|Escape of Old John Webb
© & Publication Credit Not
|ELSEWHERE ON THIS PAGE:|
|Nick Reynolds (vocal, guitar), Bob Shane (vocal, guitar), Dave Guard (vocal, guitar), Buck Wheat (bass):|
|Song Specific Liner Notes|
|Other Notes of Interest|
|a 1960 music industry trade publication Capitol Records promotional ad for The Kingston Trio, announcing the release of their single "Bad Man Blunder" and "Escape of Old John Webb." The original advertisement measures approximately 15.5" x 11" overall. CLICK on the thumbnail to view larger image|
|Posted by Tom Drake to the KINGSTON TRIO PLACE FORUM on 2/5/2000, 2:45 pm as a new thread "On Top Of Old Folkie" The post was in response to multiple posts by others speculating on the origins/authorship of "The Escape of Old John Webb.||I
was going to leave this subject alone, but you all seem
sincerely interested, so here's how I "wrote"
The Escape of Old John Webb.
Bobby Shane (yes, we all called him Bobby back then) was a friend and knew of my music/academic background and asked me to find him some old songs. I spent a couple of days in the library and sent him some tunes. John Webb made it to the top of the pile. None of us understood the content or knew its background. Someone (I think it was Voyle Gilmore) suggested I fill in the gaps so the lyrics made more sense. I wrote the linking verses and changed things around to tell a linear story. The end.
Until Bobby called from the studio and said there was no copyright on the piece so they were putting me down as the writer. I had no idea what that meant. And no expectations. But when my first royalty check exceeded my annual salary as a high school English teacher, I was soon in the music business.
This is not an apology. The revision of public domain material is an established and vital part of the folk process. You take what you hear and you bring it up to date. What changed in our day was how it got passed on. Hit records were unheard of. Mass popularity was a myth.
The Lomax passage quoted is probably as accurate as folk scholarship can be. The text was not an instant bestseller in 1960. I didn't see it until decades later. My source for John Webb was far more mundane -- a popular songbook from the 40's or 50's that described it as a rousing revolutionary ditty. Perhaps a more appropriate credit would have been, "Traditional: Adapted By..." because I definitely created the content of the Trio's version. But just for the record (ha ha) I never said I "wrote" it. I did, however, gratefully take the money.
The arrangements then were usually done jointly by the guys in rehearsal. I was at a few of them in Dave's time and they pretty much worked it out amongst themselves until it got good. With Buckwheat to keep them in tune.
Finally, I'm awed and appreciative that there is so much affection for the Trio and what we did on the fly 40 years ago. Thanks to all. It's very gratifying.
-- Tom Drake
|Posted by Pete Curry on 9/8/2000, 11:19 pm||In
the KT song "The Escape of Old John Webb," I've
always wondered why the prisoner is identified as "Bill
Tenor" in the first verse and as John Webb (or
"Johnny") everywhere else.
After forty years, I think I've found the answer.
According to Alan Lomax's "Folk Songs of North America," the song (which is titled "Billy Broke Locks" in his volume) dates back to about 1737.
Quoting Lomax: "At that time exchange in the colonies was based upon Spanish coinage, which brought a different price in the various capitals. Parliament attempted to resolve this confusion by several issues of paper money called 'tenors'; but when the 'new tenor' replaced the 'old tenor,' disturbances broke out in Massachusetts... John Webb (or Webber) then mint-master of Salem, Massachusetts, apparently stuck to 'Old Tenor,' and for this offence [sic.] was sent to prison."
Anyway, Webb's friends broke into the jail, helped him escape, and the rest we know.
Lomax then prints the lyrics as he got them--from "British Ballads from Maine" by Phillips Barry (Yale University Press,1929). The first verse in Lomax is as follows:
There were nine to hold
the British ranks,
"Old Tenor" (as opposed to "Bill Tenor") makes sense because it is clearly a reference to John Webb who stood up for the old currency. But apparently, somewhere between the publication of the Barry book in 1929 and the Trio's recording in 1960, "Old Tenor" got changed to "Bill Tenor." Thus the prisoner ended up with his mysterious double-identity!
Regards, Pete Curry
|Posted to the Kingston Crossroads by Fred on 12/22/2001, 10:30 am||
FOLK SONGS OF NORTH AMERICA by Alan Lomax refers to the song as "Billy Broke Locks" and has the following to say about it:
|Covers by other artists|
|Artist's Name||ALBUM||CATALOG NO.|
|Escape of Old John Webb|
|Five men to guard the
and five to watch the town above
And two to stand at either hand
and one to let Bill Tenner out.
eighty weight of Spanish iron
So they stole them a horse
and away did ride
The British were comin'
close on their heels
So they called at the inn
for a room to dance