Work Song

This is provided primarily as an example of what is termed a "work song" that was used to help keep a cadence when work crews were doing various repetitive movements.  Most  songs such as this had their origins in the chanting of the gang foreman who set the pace for gangs of field hands doing such tasks as hoeing ('chopping' cotton, primarily).  After the era of slavery and the large, hand-tended plantations, the songs or chants found their way into other tasks.   Probably the most familiar use of the songs in the modern era is as cadence calls for prison work gangs cutting timber, hoeing prison fields and, the most dreaded of all, breaking rocks for gravel.

The song below can be heard in the Mississippi-made movie, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" in which it was used to demonstrate a prison road gang's work.  When used as a true cadence-keeper, the tempo must be slowed quite a bit or the bulk of the workers would keel over from overwork.  The words of the song are the same regardless of the tempo at which they are sung.  The MP3 file version below is the faster tempo version, called by some as the "white man's version" since the bulk of the singers/chanters that have used the song for work were black.

 

Po' Lazarus

(Traditional with 3rd verse 'tweaked' to set the scene in Amite County)

 

Well, the high sheriff he told his deputy

He said, "Go out and bring me Lazarus"

Well, the high sheriff told his deputy

Says go out and bring me Lazarus

Bring him dead or alive, Lord, Oh Lord, bring him dead or alive

 

Well the deputy he told the high sheriff

He said, "I ain't gonna mess with Lazarus"

Well the deputy he told the high sheriff

Says I ain't gonna mess with Lazarus

‘Cause he's a dangerous man, Lord, Oh Lord, he's a dangerous man

 

Well then the high sheriff, he found Lazarus

He was hidin' in the Amite River bottom land

Well the high sheriff, found Lazarus

He was hidin' in the Amite River bottom land

With his head hung down, Lord, Oh Lord, with his head hung down

 

Well then the high sheriff, he told Lazarus

He says, "Lazarus I come to arrest you"

Well the high sheriff, told Lazarus

Says Lazarus I come to arrest you

And bring you dead or alive, Lord, Oh Lord, bring you dead or alive

 

Well then Lazarus, he told the high sheriff

He says, " I never been arrested"

Well Lazarus, told the high sheriff

Says I never been arrested

By no one man, Lord, Oh Lord, by no one man

 

And then the high sheriff, he shot Lazarus

Well, he shot him with a great big number

Well the high sheriff, shot Lazarus

Well he shot him with a great big number

It was a forty five, Lord, Oh Lord, was a forty five

 

Well then they brought out old Lazarus

And they laid him on the commissary gallery

Well they brought out poor Lazarus

And they laid him on the commissary gallery

He said my wounded side, Lord, Oh Lord, my wounded side

 

Want to hear what the song sounds like?  Here's a rough, home-recorded version that sounds half-way decent.  Click the link to open the file in your player; right-click and select "Save Target As" to save it to your hard drive for later.  Note:  Playing the song as streaming audio may not work and is definitely not recommended for anyone but users of a high-speed connection.  The MP3 file is almost 10 meg in size.

Po' Lazarus

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