How’s this for a theory: dear Liza and dear Henry enjoyed their beer…why else would they want to mend their bucket when it got a hole in it?
Turns out the original ‘growler’, that half gallon glass vessel currently in vogue to tote craft beer around, was nothing more than a bucket. Before pressurized kegs, these buckets (also called growlers) allowed folks to get quantities of beer from the local pub or brewery to their homes and workplaces. As the 1892 photo above shows, a growler rusher, oftentimes a young man, would ‘rush’ to get buckets filled and bring them to wherever they were needed. And even though drinking establishments prior to prohibition were predominantly thought of as the domain of men, the use of growlers was definitely pursued by women as well. According to Madelon Powers, “female drinking groups…were much more likely to purchase alcohol to take away”. And in urban tenements many commented on how women often, “shared a bucket of beer”.¹ However, with the advent of bottle, can and keg technology the need to get beer in buckets became obsolete. Then, with the resurgence of craft brewing the growler made a comeback in the form of a 64 oz. glass jug. Some trace the first use of this new growler back to the Grand Teton Brewery in the late 1980’s. Like many small breweries, the owner found bottling and can technology too expensive, and when lamenting that fact his father shared his memories of getting beer in buckets. Thus, the modern growler was born. And you can imagine the problem that might arise if your growler had a crack in it…or if your bucket had a hole in it.
The song ‘My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It’ (not to be confused with ‘There’s a Hole in my Bucket, Dear Liza’) is at least as old as early recorded jazz and blues, but probably older. Versions from the 20’s and 30’s by the likes of Washboard Sam and others attribute the song to Clarence Williams, but it was not uncommon for songs to be ‘published’ by whoever was putting the record out, regardless of true origin. Widespread popularity of the song came with the 1949 version by Hank Williams, but it’s been done by countless other artists as well. These include renditions by Louis Armstrong, a duet between Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis, and one by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant on Good Rockin’ Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records as they channel the Sonny Burgess original.
The chorus remains the same through all these versions and typically goes:
“My bucket’s got a hole in it (3x), I can’t get no beer”.
The verses, however, vary widely. The version we use is more in line with the old blues artist Washboard Sam, thus making it a bit seedier and full of innuendo (check out our video below). We hope we have a chance to share the song with you sometime in person. To see if the B-Side Growlers are playing nearby soon, check our Facebook page located here. Perhaps it will be in a venue where you can get your growler filled…and honestly, here in Beer City Grand Rapids, where would you really rather be? B-Side Growlers, of course!
1. Powers, Madelon. “Women and public drinking, 1890-1920.” History Today 45.2 (1995). Proquest Research Library. Web. 10 Jan. 2015.