Gumtree Canoe

Gumtree Canoe

I heard someone singing this on the radio a few weeks ago and thought I’d come up with a banjo arrangement for it.

It is relatively easy to play. Play Gumtree Canoe slowly (¾ time) with bounce—it is not a breakdown. The melody reminds me of Sweet Betsy From Pike.

Here is a beginner’s melodic version.


Singing row away, row, o’er the waters so blue,
Like a feather we float in our gum-tree canoe.
We rowed we rowed o’er the water so blue
Like a feather we would float in our gum tree canoe.

I’ll sing you a ditty a sweet little song
It will just take a moment I won’t keep you long
I will sing of the days when our love was so new
And we sailed down the river in a gum-tree canoe.
On Tombigbee River so bright I was born,
In a hut made of husks of the tall yellow corn,
And there I first met with my Julia so true,
And I rowed her about in our gum-tree canoe.3)

All the day in the field the soft cotton I hoe,
I think of my Julia and sing as I go,
And I’d catch her a bird with a wing of true blue,
And at night sail her round in our gum-tree canoe.


With my hands on the banjo and a toe on the oar,
I sing to the sound of the river’s soft roar,
While the stars they look down at my Julia so true
And dance in her eye in our gum-tree canoe.

One night the stream bore us so far away
That we couldn’t come back so we thought we’d just stay,
And, we spied a tall ship with a flag of true blue,
And it took us in tow with our gum-tree canoe.
I once left the river and went on the land
To set myself up as a farmer so grand.
But the life didn’t suit me it made my heart sore
So I went to the river with Julia once more.



  1. what do the “X”s represent?

  2. Think of each measure having six opportunities for a right hand activity (this tune is in waltz time). The “X’s” represent that you do not have any right hand activity. That is you do nothing. The next likely question is: why put the “X’s” in? Because I want to keep a spatial relationship in the tablature. That is, from left to right is effectively a time line. The more space between notes, the longer you hold the note. You can think of the “X’s” as a rest (but it is not really a rest because you do not dampen the strings.

    James Robinson

    Hope this clarifies it for you.

  3. Just heard this by John Hartford and wanted to try it….
    Thanks for the versions…..

    “absolute beginner”

  4. Heard this last night and really enjoyed the cadence and lilting melody. Want to hear it again.Lovely little song. by Karen J.

  5. I’ve been looking for this tab for some time. Many thanks for making it possible. Always enjoyed dear John Hartford’s version. Don’t care about the shoe shuffle, just want to play and sing those bouncy notes. Thanks again friend! John P.(Cornwall UK )

  6. John:
    Thank you for your kind words. I have heard Gumtree Canoe played different ways than I have tabbed it. However, this is the melody which I hear.


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