Stan Rogers, “Barrett’s Privateers,” and the 20th Century Sea Shanty

by Owen James Burke

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Photo via StanRogers.net.

Stan Rogers was a Canadian folk singer whose roots lay in music and the Canadian Maritime provinces, though he wasn’t from there. While Rogers took interest in hearing and playing rock & roll music while growing up with his contemporaries, but he also took a shining to traditional folk music–particularly in the sea shanties he would overhear while spending his summers in Nova Scotia. Rogers, who was singing just as soon as he was speaking, appreciated the melodic power of sea shanties, which, fortunately for him, paired immaculately with his sturdy and booming baritone voice.

There was only one snag: he didn’t know how to sing a sea shanties, or not confidently enough with a chorus behind him. Instead, he started to write songs himself about the peoples and places he saw, most notably those along the shore in the Maritime.

“Barrett’s Privateers” is a nonfictional ballad about a fictional 18th century privateer, and like any good folk song, brings you right the time and place (be it yesterday or yesteryear). “Barrett’s Privateers” is a tale about a seaman who unwittingly boards a pirate ship and emerges as the last standing of the ship’s crew, a tale and melody that could have been written centuries earlier. What Rogers does bring to the table of sea shanties is the rhythmic twist of a 5/4-4/4 time change, not usually–if ever–found in the traditional 18th century maritime (and specifically “Maritime”) dirges.

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Photo via StanRogers.net.

Rogers began recording studio albums in the 1970’s beginning with Fogarty’s Cove (1976), Turnaround (1978), and Northwest Passage (1981), sadly his last before a runway fire on his flight after performing at a folk festival ended his life at the age of 33 in 1983.

My late Uncle, a redundantly-lettered cabinetmaker and former Maritime fisherman whose pile of diplomas never saw the light of day, would play this song and sing along during our summer vacations by the sea, often on a seaside porch over a cold beer and a story from the coast of Maine or Nova Scotia.

Stay tuned for more salty ditties. –OJB

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