Pete Seeger - Jacob's Ladder

First performance: 20/04/2006


Bruce recorded the song with The Seeger Sessions Band on his 2006 album We Shall Overcome: 
"Jacob’s Ladder" is one of the most striking adaptations, with a full-on Dixieland arrangement that sounds for all the world like the song originated in New Orleans. Interestingly, though, Bruce chose to incorporate only the first two verses from the original spiritual. It’s not surprising that he’d drop the final three, since they were full-on religious devotional, but it is surprising that he didn’t incorporate Seeger’s replacement verses, which included a reference to dancing "Sarah’s circle" to make the song less patriarchal. Instead, with only the first two verses repeated multiple times, the power of the song comes from the increasing passion and fervor of the vocals and the band. In fact, "Jacob’s Ladder" served as a mid-set band showcase during the Seeger Sessions Tour and provided Bruce with an opportunity to rev up audience participation for the back half of the show. Because the studio recording is essentially a live recording too, "Jacob’s Ladder" doesn’t change much when translated to the stage–although it did on one particular occasion, at a special televised performance at St. Luke’s Church in London, where Bruce completely forgot how the song started–but didn’t realize he’d forgotten until he was well into the open bars, leading to one of Bruce’s funnier on-stage admissions in front of a bemused and confused band.By the end of the  Seeger Session Tour, however, both Bruce and the band had the song down, and in true Springsteen style, the song now stretched out before them while the band members showed off musically.  "Jacob’s Ladder” was featured nightly on the Seeger Sessions Tour.
The album was recorded over the course of nine years at Thrill Hill East, Springsteen's home studio in Colts Neck, NJ: During these sessions, all of the album's songs were cut live in the living room of Springsteen's farmhouse – they were not rehearsed and all arrangements were conducted by Springsteen as he and the band played them. "We were doing trapeze without a safety net," Sam Barfeld told Backstreets magazine. "He plays the song for you once, a couple of arrangement ideas. Have enough time to scrawl out a chord chart, and then boom! You record."
'Jacob's Ladder ' was recorded during the third session  
First Session : 02/11/1997 
  • Soon after the conclusion of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's short Vote For Change Tour, Springsteen was liaising with manager Jon Landau regarding material for a potential future second volume of the Tracks boxed set. Some of the leftover material from the 02 Nov 1997 session was being evaluated and out of those discussions came the idea of releasing this session material as a stand-alone album project. "Thanks to Jon Landau for another one of his 'I think we've got something here...' phone calls," Springsteen later wrote in the liner notes of the 2006 album.  
Second Session: 19/03/2005  
There were not enough songs recorded on 02 Nov 1997 to fill an album, so the original 1997 musicians were contacted again and an additional recording session took place on 19 Mar 2005, just prior to Springsteen embarking on his Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour. Nine songs were recorded during the second session: ERIE CANAL, JOHN HENRY, O MARY DON'T YOU WEEP, PAY ME MY MONEY DOWN, OLD DAN TUCKER, FROGGIE WENT A COURTIN', SHENANDOAH, MRS. MCGRATH, and MICHAEL ROW YOUR BOAT ASHORE. Eight of the songs recorded during this second session ended up on the album. 
Third Session: 14/01/2006
Springsteen undertook a third and final studio session following the Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour. There were eight songs recorded during the third session: JACOB'S LADDER, BUFFALO GALS, EYES ON THE PRIZE, HOW CAN I KEEP FROM SINGING?, AMERICAN LAND, BRING 'EM HOME, IF I HAD A HAMMER (THE HAMMER SONG), and 
"Thank you, thank you….yes, yes, we are all climbing Jacob´s ladder….oh….Jacob was someone in the Bible, he was always fucking up in God´s eyes but God kept giving him a chance after chance to get it right….he was deceitful, he was dishonest….God kept giving him a chance after chance because there´s no free ticket to Heaven, there´s no car pool lane to the Pearly Gates….there´s no backstage pass to get you by Saint Peter….you´ve got to go step by step….inch by inch….mile by mile, day by day, hand over hand, rung by rung, we are climbing Jacob´s ladder.."
Bruce performed the song 63 times, all performed during the Seeger Sessions tour:
2006-11-21 Odyssey Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland
2006-11-19 Point Theatre (The), Dublin, Ireland
2006-11-18 Point Theatre (The), Dublin, Ireland
2006-11-17 Point Theatre (The), Dublin, Ireland
2006-11-14 Hallam FM Arena, Sheffield, England
2006-11-12 Wembley Arena, London, England
2006-11-11 Wembley Arena, London, England
2006-11-09 NEC Arena, Birmingham, England
2006-11-07 Sportpaleis, Antwerp, Belgium
2006-11-06 Kölnarena, Cologne, Germany
2006-10-30 Globen, Stockholm, Sweden
2006-10-29 Oslo Spektrum, Oslo, Norway
2006-10-28 Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, Denmark
2006-10-25 Pabellón Deportivo, Santander, Spain
2006-10-24 Palau Sant Jordi, Barcelona, Spain
2006-10-22 Plaza De Toros De Granada, Granada, Spain
2006-10-21 Estadi Ciutat De València, València, Spain
2006-10-19 Plaza De Toros De Las Ventas, Madrid, Spain
2006-10-13 Sportpaleis Ahoy, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
2006-10-12 Color Line Arena, Hamburg, Germany
2006-10-10 PalaLottomatica, Rome, Italy
2006-10-08 PalaMaggiò, Caserta, Italy
2006-10-07 Arena Santa Giuliana, Perugia, Italy
2006-10-05 Arena Di Verona, Verona, Italy
2006-10-04 Villa Manin, Udine, Italy
2006-10-02 PalaIsozaki, Turin, Italy
2006-10-01 PalaMalaguti, Bologna, Italy
2006-06-25 PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ
2006-06-24 PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ
2006-06-22 Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY
2006-06-20 Tweeter Center At The Waterfront, Camden, NJ
2006-06-19 Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY
2006-06-17 DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI
2006-06-16 Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH
2006-06-14 Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI
2006-06-13 First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL
2006-06-11 Xcel Energy Center, Saint Paul, MN
2006-06-10 Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, IA
2006-06-06 Sleep Train Pavilion, Concord, CA
2006-06-05 Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
2006-06-03 Glendale Arena, Glendale, AZ
2006-05-31 Verizon Wireless Music Center, Noblesville, IN
2006-05-30 Germain Amphitheater, Columbus, OH
2006-05-28 Nissan Pavilion, Bristow, VA
2006-05-27 Tweeter Center For The Performing Arts, Mansfield, MA
2006-05-21 Hovet, Stockholm, Sweden
2006-05-20 Oslo Spektrum, Oslo, Norway
2006-05-17 Festhalle, Frankfurt, Germany
2006-05-16 Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
2006-05-14 Pavelló Olímpic De Badalona, Barcelona, Spain
2006-05-12 DatchForum, Milan, Italy
2006-05-10 Palais Omnisports De Paris-Bercy, Paris, France
2006-05-09 LSO St. Luke's, London, England
2006-05-08 Hammersmith Apollo, London, England
2006-05-07 Manchester Evening News Arena, Manchester, England
2006-05-05 Point Theatre (The), Dublin, Ireland

2006-04-30 New Orleans Fairgrounds, New Orleans, LA
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
2006-04-26 Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ
Rehearsal Show

2006-04-25 Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ

2006-04-25 Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ
2 times during Rehearsal Show
2006-04-25 Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ
Good Morning America

2006-04-24 Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ
Rehearsal Show

2006-04-20 Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ
Rehearsal Show


We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder (also known as Jacob's Ladder) is an African American slave spiritual based in part on the Biblical story of Jacob's Ladder. It was developed some time before 1825, and became one of the first slave spirituals to be widely sung by white Christians. A number of artists have recorded notable versions of it, and it was used as one of the main themes in the critically praised documentary The Civil War. African American slaves in the United States created a vibrant culture of resistance and dissent, despite attempts by white slaveowners to indoctrinate them into passivity using a variant of Christianity. Slaves were not permitted to speak while working in the fields, but were permitted to sing and chant in order to alleviate tedium and to impose a rhythm on repetitive motions. This generated two distinctive African American slave musical forms, the spiritual (sung music usually telling a story) and the field holler (sung or chanted music usually involving repetition of the leader's line). We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder is a spiritual. As a folk song originating in a repressed culture, the song's origins are lost. Some academics believe it emerged as early as 1750, and definitely no later than 1825,and was composed by American slaves taken from the area now known as Liberia. The spiritual utilizes the image of Jacob's ladder, and equates it with the body of Christ. The song is in the form of call and response, and although lyrics vary from place to place and over time, they generally emphasize spiritual growth, increasing one's knowledge about God, and a call to discipleship. The striving nature of this "climb" toward god is depicted as a series of tests, and draws heavily on the New Testament tradition of the Christian as warrior—in this case, overcoming the slave-owner. The traditional lyrics hold out hope that the slave can rise up and escape slavery, and the nature of the call-and-response asks both the singing respondents and the listener for greater sacrifice to reach the next level. The spiritual implies that God's promise to the Biblical patriarch Jacob will also lead the slave to freedom. The song became one of the first African American spirituals to become popular among white Christians.
Pete Seeger began singing the song some time in the 1930s or 1940s, and in the mid to late 1960s added a new verse ("We are dancing Sarah's circle") to reflect, as he saw it, a more feminist, less hierarchical, less restrictive, and more joyful meaning. These lyrics were publicly sung at least as early as 1969 .

Other cover versions

Bruce on the artist

In 2006, Bruce released  the album ' We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions' . The album contains Springsteen's interpretation of thirteen folk music songs associated with Pete Seeger. The project began in late 1997 when Springsteen agreed to contribute a recording for an upcoming Pete Seeger tribute album on Appleseed Recordings. "Growing up a rock n' roll kid I didn't know a lot about Pete's music or the depth of his influence," Springsteen later wrote in the liner notes of his 2006 album. He headed to the record store, came back with an armful of Pete Seeger records, and proceeded to investigate and listen to his music.
More info on Springsteenlyrics

"As Pete and I traveled to Washington for President Obama's Inaugural Celebration, he told me the entire story of "We Shall Overcome". How it moved from a labor movement song and with Pete's inspiration had been adapted by the civil rights movement. That day as we sang "This Land Is Your Land" I looked at Pete, the first black president of the United States was seated to his right, and I thought of the incredible journey that Pete had taken. My own growing up in the sixties in towns scarred by race rioting made that moment nearly unbelievable and Pete had thirty extra years of struggle and real activism on his belt. He was ao happy that day, it was like, Pete, you outlasted the bastards, man!...It was so nice. At rehearsals the day before, it was freezing, like fifteen degrees and Pete was there; he had his flannel shirt on. I said, man, you better wear something besides that flannel shirt! He says, yeah, I got my longjohns on under this thing. And I asked him how he wanted to approach "This Land Is Your Land". It would be near the end of the show and all he said was, "Well, I know I want to sing all the verses, I want to sing all the ones that Woody wrote, especially the two that get left out, about private property and the relief office." I thought, of course, that's what Pete's done his whole life. He sings all the verses all the time, especially the ones that we'd like to leave out of our history as a people. At some point Pete Seeger decided he'd be a walking, singing reminder of all of America's history. He'd be a living archive of America's music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along, to push American events towards more humane and justified ends. He would have the audacity and the courage to sing in the voice of the people, and despite Pete's somewhat benign, grandfatherly appearance, he is a creature of a stubborn, defiant, and nasty optimism. Inside him he carries a steely toughness that belies that grandfatherly facade and it won't let him take a step back from the things he believes in. At 90, he remains a stealth dagger through the heart of our country's illusions about itself. Pete Seeger still sings all the verses all the time, and he reminds us of our immense failures as well as shining a light toward our better angels and the horizon where the country we've imagined and hold dear we hope awaits us. Now on top of it, he never wears it on his sleeve. He has become comfortable and casual in this immense role. He's funny and very eccentric. I'm gonna bring Tommy out, and the song Tommy Morello and I are about to sing I wrote in the mid-nineties and it started as a conversation I was having with myself. It was an attempt to regain my own moorings. Its last verse is the beautiful speech that Tom Joad whispers to his mother at the end of The Grapes of Wrath."

'Wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I'll be there'

"Well, Pete has always been there. For me that speech is always aspirational. For Pete, it's simply been a way of life. The singer in my song is in search of the ghost of Tom Joad. The spirit who has the guts and toughness to carry forth, to fight for and live their ideals. I'm happy to report that spirit, the very ghost of Tom Joad is with us in the flesh tonight. He'll be on this stage momentarily, he's gonna look an awful lot like your granddad who wears flannel shirts and funny hats. He's gonna look like your granddad if your granddad could kick your ass. ..

This is for Pete... "


We are climbing Jacob's ladder
We are climbing Jacob's ladder
We are climbing Jacob's ladder
Yeah we're brothers, sisters, all

Every rung goes higher and higher
Every rung goes higher and higher
Every rung goes higher and higher
We are brothers, sisters, all

Come on with me now!

Every new rung just, just makes us stronger
Every new rung just, just makes us stronger
Every new rung just, just makes us stronger
Yeah we are brothers, and sisters, all


Alright, come on horn section!
Get ready, go!

Alright, enough!

Yeah we are climbing Jacob's ladder
Yeah we are climbing Jacob's ladder
We are climbing Jacob's ladder
We are brothers, sisters, and all

Alright, party time!

We are climbing higher and higher
Yeah we are climbing higher and higher
Yeah we are climbing higher and higher
Yeah we are brothers, and sisters, and all


We are climbing, climbing Jacob's ladder
Yeah we are climbing Jacob's ladder
We are climbing Jacob's ladder
We are brothers, sisters, and all