Ramsey State Farm 4/39

Sacred material, lyric songs, blues, and a holler performed by incarcerated men at the Ramsey State Farm. From Ruby T. Lomax's field notes: "After we had recorded the choral parts of the religious drama, The Good Thief, at the home of the Lopez family on a arm near Sugarland, Texas, we drove to the Central State Farm near Sugarland. The Captain had a good dinner served us and assisted Mr. Lomax in trying to locate singers. In previous years Central Farm had 'entertained' such singers as Clear Rock and Iron Head, who had made recordings. But this trip was fruitless. The old crowd had scattered, the new boys sang less fewer of the old songs and in performance imitated radio artists. We did not set up the machine. We found about the same situation at the Darrington Farm some thirty miles away, few singers and these not interested in old songs or the old manner of singing.

Our next stop was at Camp Four of the Ramsey State Farm, where most of the habituals and incorrigibles stay. With the help of the Captain and some of his guards we located some singers, who were admitted one by one or by small groups into a small office where the recording machine was set up. In one of these groups included Columbus Christopher, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington, who sang for us under guard, behind three sets of locks. Just outside this office we could look down on the dormitory room, where Negro convicts were playing cards, reading, talking, singing blues, listening to an exhorter, sleeping. One boy was standing on a barrel as punishment for some minor violation of rules. We saw the boys go in to supper, in a line, both hands on the shoulders of the man in front of him.

Among the boys whom we found there was Iron Head (James Baker) now back 'in the line,' old and broken, assigned to the garden squad. He had been paroled from Central Farm by Governor Allred, but after a few months he was sent back for burglary, 'po'ch climbin.' At first he was shy and stayed in the background, as if ashamed for Mr. Lomax, who had petitioned for his parole, to find him in worse case, no longer even a trusty. But finally he came forward, either drawn by love of music or by 'pride of profession,' for he had made many beautiful recordings for the Lomaxes and after his parole was granted he had traveled with Mr. John Lomax through the South on a recording trip. Impatiently Iron Head broke into a group's singing of some popular music-hall ditty, 'No he don't want that kind o' stuff. This is kindly what he's after,' and he started off on an old-time spiritual. Later he recorded it: 'This heart o' mine, God's goin' save this heart o' mine,' with this remarkable stanza: 'Mary had one virgin son, She rocked Him in the cradle of number one.' Another of his spirituals, 'Elder, will you march down to Jordan?' includes this couplet: 'Religion is somethin' like a bloomin' rose: None can tell that doesn't know.' Iron Head claims his nickname from this story: One day when he was cutting timber, a big tree caught him and one of its largest limbs struck him down across the head. The limb broke in two, but Iron Head shook it off and went on back to work.

Two boys claimed the nickname of the famous 'Stavin' Chain'; they compromised by accepting the amended names, 'Big Stavin' Chain' and 'Little Stavin' Chain'. Another boy was called claimed 'Jaybird,' from his physical appearance. It was customary to set down nicknames of singers along with their names, which caused some embarrassment at Ramsey. In routine manner, 'What is your name?' asked Mrs. Lomax of one of the singers. He gave it readily. 'Your nickname?' No reply, just a shuffling of feet. 'Haven't you a nickname?' Again a shuffling of feet, and then hesitatingly: 'Dey calls me Monkey.' A swift glance at the boy's features stopped the usual 'How did you get that nickname?' Mrs. Lomax changed to an embarrassed and especially cordial 'Thank you.' Supper with the white guards closed our day at Ramsey."

Don't You Want Jesus to Walk Around Your Sick Bedside

This Heart O' Mine

Elder, Will You March Down

Jesus Getting Us Ready For that Great Day

My Mother Keeps On Praying For Me

I'm Gonna Trust In the Lord

One Day Too Late

Smoky Mountain Blues

Ella Speed

Worried Blues

Come On and Bow Down

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