Songs Of The Sea: Whisky Johnny

Songs Of The Sea shines a light on obscure shanties that are connected to rum and other types of booze. Aboard a ship, there were many types of drinking songs and one of the catchiest was Whisky Johnny. The kind of song that made you want to knock back a dram, Whisky Johnny gave sailors something to hope for on long journeys at sea.


Whisky Johnny is a halyard shanty, the type of long haul ditty sung during heavy labour for an extended period of time. This kind of work could involve lifting or lowering a sail, which meant that sailors needed more time to breathe and halyard shanties were coordinated around this extra effort. The result was a shanty with a chorus at the end of each line.

The story of the song is a man who’s pining for whisky, while also being consumed by it. The booze is the fuel that keeps him going and is one of the few comforts he has in a harsh life at sea. The name ‘Johnny’ could also refer to mariners in general, as it was another term for describing packet ships and the people on board.

Apparently, Whisky Johnny was most often sung when men were near a skipper’s quarters, hoping that the captain would be convinced to order a tot for everyone.


Whisky is the life of man,
Whisky Johnny.
Oh! whisky is the life of many,
Whisky for my Johnny.

I’ll drink whisky when I can,
Whisky Johnny.
I’ll drink it out of an old tin can,
Whisky for my Johnny.

Whisky gave me a broken nose,
Whisky Johnny.
Whisky made me pawn my clothes,
Whisky for my Johnny.

Whisky drove me around Cape Horn,
Whisky Johnny.
It was many a month when I was gone,
Whisky for my Johnny.

I thought I heard the old man say,
Whisky Johnny.
‘I’ll treat my crew in a decent way,’
Whisky for my Johnny.

A glass of grog for every man,
Whisky Johnny.
And a bottleful for the shantyman,
Whisky for my Johnny.

Another sea shanty that involved drink was Leave Her Johnny. Read The Rum Ration’s analysis of the mournful tune for more information!

2 thoughts on “Songs Of The Sea: Whisky Johnny

  1. Pingback: Songs Of The Sea: Whisky Johnny - stopthefud - WhiskyNetWhiskyNet

  2. Pingback: Songs Of The Sea: A Drop Of Nelson’s Blood – The Rum Ration

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