The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
"The Dutchman"

"The Dutchman"

#208 / May 12 Podcast

What is probably America’s best-known song about the Netherlands — “The Dutchman” — was written by a man who had never been there.

“The song has in it almost everything I'd ever read or heard, in school and in the library, about Holland,” composer Michael Peter Smith told a fan in 2010, about 40 years after he wrote the song at the very start of his career.

Did he ever consider singing it in Holland?

Oh, hell no!

“Can you imagine,” Smith said, “the reception a Dutch singer would get in New York City with a song in Dutch called 'The American’?”

Unconditional Love

“The thing is,” Smith added, “it isn't really about a country or its denizens, is it? It's about these older people's day and how she takes care of him and how they sing together and how quickly everything is past and forgotten. They truly could be anywhere, yes?”

Yes, of course. Anyone who listens to it knows “The Dutchman” has little to do with windmills and canals and everything to do with the unconditional love of Margaret and the sweet little husband who is drifting away from her.

Enter Steve Goodman

“The Dutchman” — the best known song by Smith, who died in 2020 at age 78 — came to prominence in 1972 when it was released as the opening track of Steve Goodman’s second album, Somebody Else’s Troubles.

A few years earlier, Goodman had become entranced with the song when he heard Smith perform it at a club in Miami. Goodman went back every chance he could just to start memorizing it. Subsequently, his rendition became an instant FM radio hit at a time when FM was rich territory for original and innovative “adult contemporary” music.

Over the years, Smith always credited Goodman for giving his songs a much higher visibility. (Steve recorded a second Michael Smith classic — “Spoon River” — on a subsequent album, Incidentally, The Flood also regularly performs “Spoon River,” as reported in this earlier Flood Watch article.)

The Liam Clancy Connection

While Steve Goodman is central to the Michael Smith story, the composer actually had a different singer in mind for the ultimate performance of “The Dutchman.”

“The only person I ever flat out asked to sing this song,” said Smith, “was Liam Clancy, the great Irish singer. I knew it'd be good for him and I was right. Bless him, he sang it for almost 40 years, and made it sound like a Clancy Brothers tune.”

Liam, who Bob Dylan once called "the greatest ballad singer of all time,” recorded it with Tommy Makem in 1983.

Our Take on the Tune

We always loved Liam’s version, but the song already was familiar to us from Steve Goodman’s recording.

Roger Samples, falling deeply in love with all of Goodman’s albums, learned the song in the mid-1970s and taught it to the rest of us. Then for a decade or so, Rog sang it to our harmonies. Later on, when Rog moved away, the song lingered behind, Charlie taking over the vocals.

Since then, every configuration of The Flood has regularly played “The Dutchman”, often at the end of a particularly sweet evening of music and stories. Lately, Charlie has given the song this new spin by adding a bit of mellow banjo to the mix.

A Flood Footnote

By the way, “The Dutchman” also plays an important part in a choice bit of Flood Lore, as Charlie can relate in a little two-part story. Click the button below to hear what happens when a guitar player starts thinking about his thumb:

"Hello, sailor"

The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
Each week The 1937 Flood, West Virginia's most eclectic string band, offers a free tune from a recent rehearsal, show or jam session. Music styles range from blues and jazz to folk, hokum, ballad and old-time. All the podcasts, dating back to 2008, are archived on our website; you and use the archive for free at: