“Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line”

Author: Uncle Dave Macon?
Earliest date: 1925 (collected by Robert W. Gordon; text in Green-Miner)
Keywords: strike labor-movement mining work scab prisoner
Found in: US(SE)

Description

First verse describes leasing out of convicts to act as scabs in a miners' strike; rest of song describes bad conditions for the convicts.

Supplemental text

Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

As recorded by Uncle Dave Macon, Brunswick 292, July 25, 1928.
Transcribed by Robert B. Waltz

Way back in Tennessee they leased the convicts out,
They worked them in the mines against free labor stout.
Free labor rebelled against it, to win it took some time,
But while the lease was in effect, they made 'em rise and shine.

  Chorus
    Oh, Buddy, won't you roll down the line,
    Buddy, won't you roll down the line,
    Yonder comes my darling, coming down the line.
    Buddy, won't you roll down the line,
    Buddy, won't you roll down the line,
    Yonder comes my darling, coming down the line.

Every Monday morning they've got 'em out on time,
March them down to Lone Rock so they look into that mine.
March you down to Lone Rock so you look into that hole.
Very last word the captain said, "You better get your pole."

The beans they are half done, the bread is not so well.
The meat it is burnt up and the coffee's black as heck.
But when you get your task done, you'll gladly come to call,
For anything you get to eat it tastes good done or raw.

The bank boss is a hard man, a man you all know well,
And if you don't get your task done, he's gonna give you hallelujah.
Carry you to the stockade as on the floor you'll fall,
Very next time they call on you, you'll bet you'll have your pole.

Notes

This strike apparently took place in Tennessee in the 1880s, according to notes in Asch/Dunson/Raim.

Like most of Uncle Dave Macon's songs, this piece is basically free-association. - PJS

Though it may in fact predate him. He gave it the authentic Uncle Dave spin, but how many other Uncle Dave songs have such strong historical roots? Many believe the song to go back to the actual event it describes. (For details, see the notes to "Coal Creek Troubles.") - RBW

Macon's song seems to have been a rewrite of "Chain Gang Special," with the "leased the convicts out" verse tacked onto a song that's basically the lament of a black convict who's been sentenced to the chain gang. The racial overtones that Macon softens are clear in the Watts & Wilson recording: "Big nigger, won't you roll down the line." Interestingly, their song is clearly (and sympathetically) told from the black prisoner's point of view, rare for a white band.

"Lone Rock Mine Song" and "Humpy Hargis" date from the early 1890s, but they are fragments; I've somewhat arbitrarily placed the Earliest Date for a non-fragmentary version of the song at 1925, when it was collected by Gordon from William H. Stevens. - PJS

Cross references

Recordings

References

  1. Green-Miner, p. 195-197,"Roll Down the Line"; p. 198, "Convict Song" (1 text); p. 210, "Chain Gang Special" (1 text); p. 203, "Roll Down the Line" (1 text, 1 tune); p. 208, "Lone Rock Song" (1 text); p. 216 ,"Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line" (1 text, transcribed from Uncle Dave Macon's recording); p. 220, "Rollin' Down the Line" (1 text); p. 223, "Lone Rock Mine Song" (1 text); p. 225, "Humpy Hargis" (1 text)
  2. Asch/Dunson/Raim, p. 98 "Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Cohen/Seeger/Wood, pp. 204-205, "Buddy, Won't You Roll Down the Line" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Darling-NAS, pp. 366-367, "Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line" (1 text)
  5. ST ADR98 (Full)
  6. BI, ADR98