't come down.  By the way that she's headed, she's Alabama bound
   She's Alabama bound, Alabama bound,    By the way that she's headed, She's Alabama bound

*Oh, the boat's up the river, And the tide's goin' down, I believe to my soul that, she's Alabama bound.
  Alabama bound,  Alabama bound,   I belive to my soul that, he's Alabama bound

*Where was you sweet mama when the boat come down, On the deck baby yellin',  Alabama bound
  Alabama bound, Alabama bound,  On the deck baby yellin', Alabama bound

Well there ain't but one thing, that bother's my mind., It's my old Waterbury and she won't keep time,
  No she won't keep time, won't keep time,   It's my old Waterbury and she won't keep time

* Additional lyrics based on a thread at http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=54404#841817



2 comments on “Ola Belle Reed -- Boat's Up The River”

davehicks Says:
Sunday, December 23, 2012 @7:22:20 AM

You can go to youtube, see and hear her original flathead gibson.

rrode Says:
Sunday, December 23, 2012 @10:46:29 AM

Thanks for the comment. I will look for that.

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