A Prairie Home Companion Camp-Song Songbook

Set 4, June 24

We sang this regularly around the fire at our campsites on the shores of the Yellowstone River. My geologist parents, my two sisters, and I camped on the ranch of family friends, the Petersons, for three summers in the late 50s, including the year of the quake.

The song's an old favorite - but remarkable in our version for the third verse, which I've never heard sung in more conventional renderings. (While I once heard Garrison say it was the only song with only two verses, that's NOT the way we learned it!)

It would be great to hear it sung again in Big Sky Country the way the Ashmores sang it there 40 years ago... and the way my mother learned several decades before that!

Tell Me Why

Tell me why the ivy twines.
Tell me why the stars do shine.
Tell me why the sky is blue.
And I will tell you just why I love you.

Because God made the ivy twine.
Because God made the stars to shine.
Because God made the sky so blue.
Because God made you, that's why I love you.

I do believe that God above
Created you for me to love.
I think S/He chose you from all the rest
Because S/He knew I'd love you the best.

This should be sung at a campfire for two. - MM

Nancy J. Ashmore, Northfield, Minnesota

PS We sang He back then, of course, but use She more often nowadays. Take your pick!

This is a favorite camp song from my long ago youth. We enjoyed singing this one around the campfires at Camp Ohio, a 4-H camp located in central Ohio.

This was the specialty of the Camp Knutson maintenance director, who made a good Junior Birdsman. - MM

Junior Birdsman

Up in the air Jr. Birdsman,
Up in the air upside down,
Up in the air Jr. Birdsman,
Keep your noses off the ground.

If you see a Jr. birdsman,
With his wings made of tin,
You will know that Jr. Birdsman
Has sent his boxtops in.

It takes four boxtops, three bottle caps, two coupons and one thin dime, ZOOM.

As you sang this song you had to form goggles with your thumb and first fingers, while twisting your hands in such a way that the other three fingers of your hand would lay against the sides of your head (palms facing in, of course). Good luck in figuring out those directions - I am not a technical writer. It was a fun song with good memories.

Nina Warren Biehler, Pittsburgh, PA

Johnny Rebek
Sausage Machine I

Oh mister Johnny Rebek
how could you be so mean
I told you you'd be sorry for
inventing that machine
now all the neighbors cats and dogs
will nevermore be seen
they'll all be ground in sausages
in Johnny Rebek's machine

1. One day a little boy came walking in the store
he bought a pound of sausages, and laid it on the floor
then he started whistling, he whistled up a tune,
and all the little sausages went dancing around the room

2) One day the machine broke, the darn thing wouldn't go,
so Johnny Rebek he crawled inside to see what made it so.
His wife was having a nightmare, walking in her sleep,
she gave the crank a heck of a yank and Johnny Rebek was meat.

Sang occasionally at Chin-Be-Gota Scout camp near Antigo, Wis.

Why only occasionally? Another great song, now dealing with manslaughter! - MM

Vive L'avenir!

Dave Scott

Johnny Vorbeck
Sausage Machine II


Mr. Johnny Vorbeck how could you be so mean?
I told you'd be sorry for inventing that machine.
Now all the neighbors cats and dogs will never more be seen.
They'll all be turned to sausages in Johnny Vorbeck's machine.

Verse 1
One day a little Dutch boy came wailing in the store.
He bought a pound of sausages and laid them on the floor.
He then began to whistle, he whistled up a tune.
And all the little sausages began dancing round the room.

Repeat chorus.

Verse 2
One day the thing got busted, the darn thing wouldn't go.
So Johnny Vorbeck, he climbed inside to see what made it so.
His wife she had a nightmare, while walking in her sleep.
She gave the crank A HECK OF A YANK -- and Johnny Vorbeck was meat!

Repeat chorus.

While this may or may not be sponsored by Bertha's Kitty Boutique it was sung at every Alexander family camp-out for more than thirty years (and still going). This was as much a tradition as taped versions of PHC (we camped out of reception range and taped favorite shows to play on Saturday afternoons). Don't know the origin or the tune but its easy to pick up.

Mark Alexander and Family, Clifton Park New York

Sausage Machine III

I learned this song from my Dad a long long time ago and my brothers and sisters still sing it and laugh a lot.

Johnny Rebec the Dutchman,
what makes you be so mean?
I told you you'd be sorry
for inventing that machine.
Now all the neighbor's cats and dogs
will never more be seen.
They'll all be ground to sausages
in Johnny Rebec's machine.

One day the machine was broken
The darned thing wouldn't go.
So Johnny Rebec crawled in
to see what made it so.
Along came his wife
a walking down the street.
She gave the crank
a heck of a yank
and Johnny Rebec was meat.

Ohhh Johnny Rebec the Dutchman,
what makes you be so mean?

My mother, hearing the song recently, laughingly recalled a song she sang as a child at camp entitled "Go get the ax, there's a fly on baby's head!" Unfortunately for all of us she couldn't recall all the words. If anyone else knows the words, I would enjoy reading them here.


This "camp song " is an original I composed on a family car trip to Lancaster, PA when I was about eight or nine years old. We had just started out on our trip and passed by a local riding stable which sported a sign reading: PONIES FOR SALE OR RENT.

King of the Load
Sung to the tune of Roger Miller's King of the Road

Pony for sale or rent
One leg's gone
And his tail is bent.
Can't take him out of the state
Too fat and got a rotten gait.

No shoes, saddle, bridle or bit
He can't stand but he sure can sit.
He's a horse, of course, but no prize
He ain't got no eyes.

Knows every clover patch on ev'ry hill
Won't leave until he's eaten his fill.
He's a good candidate for the glue factory.
Please, Mister, won't you buy him from me?

I sing...Pony for sale or rent
One leg's gone
And his tail is bent.
Can't take him out of the state
Too fat and got a rotten gait,
He's King of the Load....He's King of the Load...
He's King of the Load.

Fredi Stewart, Sterling, Virginia

Have you thought of selling this to Weird Al Yankovich? - MM

This is so bad that it has stayed with me for decades. Sung by the girls who attended Camp Allegheny, in the heart of the Appalachians in Wild Wonderful West Virginia. At least in the 40s.

River, Here's to You
The tune is The Blue Danube Waltz (poor Strauss)

Here goes.

First Part:
Greenbrier River here's to you
We love to float down in our canoe
And look at the banks go rushing past
And hope that the hours don't go too fast
All in a line,
All feeling fine
Rapids ahead
We don't dread
'till the last white water's sped.

Second Part:
As we dip and glide
As we gently slide
down the river
down the river
Hearts and spirits light,
this is our delight,
floating down Greenbrier,
Oh Greenbrier evermore.

Third Part
duh duh, duh duh, duh duh
duh duh duh, duh duh, duh duh
duh duh duh, duh duh, duh, duh
floating down the Greenbrier,
Greenbrier evermore.

To get the right effect, one must hear this song yelled at the top of the lungs of approximately 50 ten year old girls in canoes, floating down the Greenbrier.

You would NEVER forget it, under those circumstances.

Jane Theiling, Folly Beach, SC

I really like songs where the words are easy to learn - I like the third verse best of all.

Fifty 10-year-old girls singing this song as described is a scary vision. I would hope they canoed by very quickly. - MM

Sung to the Tune of Bye Bye Blackbird

I just lost my underwear
I don't care, I'll go bare,
Bye Bye Longjohns.

They were very dear to me
Tickled me, hee hee hee!
Bye Bye Longjohns.

I remember that little round flap behind me
Open up and there you would find me

I just lost my underwear
I don't care, I'll go bare
Longjohns Bye Bye!

We'd have rated this song PG13 at Camp Knutson - MM

I learned this song at Girl Scout Camp on the grounds of Sagamore Hill, the home of Teddy Roosevelt, in Oyster Bay Long Island around 1973. Our counselors also taught us important items like how to get lemonade from the jug without getting stung by the bees that surrounded it, and how to kiss the flag when we accidentally dropped it as we took it down each day.

Lisa M. Denison, Glen Cove, Long Island, NY

Dear Garrison:
My husband, Bill, and I created this "Camp Song " for your July 5 broadcast at Yellowstone. It was written with Yellowstone in the background; using a patriotic tune, because the broadcast is one day after the July 4th Holiday; and in celebration of the grand finale of your Spring Tour. It is sung to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

There are 3 verses and the chorus is sung after each verse.

Prairie Home Companion at Yellowstone National Park

The Prairie Home Companion went to Yellowstone National Park.
To give a grand performance that would finish after dark.
With Old Faithful in the background,
There was music in the air,
And, no one saw THE BEAR!

What a way to end our Spring Tour.
It has been a great adventure.
Celebrations and surprises, telling jokes and meeting folks,
Our memories linger on.

The bear ran on the stage right in the middle of the show.
This advice was being given by the voice of Ross Perot.
"You're not elephant or donkey, I invite you on our show. "
The bear stopped in its tracks.


Julia Child's came on next and pleaded with the bear to stay.
She was going to serve a grand buffet, that featured bear filet.
It got so scared, it jumped three feet, then turned and ran away,
Her recipe saved the day!


Anecdote: I went to a Girl Scout camp the first year it opened. It was built next to a swamp, and camp started after a very rainy spring. I sent home 2 postcards: The first announcing that I woke up the second day with 110 mosquito bites. The second postcard announced that I had added 30 more. I never went back there again.

While I was at camp, I wrote the following commercial for the Talent Show.
You'll wonder where your toofus went,
When you brush your teeth with rid-o-dent!

Carol and Bill Trube, Warren, Ohio
(Our name comes from Shakespeare. "Trubee or not Trubee,... ")

Sung usually upstate NY around the Bear Mountains...

The bear went over the mountain,
The bear went over the mountain,
The bear went over the mountain,
And what do you think he saw?

He saw another mountain,
He saw another mountain,
He saw another mountain,
And what do you think he did?

He climbed that other mountain,
He climbed that other mountain,
He climbed that other mountain,
And what do you think he saw?

He saw another mountain,
He saw another mountain,
He saw another mountain,
And what do you think he did?

Ad nauseum.....

The trouble with some of these songs is the kids will sing them all day long.. We never sang this one at Camp Knutson, but it probably would have ended up in the Dead Song Cemetery before too long. - MM

Jonathan Gleich, Brooklyn, NY
Honorary Son of the Knutes.

Looked through and enjoyed all your camp songs but did not find my favorite there, so will try to remember it. We sang this way back in the late 50s and was done as a competition song between the boys and the girls, each singing their genders verse back and forth to each other. Here goes.

Hey! What's with this "way back in the 50s" stuff? - MM

There's a Hole in the Bucket

(boys) There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

(girls) Mend the hole then, dear Georgie, dear Georgie, dear Georgie
Mend the hole then, dear Georgie, dear Georgie, mend the hole.

(boys) With what shall I mend it, dear Liza, dear Liza etc.
(girls) With a straw then, dear Georgie, dear Georgie etc.

(boys) If the straw be too long, dear Liza ---
(girls) Cut the straw then, dear Georgie ---

(boys) With what shall I cut it, dear Liza ---
(girls) With a knife then, dear Georgie ---

(boys) If the knife be too dull, dear Liza ---
(girls) Whet the knife then, dear Georgie ---

(boys) With what shall I whet it, dear Liza ---
(girls) With a stone then, dear Georgie ---

(boys) If the stone be too rough, dear Liza ---
(girls) Smooth the stone then, dear Georgie ---

(boys) With what shall I smooth it, dear Liza ---
(girls) With water dear Georgie ---

(boys) In what shall I fetch it, dear Liza ---
(girls) In a bucket, dear Georgie --

(boys) There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza--------

And so on ad-infinitum.

I don't know how the adult leaders kept their sanity through 20 or 30 minutes of this but somehow they did.

You must have had some really rainy days to sing this for 30 minutes! - MM

Robert Oberlin, Shelby, Michigan

I don't really have any NEW songs to contribute, but I felt it should be noted that one of the most fun camp songs we sang, was Amazing Grace to various different tunes.

For example:

The Mickey Mouse Club Song:

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I'm found was blind but now I see
Amazing Grace (amazing grace)
Amazing Grace (amazing grace)
Forever let us hold His banner high! (high! high!)
a-m-a-z-i-n-g g-r-a-c-e
I once was lost but now I'm found was blind but now I see!

Ghost Riders in the Sky

(Go ahead TRY IT! You will need two verses of Amazing grace to get through one musical verse.) Here is the last verse of Amazing Grace:

When we've been there ten-thousand years bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise than when we'd first begun.

The Coke Song
("I'd like to teach the world to sing ")

He's the real thing
He's the source of all life
What you're hoping to find
Is Jesus Christ.

Try it with other songs too! The words are in such a common rhythm it fits into bunches of songs. These are just the funniest ones I remember. We sang these songs at church picnics and camp-outs (Chuck Wilson, our church song leader, was responsible for the Riders in the Sky version) and at Camp Hope Free Will Baptist Church Camp in Southern Illinois.

Amber Mahoney, Lafayette, IN

Set 1 - Set 2 - Set 3 - Set 4 - Set 5 - Set 6 - Set 7 - Set 8 - Set 9 - Set 10

Camp-Song Songbook

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

Available now»

American Public Media © |   Terms and Conditions   |   Privacy Policy