Bonita And Bill Butler lyrics by Alison Krauss, 3 meanings, official 2020 song lyrics | LyricsMode.com
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Alison Krauss – Bonita And Bill Butler lyrics
I grew up in the scantling yards of Wheeling, West Virginia
A wheelhouse cub looking for an open door
In the packet ways a Sweeney wed the keel of my Bonita
Just two months from her timbers 'til she moored
I paid the fare in billet on her maiden voyage to Vicksburg
And talked my way to hand the tiller on the course
In her planks I carved a notch and sealed the vow 'Be my Bonita'
And her dowry was my life between the shores

I was born with rouging ways, and she steered me like a woman
From the port calls and the bawds that lead me stray
The calliope serenades, made the old towns come running
And the boys would gamble shards to pull her chains
The striker's boast would fain me loss, about the wrecks the shoals were keeping
And how the old girl's got poor Billy's ransom saved

On the lake at Bistineau, she set the wharf at Dixie
With a thousand bales of cotton on her main
As the great raft disappeared, the watermark went sinking
And she was stuck right hard, a listing on the bank
With the furnace still a blaze, I stood my last upon her
Then climbed the prow and took a landsman's trade
'A derelict now Milady' said the watch log I've concorded
'Have the bosun sound us eight bells for the change'

Cause I was born with rouging ways, and she steered me like a woman
From the port calls and the bawds that lead me stray
The calliope serenades, made the old towns come running
And the boys would gamble shards to pull her chains
And I would take to wider walks, so the gin I stopped a drinking
At three scores aloft this crooked frame
The striker's boast would fain me loss, about the wrecks the shoals were keeping
And how the old girl's got poor Billy's ransom saved
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Bonita And Bill Butler meanings

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    dfclark
    Bonita and Bill Butler
    by Sidney Cox. Sung by Dan Timinski and Union Station

    scantling yards = where the narrow ribs (scantling) for riverboats or other sailing ships created the hull
    Wheeling, West Virginia = on the Ohio River, one of the largest in the US, and a good site for a shipyard
    wheelhouse cub = a kid growing up wanting to pilot a riverboat
    open door = an invitation to learn the river and become a pilot
    packet ways = packet steamers took on both cargo and passengers, so a yard where boats of this type were assembled
    a Sweeney = slang for an Irishman
    wed the keel = attached the ribs of the hull to the keel of the ship
    my Bonita = the name of the riverboat he fell in love with
    from her timbers = from the time she was just timber on the ground
    till she moored = to the time she was launched and tied up at the dock
    paid the fare in billet = billet was the passenger category of travel
    Vicksburg (Mississippi) = a key river town in the Civil War
    hand the tiller on the course = help work the "arm" that controlled the rudder of a shop and set the direction of sailing
    sealed the vow = sealed a promise (like marriage) to be faithful to "my Bonita"
    her dowry = the price paid by a husband in some cultures to the woman he was marrying
    her dowry was my life between the shores = a life of sailing back and forth between ports on the opposite banks of a river
    born with rogue'in ways = misspelled in most versions. A 'rogue' was a man without moral boundaries in his life
    steered me like a woman = like a woman (mother, wife) determined to keep her (boy, man) out of trouble
    from the port calls = the towns where the Bonita tied up to the dock
    and the bawds that led me stray = bawdy, lewd, obscene, filthy temptations (probably women and bars)
    led me stray = led me astray
    (cal-ee-ope) = rural pronunciation for caliope = an organ, powered by the ship's steam engine
    serenades = many riverboats would play music will tied up, in order to drum up interest and business from the town
    gamble shards = uncertain. small coins? can't find any reference online.
    to pull her chains = uncertain, but probably to help with tying the ship up to the local dock
    striker = uncertain
    striker's boast would fain me loss = would deceive me
    about the wrecks the shoals were keeping = about how many ships ran aground in shallow water and were lost
    how the old girl's got poor Billy's ransom saved = also uncertain
    lake at Bistineau = a long, narrow waterway on the Red River in Louisiana
    Dixie = a town in Caddo Parish, in the far northwest corner of Louisiana
    on her main = on her cargo deck
    as the great raft disappeared = probably a "raft" of logs being floated downriver to a mill
    the watermark went sinking = the line along the side of a boat showing how shallow or deep she was loaded
    right hard = with huge force
    a listing on the bank = the log raft struck the Bonita, tipping her cargo into the water and driving her onto the riverbank
    furnace still ablaze = the ship's boiler still on full steam and setting the ship on fire
    stood my last upon her = stood on her deck for the last time
    climbed the prow = climbed up the sinking and inclined deck and onto the point of the ship's bow = his way of escape
    took a landsman's trade = found work in a job on land, never captained a riverboat again
    derelict now Milady = a last tribute to the wrecked (derelict) ship that he calls "My lady"
    watch log = a record kept on ship of changes in the river's course, and so on
    concorded = (rural) he probably means "recorded", but "concorded" would be a statement that he was not responsible
    bosun = the senior officer of the deck, probably second-in-command after the pilot
    eight bells for the change = similar to a police officer's retirement or death being honored with "We have the watch."
    take to widder walks = (rural) widows would often walk together in the evenings for mutual comfort; he joins them
    gin I stopped a drinking = he gives up alcohol, hopefully to win the heart of a widow
    three score aloft this crooked frame = 60 years of age and bent over now
    striker's boast etc etc = see earlier section
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    So Sweeney isn’t referring to an Irish man here.... I don’t believe. “In the packet ways a Sweeney...” Ways was a captain who wrote a lot about river boats. A Packet is a river boat that held cargo and passengers. So a little clever use of words in the packet ways (in the packet style) while paying tribute to captain ways. And a Sweeney would refer to the Sweeney family who owned and operated river boat yards on the Ohio river. Where this song takes place
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    Thank you dfclark for taking the time to research and explain this interesting song and its meanings! I think the pull her chains part is to engage the calliope whistle myself. I dont have anything to add but that though! Kind of a sad song to me but I find it very easy to think about falling in love with a boat and the water as a young man.
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    • d
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      dfclark
      Bonita and Bill Butler
      by Sidney Cox. Sung by Dan Timinski and Union Station

      scantling yards =... Read more →
    • U
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      Unregistered
      So Sweeney isn’t referring to an Irish man here.... I don’t believe. “In the packet ways a... Read more →

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