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Boat's Up The River

Sung with banjo in key of E by Ola Belle Reed. 

  • Picture and recording of Reed on Dust-to-Digital.
  • We heard this long ago on a cassette tape called Old-Time Banjo in America (Kicking Mule 204, 1978), a collection of field recordings by Art Rosenbaum of New York City. The album is shown here.
  • We were reminded of the cassette by a blog called banjo journeys by Chuck Levy, who worked out the tuning and finger picking style.
  • The lyrics seem to state the obvious. The boat is Alabamy Bound; the river flows south. The old Waterbury won't keep time. This was a cheap watch, included free with a pair of overalls, from the Waterbury Watch Company in Waterbury Connecticut.
Boat's up the river won't come down
tell by the way she's comin', Alabamy bound.
Alabamy bound, boys, Alabamy bound
Tell by the way she's comin', Alabamy bound.

Well there' just one thing that bothers my mind
it's my old Waterbury, she can't keep time
She won't keep time boys, can't keep time
it's my old Waterbury, she can't keep time

Playing 5-string banjo in E.
  • Tuning: g# E G# B E (suggested to retune with capo on 1st or 2nd fret).
  • Fingering E chord: o 0 0 0 0 (open)
  • Fingering A chord: x 0 1 2 0 (no drone)
  • Fingering B chord: x 2 3 4 2 (no drone, bar 2nd fret)
  • This tune can be played mostly open, fingering the individual notes without strumming chords.
The Ola Belle Reed festival site is my source for the beautiful icon shown here. The image is a transformation of a black & white photograph, with the background changed to make Reed part of the mountains. Reed was from Lansing, North Carolina. She lived in Chester County Pennsylvania and Cecil County Maryland where she performed with her family live and on radio. She played a resonator banjo and used her own picking style.