At The Crossroads

Crossroad 12: Santy Anno


Santy Anno

“Spider” John Koerner

I bought Running, Jumping, Standing Still by Spider” John Koerner & Willy Murphy in around 1970 or 1971. I have no idea what prompted me to buy it, I think it may have been one of those wonderful speculative purchases that becomes a treasure.

It was on the turntable a lot.

This song comes from a much later (1992) “Spider” John album – Raised By Humans (Red House Records)

“Spider” John Koerner’s rendition of Santy Anno seems to be a hybrid of a number of versions of the song.

It roots are either the Mexican-American War in the 1840’s … or the gold rush into California in 1849. “Spider’s” version merges them –  rendering the lyric senseless from any historical or geographic perspective.

But it is still a rollicking sea shanty – and who needs logical sense.

Anyway the two stories are these:

1. The Mexican-Amercian War

The name of the song and its refrain comes from the Mexican General, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. In one battle he was pitched against Zach Taylor (who went on to become the 12th President of the USA). This battle took place near Monterrey (not Monterey). Taylor defeated Santa Anna. Different versions of the song include another US General – Scott. Scott led troops at Molina del Rey which appears in other versions of the song that have this slant.

2. The Gold Rush – California 1849

In 1849 roughly 300,000 people surged into California hoping to strike rich by finding gold. Half of them came by sea. Clearly General Santa Anna has nothing to do with this event. Stan Hugill – performer, artist, sea-music historian – suggests that the patron saint of  Breton – Saint Anne is the source of inspiration of the song.

Now, the lyric “Spider” sings has us – in the days of ’49 –  leaving Liverpool, heading south, passing the Gulf of Mexico (ie passing the “plains of Mexico” where Generals Santa Anna & Taylor faced off, around Cape Horn up to Frisco Bay and then back down to Mexico.

Oh, well! Heave aweigh.

How does Santy Anno connect with Paths of Victory?

At about the same time Bob Dylan was learning songs from Odetta’s album, he was knocking around, playing guitar with “Spider” John Koerner in Dinkytown (an area of Minneapolis). Koerner has been described as “a middle class Huck Finn intensely involved in music” and said himself that he and Bob “liked playing the same sort of guitar things”.

Dylan in his Chronicles Volume One says:

With my newly learned repertoire, I then went further up the street and dropped into the Ten O’Clock Scholar, a Beat coffeehouse. I was looking for players with kindred spirits. The first guy I met in Minneapolis like me was sitting around in there. It was John Koerner and he also had an accoustic guitar with him. Koerner was tall and thin with a look of perpetual amusement on his face. We hit it off right away. … When he spoke he was soft spoken, but when he sang he became a field holler shouter. Koerner was an exciting singer, and we began playing a lot together.

Odetta has also performed Santy Anno – although it is clearly the “Gold Rush” version with all the action happening in Californi-o.


Other Stuff You Might Enjoy.

* Santy Anno by Odetta

* Aweigh, Santy Ano by The Weavers – A great version as you’d expect from legends. Another about the gold rush. This one starts at Boston instead of Liverpool.

* Santy Anno – Tommy Makem & The Clancy Brothers

* Santiano – Hugues Aufray & Tri Yann – in FRench with audience participation.

* Songs of the Sea – a website compendium of sea tunes, lyrics and information.

And the next road takes us to?

North:  Days of ’49 by Bob Dylan
East:     Running, Jumping, Stand Still by Spider John Koerner & Willy Murphy.
South:  Why Aye Man by Mark Knopfler
West:   Paths of Victory was our last port of call.

Set your sails for where ...