I recently heard some lyrics to the song “Didn’t He Ramble” and started to wonder “What’s all this about ‘rambling ‘round the town till the butchers cut him down’? What kind of violent story begat this song?”
So I did a little research and found this fantastic account of the evolution of this song by a fellow named Bob Waltz (great name!), under the umbrella of “Remembering the Old Songs” on this wonderful site: http://www.lizlyle.lofgrens.org/RmOlSngs/RTOS-DidntHeRamble.html.
Seems the song started as a tall-tale song in Great Britain about a giant ram with lyrics like
Now the butcher that killed this ram, sir,
Was up to his knees in blood;
The boy that held the bowl, sir,
Was washed away in the flood.
The song’s transformation into an American cathousin’ song seems to have roots to WC Handy, and was taken into the Bluegrass fold and under Jelly Roll Morton’s wing. The ram was then turned into a ne’er-do-well man about town: a “black sheep.” Some WC Handy lyrics:
This black sheep was a terror, oh!
and such a ram was he,
That every “copper” knew by heart
his rambling pedigree.
But I have to say, I was most enamored with lyrics credited to Louis Armstrong (online, anyway…who knows the veracity of that fact!) — especially the Storyville part of the tale that takes us to the cathouse with this guy:
He slipped into the cat house..made love to the stable
Madam caught him cold..said I’ll pay you when I be able
Six months had passed ..and she stood all she could stand
She said buddy when I’m through with you
Ole groundhog gonna be shakin yo’ hand
There was another line in this version where another woman is about to bring her violent wrath down on him:
His feet was in the market place..his head was in the street
Lady pass him by, said..look at the market meat
He grabbed her pocket book..and said I wish you well
She pulled out a forty-five..said I’m head of personnel
These are Wild West women! Good stories.