A song: “Pay Me My Money Down”

(Bruce Springsteen)

I thought I heard the Captain say,
Pay me my money down,
Tomorrow is our sailing day,
Pay me my money down

Oh pay me, oh pay me,
Pay me my money down,
Pay me or go to jail,
Pay me my money down

As soon as the boat was clear of the bar,
Pay me my money down,
The captain knocked me down with a spar,
Pay me my money down

Oh pay me, oh pay me …

If I’d been a rich man’s son,
Pay me my money down,
I’d sit on the river and watch it run,
Pay me my money down

Oh pay me, oh pay me…

I wish I was Mr Gates,
Pay me my money down,
They’d haul my money in in crates,
Pay me my money down

Oh pay me, oh pay me…

Well forty nights, nights at sea
Pay me my money down,
Captain worked every last dollar out of me,
Pay me my money down

Oh pay me, oh pay me …


I wish I was Mr Howard’s son…
Sit in the shade and drink good rum,

I wish I was Mr. Steven’s son …
Sit in the shade and watch the work done


Mi è parso di sentire dire al Capitano
(dammi la mia paga)
domani si parte
(dammi la mia paga)

Pagami, pagami
dammi la mia paga
pagami o va in galera
dammi la mia paga

Non appena la barca fu lontana dalla riva
il capitano mi stese con una spranga

Vorrei essere il figlio di un ricco
starei seduto in riva al fiume a guardarlo scorrere

Vorrei essere il signor Gates
trasporterebbero i miei soldi in casse

Bene, per quaranta notti sul mare
il capitano ha spremuto fuori da me fino all’ultimo dollaro.

Vorrei essere il figlio del signor Howard
seduto all’ombra a bere del buon rum

Vorrei essere il figlio del signor Steven
seduto all’ombra a guardar lavorare gli altri.


PAY ME MY MONEY DOWN is a traditional American work song sung by the black stevedores working in the islands along the coast of Georgia. It was a traditional sea shanty – a type of work song with alternating solo and chorus, used to co-ordinate the work of many sailors. on board large merchant vessels – dating from the 19th century.
At the time slavery had been abolished even in the southern states, but the black workers were still exploited as slaves. They did not have a fixed job, but they used to go to the docks in the morning seeking employment for the day.
This was a protest song in the ports of the southern United States where captains wanted their ships to be loaded or unloaded as soon as they arrived at the quayside, but tried to pay the dock workers the next day. Sometimes, at night, the ship slipped out of the harbour and the stevedores were left unpaid.

It was performed by The Weavers in 1955 and recorded by Bruce Springsteen in 2006.

As often happens for folk songs, the lyrics were frequently modified for local conditions and even today they are often brought up to date with the addition of extra verses.
In some versions there are the names of Mr Howard, Mr Steven or Mr Foster, who probably were rich bosses.
Bruce Springsteen added a line about Mr Gates, a likely reference to the Microsoft founder
Nowadays in English “paying money down” means paying part of an amount of money that you owe, reducing the total debt, but it is used rarely.

Down payment is the initial payment made when something is bought on credit, with the balance to be paid later (in instalments)


14 thoughts on “A song: “Pay Me My Money Down”

  1. Splendida ballata. Un canto di lavoro portato alla ribalta negli anni ’50 da Pete Seeger del quel Bruce ne fece un tributo con un album interamente dedicato al cantante compositore nonché leader dei Weavers. Ricorda fortemente l’America dei primi anni del secolo scorso.

    Liked by 2 people

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