I’ve been asking myself this question for ages. In fact, I first heard my mother singing this song as a young child. My mom could sing too! As children, we could never understand why anyone would EVER throw overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder? Who was Mrs. Murphy? Whose overalls where they? And ever more curiously, why did my mother know about this incident? Hell, she was even singing about it. I had forgotten all about that song (popularized by Bing Crosby), until this morning. It just popped into my head.  I finally tracked it down today on this new-fangled invention we have called – The Internet.

Mom always emphasized the St. Patrick’s Day Celebration. In fact my birth name is James Patrick – how about that! We were forced into green shirts, given shamrocks to pin on our clothing, and were asked to share a few Irish jokes with friends and family. I remember hearing this one during my first sip of green beer at sixteen:
(Ok, it’s old and you’ve likely heard it before):

Pat was on his deathbed, not long for this world.
He said to his friend “Mike, they’re going to be lowering me into the ground soon. I want you to do me a favour”.
“Anything for you Paddy” said Mike.
“Ok, I have been saving the finest bottle of Irish Whiskey back at home. When they’re lowering me into the ground I want you to pour it onto me grave.”
“Of course I’ll do that for you Paddy” said Mike. “One thing though, would you mind if I filter it through me kidney’s first?”

To deal in stereotypes is a tricky business, however, my one-quarter Irish blood along with being raised ‘culturally Irish’ gives me a few liberties to ‘take the piss’ out of my friends, family and heritage.
Interestingly enough, the Celtic sound has never found its way into my musical style.  Lyrically, however, the storytelling component of Irish songs did. In fact, I would consider a substantial proportion of my fan base to be Irish as a result of my story-based songs.  On one occasion I lied about the fact that I DID play Celtic music to land a gig. Needless to say, things went horribly awry.

My brother called me on a Sunday afternoon saying “We found a great place for you to play Jay!  It was packed to the rafters last night. They were all drinking and singing along to old Irish songs. We had a blast. Beautiful Irish lasses, great stout, great music!”

“Ok that’s great guys but I don’t do Celtic music. Besides, I’m playing my own stuff these days in venues where people actually ‘listen’!!!

“Jay, don’t worry about it. We talked to the owner and you’re good to go. We said you’d learn a few Irish songs for the show. He’s going to pay you well. ”

“Is that so? What show? Who did you promise?  I’m not doing that…er…So how much is he going to pay? How many songs do I need to know?”

A few weeks later, I found myself on the phone with Big Mike, the owner of the bar who was grilling me on my repertoire. “It’s very much a Celtic bar son. We need Irish songs all night.” “Well sir” I said, “I know ‘Who Threw the Overall’s in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder and Black Velvet Band. Does that count?”
He was very much on the fence and asked if I’d be willing to learn many more.  I thought, what a nice guy. He’s willing to take a chance on me. Who does that?
I was literally seconds away from declining the offer until he threw out the remuneration amount. It was three times what I’d normally been making in the folk clubs.
“I’ll have the complete Irish Rovers catalogue memorized before I take the stage sir!”
“Very well” he said, “We’ll see you in three weeks Jay.”

Three weeks came and went and I leafed through a few Irish songbooks, played some old records and ultimately ran out of time. My procrastination and general laziness got the best of me. I SO wanted to cancel the show. I decided to do something I’d never done before. Print out lyrics and use a music stand – on stage – live! I printed out the lyrics to every Irish standard, even a few Pogues tunes and walked into the bar.

Strangely enough, my two brothers, knowing I was ill prepared, were hiding quietly in the shadows, awaiting the absurdist theatre that was about to unfold. I looked out from the dimly lit stage to a sea of red mutton chops, boisterous drinkers and stunningly beautiful Irish girls. I remember thinking to myself – I just can’t perpetrate this fraud any longer. Not if I want a chance with that beautiful ginger haired girl over there! She’ll know I’m faking it. Then I’ll be a known as a true Huck Finn – just another huckster.

So I began with a half-hearted attempt at Black Velvet Band and found myself actually stopping the song to turn the page to read more lyrics. I limped through it all red faced and finally leaned over to gulp down half of my Guinness in one sip. I thought, ‘Okay, that’s one for them, now I can play one of my own.’ I decided to play an original upbeat song. Halfway through the song, I saw the owner come out of his office, walk through the crowd and stand beside the stage. The song ended to a very marginal applause. He actually walked up onto the stage, leaned in and said, “Ok, enough of this stuff kid. Knock’em out with some killer Irish music all night long buddy – like we discussed.  Just go for it!”
“Um, about that…er…I was meaning to tell you. I didn’t get around to memorizing the songs as mentioned. I have them printed out here though on these papers? “
“Are you serious man? NOW what in the hell are we going to do?” he said.
“Well, I can play the North American songbook all night long and see how that goes???” I pleaded.
This delicate conversation continued on the stage until the crowed began to boo – loudly! First and last  time that has ever happened.Truly a low point.
“Go ahead and do what you have to do and let’s just get out of this mess!”
The disappointed Irish contingent in the crowd accepted my heartfelt apology and gave me a free pass to play Brown Eyed Girl and American Pie for the night. The college students filed in and somehow by the end of the evening all was redeemed. I remember being so lit up, the waitress actually cut me off. The owner called me back into his office at 3:00 a.m. and had me sit down.
“You know, I never wanted to take a chance on you. I wish I hadn’t. You didn’t live up to your end of the deal. You did keep them all singing along though and for that reason only, I’m going to pay you tonight. I’m really disappointed in you.” When someone says they’re disappointed in you – that hurts the most.  It was true. I felt like I was in the Principles office back in grade two getting disciplined – again!

I remember slipping out of the back door with my brothers and into a cab feeling like we really ‘were’ Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. The round-up party lasted until 6:00 am. The next day, when I sobered up, I called the bar back to give him a proper account my shortcomings and to thank him for compensating me. Although appreciative of my efforts, he did not appear overly forgiving. I left it at that. What a nice guy. I hope wherever he’s landed, he’s doing well – he deserves it. I learned a lesson that night. Money ain’t worth a dime if you don’t come by it honestly. I’ve felt bad about that ever since.

So there you have it friends.  Happy St. Paddy’s Day to all of my Irish heroes:  The Heaney’s, Rooney’s, Cullen’s, Doan’s, Talbot’s, Murphy’s, O’Brien’s, O’Boyle’s, O Gosh…there’s simply too many to remember. Please, please take a few minutes and give me your best Irish story. Just make it a quick one and I’ll repost it for everyone. I know you have one or two in you.

Here’s one of the best Irish families I know!

One of the best Irish families I know

And here’s some more interesting stuff:

My favourite author of all time – NUMERO UNO: Jonathan Swift.  Promise me you’ll read this:
http://art-bin.com/art/omodest.html

Legendary playwright Sean O’Casey. Start with Juno and the Paycock. (The play was adapted into a Hitchcock movie – seek it out!)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juno_and_the_Paycock

And of course:

A scratchy Edison recording of “Who Threw the Overall’s in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder”. Forgive the politically incorrect language as it was written well over 100 years ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74me1FdfyWg

Mrs. Murphy gave a party just about a week a-go,
Everything was plentiful the Murphy’s they’re not slow,
They treated us like gentlemen we tried to act the same,
Only for what happened well it was an awful shame..

When Mrs. Murphy dished the chowder out she fainted on the spot.
She found a pair of overalls in the bottom of the pot.
Tim Nolan, he got rippin’ mad. His eyes were bulging out.
He jumped up on the piano and loudly he did shout…….

Chorus

Who threw the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder?
Nobody spoke so he shouted all the louder,
It’s an Irish trick that’s true,
I can lick the “mick” that threw
The overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder.

They dragged the pants from out the soup and laid them on the floor.
Each man swore upon his life, he’d ne’er seen them before.
They were plastered up with mortar and were worn out at the knee,
They’d had their many ups and downs as we could plainly see.

And when Mrs. Murphy, she came to, she b’gan to cry and pout,
She’d had them in the wash that day and forgot to take them out.
Tim Nolan, he excused himself for what he said that night,
So we put music to the words and sang with all our might….

Chorus

Who threw the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder?
Nobody spoke so he shouted all the louder,
It’s an Irish trick that’s true,
I can lick the “mick” that threw
The overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder.

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2 thoughts on “Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?

  1. What a nice surprise to see that photo! The yard looks good! Anytime you are in town, there’s a lawn chair and a big bon-fire pit for you to play at…we would welcome that anytime! Thanks for the thoughts Jay and I hope your St. Paddy’s Day was fantastic!

    1. Hey Vanessa, great photo! I’ll take you guys up on that sometime. I’ll be on tour for the next five months but home for a bit in July. Maybe then?
      Hope you guys had a good Paddy’s Day too!

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