> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Reuben Ranzo
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Reuben Ranzo

[ Roud 3282 ; Ballad Index Doe023 ; DT RBNRANZO ; Mudcat 172056 ; trad.]

Songs of American Sailormen

A.L. Lloyd sang the halyard shanty Reuben Ranzo on Ewan MacColl’s and his albums Thar She Blows! (1957), The Black Ball Line (1957), and Blow the Man Down (1963), and on the compilations Sea Songs and Shanties (Topic Sampler No 7), Chants de Marins IV: Ballads, Complaintes et Shanties des Matelots Anglais, and Sailors’ Songs & Sea Shanties.

A.L. Lloyd noted on the Blow the Man Down sleeve:

A great favourite among topgallant halyard shanties. It has been suggested that “Ranzo” is a corruption of the name: Lorenzo. American whaling ships often recruited Portuguese seamen in the Azores, and Ranzo may have been one of these. However, if the song originated in whaling vessels it seems to have spread quickly to ships of other kinds and became as well known to British as to American seamen.

Louis Killen sang Reuben Ranzo at a midnight folk concert recorded in London in May 1963. This recording was included in the same year on his, Bob Davenport’s and Redd Sullivan’s Decca EP Sea Shanties. He also sang it in 1970 on the South Street Seaport Museum album 50 South to 50 South, and in 1974 as lead singer, with a chorus of Tony Barrand, Gordon Bok, Jon Eberhart, John Roberts, Andy Wallace and Jeff Warner, on the Hudson River Sloop Restauration charity album, Clearwater.

The Shanty Men, with John Goodluck in lead, sang Reuben Ranzo in 1978 on their eponymous Greenwich Village album The Shanty Men.

Folk och Rackare sang a Swedish version, Ruben Ranzo, in 1979 on their album Anno 1979. They noted [my translation]:

Ruben Ranzo is a hauling song appearing in a lot of variants in different languages. Our version has been frequently sung among Norwegian and Swedish sailors.

The origin is an American mocking song about stowaways and emigrant con men, so-called “Western Ocean Packet Rats”. According to English sea practice, a shilling was the lowest possible wage—for the lowest rating on the crew. Read more in Sternvall’s Sång under segel.

Danny Spooner sang Reuben Ranzo on his 1988 album We’ll Either Bend or Break ’Er.

The X-Seaman’s Institute sang Reuben Ranzo on the 2004 anthology Classic Maritime Music from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

The Exmouth Shanty Man sang Reuben Ranzo in 2022 on their WildGoose album Tall Ships and Tavern Tales. They noted:

Various theories describe Reuben Ranzo as Portuguese, Danish, Russian, Polish or American Latin! It is said to be a favourite song of the fo’c’sle (sailor’s living quarters on ship) because of the innuendo directed at the officers.


A.L. Lloyd sings Reuben Ranzo

Oh, poor old Reuben Ranzo,
    Ranzo, my boys, Ranzo
Oh, poor old Reuben Ranzo,
    Ranzo, my boys, Ranzo

Oh, Ranzo was no sailor
So he shipped aboard a whaler

Oh, Ranzo was no beauty
So he couldn’t do his duty

Oh, because he was so dirty
He give him five and thirty

Oh, the skipper’s daughter Suzy
Well, she begged her dad for mercy

Oh, she give him wine and water
And a bit more than she ought to

Well, he got his first mate papers
He’s a terror to the whalers

Now he’s known wherever them whale-fish blow
As the hardest master on the go

Danny Spooner sings Reuben Ranzo

Oh Jesus Christ Almighty
    Ranzo boys, Ranzo,
Oh Jesus Christ Almighty,
    Ranzo my boys, Ranzo.

Oh Ranzo was no sailor,
But he shipped aboard a whaler.

He washed once in a fortnight,
He said it was his birthright.

Because he was so dirty
The skipper give him thirty.

Aye the skipper give him thirty
But his daughter begged fer mercy.

She took ’im to her cabin,
To try and ease his aching.

She give him rum and water,
And a bit more than she oughta.

She give ’im ejercation,
And taught ’im navigation.

She made him the best sailor,
Aboard a Yankee whaler.

Now he’s known wherever the whalefish blow,
As the toughest bastard on the go.

(repeat first verse)