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secret origins of goodbye booze

So who was the mysterious Jean Havez, author of the 1901 drinking song “Goodbye Booze“? It turns out that H. L. Mencken’s autobiography talks him up:

hl-mencken-on-jean-havez

Ok, so Havez was a hard drinker and partier. His name wasn’t pronounced “gene”, it was prounounced “zhaw.” He was an chubby newspaperman in Baltimore who made regular trips to New York to go to the theater, or maybe to work in theater.

What about the history of the song? It was originally titled “Good-Bye Booze!”, with a dash and an exclamation point. According to a 1901 publication called The Music Trade Review (PDF at arcade-museum.com):

“Good-bye, Booze” is a coon temperance ditty and is distinctly funny, with a good swinging melody. Jean C. Havez is the writer of both words and music.

Coon temperance is a genre? Huh? Well, Wikipedia says Coon songs were a genre of music popular in the United States from 1880[1] to 1920[2], that presented a racist and stereotyped image of blacks. … Coon songs almost always aimed to be funny and incorporated the syncopated rhythms of ragtime music. … Coon songs were popular in Vaudeville theater, where they were delivered by “coon shouters,” who were typically white females.[5] Notable coon shouters included Artie Hall,[22] Sophie Tucker, and May Irwin.[5]. And in the Music Trade Review quoted above, it put the release of this song in the context of a performance by May Irwin. Temperance songs included hits like Lips that Touch Liquor Will Never Touch Mine.

Given that the version of the song that I transcribed is a few generations of musicians away from the original, and musicians usually make changes to suit their taste, how does it compare? I found the original written out at University of Colorado’s web site:

original goodbye booze sheet music

The tune got a hell of a lot simpler to become a dead simple 3-chord wonder. The lyrics also changed a lot over time. They got tighter and more direct, and the verses went from third person to first person. The verses are totally different in the 1926 version by the Skillet Lickers (aka Gid Tanner and Fate Norris), the Charlie Poole version that I transcribed and in the original Jean Havez publication. The 1939 version by Charles Fulton is the closest to the original, though rewritten to be about politics instead of money. I also found 1960s or 1970s version by the Piedmont blues player John Jackson, and it also has original lyrics in the verses and the standard stuff in the chorus. Except for Fulton version, they all throw out the music from the verses as well as the words — too stuffy, I guess. Jean Havez was a better writer than he was a musician.

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