Back Creek Crab

From Annapolis Past Port

Back Creek Crab is a song written by Jeff Holland. It has been recorded by David & Ginger Hildebrand and Them Eastport Oyster Boys.

Jeff Holland remembers:

I arrived in Annapolis aboard a sailboat with my father, Bill Holland, in 1978. He had bought the boat in New York, and we sailed it from Lake Ontario down the Erie Canal, down the Hudson River, out on the Atlantic around New Jersey, up the Delaware Bay and down the C&D Canal to the Chesapeake. We had chartered sailboats on the Bay for several summers, sailing out of Oxford, Annapolis and other ports, but this time, we were on our way to Florida, where Dad had a new job lined up. We arrived in Annapolis on Hallowe'en, one of those crisp, clear autumn days. Coming up the Severn, we met by the whole fleet of Luder yawls from the Naval Academy, running down the river with their blue and gold spinnakers in full bloom. We dropped the hook in the harbor and decided to stay.
I moved back to Pittsburgh for a couple of years to be with my mother, who was suffering from cancer. After her passing, I came back to Annapolis and have been here ever since. I took a room in a house on Third Street in Eastport with an eclectic bunch of people, one of whom was Micha Dannenberg, the editor of a weekly newspaper called "The Your Our Daily Planet." It was a rival of Frank Pierce Young's Publick Enterprise. I wrote for both. Micha had a little dog named Rags, and Frank had a cat, whose name I can't recall. Micha would put old copies of Frank's paper under Rag's water bowl. One day as I was visiting Frank in his home office on Sixth Street, I noticed he also had put an old newspaper under his cat's bowl. Of course, it was Micha's paper.
We had Black neighbors on each side of our house on Third Street. This was a new experience for me, and a good one. Neighbors on one side were of an old family that had been living in Eastport for about six generations. On the other side was Willie Brown and his wife and daughters. Their economic status was not at the same level as our other neighbors. It was my first glimpse into the nuances of our African-American community. Willie was a wiry man, a retired laborer from North Carolina. Every summer morning, Willie would take his bucket and his long-pole net and head down to the docks at the old McNasby oyster company building. I was eager to learn all about crabbing, so I would tag along with him and that's how the song was born.
I can't recall how I got to know David and Ginger, but they liked the song and performed it on their first record album, "Out on a Limb." They told me about another musician who was writing songs about the Chesapeake Bay, Janie Meneely. It turns out that Janie and I already knew each other as contributors to the Daily Planet, but neither of us had any idea that the other was writing music about the Bay. Not long after that, we formed the folk group "Crab Alley" with Chris Noyes and we performed together for about 10 years and recorded two albums of original and traditional music. In the early 90s, Kevin Brooks joined us as a bass player. After Crab Alley broke up, Kevin and I started playing as a duo, and that's how Them Eastport Oyster Boys got started.

David & Ginger Hildebrand's recording made for their premier LP "Out on a Limb" in 1984.

David Hildebrand remembers:

Ginger and I met Jeff down near the Annapolis waterfront sometime during the summer of 1981 or maybe `82.  I don't recall the circumstances, but somehow we ended up in our apartment back in Eastport with Jeff and his ukulele settled in the middle of the floor - he belted out Back Creek Crab.  Quite a scene, given the relative size and hairiness of man and instrument.  It might even have been that evening right after when we said we were planning on doing an album and asked if we could record it. 
I have some photos somewhere around here of that recording session, the best of which is that of a Yamaha concert grand piano with empty cans of beer lined up on the outer, curvy edge, as the lid was up.  Somehow, through the course of doing multiple takes (this album wasn't multi-tracked), it was decided that at the very end of each run through the song we'd crack a beer near a mic after saying, together: "Put a feeler on a peeler!"  Then pull the tab on the can, then everyone said "Uh-huuuh."  It took quite a few takes.  I really hope the owner of the new recording space never hears this story nor sees the picture.
Not long after, National Geographic was in town doing some sort of documentary about the Chesapeake Bay.  It was arranged to use this recording of Jeff's song in a scene featuring some shirtless, barefoot boys skittering around a dock trying to elude some aggressive, snappy crabs.