“The County Jail (I)”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1939 (Gardner/Chickering)
Keywords: prison police food hardtimes floatingverses bug
Found in: US(MW) Canada(Newf)

Description

"As I was standing on a corner, Not doing any harm, Along came a policeman And took me by the arm." The singer ends in prison. He watches the bedbugs and cockroaches play ball. The food is terrible: "The coffee tastes like tobacco juice"

Supplemental text

County Jail (I), The
  Partial text(s)

          *** A ***

From Emelyn Elizabeth Gardner and Geraldine Jencks Chickering,
Ballads and Songs of Southern Michigan, p. 357. "Obtained in the
Detention Home, Detroit... from a sixteen-year-old boy of Mohammedan
faith."

As I was standing on a corner,
Not doing any harm,
Along came a policeman
And took me by the arm.

I woke up in the morning
And looked up on the wall.
The bedbugs and the cockroaches
Were playing a game of ball.

I went downstairs to breakfast;
The bread was hard and stale;
The coffee tastes like tobacco juice
In the damned old county jail.

(Stanzas 1, 3, 5 of 5)

Notes

Nearly every part of this has parallels elsewhere, but the combination, particularly the bedbug/cockroach contest, seems to be unique. - RBW

Lehr/Best's tune is close to the usual one and the cockroaches and bedbugs playing ball are replaced by "a hundred and fifty bedbugs playing a game of ball." It has "coffee like tobacco juice and bread so hard as steel." Close enough for me. - BS

Cross references

References

  1. Gardner/Chickering 147, "The County Jail" (1 text)
  2. Lehr/Best 106, "They Locked Me Up in Bonavist' Jail" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. ST GC147 (Partial)
  4. Roud #3673
  5. BI, GC147