Beach Boys meet George Romero?
September 4, 2011 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Looking for some background I swear I read related the song "Sloop John B" to tales of ghost ships, zombies and other nautical/Caribbean folklore.

"Sloop John B" is my all-time favorite Beach Boys song. I know a little bit about the history of the ditty — from Carl Sandburg to Alan Lomax — but in the course of my casual research I swear I read something referring to the eponymous vessel as a ghost ship, not unlike The Flying Dutchman.

I also remember reading that the name of the ship is a bastardization of the word "zombie." In the Caribbean, a "jumbee" is a spirit or demon, and that word looks and sounds a lot like "John B." This would seem to support the ghost ship legend.

However, I cannot for the life of me find this info online, and I know I didn't come up with it on my own. So where the hell did I read this?
posted by Brittanie to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Related: The tune was adapted by Will Sheff as a comment on John Berrymore's suicide as described here.
posted by carmicha at 11:27 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm seeing a youtube (Google: "John B Sails Zombie") that's very close to your third paragraph. No attribution, though.
posted by Leon at 11:49 AM on September 4, 2011

comment. youtube comment. Edit window, diamonds and rubies, etc.
posted by Leon at 11:50 AM on September 4, 2011

It's not the post at the bottom of this page? Found googling for "Sloop John B" +jumbee
posted by bjrn at 12:52 PM on September 4, 2011

Response by poster: Leon, you nailed it. It's the description on this video that I remember reading. Now if only I could find some more information on that theory. Thanks!
posted by Brittanie at 1:15 PM on September 4, 2011

Berryman, not Barrymore.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:23 PM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, there does seem to have been a real John B -- John Bethel, a Bahamian sea captain, who may or may not be the John Bethel who was an original settler, but in any case led to a long line of Bethels in the islands. It seems more likely to me that the eponymous sloop was named for him rather than by him, but Sandburg does seem convinced that there was such a ship by that name parts of which were recovered in 1926 (at Governor's Harbour, which is on Eleuthera, not Nassau itself) -- but I can't find anything more substantive than that. (Which surprises me -- I would have thought if there were substance to this, it would be a minor tourist attraction.)

Even all that said, it would not be the first time that real history and folk belief have intersected in the form of a song.
posted by dhartung at 3:09 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

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