Davenport Films Titlebar
Davenport Films Home
From the Brothers Grimm
Making Grimm Movies
American Traditional Culture
American Field Sports
Behind the Scenes
Classroom Resources
Ordering Information
Contact us:


Home > Documentaries > Born for Hard Luck

Transcript of Born for Hard Luck
with References



(Harmonica piece): "Reuben" (1)


Peg: Run, Charlie, run!
(Dance) (2)

Peg: you look at me, you look at a man that was born for hard luck. I was born on the 13th day , odd day, on Friday, on a bad luck day. To show you that I IS in hard luck, if I go up the street walking fast, I run over something. I'm in such hard luck, if I go up there walking slow, something run ofer me. I'm in such hard luck, if I'm sitting down I'm in everybody's way. I'm in such hard luck, if it's raining down soup at this very minute, everybody'd be standing there with a spoon--why, I'd have a fork. Yes sir, I was born for hard luck....(3)

Bill Jackson: Peg never did stay at home much after he got big enough to ride them freight trains and things. All his life was out. Sometimes it be 4 or 5 years before I'd see him. Sometimes I thought he was dead.


Peg: Now as I sing this song, if any teenage girls out there got them little old mini-skirts, I want 'em to rock it to the right. Any schoolteachers out there, I want 'em kind of rock it to the left. If any old maid out there can't rock either way, just do this -- I'll see her!

(Song): Who's that left here a while ago,
Lord, when I come in my house?
Who's that cat went out my back door?

Lord, he left my back door running,
I thought he was a garbage can--
One leg in his britches
And holding the other one in his hand. (5)


Bill: I don't know how long he been gone, gone about two years, hoboing around. When he come back, he come back on one leg. He wouldn't come straight to the house, he went out in the woods and crowed like a rooster (imitates). Every time I'd run out to see where the hen was, he'd stop. I'd go back in the house (imitates) and he'd crow again. Mama said, "That's a chicken, that's a chicken." I ran out again and heard it again (imitates). Well, after a while I made like I was going, I sort of darted around, I seen the brush pile shake. I run down there. There he lay down there, two crutches laying aside of him--leg off. (6)


Peg: Anybody want anything? See me. I'M the boss around here.

Chief: What'd you say, Sam?

Peg: I say, HERE COME the boss around here. (7)


Peg: Yeah, he [Chief] was pitching snake oil, you know, He was pitching snake oil one day. You know he had a rattlesnake. He'd say, "You take this oil." (You know, what you call snake oil.) "You take this oil, it's 500 times thinner than water. It's 500 times more penetrating than water." He had a rattlesnake in his hand, and went to put him back in the thing what he put him in. Snake hit him. He jumped down off the stage. He had done told everybody that if a rattlesnake bite, never mind no doctor, just wrap that over it. That rattlesnake hit him, he jumped, 'bout had a fit. "Somebody carry me to a doctor right quick!" I was laying down laughing. "Somebody carry me. Get a car quick!" That snake, he went to put 'im back, you know, snake quick! People said, "Why didn't he put that medicine on it?" Me and the Chief had to leave from there. Yeah, funny things happen in the world! (8) (9)

(Harmonica piece): "Reuben"

Peg: You know, I was bad for hoboing anyhow. I caught a train down to Buffalo, N.Y. When it started out...I thought it was going to be warm all the time, but my God, it was like icebox! When I got down to Buffalo, in the railroad yard there, I couldn't move. Look way I setting. Couldn't shut my mouth. Awawawah. The man passed by --brakeman or something, you know. Awawawah. That's what I hollered, you know, I was setting there. Pips of my ears, both of them busted. Fingernails come off. They carried me to the hospital, and I stayed in there 3 weeks. An old lady took me home with her. Said, "I'll take care of you, son." I stayed there about six months. She wanted me to stay on after my fingernails growed back. I let 'em grow long as eagle claws, I was so glad they come back. Looked like I could climb a tree, like a coon. Funny things happen in this world! And she wanted me to stay on. I stayed there a pretty good while with her, and then I told her, "Lady , the best of friends, now, have to part sometime." I forgot about my fingernails being that long, I caught her on the nose. I was about that far from her when I pointed out there. I looked like Daddy Grace, you know that fellow they call Daddy Grace? But the point, I thought my fingernails was normal, but they was long, long, as my fingers were. I hit her on the nose, cut the end, blood come out. I said, "Uh-oh, lady, I forgot about my fingernails done come back." Yeah, I left there, you know. I said, "I believe I'll go back down South." (10) (11)

(Harmonica piece): "Reuben"

Bill: Grandpa, he was a slave. Back in slavery he was sort of like Sam, he wouldn't work either. He didn't like to work. He'd run off from the Marse (the Captain--they called him Marse then, Old Marse and Old Miss), so, he run off. They couldn't find him. They get the bloodhound, put the bloodhounds on the trail. (Imitates) Run him up a tree. He climbed a tree. The dogs treed him, and they called him, "come down, Pete." "Hold the dogs, " he told them, "hold the dogs!" They wouldn't hold the dogs. They cut the tree down. He had white spots all over his legs where the dogs bit him. (12)

Peg: At Key West there, you know them boats leaving for Havana, Cuba? I slipped on board. Slipped on board. Got way out--you know it's ninety miles from Key West to Havana. Got about half way, I reckon, they found me. "Well, old boy, where you going? What you doing on here?" I told them, I said, "I never had no where to sleep and the boat was there and I just got on and went to sleep and never got off in time." Said, " I guess we'll have to throw you overboard, put a weight to you." You oughta heard me begging, down on my knees, you know, licking dirt. Yeah, they scared me to death. I didn't believe they were going to drown me nohow, but they scared me so bad. You oughta heard me, "I'll work. I'll work it out, sir." You oughta seen me, down on my knees, hat in my hand, bowing. Yeah! I said, "I'll work for nothing if you give me a little morsel of bread, I'll work...." (13) (14)

You know how long I had money? come up to Jacksonville, down on Oakland Avenue -- ONE night, I was broke, in Jacksonville. As broke as a haint, just like I was when I got on the ship that other time. After them three years. No abcess, no more abcess on my pocket. Hungry again. Yeah, bumming around for a while, did odd jobs, this, that, and the other, you know. But that was a funny thing. THREE years I done saved up. TWO days after I quit work, broke as a he-haint in Georgia Yeah! (15)


(Song):(16) Now Froggy went a-courting and he did ride, mm-hm
(Bad Frog!)
Oh the Froggy went a-courting and he did ride, unh-hunh
(Oh yes)
Froggy went a-courting and he did ride--
Sword and shield hanging by his side, unh-hunh, mm-hm
(That's the truth too, brother)

Ah, he rode up by Miss Mousie's door, uhn-hunh
(Now there come Freddy. That's the truth, though)
Oh, he rode up by Miss Mousie's door, unh-hunh
Rode up by Miss Mousie's door--
Place he'd been many times before, unh-hunh
Hey, Miss Mousie, will you marry me? unh-hunh
(Lord, old Freddy)
Hey, Miss Mousie, will you marry me? unh-hunh
Hey, Miss Mousie, will you marry me--
Be as good to you as anybody can be, unh-hunh
(Lord, Freddy)

Without my uncle's consent, unh-hunh
Without my uncle's consent, unh-hunh

Without my uncle's consent, Freddy!
I couldn't marry a president, unh-hunh

Uncle told her it'd be alright, unh-hunh
(Lord have mercy! Wasn't old Freddy glad!)
Uncle told her it'd be alright, unh-hunh
They got married that very night, eh-hunh

All took a sail out on the lake, unh-hunh
All took a sail out on the lake, unh-hunh
All took a sail out on the lake--
Got glupped up by a big black snake, unh-hunh]

Peg: [voice over]Everything comes backwards to a man, you know. When I was a little boy and baby, women used to pick me up and kiss me. "Ain't he the beautiful, oh my!" Schoolteachers and things. "Oh, my, ain't he beautiful." You know what they do when I got to be a man? "That old thing, ain't he ugly, the ugliest thing." They'd turn their head off of me when they'd see me, yeah... (17)

(Song resumes)
'Long come a bumble bee, unh-hunh
'Long come a bumble bee, unh-hunh
'Long come a bumble bee--
He done the peg-leg dance with a peg-leg flea, unh-hunh
(Yeah, that's the truth)

Anybody ask you who sung this sung, unh-hunh
Anybody ask you who sung this sung, unh-hunh
Anybody ask you who sung this sung--
Tell 'em Peg Leg Sam done told a lie, and he long gone, mm-hm (18)


Bill: The last 10 years, he settled down here with me. Thought he'd come home. I think he been here 10 years. I was in Spartanburg one day and I seen him. "I believe I'll move down with you." "Come on!" And he been here ever since.

Peg: go out and pull me four, five parts of that mild pepper, boy. You know where it's at? Right beside the okra. You claim you helped plant the garden. I don't believe you done a damn thing.


Peg: Yeah, a man got to eat sometime. Give my mouth something to do. That's right, son. Give an old man some water. You know what this am I'm drinking? Corn likker. I fool a man when I'm drinking. Make like it's ice water. God Almighty! Man made that--it took three men to drink it--TWO to hold ONE while he drink it. (19)


Peg: (Song):
Now, way down south where I was born
They raise good good greens and corn
Sweet potato, and black-eyed peas
Green tomato, Mama, and pecan trees
But them ----- sure smell good
People smell 'em all 'roung the neighborhood
Soft and easy, they're good and greasy
Oh Lord, I love -----
I'm crazy 'bout them
(Ate some this morning. Mouth smack a week after eating them.)

Now, little girl, don't you tell me what your mama don't 'low
I want some greens anyhow
Quick as I eat 'em, sugar, I'll be gone
Mama'll never know we slipped 'em on
But them -----, sure was good
----- I'd eat 'em all if I could
Soft and easy, they're good and greasy
Hey, Lord, I love -----
I'm crazy 'bout -----
(Ah, glory hallelujah!) I thought I was eating some then. You know where I eat 'em? Whoo! you hear me chewing on them?) (21)

Now, Miss, you can cook them lim-o beans
You cook something that I never have seen
But when you fix up your table for me
Fix up some of them good good greens
But them ----- sure smell good
Oh, Lord, I'd eat 'em all if I could
Soft and easy, they're good and greasy
Hey, Lord, I love ----- (22)


Peg: You want a little taste of wine? How 'bout some home brew? Mouth smack a week after you taste it. I got a little taste of it. I'll get you some beer directly down at the cafe when it opens.

Deacon: You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Girl: No, no thank you.

Peg: Too proud to drink that? Then I'll buy you some beer...

Deacon: Now you know you're leading them wrong. Whyn't you give 'em a Coca Cola, or a cup of coffee, or some tea, or something? Why do yo walk 'round here trying to give 'em something like that?

Peg: Man, you ain't gonna torment me 'bout Coca Cola or something make my gut stick out. See my brother Bill and them, see 'em drinking and eating? Look at MY stomach, trim! Woman says, "You sure is neat and trim. I knows you was a good-looking man, when you WAS one. But you're pretty age-able now." Hat setting on her head, little old derby hat setting on one side. "Pretty age-able." --Did you get that little taste of religion you got, to torment me? You just keep it all! Don't pray for ME.

Deacon: You need help.

Peg: I don't need--gimme a quarter!

(Song): (24)
Our Father, which art in Heaven
Hallowed be Thy name
They Kingdom come--
Gimme a drink o' that rum
High, low, jack, and game
Hand me down...

(Toast): (25)
O whiskey, O whiskey
I have knowed you of old
You have robbed me of my silver
You throwed me down, big boy
You skint my chin
But when I get up--
Damn if I ain't gonna try you again!

(Song resumes) (26)
I went to kiss my gal the other night
I went to kiss her sneaking
I missed her mouth, caught her nose
And the gosh-darn thing was leaking
Hand me down...

(Toast): (27)
My poor old mother-in-law, she died last night
O, how my poor heart did yearn
I know that old soul is floating with the angels above--
'Cause she's too damn tough to burn.

(Song resumes) (28)
Now if you want ot get to Heaven, let me tell you what to do,
Grease your foot, buddy, with mutton stew
If that Devil get at you with a greasy hand
You can slip right over to the Promised Land
Hand me down...

(29) Now two little imps were black as tar
Trying to steal a way to Heaven on a 'lectric car
Car wheel slipped back down the hill
'Stead of going to Heaven, they went to Jacksonville
Hand me down...

Peg: (30) Yeah, I was a preacher, you know. Way I started preaching, I hoboed into Baltimore. And I met a preacher. Yeah, he got me a suit of clothes and dressed me up. I looked like a Philadelphia lawyer. I went into the church. He pronounced for me: "The Rev. Jackson here, missionary preacher. Goes all over the world."
I got up and took my text. I took my text about when a man killed a man, way back, you know, they tied the man to the man. Dead man to the living what killed him. Let him tote him till he die. Tie him nose to nose, and mouth to mouth, belly to belly. (One woman hollered, "Whoooo!")
Said, a ma-a-a-a-an was in a hard time
he was carrying that man around, dead weight
was on the living, yeah!
(Old lady says, "Can't he preach, though!")
I said, Oh yeah, I could hear him hollering,
"O-o-oh, Lord
Who shall deliver me from the body of this dead?" (31)
(They'd get to shouting, "Oo-oo-AH!")
Just when I'd get 'em all to shouting, you
know what I hollered?
"Aaaooow, bum bum bumble bum bum bum!"
Couldn't hear me--I was walking all through there. Old lady said, "God Almighty!" Fast as I could open my mouth, I say,
"Bum bumble a bum ba
A boom bum bum baw boomie a bum bah!
O-o-o-o Lord!
'Who shall deliver me from the body of this dead?'
I could see two billy goats hooking one another--ah
Then two rams--ah
When they run backwards and run up against one another
It sound like thunder!
(She said, "God Almighty, can't he preach!")
"O-o-oh yeah, oh yeah! (Me.)
Bum, bumble, bum a bum bah!"
("God, just as fast as he can open his mouth, he can tell it, can't he!"
"Yeah, I can see an old train coming down the railroad track"
("Ah, great God"--you oughta seen her walking through there, saying, "God, can't he preach!" Everything in the church, might nigh, shouting, you know. Yeah!)

After I get through, I tell 'em, "Now, ladies and gentlemen, we have such and such a one here to lift collection for me. Man there--that fellow right there looks like a pretty good fellow." He'd throw five on the table, and I'd say, "God Almighty!" Admire it myself. I'd get two--the other one would lay five. Then everybody would give them fives. Them that didn't have it would give a little. Quarters and fifty centses. You know what I was singing when one man throwed a fifty cents on there and it spinning?

(32) Big wheel rolling, ain't nothing but love
Big wheel rolling, ain't nothing but love
'At big wheel rolling, ain't nothing but love
Fire and the spirit coming down from above!

Another old rascal over there trying to steal about a five dollar bill, had it cuffed back. I said, "Don't cuff it back, brother. The Lord will afflict that hand. You'll have it dangling by your side!"


(Song): (33)
Down on me, down on me
Looks like the fish in the river
Down on me...

Peg: Yeah, I don't believe the good Lord would let me live three score and ten and then kill me and throw me in a lake of fire, gnashing and gashing of teeth and he a-looking at me. Why, ain't no need of praising him if he gonna do that. Don't never feel sorry for you. Laugh at your calamities. That's the biggest lie that's ever been told! I ain't scared of being frenchfried that way! No.... (34)


Monroe Jackson: (DANCE, with Peg beating a rhythmic accompaniment) (35)

Peg: I thank you all, ladies and gentlemen. High Sheriff on my heels. I better get on my way, yes!

(Song): Reuben had a train
Lord, he drove it in the rain
Reuben stole my gold watch and chain
Lord, he stole my diamond ring



(1) A train song collected from S.C. blacks as early as 1905, and now common also in white fiddle and banjo tradition (see BROWN COLLECTION, III, 264). At the end of the film, Peg sings a stanza, an unusual one.

(2) The dance appears to illustrate Charlie's running. See also the discussion of the filming of this sequence on p. 4. The film maker intended this opening to parody and puncture the cliches of sentimental "folklore films."

(3) One of Peg's medicine-show routines, and apparently common stock. Variants floated into both blues and 'talking blues' (cf. Chris Bouchillon's "Born in Hard Luck" on Columbia 15151-D). Peg's live performance of it in an actual medicine-show can be heard in Flyright 508-B.

(4) From a videotape made at the Chatham County Fair, Pittsboro, N.C., on Saturday night, Sept. 16, 1972.

(5) Related to Washboard Sam's "Back Door" on Bluebird 7001. The complete medicine-show performance is included on Flyright 508B. Trix 3302 has a rather different version.

(6) Less showy as a narrator than Peg, his brother Bill nevertheless employs mimicry and other devices common among black story tellers. (Cf., "The Art of Negro Story-telling" in R.M. Dorson, AMERICAN NEGRO FOLKTALES, p. 47ff.

(7) The medicine-show routines include many such jokes, in which a feisty Peg Leg Sam gets cut down to size.

(8) The incident may possibly have happened, but Peg is equally likely to be drawing on folktale stock. (cf. Thompson Motif J1062.)

(9) He closes off the tale with a tag from his show routine.

(10) A memorat of a personal experience that probably evolves into fantasy with a typically grotesque tone.

(11) The show-routine tag line may signal a shift from memorat to fantasy.

(12) This account has the ring of truth. But Bill also tells for fact about his grandfather the widely found story "Cussing Master" (cf. Botkin, p. 8).

(13) Peg presents himself as just as amused by his own discomfiture as he earlier had been by the Chief's getting snakebit or as he later is by the gullibility of the Baltimore congregation.

(14) They gave Jackson a job and he worked for three years, saving up "right smart of money."

(15) Some reasons why medicine-show work was attractive. Pink Anderson in 1918 was getting $10 a week as a guitarist with Dr. Kerr. Playing on the streets in 1972 Peg set his minimum rate at 50 cents a song. Kip Lornell saw him rebuke a bystander who offered only a quarter.

(16) A ballad with British antecedents and many variants (cf. BROWN COLLECTION, III, 154-166).

(17) A value-laden bit of "marking," or mimicry (cf. Kochman, p. 333).

(18) Peg's personal signature, a unique touch.

(19) The canteen actually holds water.

(20) It was raining and Peg picked, for a place where they could film, the home of a neighbor, a mother living on welfare in a house built with a long-term, low-mortgage federal rural-housing loan. Her feminine taste contrasts markedly with that of the bachelor's hall kept by the Jackson brothers next door. Many of these younger people in the neighborhood, however, have warm memories of how Peg would amuse them with songs and jokes when he turned up at home during their childhood.

(21) This double-entendre song, which Peg views as one of his trade marks, is discussed in the notes to Flyright 507-A. Collected by Howard Odum in Alabama as early as 1904-1916, the song was recorded also by Pink Anderson (Prestige/Bluesville LP-1051).

(22) Peg sings this song on both Flyright 507A and Trix 3302. Between them, these have 4 additional stanzas, variant lines in shared stanzas, and different spoken interjections and harmonica effects.

(23) In the scene that follows, Peg and his friends engage spontaneously in familiar verbal and physical sparring.

(24) Peg's irreverent parody draws on a number of floating stanzas from the minstrel-show repertory. Flyright 508-A holds a complete performance of the song, one quite close to this one.

(25) Recorded in the session at the neighbor lady's house. Black construction workers in hard hats had crowded in to watch--they were struggling to stifle their laughter so as not to ruin the taping. The verses grow from the song "Rye Whiskey." Peg's bottle held moonshine.

(26) This card game was on, camera or no camera. Bill has reached the age of reflection and he refrains from drink and gambling. His older brother Peg is still game.

(27) A rhyme Peg usually recites during his medicine-show routine.

(28) For related stanzas, see BROWN COLLECTION, III, 525, and Bruce Bastin's notes for Flyright 508A.

(29) For related stanzas, see BROWN COLLECTION, III, 535 and 540.

(30) This story is presented as personal experience, but is a familiar theme in both oral lore and literature from the South--cf. Mark Twain's HUCKLEBERRY FINN, Ch. 20; J. J. Hooper's SIMON SUGGS, Ch. 10, etc. For a scholarly description of the form he parodies, see Rosenberg, esp. Ch. 4 and Ch. 5.

(31) This line, at least, has scriptural authority: Rom. 7:24.

(32) A spiritual based on Ezekiel, Ch. 1, though only distantly, if at all, related to the well known "Ezekiel saw a wheel."

(33) A parody on the line "Looks like everybody in the whole round world's down on me" from a spiritual (cf. Work, p. 115).

(34) From a more-sober-than-usual interview taped when the audience of black friends was not present.

(35) Monroe, Peg's younger brother, has a high reputation locally as a dancer. Note the stylized, playfully aggressive gesture with which he signs off the dance.

Go to the Study Guide page.

Go to Born for Hard Luck main page.

A published copy of the study guide and transcipt may be ordered under "Study Guides" on the Ordering Information page.