I'm Goin' to Cairo / Boatman Dance / Little Dog Trottin' Down the River

(Traditional) / by D. Emmett

Banjo, hammered dulcimer and vocal-Cathy; guitar and vocal-Dave; percussion-Rich

Named for the once rowdy town in "Egypt," at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio, this tune has many titles, the most common being "Liza Jane." We learned it from The Indian Creek Delta Boys. In southern Illinois it is also a singing game, and some words are:

I'm goin' down to Cairo, Goodbye, magpie;
Goin' down to Cairo, To see my Liza Jane.

Local legend carries the biblical reference: After a drought or frost ruined crops up north, people went down to Cairo for supplies, much like Joseph's brothers traveled to Egypt to purchase grain after their crops had been ruined back home. Folklorist Richard Dorson points out, however, that similar legends are told for "Egypts" in Texas, New Hampshire, Mississippi and New Jersey.

Daniel Decatur Emmett, composer of "I Wish I Was in Dixie's Land," was a member of the first minstrel troupe, the Virginia Minstrels, and published "The Boatman's Dance" in 1843. It underwent different renditions during minstrelsy's heyday and went into tradition as both a song and a fiddle tune, and was even taken in by the real boatmen the song mythologizes. These are some of the original words.

The last tune in the medley comes from Missouri fiddler Cyril Stinnett, and is another widely known Southern tune of many names, e.g., "Davy, Davy," and "Going Down the River," depending on the words sung to the tune.

The boatman dance, the boatman sing
The boatman do most anything.
And when the boatman get on shore,
He spends his money, and he works for more.

Dance, boatman dance! Dance, boatman dance.
O dance all night till broad daylight
And go home with the gals in de morning.
Hey, ho, the boatman row, sailin' on the river on the Ohio!
Hey, ho, the boatman row, sailin' on the river on the Ohio!

I've never seen a pretty girl in my life
But that she'd be some boatman's wife.
When the boatman blows his horn,
Look out, old man, your daughter's gone;

When you go to the boatman's ball,
Dance with my wife or not at all;
Sky-blue jacket and tarpaulin hat,
Look out, my boys, for the nine tail cat.