A dilapidated (but inhabited) houseboat on Portage Bay, Seattle. (photo by edgeplot)

by Bob Clark, to the tune of "Blue Mountain Lake." ca. 1955
Sung by Dave Spence
in 1965 at The Drinking Gourd* in San Francisco
from the audio archives of Bob Nelson

Some blocks from the University of Washington sits the Blue Moon Tavern. The dramatis personae of the ballad include Ed Giddings, two of his drinking companions of the evening, Ljubin Petric, a local artist, and Ann Enscoe, a school teacher. Pat Sweeney, who owned the "cabin" in question—actually one of the many houseboats on Lake Union—was a quiet, affable man, but unknown to Ed Giddings, Sweeney had been a judo instructor in the Marine Corps. Giddings' wife, Carolyn, also in attendance at the described happenings, made jewelry, and she clamed that she could tell the quality of metal by the time-honored method of biting it.

Of all of the tap-hounds who drink at the Moon,
A most unabashed and particular goon
Was a fellow named Giddings, near seven foot tall,
Who plays games with his fist, poking holes in the wall.
Refrain: Derry down, down, down derry down.

One night when Ed Giddings had closed up the Moon,
Complaining at ending his evening so soon,
With Lubin and Enscoe his way he did make
To a party at Sweeney's way down by the lake.

Now, the guests were all merry, the liquor flowed free;
Soon Giddings was drunk as he ever would be.
He reeled round the cabin, a terrible sight,
And challenged each man in the place to a fight.

Now, the roof of the cabin was propped with a post,
And Giddings declared that he'd fight with his host.
So he laid hands upon it and planted his boots,
And swore that he'd tear the post out by its roots.

'Til now Pat Sweeney had remained quite aloof,
But aroused by this threat to his house and his roof,
In half of the time that I tell of the task,
Pat Sweeney threw Giddings right down on his—

Now, Giddings declared that this never could be,
But the truth of the matter was easy to see.
Pat Sweeney threw Giddings right out through the door
And there on the outside, they tussled some more.

The noise of the fighting was raucous and loud.
Soon all of the neighbors had joined in the crowd.
The last to arrive at this breach of the peace
Was Bill Brannon, a man of the plainclothes police.

Bill Brannon was one who was used to command,
And a way through the crowd he was quick to demand.
Conceive his frustration, disgust, and dismay
When they bid him, "Good evening," and then turned away.

He elbowed his way toward the scene of the strife,
But soon was stopped short by Ed Giddings' young wife,
Who asked, "Who in the hell do you think that you are?"
In reply to her question, he showed her his star.

She took it and bit it by way of a test,
And fully convinced it was tin, at the best,
She put him to shriek and to stamp on his hat,
Asking how many box-tops it cost him for that?

By now, Bill Brannon was completely undone,
So he tried to convince her by showing his gun.
She laughed and declared it a toy and a fake,
So he aimed it and fired it three times in the lake.

Now, the evening is over, 'tis part of the past.
Pat Sweeney prevailed from the first to the last.
'Twas the city police put an end to the fun:
They'd been called to get rid of the goof with the gun.

I learned a song in the late 1950s or early 1960s that is far too good a song to be allowed to vanish into the mists of yesteryear and the veil of forgetfulness. The song—ballad, to be exact—deals with and epic battle that ended in the come-uppance of a large and strong young man who, although a gentle soul when sober (a rare occurrence in those days), became bellicose and bent on mayhem when deep in his cups. The story it tells is true. Bob Clark wrote the song.

Bob Clark was co-proprietor, with Ken Prichard, of a restaurant half a block from the University of Washington campus, called "The Chalet." Bob played the guitar and sang. The first time I saw him perform was a bit of a surprise, because I had noticed that he was missing a thumb and the first and second fingers on his left hand. He played a left-handed guitar and either strummed, or manipulated a pick by holding the pick between the two remaining fingers of his left hand. His singing voice was a good, solid baritone.

None of the names have been changed to protect the innocent—because there weren't any! The only name that is fictional is "Bill Brannon, a man of the plainclothes police," because no one there ever did learn his name, so Bob gave him one. Don Firth

* The Drinking Gourd, located at 1898 Union Street in San Francisco, was a folk club near the corner of Union and Laguna. "It had a stage in the tradition of funky interior design meets Turkish blend and was a 'spit in the sawdust' kind of place." Many folk singers got their start there in the 1960s. The Jefferson Airplane came into existence when Marty Balin met guitarist Paul Kantner at The Drinking Gourd.

Pacific Nothwest Folklore Society