While running through the numbers we are going to do for our upcoming set, I decided it would be fun to do a little research one each song, to have some talking points if we needed them.
The first wiki I looked at had this:
"The John B. Sails" is a folk song that first appeared in a 1917 American novel, Pieces of Eight, written by Richard Le Gallienne. The "secret" narrator of the story describes it as "one of the quaint Nassau ditties," the first verse and chorus of which are:
Come on the sloop John B.
My grandfather and me,
Round Nassau town we did roam;
Drinking all night, ve got in a fight,
Ve feel so break-up, ve vant to go home.
So h'ist up the John B. sails,
See how the mainsail set,
Send for the captain—shore, let us go home,
Let me go home, let me go home,
I feel so break-up, I vant to go home.
Who knew that? I knew the Kingston Trio did it, back in their heyday, and that they probably copped it from some island folk song. And that the Beach Boys picked it up and did better harmonies.
And I didn't know any of what follows:
The song was originally a traditional West Indies folk song, "The John B. Sails," taken from a collection by Carl Sandburg (1927). Alan Lomax made a field recording of the song in Nassau, 1935, under the title "Histe Up the John B. Sail." This recording appears on the album Bahamas 1935: Chanteys And Anthems From Andros And Cat Island. The song was adapted by The Weavers member Lee Hays and they recorded it as "The Wreck of the John B." The Kingston Trio's 1958 recording of the song, also under the title "The Wreck of the John B.," was the direct influence on the Beach Boys' version. Johnny Cash recorded the song in 1959 as "I Want To Go Home."
The Beach Boys version of "Sloop John B." was ranked #271 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The John B. was an old sponger boat - presumably a sloop - whose crew were in the habit of getting notoriously merry whenever they made port. It was wrecked and sunk at Governor's Harbour in Eleuthera, The Bahamas, in about 1900.
Got to love standing by the side of the information highway watching the big rigs blow past.