Hand Me Down My Walking Cane

Album: Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On (1965)

Songfacts®:

  • This song was recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis in his usual upbeat fashion, but when it was written there was no such thing as pumping piano, and the concept of "rocking shoes", which the listener is also asked to hand down, would have left most audiences perplexed.

    "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" is regarded as a traditional song, but its authorship is often attributed to James Bland, spiritual heir of Stephen Foster, the finest minstrel composer of the late 19th Century, and the author of "Carry Me Back To Old Virginny". Bland is credited with writing some seven hundred songs, but copyrighted only about twenty percent of them, an unforgivable sin for the son of a patent lawyer!

    Although there appears to be no direct evidence that he wrote the song, his entry in the African American National Biography (by reference librarian William Lichtenwanger), leads to some interesting speculation. Bland crossed the Atlantic with a minstrel troupe, and became a big hit in the British music halls, staying on when the others departed. As well as developing a taste for fine living he mixed with royalty, and is said to have been presented with a gold-headed ebony cane by the Prince of Wales (Edward VII). Could this be the cane alluded to in the song?
  • "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane," transcription by Hugo Frey, was published by Robbins of New York at 40c and by Francis, Day & Hunter in London, copyright Robbins Music Corporation, 1934 (twenty-three years after Bland's death); the Ukulele arrangement was by May Singhi Breen.
  • The story in the song is not an entirely happy one; although there is no mention either of a white sports coat as in the Jerry Lee Lewis version, the singer asks to be handed down "my bot-tle o' corn," and unsurprisingly ends up in jail drunk.

    Bland suffered a worse fate than jail; although at one point he was said to be earning upwards of ten thousand dollars a year - a staggering sum then even for a college educated black man - he appears to have frittered away his money, and when minstrelsy was eclipsed by Vaudeville he found his talents were no longer in demand. He returned home after the turn of the Century, moving eventually to Philadelphia and died from tuberculosis in both poverty and obscurity on May 6, 1911.
  • In The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia, author Thomas Hischak dates "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" to c1865 and refers to it as "a traditional American spiritual that compares dying and going to heaven to grabbing a cane and catching the midnight train now that 'all my sins are taken away'". If this is indeed, the case, it rules out James Bland as the author, as he was not born until 1854. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for all above

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