Was Ride Captain Ride 60s Song About Sir Francis Drake?

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I spoke with a music lover today and we talked some about SF history. She insists that a song by a 60s group by the name of Grand Funk Railroad did a song about Sir Francis Drake. She then emailed me the Lyrics of the song which I am including. As I checked a book on this, it turns out that Drake really did set off on his voyage with 73 men as mentioned in the song. Now after reading the lyrics over, I'm beginning to believe she is right especially with the words about a world that others might have missed. Why would any singer pick a number like 73? It had to be Drake and the Golden Hind. I've heard the song before especially in the 60s, but it never crossed my mind that they were singing about Sir Francis Drake. Here are the lyrics of the song below:

Seventy-three men sailed up From the San Francisco Bay, Rolled off of their ship And here's what they had to say. "We're callin' everyone to ride along To another shore, We can laugh our lives away and be free once more." But no one heard them callin', No one came at all, 'Cause they were too busy watchin' Those old raindrops fall. As a storm was blowin' Out on the peaceful sea, Seventy-three men sailed off To history. Ride, captain ride Upon your mystery ship, Be amazed at the friends You have here on your trip. Ride captain ride Upon your mystery ship, On your way to a world That others might have missed.

-- Harry Murphy (harrymurphy*@bigmailbox.net), January 14, 2005


Harry, if you read Walton Bean you would learn that Drake, indeed, had 73 sailors, but that was on his first voyage to America (the Caribbean, not San Francisco) in 1572. Queen Elizabeth had commissioned Drake as a privateer to sail for America and plunder Spanish caravans transporting gold. He did well when he brought his plunder back to Queen Elizabeth because he was offered to head an expedition around the world. A voyage that started in 1577 with five ships.

Oh, 'Ride Captain, Ride' was by Blues Image, not Grand Funk Railroad. Interesting, there is a song by Grand Funk Railroad that might describe Drake during his lost months in the pacific, the gap in Drake's account of his whereabouts from April 1579, when he left the Pacific Coast of Mexico, to November when he landed in the East Indies. I wonder....

I'm Your Captain

Everybody, listen to me,
And return me, my ship.
I'm your captain, I'm your captain,
Although I'm feeling mighty sick.

I've been lost now, days uncounted,
And it's months since I've seen home.
Can you hear me, can you hear me,
Or am I all alone.

If you return me, to my home port,
I will kiss you mother earth.
Take me back now, take me back now,
To the port of my birth.

Am I in my cabin dreaming, or are you really scheming, To take my ship away from me?

You'd better think about it, I just can't live without it.
So, please don't take my ship from me.
Yeah, yeah, yeah ...

I can feel the hand, of a stranger,
And it's tightening, around my throat.
Heaven help me, Heaven help me,
Take this stranger from my boat.

I'm your captain, I'm your captain,
Although I'm feeling mighty sick.
Everybody, listen to me,
And return me, my ship.

-- strange (stranger@yahoo.com), January 14, 2005.

Thank you for that information and setting the bands straight. It is very possible that my friend got those two songs mixed up. Still, "Ride Captain Ride" could very well fit as a Drake song. The singer may not have been concerned with perfect historical accuracy and the number 73 may have been the only number he remembered or saw while quickly looking up some reference. And that number 73 in context with the rest of that song makes it seem very Drake like.

When he says that 73 men sailed up from the San Francisco Bay, up could refer to Drakes Bay being Up from San Francisco Bay.

The next lines about riding along to another shore and laughing our lives away and be free once more could easily refer to the fact that the entire country of Spain was after their ass for sinking their ships and stealing their gold and jewels and that they, Drake and his men, could laugh about it and "be free once more" at this other shore meaning when they arrived at their home shore as they knew they would probably be heroes and rewarded financially which they were.

In regards to "calling everyone to ride along to another shore," it is very likely in order to help with the labor for the long voyage home that Drake tried to call all the Indians together to ask for volunteers but that no one came because of bad weather.

But most important too in the song, was that it was referred to as a mystery ship. Drakes ship was a legendary mystery ship of the entire world filled with treasures beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

And in the lyrics when it says those 73 men sailed off to history. Even today those men and their ship sailed off to history forever from this shore being the first men of Europe to land here. And it is still a great mystery ship as to where that ship landed and what those men did and who they met and why they didn't find San Francisco bay. So that song taken in its combined context really has a lot of things in common with the Drake legend.

-- Harry Murphy (harrymurphy*@bigmailbox.net), January 16, 2005.

Harry, if a Florida "one-hit-wonder" garage band gleaned a bit of information to write a song about Drake, they would have known that Drake sailed down to Drakes Bay from Oregon, not up from San Francisco. After leaving Mexico, Drake started searching for a Northwest Passage (and a shorter route home). His first landfall was Oregon, but adverse winds prevented him from from continuing north, plus he had an unhappy mutinous crew on his hands (think of Grand Funk Railroad's song "I'm your Captain"). He then sailed south along the coast until he found a harbor at 38 degrees north latitude.

The exact location of Francis Drake's landing spot on the California coast remains a mystery. Accounts of the voyage say only that on June 17, 1579, the Golden Hind entered "a faire and good Baye." Drake and his crew remained for thirty-six days, repairing their ship, building a small fortification, exploring the surrounding territory, interacting with the local Indians, and erecting a brass plate which claimed for England's Queen Elizabeth "this kingdome...to be knowne unto all men as Nova Albion."

Some scholars believe that Drake landed on the west shore of Bolinas Lagoon in Marin County. Archaeologists in 1973 unearthed there the remains of what they believed was Drake's long-lost fort. Other scholars maintain that Drake sailed into San Francisco Bay. They believe that Drake anchored and careened the Golden Hind in a cove at Point San Quentin near where Drake's plate of brass was found in 1936. Most scholars, however, agree that the weight of documentary and archaeological evidence points to Drake's Estero, an arm of Drake's Bay on the Point Reyes Peninsula. I am of the opinion that if Drake had discovered San Francisco Bay he would have described it in more detail then just "a faire and good Baye.".

When Drake departed New Albion (not San Francisco) he sailed south with favorable winds.

After saying all that, I will admit that song really has a lot of things in common with the Drake. Albeit a lousy history, it does fosters the legend. You made your argument well. (and damn you, I've had that tune in my head for hours ;))

-- strange (stranger@yahoo.com), January 17, 2005.

Thanks for the great responses, Harry and Strange. I'll reinforce what Strange said about Drake's passing mention of his 1579 anchorage as "a faire and good Baye." I've done just enough sailing and just enough research to know that San Francisco Bay is a mind- bender for seafarers -- it's sheltered, has plenty of protected anchorages, and is loaded with wood and water. It's also so vast that early Spanish explorers described it as capable of holding all the ships of all the fleets in the world. As a defensive site it's also superb; there's only one way in and out and the channel is just a mile wide. As a major naval port to control the Pacific, it's unsurpassed

My feeling is that if Drake had actually entered SF Bay I'm sure he would have reported it's existence to the Queen with more than such lame descriptors as 'good' and 'fair', and that England would have immediately occupied and fortified the Bay to keep it out of Spanish hands.

-- John Martini (jamartini@slip.net), January 17, 2005.


If navigating the bay is a "mind- bender", then perhaps our timing and musical references are off.

Maybe the real reference should be to Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders...and the era much earlier:

It started long ago in the Garden of Eden when Adam said to Eve "Baby, you're for me"

-- salty (salty@beer.com), January 21, 2005.

I saw a one hit wonder show on television a while back that had an interview with the writer of the song. He said the 73 men came from the 73 keys on his keyboard. Nice thought on Drake but it was never mentioned in the interview.

Regards to all,

-- Mark Ritz (mnritz@yahoo.com), February 03, 2005.

Over 20 years ago.......I was watching the end of an interview with the writer of the song on----I believe the Carson show. He remarked about how the band was "interrogated" by the FBI concering the similarities in their song to a real life incident with a ship and 73 men. He was saying that while there was "no connection with their song and any real-life ship, that our government was intent on finding out how the lyrics had so closely matched an incident (that if I recall correctly---hadn't happened yet at the time the song was released). Every time I hear the song---I flash back to my broken recollection of that interview.........which is why I searched out this site---to hopefully gain an answer to that interview. NOW, that I've made it even more cloudy.....Can anyone comment on this twist?

-- Jim Redd (JimReddTX@aol.com), February 15, 2005.

I got the following excerpt from a web site while I was researching the same question. It came from http://www.sptimes.com/News/062601/news_pf/Floridian/The_captain_ride s_aga.shtml

Blues Image went on to its own share of acclaim. The act relocated to Miami Beach, where Pinera, with wealthy backers, ran his own rock club, booking acts from Jimi Hendrix to the Doors to the Grateful Dead. The group landed a deal with Atlantic Records and cut an album, but sales were weak. Just as the band was finishing its second album, the label threatened to dump the act.

"The producer came in and said, "Do you have any more songs, because if you don't, this is your last day in the studio,"' Pinera says. "So I said, "Oh, I have a song,' which I didn't. So I went into the bathroom, and I shut the door, and I just meditated. I calmed my mind, and I started hearing music. I went out and sat at the piano, which was a Rhodes Model No. 73, which had 73 keys. So I say, "Okay, I need a first word.' And what came into my head was 73. I liked the rhythm, and I went, "73 men sailed in, from the San Francisco Bay. ... The song sort of just wrote itself."

The keyboard player clinked out a melody for the chorus, and Pinera added the lyrics, "Ride, captain, ride, upon your mystery ship. ..." and the rest is rock history. The song reached No. 1 in 1968.

-- (pepsijo@gmail.com), February 16, 2005.

About the comment from the Johnny Carson show: "He remarked about how the band was "interrogated" by the FBI concerning the similarities in their song to a real life incident with a ship and 73 men." In the sixties The Philadelphia Experiment (Era August 18 1943 33 sailors & rumored to have been repeated on August 18 1963)was a topic of great conversation in High Schools and Colleges, possibly the story was a subconscious influence on the song writer. It was discussed on talk shows / I believe there was a book released in that time frame about the 1943 Incident that later on became a movie.

-- William Ross (najaross@adverspace.com), February 24, 2005.

Thanks fo the answers! The most probable one is the number of keys. As a kid during the sixties I thought the lyrics referred to the indian tribe taking over Alcatraz. My cousin told me the song was about the "Bay Of Pigs" incident. Wow?!!!

Bay Of Pigs

-- (jjjordanus@Yahoo.com), February 26, 2005.

This song is totally about drug use.

A bunch of people "took a trip" "mystery ship"? Too much like the mystery machine on scooby doo. Mystery vehicles from this era seem to be associated with people doing mysterious things in the back. We can laugh our lives away and be free once more... Come on, they are talking about the liberation of being baked out of your mind, and the giggles are just part of the deal.

Of course, the storm blowing on the peaceful sea could be like the turmoil of the 70's. And the west coast is pretty close to Vietnam, which could be considered a storm of sorts in the pacific... and 1973 was a pretty pivotal time in the conflict.

No! no! It's about drugs!

-- E. Ray (websetup@rochester.rr.com), March 14, 2005.

I always believed that the song was written about the USS Pueblo, the American spy ship that was intercepted and held by the North Koreans sometime around the late 1960's. It had a crew of 73, and was a mystery - signal interception - ship.

-- Steve Avery (s.avery@att.net), March 15, 2005.

The USS Pueblo had a crew of 83! LOL

"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." - Mark Twain

-- strange (Stranger@yahoo.com), March 15, 2005.

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