“Alabama Bound (I) (Waterbound II)”


"Oh, the boat's up the river And the tide's gone down; I believe to my soul She's (Alabama/water) bound." Lovers are reunited by boat and train, Alabama bound. The Arctic explorer Cook is also mentioned as being Alabama bound to escape the cold.


Not to be confused with the Lead Belly song "Alabama Bound." - RBW

I assign the Holcomb recording to "Alabama Bound (I)" reluctantly, and for want of a better place to put it. He sings the same first verse (with "waterbound" rather than "Alabama bound"); the rest of the song is composed of floating blues verses. - PJS

That seems to be pretty typical, actually. This isn't so much a song as a first verse, a tune, and a bluesy feel. Wheeler's three assorted texts are examples of the same phenomenon, and Scarborough's has the one verse and four other unrelated blues verses. - RBW

There is also a popular song, "Alabamy Bound," with words and music by Bud De Sylva, Bud Green, and Ray Henderson, published in 1925. As far as I can determine, it's not related to this song. - PJS

There is an interesting problem here in figuring out who is meant by the reference to the Arctic explorer Cook. The Botkin text, from Coleman and Bregman, reads

Doctuh Cook's in town,

Doctuh Cook's in town,

He foun' de No'th Pole so doggone cole

He's Alabama boun'.

This version comes from a book copyright 1942.

But there are two Cooks who explored the Arctic. Admittedly only one was entitled to be called "Doctor," but in the time of the first Cook, the term was used rather more loosely.

Captain James Cook (1728-1779) explored the Labrador and Newfoundland areas in the 1760s, and the Alaskan and Siberian coasts on his last voyage (1776-1779) -- though of course never came anywhere near the North Pole; he only briefly made it above 70 degrees north. Still, his penetration of the Bering Strait in 1778 brought him north of the Arctic Circle and opened the way for exploration of Alaska's North Shore; it was the "Farthest North" in that part of the world for many years, and it would be half a century before anyone made it much north of that mark in any part of the world. Thus it is reasonable to refer to Cook as at leasts approaching the North Pole.

Cook had aslo explored the Antarctic on his previous voyage (1772-1775); that probably brought back more useful information than the third voyage. It wasn't the Arctic, of course, but it was at least as cold. And he lived through it.

On the other hand, Dr. Frederick Cook (who was in fact a medical doctor) made several visits to the Arctic, and in 1908 claimed that he and two Eskimos had reached the North Pole. His claim was subjected to much question (see the notes to "Hurrah for Baffin's Bay"), and is probably to be rejected. He nonetheless ended up as something of a nine day wonder; we have to guess whether his brief fame, or Captain Cook's enduring fame, is more likely to have inspired this song. This would obviously be easier if we had more and better texts of the relevant verse. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1776-1779 - Third and last exploratory voyage of Captain Cook, which in 1778 explored the Arctic Ocean north of Siberia and Alaska
  • 1908 - Dr. Frederick Cook claims to reach the North Pole

Cross references

  • cf. "Train That Carried My Girl from Town" (floating verses)


  • Arthur "Brother-in-Law" Armstrong, "The Boat's Up the River" (AFS 3979 B3, 1940)
  • Delmore Brothers, "I'm Alabama Bound" (Bluebird B-8264, 1939)
  • Roscoe Holcomb, "Boat's Up the River" (on Holcomb1, HolcombCD1)
  • Charlie Jackson, "I'm Alabama Bound" (Paramount 12289, 1925)


  1. Botkin-MRFolklr, p. 598, "Alabama Bound" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. MWheeler, pp. 27-28, "I'm the Man That Kin Raise So Long" (1 text, 1 tune); p. 53, "Ferd Harold Blues" (1 text, 1 tune); pp. 113-114, "Big Boat's Up the Rivuh" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Scarborough-NegroFS, p. 236, (no title) (1 text, which appears more a collection of blues stanzas than an actual song, but verses from songs such as "Boat's Up the River" and "I Got a Gal in de White Folks' Yard")
  4. BI, BMRF598


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1925 (recording, Charlie Jackson)
Found in: US(SE)