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Wed, 15 Nov 1995 09:36:09 -0500
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A fellow forum member posted a private request to see what
could be dug up on a 1954 Harry Belafonte recording entitled
_MarkTwain_.  Thought I'd share the results with the rest of
the forum.  The info comes from Paul Stamler who found the
apparent rare album at a thrift shop last year.

_Mark Twain and Other Folk Favourites_, Harry Belafonte, RCA
Victor LPM-1022 [1954]

According to the liner notes, it was recorded in two sessions, on
April 22 and 29, 1954, in RCA Victor's Manhattan Center and
24th St. Studios, under the supervision of Hugo Winterhalter.
The only other musician credited is Millard Thomas, guitar. No
information on the recording engineer or producer, but the
notes mention the use of the "RCA ultra-directional microphone,
the newest acoustical development of the David Sarnoff
Research Center", being used "to lend clarity and presence to
the solo instruments". In other words, it was multi-miked,
presumably with one of Harry Olson's ribbon mike designs.

It's possible that the master tape was recorded in two-channel
format (I'd prefer to reserve the word "binaural" for dummy-
head recordings), but this disk was released in mono--at least,
my copy was.

According to the liner notes the song was composed by
Belafonte "for which he delved in Library of Congress files for
the theme".

The lyrics to _Mark Twain_ are:
[Spoken introduction] Many years ago on the Mississippi
riverboats, they had men called "gaugers", and the job of the
gauger was to hang off the side of the boat with one hand; and
in the other hand he had a ball of twine with a hunk of lead on
the end of it. He'd wheel the lead around his head and let it fly
into the water; wherever the water marked the twine, he'd
call up to the skipper and say:

Markin' on the twine is four fathoms.  'Course, day in and day
out, year after year, this would get pretty monotonous. Until in
the 1800s, a little man came along and revolutionized the whole
gauging industry.  Instead of saying, "Marking on the twine", he
said, "Mark twain". And in between each marking, he'd fill it in
with a little patter about himself and his everyday life. Well, if
you'd been living at that time, coming up from a distance on the
Mississippi, it would have sounded like this:

Mark twain! Four fathoms off the starboard bow.
I got a gal named Cindy Lou,
feeds me gin and baked beans too
Mark twain.

Mark twain! Three fathoms off the starboard bow.
I got a friend, his name is Pete,
sings dirty songs down on Beale Street
Mark twain.

Mark twain! Two fathoms off the starboard bow.
I been working the river since ninety-two,
I get a penny a day and bad liquor too
Mark twain.

I'm 'a save my money 'til I die,
they gonna bury me all but my good right eye
Mark twain.

Mark twain! No fathoms off the starboard bow!
Look out skipper, pull it to the side,
you gon' bust your bow and split your hide

Oo, good God, we done run aground,
skipper gonna chase me with a big bloodhound
Mark twain.

--Lyrics by Harry Belafonte, from traditional sources.

According to Paul Stamler, owner of the LP:
The phrase "Mark twain" at the end of each verse is drawn out
with an almost laughing sound, becoming "Ma-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-
ark Tw-ain".  Incidentally, the writer Twain describes the phrase
somewhat differently: in _Life on the Mississippi_, Mark Twain
is one of several phrases used, each denoting a different depth.
One of them was "Quarter-less-twain", as I recall.  I happened
to find the album last year at a thrift store.  As far as I know,
the recording has not been reissued.

Thanks to Paul Stamler for sharing his info and transcribing the words
from the original recording.