Capt. James P. Barker, master of the last American commercial square-rigger, Tusitala, learned this shanty from "Lemon" Curtis, the finest shantyman he ever knew, as recorded in The Log of a Limejuicer: The Experiences Under Sail of James P. Barker, Master Mariner (1933). Doerflinger summarizes:
Another of "Lemon Curtis's favorites was an unusual Negro shanty which combined the functions of a regular halyard shanty and of a so-called "walk-away" song. In hoisting topgallantsails to this shanty, the men would first take two "drags" on the rope and then "walk away" with it. The pulls came on Whiskey Oh, Johnny Oh," while the rest of the chorus was sung as the men stamped along the deck gripping the halyard. Then the slack was held while the crowd returned, got a new grip and repeated the performance.
It was during the voyage when young Barker learned these shanties that "Lemon" Curtis's name was called. In bitter weather off the pitch of the Horn, the high-spirited Negro handed himself up the icy rigging to help furl the mainsail. Clad in thin dungarees and cotton shirt, he was aloft for what seemed ages of struggle, fighting the frozen, bucking sail as he and his shipmates strove to lash it securely with the gaskets. Shortly after setting his numbed feet on deck, Curtis was taken by some internal seizure and staggered to his bunk in the flooded forecastle. Barker relayed to the hard-case captain the stricken sailor's request for a drop of brandy. That plea was refused. At midnight a canvas-shrouded form was borne onto the poop deck. The captain "mumbled a few words of prayer, and that which had been Lemon Curtis was committed to the depths of the lonely Cape Horn sea."