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The story of Little Eyes:

A case study of a folk song


It is not rare for folk songs to be transposed between different cultures and repertories and folk songs are regularly transferred to the commercial world of music. The song ‘Little Eyes’, also known as ‘Little Lize’, ‘Little Liza’, ‘Little Liz’ and ‘Honey Honey’ has a history that has seen multiple transpositions between folk culture and commercial environments on opposite sides of the Atlantic. A favourite of the Cornish Singing Tradition, Little Eyes only entered the repertory in the 1950s and its recorded history takes us back to the late nineteenth century; this young folk song has had several different lives.

The earliest successful commercial recording of the song was by the ‘Deep River Boys’, a rhythm and blues vocal-harmony group from Oklahoma, after relocating to New Orleans they had international commercial success and a commercial music career that spanned six decades. RCA released the song as ‘Honey, Honey’ in the early fifties as a B side and on their album Dry Bones in 1953. Other rhythm and Blues groups released versions of the song during this period with lesser success, then in the sixties the band ‘Southerners’ had some commercial success with their americana-style version. With extensive radio play and TV appearances, the Deep River Boys version would have been accessible at this time that the song migrated to Cornwall. Prior to this recording, Little Lize was a part of the Barbershop repertory It is probable that the song was learned by rote within those musical communities.

We can bring the song back even earlier, to a version from a late nineteenth century minstrel show. Sheffer & Blakely’s ‘Liza Loves You’ from the theatre musical  ‘ The Wrong Girl’ was published by Willis Woodward & Co, New York in 1885. Although there are differences in the lyrics, it is clearly the root of the later versions of the song – whether it is the original is a difficult thing to be certain of. However, the broader characteristics of this repertory offer some possibilities; the study of the early minstrel-shows in the context of historical depictions of blackness in America theatre suggest that although they are often named, white composers for a show material have mixed and varied influences.

The composers of minstrel shows are said to have done ‘fieldwork’, and there are examples of songs featured within minstrel shows that overlap with those found in published collections of the African-American folk repertory - however it remains hotly debated how much black music actually had on the music and dance contained in minstrel shows.  There are arguments for strong European influence and, to add the ambiguity of origins, we see minstrel songs then entering the country repertory and being adapted.

More than fifty after the Deep River Boys version, newly signed folk-punk group ‘Crowns’ released their version of the same song with the title ‘Little Eyes’ on their album ‘Stitches in the flag’ (2012, Ship Wreckords). They knew the song from pub sessions in Cornwall and considered it a Cornish folk song. A radio interview on BBC Cornwall in 1983 revealed that the song had entered the repertoire in the 1950’s when it was introduced by a single group of miners returning from living and working in America[1]. Before the crowns, several Cornish singers and groups had already recorded their own versions of the song including the internationally known folk-singer Brenda Wootton (1928 –1994) who was considered an ambassador for the Cornish tradition.  More recently the song was released by Fisherman’s Friends of Port Isaac for their 2019 album, ‘Keep Hauling’ which featured songs from the movie of the same name; this version has amassed hundreds of thousands of online plays.

The story of Little Lize presents a complicated history of transpositions between cultural and social environments and illustrates processes and properties typical of traditional music and songs; such as borrowing from cultures, numerous adaptations over time and the existence of multiple versions. Although it represents an expression of Cornish identity, its traceable history demonstrates the complexity of ideas about ownership of artefacts of folk culture. It also is an example of a successful song; one that has been remembered and adopted easily into different cultures. This opens up new avenues of enquiry; what qualities have enabled it to be a successful folk song?


Comparing the versions

The earliest known version of the song from ‘The Wrong Girl’ published in 1885[2], its racist language is typical of the content of minstrels shows and how they depicted African-American people and their culture for a white audience:

I had a dream the oth-er night -

The funniest dream of all

Dreamt I saw the brand new coon

Get over our garden wall

He came right up the old sidewalk

And called for his turtle dove

And says; Oh liza tell me true who is it that you love?


Chorus: Your Little Liza loves you,

Yes your little Liza loves you

Loves you in the Spring time and the fall

Your little Liza loves you,

Your little Liza loves you

Love you one and all


And when I woke up from dat dream

Found it  was no joke

Dere I saw the brand new coon

A talking to a lot of folks

Dey want to know what he’s doing dere;

He called for his turtle dove

And said; oh Liza tell dem all

Who is it that you love?


By the 1950’s the lyrics and language of the chorus had altered and a new verse had been added. Structurally, there is more emphasis in the chorus with its repetition, closing the song and addition of the ‘honey’s. Here are the lyrics from the Deep River Boys version.

Chorus: (repeated twice)

Little Lize I love (honey)

Little Lize I love

Love you in the springtime and the fall (honey honey honey)

Little Lize I love (honey)

Little Lize I love

I love you the best of all


I had a dream the other night

The funniest dream of all

I dreamed I saw a great big man,

behind the garden wall




I seen my lady home night

beneath the spreading pine

I put my hands around her waist

And pressed her lips to mine




He came around to my back door

to see my turtle dove

tell me honey tell me true

who am the man you love?




Following in the footsteps of previous collectors, Hengan published in 1983 is a collection of folk songs collected in Cornwall and ‘from the mouths of people’[3]. There are a number of additional verses and variations depending on where in Cornwall they were collected. The versions share the following parts:

The other night, I had a dream,

The funniest dream of all;

I dreamt that I was kissing You.

Behind the garden wall!


And she said

Little eyes I love you (honeY),

Little eyes I love you,

I love you in the springtime and the fall;


(honey, honey)


Little eyes I love you,

Little eyes I love you,

I love you best of all

(honey, honey, honey)


Oh tell me honey tell me do,

Who is your turtle dove?

Oh tell me honey teII me do,

Who is the one you love?


And she said…………. (chorus)


I took my honey home last night,

Beneath the spreading pine;

I placed my arms around her waist,

And pressed her lips to mine


And she said…………..(chorus)


However, in Newquay and St Keverne this verse was included:


The other night I had a dream,

The strangest dream of all;

I dreamt I saw a great big man,

Behind the garden wall.


Whereas in North Cornwall they sung:

It was not you that I did see,

Behind the garden wall;

It was my wife a looking at me,

She looked so big and tall.


In Sythyans this verse is added:


The other night I had a dream,

Her bulldog flew at me;

And bit me by the old back door,

Right by the maple tree.


A few other variations of verses were also collected from different towns in Cornwall. Most contemporary recordings include the ‘bulldog’ verse.

Find out more about Cornish Folk Culture

This text was adapted from a chapter in the book  : The Revival of Tradition  (Print Book (£6) , Ebook available) 

Cornish May Traditions 

The Black Prince In Millbrook/ Cawsand

Cornwalls Festivals A Space for Festivity Subversion and Empowerment


[1] Radio Cornwall March 1983 Stan Hoskin from Camborne said that his group ‘The Joy Boys’ had introduced the song to Cornwall in 1955. They took it from a contemporary 78 record by the Deep River Boys (Davey 2009)

[2] Sheffer, Charles H., "Liza loves you" (1885). Representations of Blackness in Music of the United States (1830-1920). Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.

[3] Davey, M. (1983) Hengan: Traditional folk songs, dances and broadside ballads collected in Cornwall, Dyllansow Truran, Truro

St Germans May Tree Fair Book
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