Questions - you got 'em; answers - we got 'em

55 - No More Cane lowdown, Wembley, Xmas presents, astronomical spelling,
floor roarer, a singer's role

From: "Dowling, Barron" -

I noted from your website that you were looking for background on this song. It was allegedly written by Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter, who did time in prisons in Texas and Louisiana during the first half of the 20th century. This was one of his two notable songs about working on a chain gang in a Texas prison outside of Houston. The other related song is the classic "Midnight Special," about prison life after being busted in Houston. I suspect that Cane on the Brazos was actually a field work chant used by the inmates in the prison, which Leadbelly continued to perform after his parole.

The Brazos River runs through Texas, with it is mouth located about 50 miles southwest of Houston. Along its lower reaches, there is a large stretch of boggy but fertile soil, which is ideal for growing sugar cane. Black inmates were sent to several prison farms along the Brazos, to work on chain gangs chopping sugar cane and cotton. Large numbers of black men were sent to prison, often on minor charges. They paid for their keep by being forced onto work gangs, to perform what was essentially slave labor.

Chopping cane is one of the most unpleasant jobs imaginable. It required that the inmates stand in several inches of muddy water in dense, snake-infested stands of cane, stooping over to chop cane with a machete, during oppressive summer heat, with mosquitoes too thick to even bother swatting them. White guards watched the inmates from horseback, with rifles ready to shoot anyone who tried to escape. These chain gangs continued to exist into the 1960s. They could easily be seen from the main highways passing west of Houston. The town with the prison headquarters and sugar mill was named "Sugarland." It is now a Houston suburb. The prisons are still there, but the chain gangs are gone. They were one of the worst legacies of segregation when Texas was part of the old South.

Hello Barron,

Thank you for your responsive and highly informative letter. This is really a Q & A in reverse, with you supplying the answer. For those of our readers familiar with the wordog section of will note that our beloved Editor has added Mr. Dowling's erudite piece to Number 9...No More Cane on the Brazos.

Cheers, ig

From: (Craig Gibbs)

Hello there, I'd like to wish a happy new year to all at the Caramba! team. I've got a few questions for Ian, if you could pass them on I'd be most grateful. Thanks a lot, have a good 2003.

Hello Ian, First I'd just like to wish you and your family a good, happy 2003. Right then. A few questions I'd be incredibly grateful if you were to answer, as I'm still hoping to get a reply someday :).

How's the album coming along, and are you going to try for a 'under-produced' sound (Machine Head, In Rock), or are you going to try and go for a more commercial, well produced sound (House of Blue light, Double Trouble)?

What are your feelings about Wembley Arena as a venue? See you there in June!

If you regret one thing the most, that you have ever done in your career, what is it?

Are there any plans for another, longer European tour after the CD has been released in August?

Thanks a lot for your time, see you at Wembley, have a good year, Craig Gibbs, 15

Hello Craig,

Thanks for writing and a Happy New Year to you too.

The album is finished. I think it sounds great, but my viewpoint is what you might call subjective. You can't compare it with anything we've done in the past, which is the whole point of doing it as we have done.

I have no problem with Wembley, especially when it's full. It will be a great evening I'm sure. It's cool that we can have Lynyrd Skynyrd guesting on our show, I think there will also be another act, but I have no information yet.

I have answered this before, but I'm happy to repeat that the one regret I have is not meeting Edith Piaf.

Yes there are plans afoot but I don't have details yet. A longer European tour is likely before the end of the year, to coincide with the release of the record around the end of August/early September. I think we shall be in the U.S. early 2004 and I hear of many shows booked in Russia later that year.

Cheers, ig



now that the festive dust has settled, what was your favourite Christmas present, and why?


Hello Ian,

My favourite present this year was a hand crafted Anglo Longbow.

Cheers, ig


Hi, Ian,

James Gemmell (GEM'-ul) (I like that touch - Steve) here in wintry Michigan (20F and snow!). With my original Deep Purple album I got this wonderful lyrics sheet to "Machine Head" that was purple and white. I always wondered if that was your handwriting. Anyway, the lyrics were slightly different that what you posted on your web site. For example, the lyrics sheet says the band's been "meeting all the groovy people", not "been with all the groovin' people". Further, it uses the astronomical spelling for (Aurora)Borealis, while your web post uses the term "Boring Alice" (which sounds more like your great sense of humor, and is therefore, undoubtedly, the correct original phraseology). Also, I believe that lyrics sheet said you "danced" with Borealis. So, was the lyric sheet that was in Machine Head somehow incorrectly communicated to Warner Brothers, or were those the original lyrics before you revised them? Regards...


P.S. My original lyrics sheet got damaged, but I made up for it by buying the 1984-era nylon wall tapestry.

Hello James,

Thanks for writing. Yes that was my handwriting, it's changed a bit since then...but not much. Yes, I see your point, but I have always been less concerned with the detail than the substance, so there is more inclination to go with the living spirit of a song than the original printed word. I prefer Boring Alice for her cryptic value, and we may have started off dancing but you know how it goes...The lyrics were correct at the time.

Cheers, ig

From: "Vincent Brightling" -

Dear Ian,

Best wishes with the new album. I'm also very much looking forward not only to that, but to welcoming you back to Dublin. (By welcoming I of course mean roaring at you from the floor of the Point).

My question is this. Did you - or any of the others - discuss Lazy at all when you were interviewed for the Machine Head Classic Albums programme? It was hugely enjoyable but I and I'm sure everyone else was puzzled by the omission of Lazy. A classic Purple track by anyone's standards.

Regards, Vincent Brightling.

Hello Vincent,

Thanks for your letter, comments and question. I too am looking forward to returning to Dublin on 24th June.

Regarding the Machine Head programme...Paicey and I were interviewed in L.A. and we had no idea what the other content was going to be. I was equally surprised by the omission from an otherwise well put together show. Such is life.

Cheers, ig

From: "Klok, E. (Erik)"

Hi Ian,

Listening to the just released cd of the Aachen 1970 concert I was wondering how you felt about your role in te band. I mean, you just joined the band an I can imagine that, as a singer, you would like to show what you are capable of.

But, in those days with the setlist at that time, you were about 75% of the time off stage, or under a piano, or whatever. At least not singing, and although I love songs like Wring That Neck or Mandrake Root (maybe on the next tour??!!) I can imagine that it is a bit frustrating for a singer.

Curious about your opinion.


Hello Eric,

Thanks for your letter and question. You are right of course...there was a strong instrumental flavour to the band in those days, there still is, it's just more balanced these days.

The fact is that times were different then. To start with singers were not even allowed to join the Musicians Union until the Variety Artistes Federation (VAF) collapsed and we were co-opted into the MU...but looked upon by proper musicians with a certain amount of amusement.

Also, it was a time of great adventure. Instrumentalists were breaking free from the constraints of so called pop music and feeling their way into new territory, bringing extended solos and adventurous construction to previously rigid areas. So it seemed fine to me to be a part of all this, even though my role accelerated at a slower rate than the others.

Cheers, ig

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