Rio Grande

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“Rio Grande” is a sea chantey.

Alternate names

  • Away, Rio
  • Away for Rio
  • Away to Rio
  • Bound for the Rio Grande
  • Were You Ever in Rio Grand

External links

Liner Notes

Rio Grande” is track 1 on Shower Chanteys, recorded 24 October 2017 at Mill Pond Music Studio.[1]

“Rio Grande” is a capstan or windlass chantey, exclusively used for raising the anchor on an outward-bound trip. I first learned this song at the San Francisco chantey sing; my version is fairly close to that of Salty Walt and the Rattlin’ Ratlines.

According to Hugill,[2] the place in question is Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil, though his assertions should always be taken with a grain of salt. All the sources[3][4] and all recordings I’ve ever heard badly mispronounce the place, as I do as well; it is always Rye-o Grand, never Ree-o Grahn-day. Sailors were generally abominable about furrin place names.

Hugill gives six variations; the first is transcribed in the first page of the PDF linked here, as I was messing about with the LilyPond software I used to put the arrangement together, and is the closest to the version I know and recorded.

The first version that I recorded can be heard in the Kickstarter campaign video, recorded 17 October 2017. It was a little tricky getting pitches right; Jim Prendergast, my recording engineer, suggested making MIDI guidetracks, which is what led to this whole songbook and online liner notes project as a side-effect.[5] I had a cold while I was arranging this song, and originally arranged it in F, then F♯, and ended up recording it in G, all of which are way out of my normal range. That second take, in G, sounded much more solid, and is what’s on the album.

The reference to “Frisco girls” really makes no sense here, especially in combination with the reference to New York in the verse. I can only say that that’s the version that has stuck the most soundly in my brain.

I knew from the start of this project that this was going to be the first track. I love the idea of opening with, “I’ll sing you a song, a good song of the sea; I’ll sing a good chorus if you’ll sing it with me.” I often use this to start a chantey sing for the same reason.


  1. “Rio Grande,” recording by Chris Maden. MusicBrainz.
  2. Stan Hugill. Shanties from the Seven Seas, pp. 80–87. New U.S. Edition. Mystic, Conn.: Mystic Seaport, 1994.
  3. Joanna C. Colcord. Songs of American Sailormen, pp. 85–87. Enlarged and Revised Edition. New York: Bramhall House, 1938.
  4. Laura Alexandrine Smith. The Music of the Waters, pp. 10–12. London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1888.
  5. Chris Maden. “Behind the Scenes,” Kickstarter update. 26 October 2017.