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I have a new album out! Here are some details about the song "California" the Seventh track from the new release Trade Songs: American West. 


Put’s Golden Songster was a popular and famous book of songs from the California Gold Rush of 1849. James Polk had mentioned the discovery of gold in his State of the Union Address on December 5th, 1848. The next spring, thousands of entrepreneurial Americans made their way west overland, or by sea to the western coast of the United States to the area around Sacramento to strike it rich. It represented the American spirit, the grit and determination of its people. Those people came from all walks of life, all different heritages and cultures, and brought their music with them.

Many of these old books of lyrics are just new words to familiar tunes. It was popular for folks to write a poem and then apply a familiar melody to it. Or maybe they knew a song and started to write new words specifically for the song. Put’s Golden Songster does this. The first song in the book is about a steamship wreck (which was quite common) titled “Loss of the ‘Central America’” and just below it is written “Air-Carry Me Back to old Virginny”. Folks who owned the book could sing the new words to a familiar tune. Sometimes the new lyrics would make for a more popular or famous song. “John Brown’s Body” was a famous song before it became "Battle Hymn of the Republic"

Some of these lyrics didn’t have a melody suggestion and people would just make up their own tunes to fit with the words. Consequently, there are often different traditional melodies to songs that have become American standards, and Thesis or dissertations (and arguments) about which versions are oldest, or most original.

This song probably came from folks who sailed to the west coast. Though we often think about the overland travelers headed to San Francisco, but many more people took ships. It was a dangerous ship voyage that required sailing around Cape Horn, known for it's gnarly seas. Dozens of ships sank on the voyage, but it was often a more favorable way to travel than lumbering across the dusty west.

This song has a kind of "sea shanty" structure. It's easy to imagine a group of sailors singing it as they hauled ropes all together. It appears in Carl Sandburg's book The American Songbag.


California - Lyrics

When we formed our band we were all well manned

To journey afar to the promised land

The golden ore is rich in store

On the banks of the Sacramento shore


Go, boys, go

To California go

There's plenty of gold in the world, I'm told

On the banks of the Sacramento shore

As oft we roam o'er the dark sea's foam

We'll not forget kind friends at home

But memory kind still brings to mind

The love of friends we left behind


We'll expect our share of the coarsest fare

And sometimes sleep in the open air

On the cold damp ground we'll all sleep sound

Except when the wolves go howling 'round


As we explore to the distant shore

Filling our pockets with the shining ore

How it will sound as the shout goes 'round

Filling our pockets with a dozen pounds

The gold is there almost anywhere

We dig it out rich with an iron bar

But where it is thick, with spade or pick

We take out chunks as big as a brick


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