“Joe Turner”


"They tell me Joe Turner he done come (or "done come and gone") (x2), Got my man and gone." "He come with forty links of chain (x2), Got my man and gone."


Courlander reports that this was based on an incident on 1892, when a flood cost a number of people their livelihood. A storekeeper named Turner (though not Joe Turner) anonymously supplied their needs until he died, whereupon the gifts stopped.

It should be noted, however, that this does not match Sandburg's song at all, though it has the same lyrics as Courlander's fragment. Presumably Courlander's source adapted an older song to a local need. In support of this, we note that Handy/Silverman, though dating the song to the same time, regard Turner (actually Joe Tourney, brother of the governor of Tennessee) as the leader of a chain gang.

Scarborough tells a variant on the same story: Joe Turner was the brother of one-time Tennessee governor Pete Turner, and seems to have been an enforcer of Jim Crow laws, grabbing Blacks seemingly at random and subjecting them to prosecution in kangaroo courts.

The notes in Handy/Silverman regard this as the archetypal folk blues -- perhaps even the ancestor of the entire genre. The former statement may arguably be true; the latter I must seriously doubt. It seems more like the ancestor of the popular blues. Handy, according to Scarborough, admitted to using the traditional piece and supressing Turner the corrupt policeman and turning him into a missing lover. - RBW


  1. Sandburg, p. 241, "Joe Turner" (1 short text, 1 tune)
  2. Courlander-NFM, p. 137, (no title) (1 fragment)
  3. Scarborough-NegroFS, p. 265, (no title) (1 fragment), followed by p. 266, (Joe Turner Blues) (1 text, the Handy version)
  4. Handy/Silverman-Blues, p. 104-107, "Joe Turner Blues" (1 text, 1 tune, extremely heavily adapted; the original tune, with a single verse, appears on page 17)
  6. BI, San241


Alternate titles: “Going Down the River for Long”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1915 (copyright, W. C. Handy)
Keywords: separation police
Found in: US