'The River Driver': A Tale of Canadian Loggers

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Alan Doyle of the band Great Big Sea describes the folk song "The River Driver" — a tune about men who worked in the logging industry in Newfoundland.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Take a listen to the new album by the Canadian band Great Big Sea. You'll hear 12 tracks of traditional music from Newfoundland and the voice of Alan Doyle.

Mr. ALAN DOYLE (Great Big Sea): Hey, everybody. I'm Alan Doyle from St. John's, Newfoundland, and I sing in a band called Great Big Sea. We just released a new record called "The Hard and the Easy," and one of my favorite songs from it is a song from the southwest coast of Newfoundland called "The River Driver," and here it is.

(Soundbite of "The River Driver")

GREAT BIG SEA: (Singing) I was just the age of 16 when I first went on the drive. After six months' hard labor, at home I did arrive. I courted with a pretty girl whose hurt caused me to roam. Now I'm a river driver, and I'm far away from home.

Mr. DOYLE: We knew that there were an abundance of logging songs in the southwest coast of Newfoundland and songs from men who worked in various capacities working in the lumber industry. And we went looking for it and found it.

(Soundbite of "The River Driver")

GREAT BIG SEA: (Singing) I'll eat when I am hungry and I'll drink when I am dry, get drunk whenever I'm ready, get sober by and by. And if this river don't drown me, it's then I'll need to roam, for I'm a river driver and I'm far away from home.

Mr. DOYLE: And, first of all, it tells a great story of a way of life that you might not otherwise know about. And I don't think many people around the world know piles about what it's like to be a logger in southwestern Newfoundland.

The speaker sings a chorus, `I'll eat when I'm hungry and I'll drink when I'm dry.' That's sort of what seems to be a celebration of his lifestyle, but there's also this undertone of sadness. There's this tinge of regret about the life he left behind. And the very opening line of the song reveals the load that these guys took on at a very, very young age. And the opening line of the song is `I was just the age of 16 when I first went on the drive.' And that was quite common in Newfoundland, you know, men really, really leave school at a really young age and start working. And basically, you would work from the time they were 16 till they died. And I thought it was a real cool window into a walk of life that we don't see anymore in this day and age.

(Soundbite of "The River Driver")

GREAT BIG SEA: (Singing) I am old and feeble and in my sickness lie. Just wrap me up in a blanket and lay me down to die. Just get a little bluebird to sing for me alone, for I'm a river driver and I'm far away from home.

I'll eat when I am hungry and I'll drink when I am dry, get drunk whenever I'm ready, get sober by and by. And if this river don't drown me, it's then I'll need to roam, for I'm a river driver and I'm far away from home.

SIEGEL: "The River Driver," sung by Alan Doyle and his band mates in Great Big Sea. Their new CD is called "The Hard and the Easy."

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