“I'm Going Down the River”


"I'm going down the river before long, Ba-baby..." "I know you're going to miss me when I'm gone." "Miss me from rollin' in your arms." "I think I heard the Joe Fowler blow." "She blowed like she ain't going to blow no more." And so forth


According to Wheeler, the Joe Fowler was one of the large stable of boats built by the Fowler family for use on the Mississippi. Built in 1888, she burned in 1920. Her single-tone whistle was reportedly famous.

Like most pieces in Wheeler, her version of song is more blues than ballad, and consists mostly of words which could appear in any blues. But the reference to a specific boat hints that there might be something more complete out there somewhere.

It is possible that the "Joe Fowler Blues" is a separate song which was taken up entirely in the Wheeler text of "I'm Going Down the River" (after all, she has another "Going Down the River" text which swallowed part of "Chilly Winds" and still a third which is mostly about a man leaving home while boasting of his sexual prowess). But I know of no other versions to prove this, so for the moment they are combined. Roud splits them (10004, 10014, 10043), but they're all one-shots. - RBW


  1. MWheeler, p. 50-51, "I'm Goin' Down the Rivuh" (1 text, 1 tune); also p. 29, "I'm Goin' Down the Rivuh Befo' Long" (1 text, 1 tune, a combination of this blues with "Chilly Winds"); also presumably pp. 46-50, "The Joe Fowler Blues" (1 text, 1 tune, with all of the lyrics found in this song; compare p. 116, "The Kate Adams," with many of the same lyrics) and pp. 114-115, "I'm Goin' Down the Rivuh, Baby" (1 text, 1 tune, with still another set of verses)
  2. Roud #10004, etc.
  3. BI, MWhee050


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1944 (Wheeler)
Keywords: river ship separation
Found in: US