Boat's Up The River


  • Picture and recording on Dust-to-Digital. Sung with banjo in key of E by Ola Belle Reed, author of the tune.
  • We heard this long ago on a cassette tape called Old-Time Banjo in America (Kicking Mule 204, 1978), a collection of field recordings by Art Rosenbaum of New York City. The album is shown here.
  • Blog banjo journeys by Chuck Levy shows tuning and finger picking style.

The Ola Belle Reed festival site offers the icon shown here. The image is a transformation of a black & white photograph, with the background changed to make Reed part of the mountains. Reed was from Lansing, North Carolina. She lived in Chester County Pennsylvania and Cecil County Maryland where she performed with her family live and on radio. She played a resonator banjo and used her own picking style.

How to play 5-string banjo in key of E

Tuning: g# E G# B E (suggested to retune with capo on 1st or 2nd fret).

Fingering E chord: o 0 0 0 0 (open)

Fingering A chord: x 0 1 2 0 (no drone)

Fingering B chord: x 2 3 4 2 (no drone, bar 2nd fret)

This tune can be played mostly open, fingering the individual notes without strumming chords.


Boat's up the river won't come downtell by the way she's comin', Alabamy bound.Alabamy bound, boys, Alabamy boundTell by the way she's comin', Alabamy bound.Well there' just one thing that bothers my mindit's my old Waterbury, she can't keep timeShe won't keep time boys, can't keep timeit's my old Waterbury, she can't keep time

The lyrics state the obvious. The boat is Alabamy Bound; the river flows south. The old Waterbury won't keep time. This was a cheap watch, included free with a pair of overalls, from the Waterbury Watch Company in Waterbury Connecticut.