Calypso Travels - The story behind Don Walter's song "72 Weeds"
Music genres as well as specific songs have been travelling throughout the West Indies for a long time.
Here is an example of the well travelled Caribbean composition "The Weed Song", adopted by Walter Ferguson as "72 Weeds".
Walter Gavitt Ferguson ca. 2009, photo by Nazareth Pacheco
"The Weed Song" originated in British Guyana. Unlike many other travelled Calypsos, this one can actually be traced back to a specific Calypsonian called BILL ROGERS. Since its first recording in 1934 on shellac, it has been played and recorded in countless versions throughout the Caribbean. The following video shows five of them from different eras and different locations.
- On Costa Rica's Limon coast it was adopted as "72 WEEDS" by WALTER GAVITT FERGUSON (enjoy a Tape Hunt version in the video) and also by PITUN (EDGAR HUTCHINSON) probably during the 1940's/ 50s when they played in LOS MISERABLES together.
Stirred by its fame, "The Weed Song" served as a base for new compositions «borrowing» meldoy or lyrics from the original tune :
- In 1954, US singer HARRY BELOFONTE and writer JACK N. ROLLINS changed "The Weed Song" in lyrics and melodic structure (except for the refrain), now telling the story of a small boy getting sex education. Their song called "Man Piaba" was hugely popular outside of the Caribbean.
In 1957, Trinidadian GEORGE ANDERSON, together with his brother, the legendary Calypsonian DUKE OF IRON (CECIL ANDERSON) invented completely new lyrics for "The Weed Song", but keept the melodic structure and rhythm intact. The lyrics of their song called "The Walking Department Store" tell the story of a street vendor who is selling stolen items.
This song too travelled through the Caribbean, an example is the version by LORD COBRA of Panama, who dubbed it "Crooked Salesman".