“Sea Songs For Little Pirates” Song Origins
Roll The Old Chariot Along
The first time I heard this song it was a version I stumbled across by David Coffin at the Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival. This shanty, originally known as Nelson’s Blood, is also known as We’ll Roll the Old Chariot Along, Roll the Old Chariot, and The Golden Chariot. One version is sung to the tune Drunken Sailor. Like Drunken Sailor, it was a stamp and go shanty, used at the capstan and other jobs at sea where a runaway chorus was needed. Verses could be added as long as necessary to complete the job. Verses were added with hout scouse, fresh sea-pie, new plum duff and glass of whisky hot.* The song is African-American in origin and in some versions a golden wheel is used in place of the chariot. According to Hugill, it was sung around the Dismal Swamp in Georgia at corn shucking and log rollings. Doerflinger writes that it was based on the words of a Salvation Army hymn, and the tune is a Scottish reel. Legend has it that grog aquired the nickname “Nelson’s Blood” after Trafalgar (1805). To preserve Lord Nelson’s body, it was placed in a barrel of rum. Legend has it that when the sailor’s learned of this, they drank the rum. From that time on, grog was also known as “Nelson’s Blood.”
*Shanties From The Seven Seas by Stan Hugill
Its Hard To Be A Pirate
This song was inspired by a general love of pirate folklore having grown up around a bunch of pirate descendants on Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. While taking some jabs at still commonly held superstitions such as bringing bananas on board a ship, creating bad luck, I jokingly suggest healthy eating to prevent scurvy. I also pulled from experiences teaching my little nieces about safety on board, and respecting the captain of a ship, even if it’s just a fourteen foot aluminum john boat with Uncle Jason. I had sat on the original guitar melody for a long time hoping to make a more serious song out of it, but in the end it seemed to fit the theme especially after creating some boot stomps and chain slaps down on my dock for some background percussion.
The Tidal Swing
One of the first oceanography lessons I got to teach my then 3 and 5 year old nieces, Netta and Marie, was about high tides and low tides. The funny accent harkens to my Hatteras Island childhood and my first experience learning about the tides from an old local named Leon Swain who would come by from time to time, barefoot, in cutoff jean shorts (before it was cool), and his white t shirt. In his thick “hoigh toider” brogue accent he would exclaim, “There’s a hoigh toide on the sound soide tonight!” He was one of the sweetest most helpful people and one of the last true “hoigh toiders”. There may be few more left if you know where to look down by the local fishing docks or “down east”. The second verse was inspired by an outing to go collect fresh oysters with Ren, Ani and Frank Chapman during opening day of oyster season. Frank (Ren’s dad) was my original SCUBA instructor while Ren was my original Free Dive instructor. I owe a lot of my ability to fully appreciate my love of the ocean to their family!
Fiddler Crabs Retreat
The small armies of fiddler crabs (Uca pugilator) that inhabit the salt marshes of North Carolina have always struck me as a humorous visual aspect of the intertidal biome. Feeding on bacteria, algae, fungus and detritus they leave behind what look like little cannonballs of sand all the while oxygenating and aerating the marshes. The life of a fiddler crab is precarious though as they are a delicacy for red drum, herons, and egrets. Their name is obvious as the males exhibit sexual dimorphism in the form of a one claw being bigger than the other. They wave their claws to communicate during low tide across the muddy plains of the marshes from which their name derives. At high tide they retreat into burrows they have dug into the ground up to two feet deep (three feet sounded better for songwriting purposes). The latter part of the song, though grim, is an nod to one of my original marine biology professors, Dr. Thomas Shafer. He taught the weed-out course back in my days at UNCW for all those who thought they wanted to become marine biologists. For those of us that made it and got our degrees he became a friend and mentor. His main research subjects were fiddler crabs. Injecting them in their eye stalks to study the relationship of hormones and chromatophores (color changing pigment), and their ability to change colors was fascinating.
As soon as I finished my time at UNCW I immediately began working at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher and for UNCW’s Marine Quest marine biology camps. One lesson we always taught which continued into my time as a professional surf instructor was the “stingray shuffle”. One way to eliminate the fear of the ocean is to educate. Stingrays are docile cousins of the sharks. Unfortunately, their self defense mechanisms are rigid barbed stingers with a touch of venom. So if they feel like they’re being attacked (a clumsy human stomps into the shallow water) the barbed stinger goes up. By shuffling through the water, one can create vibrations essentially letting them know you’re coming and instead of stomping on their wings your toes will slide up alongside their wings giving them plenty of time to scoot away. As a teenage punk rocker growing up on Hatteras, my family ran a little motel, and one of our frequent guests happened to be the legendary Don Zientara who recorded and produced most of the famous punk rock bands in DC back in the 80’s such as Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, and Bad Brains. Each season he and his buddy would come down, surf, and he’d drop off the newest Fugazi album he’d been working on. As my interest in playing and recording music grew over time, Don became a friend and mentor inviting me to Inner Ear studios and stay in the fabled basement of his Arlington home where many of my favorite records were made. Don not only graciously lent his voice and stamp on the album, but much of my love and knowledge of music and recording as well for which I am forever grateful.
The Deep Blue
I wrote this song while out at sea for a week and a half on the most awe-inspiring life changing voyages I’ve ever been on. I realize that most people will never experience the depths and breadth of the ocean, which covers most of the earth’s surface, provides 80% of the world’s oxygen, and is by far the most important aspect of our planet with respect to climate and biology. It’s arguably the most fascinating and beautiful part of planet earth and has always been my first love. From surfing, to fishing, to diving, it has provided so much and been a centerpiece for me and my family’s lives. From the largest creatures to the smallest, it is constantly awe inspiring. It contains and preserves so many clues to our recent past, ancient history, and origins from a cultural, biological, and geological perspective. All of the beauty and appreciation for all that the ocean provides us can’t be wrapped up in a song, but hopefully it encourages young ones to take the first steps, get out there, and explore the deep blue.
No Use For Single Use
The quintessential punk rock song of the album garners its name from one of my favorite punk rock bands, No Use For A Name, combined with the modern-day environmental catastrophe of single use plastics making their way into our oceans. From the age of 10, the raw spirit and energy of punk rock has always stuck with me as a form of protest and call for social change. Along with many other global non-profits my friends at Plastic Ocean Project in Wilmington and Eco Marines in Brisbane, Australia are making headway in exposing, educating, and finding solutions to the issue. They are empowering the next generation to be aware of the mistakes previous generations have made and unfortunately clean up our/their mess. I borrowed a couple names in the song from my niece and the son of one my life long surfing buddies.
The Crab Pot Blues
Blue crabs are North Carolina’s number one fishery, and having grown up on an island where fishing was second only to tourism it seemed fitting to write a blues song from the perspective of the poor delicious little crustaceans. I figured I would include some education on current proper fishing practices and the incredible ability of crabs to molt in order to grow bigger and reproduce claws, legs, antennae, and even their eye stalks (which technically grow back into more antennae).
The Ballad of Mary Lee
Around 2012, a group known as Ocearch began tagging, tracking, and researching the movements of great white sharks in the North Atlantic, which up to that point were thought rare if not absent all together. Mary Lee, a 3,465 lb 16 foot queen of the sea became the beloved female great white crush for marine biology nerds up and down the east coast. She was tagged on September 17, 2012 and named after the Ocearch founder’s (Chris Fisher) mother. Thought to be in her 50’s she visited my beloved beaches of Cape Hatteras in her journey as well as passing through the Cape Fear River and out to Wrightsville Beach one cold winter day while some friends and I were surfing. The last we heard from the legendary lady was June 17, 2017 after which her tag fell off or failed. I was thankful to have my friend and fellow musician, Crystal Bright, collaborate with me and provide the haunting voice of Mary Lee and her accordion.