Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Mississippi Roots of John Lee Hooker



We’ll take a look at the Mississippi John Lee Hooker, his roots and influences, the music that impacted him when he was young. John Lee Hooker’s music has an undeniable urban grit that came from his detroit surroundings, but Mississippi was at his core and you could hear it in every song he ever recorded. The Hook was born August 22, 1912 outside of Clarksdale. His early years would have been musically defined by church music. But before long he discovered the blues.

Hooker’s earliest blues influence was another Clarksdale bluesman, Tony Hollins. Hollins is best remembered today because he’s associated with two songs that became standards: Crawling King Snake and Cross Cut Saw. The story of his association with John Lee Hooker begins with Hollins dating a young John Lee’s sister. The sister had responsibility for taking care of her younger brother. Hollins was quick to discover that when you stuck a guitar in Hooker’s hands, the kid would be occupied for hours, freeing up the sister for some alone time. Hollins gave Hooker his first guitar and John Lee would go onto to cite his influence his whole life.Let’s start with a song of Hooker would later incorporate into his own music: Traveling Man Blues:

Boys, when my first wife quit me, Lord, it put me on the road
I said, when my first wife quit me, boys, it put me on the road
I ain't got no home, ain't got no place to go
Lord, and I've been traveling ever since my wife been gone
Lord, and I've been traveling ever since my wife been gone
I ain't found nobody that I could call my own
Lord, she was a kind-hearted girl, just as good as she could be
Lord, she was a kind-hearted girl, just as good as she could be
But the reason we ain't together today, baby, I wanted every woman I'd see
Lord, when I started to traveling I never had no place to go
I said, when I started to traveling, never had no place to go
But if I get my wife back again, ooh boys, I ain't gonna travel no more

Crawlin' King Snake:

I'm gonna crawl into your window, baby, crawl into your door
Got anything I want, mama, gonna curl up on your floor
'Cause I'm a crawling king snake, and I rule my den
Don't wanna catch you hanging around my mate, gonna use you for my friend
Well I need feeding mama so I can get it down
If you don't feed me I'm gonna crawl back in the ground
'Cause I'm a crawling king snake, and I rule my den
Don't wanna catch you hanging around my mate, gonna use you for my friend
Well you caught me crawling baby, the bed was very high
Gonna keep on crawling mama until the day I die
'Cause I'm a crawling king snake, and I rule my den
Don't wanna catch you hanging around my mate, gonna use you for my friend
I'm gonna crawl into your window, baby, crawl into your bed
Make you remember the words that you have said
'Cause I'm a crawling king snake, and I rule my den
Don't wanna catch you hanging around my mate, gonna use you for my friend

More than anyone else, John Lee Hooker credited his stepfather Will Moore as the key influence in developing his sound. Hooker always said it was Moore that put the boogie in the music. Will Moore never recorded, but he was an associate of Charley Patton and one of Patton's numbers, Pea Vine Blues was a song that Moore frequently played:

I think I heard the Pea Vine when it blowed
I think I heard the Pea Vine when it blowed
It blow just like my rider getting on board
Well, the levee sinking, you know I...
(spoken: Baby, you know I can't stay!)
The levee is sinking, Lord, you know I cannot stay
I'm going up the country, mama, in a few more days
Yes, you know it, she know it, she know you done done me wrong
Yes, you know it, you know it, you know you done done me wrong
Yes, you know it, you know it, you know you done done me wrong
Yes, I cried last night and I ain't gonna cry anymore
I cried last night and I, I ain't gonna cry anymore
'Cause the good book tells us you've got to reap just what you sow
Stop your way of living and you won't...
(spoken: You won't have to cry no more, baby!)
Stop your way of living and you won't have to cry no more
Stop your way of living and you won't have to cry no more
I think I heard the Pea Vine when she blowed
I think I heard Pea Vine when she blowed
She blowed just like she wasn't gonna blow no more

John Lee Hooker recorded his own version of Pea Vine Blues that on his Country Blues of John Lee Hooker album released in 1960:

Well, I thought I heard that pea vine when she blow
Well, I thought I heard that pea vine when she blow
You know it blow just like it, ain't gonna blow no more
I'm gonna catch my pony boys, saddle up my black mare, oh yeah
I'm gonna catch my little pony boys, gonna saddle up my black mare
I'm gonna find my baby, she's in the world somewhere
I ain't got no money boys, I can't ride the train
I ain't got no money boys, I can't ride that train
But I thought I heard this morning that pea vine when she blow
Carrying my baby away, carrying my baby away
Carrying my baby away, carrying my baby away
Carrying my baby away
You know it blow just like
Ain't gonna bring my baby back no more
I'm gonna catch my pony boys
Gonna saddle up my black mare
I'm gonna leave ya jogging
Jogging on away from here
John Lee Hooker was of the generation that learned not only from the people they knew, but had the opportunity to learn music from records. Blind Lemon Jefferson was one of the most popular of the eraly coutry blues musicians. John Lee Hooker would have known is records and probably listened to the frequently as a young man. See That My Grave is Kept Clean:

Well, there's one kind favor I ask of you
Well, there's one kind favor I ask of you
Lord, there's one kind favor I'll ask of you
See that my grave is kept clean
It’s a long lane got no end
It’s a long lane and it's got no end
It’s a long lane and it's got no end
It's a bad wind that never change
Lord, it’s two white horses in a line
Well, it’s two white horses in a line
Well, it’s two white horses in a line
Gonna take my to my burying ground
My heart stopped beating and my hands got closed
My heart stopped beating and my hands got closed
Well, my heart stopped beating, Lord, my hands got closed
It wasn't long 'fore they took me to a cypress grove
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Then you know that the poor boy is in the ground
Oh, dig my grave with a silver spade
Just dig my grave with a silver spade
Well, dig my grave with a silver spade
You may lead me down with a golden chain
Have you ever heard them church bells toll?
Have you ever heard them church bells toll?
Have you ever heard them church bells toll?
Then you know that the poor boy's dead and gone

In 1949, John Lee Hooker was recorded playing a private party with just an acoustic guitar. The songs included Two White Horses in a Line:


Two white horses in a line
Yes, two white horses in a line
Gonna take me to my burying ground
Dig my grave with a silver spade
Dig my grave with a silver spade
Let me down with a golden chain
Dig my grave with a silver spade
Yes, it's a mighty long lane ain't got no end
Yes, it's a mighty long lane ain't got no end
Yes, it's a mighty bad wind, don't never change
It's a long long lane ain't got no end
You can dig my grave with a silver spade
You can dig my grave with a silver spade
And let me down with a golden chain
Yes, there's two white horses in a line
Yes, there's two white horses in a line
Gonna take me to my burying ground
And dig my grave with a silver spade
And lay my guitar by my head
And lay my old guitar down by my head
Yes and dig my grave
All you can say I'm dead and gone
Yes, there's two white horses in a line
Yes, there's two white horses in a line
Gonna take me to my burying ground
Long long lane ain't got no end
Leroy Carr was arguably the most popular blues musician of his time. His records certainly influenced John Lee Hooker including When the Sun Goes Down:

In the evening, mama
When the sun goes down
In the evening, baby
When the sun goes down
Well, ain't it lonesome
Ain't it lonesome, babe
When your love is not around?
When the sun goes down
Last night, I laid a-sleeping I was thinking to myself
Last night, I laid a-sleeping I was thinking to myself
Well, what I been thinking Is why that the one that you love
Will mistreat you for someone else? 
When the sun goes down
The sun rises in the east and it sets up in the west
The sun rises in the east, mama and it set's in the west
Well, it's hard to tell, hard to tell, which one will treat you the best
When the sun goes down
Good-bye old sweetheart and pals, yes, I'm going away
But I may be back to see you again some old rainy day
Well, in the evening, in the evening when the sun goes down
When the sun goes down
John Lee Hooker played When the Sun Goes Down at that same 1949 party:

In the evening, when the sun goes
In the evening, when the sun goes
That’s when I miss you darling
I can’t keep from crying, just can’t keep from crying
You know I miss you, I just can’t keep from crying
I want you by my side darling everywhere i go
Because night time is the right time to be with the one you love
With the one you love
You know I miss you so
I can’t stand to see you go baby
You know it hurts me so
Because night time is the right time to be with the one you love
With the one you love
Every morning when I wake up
You know I hang out my tears darling
My tears to dry
You know I miss you darling
Can’t stand to see you go
Just to see you go
Although I miss you, you so far away
Because night time is the right time to be with the one you love
With the one you love

John Lee Hooker continued the great Mississippi blues tradition of describing natural disaster when he recorded the song about the Tupelo, Mississippi flood. Hooker's describing events of decades earlier when he recorded Tupelo Blues for the 1960 Country Blues album.

Did you read about the flood?
Happened long time ago in Tupelo, Mississippi
There were thousands of lives destroyed
It rained, it rained both night and day
The poor people was worried, didn't have no place to go
Could hear may people, crying "Lord, have mercy"
'Cause You're the only one that we can turn to
Happened a long time ago
A little town  way back in Mississippi, in Tupelo
There was women, and there was children
They were screaming and crying
Crying, "Lord, have mercy
You're the only one now, that we can turn to
Way back down in Mississippi, a little country town
I know you read about it
'Cause I'll never forget it
The mighty flood in Tupelo, Mississippi
Been years ago
Lord, have mercy
Wasn't that a mighty time?
Tupelo's gone
John Lee Hooker repeatedly said that Mississippi had the best blues because it was the worst state. His experiences as a child and young man in the state clearly shaped the musician he became.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Show 68 - Short-Haired Woman


Songs about the tight-haired woman, short-haired and bald-headed woman are a type of insult song. Many include one of the classic floating verses: "Babe you know I did more for you than the good Lord ever done. You know I bought you some hair because he sure didn't give you none."

Charley Jordan accompanied by Peetie Wheatstraw recorded Tight Haired Mama Blues in 1931.
   
Here come my tight‑haired woman, I can tell by the way she walks
Here come my tight‑haired woman, I can tell by the way she walks
But I know she be shaking that thing, because I can tell by the way she talks
I don't want no tight‑haired woman to cook no meat for me
I don't want no tight‑haired woman to cook no meat for me
Because she's so tight‑haired and evil, I'm scared she might poison poor me
Now your hair ain't curly, no your teeth ain't neither pearls
You know your hair ain't curly, you know your teeth ain't neither pearls
If the men were asking for hair, you would have a hard time in this world
Babe you know I did more for you than the good Lord ever done
Babe you know I did more for you than the good Lord ever done
You know I bought you some hair because he sure didn't give you none
Now if you got good hair, you want to keep it looking neat
If you got good hair, and you want to keep it looking neat
Just go down to the ten‑cent store, get you a nickel worth of white Vaseline
I will tell you girls one thing, you know it really is true
I will tell you girls one thing, and you know it really is true
Baby now you got good hair, but you bought this from the Jew

George Williams and Bessie Brown were a husband and wife duo who sang duets in a vaudeville blues style. Bald-Headed Mamma Blues from 1925 is about trading insults with George winning the battle when he calls her bald headed.

GW: Come Here Mama and take a look at me
BB: What I want to look at you for?
GW: Come Here Mama and take a look at me.
BB: I’ve been looking at you for the past twelve years
GW: Cause you’re papa’s happy as a man can be
BB: You was not happy when I first met you
GW: Happy as a lark, happy as a lark
BB: You was not happy when I first met you
Happy as a ? in a meat house?
Cause you was so hungry, you didn’t have two dollars worth of food
GW: Now you can’t kid me, cause you got me beat
BB:I always had you beat
GW: Now you can’t kid me, mama, cause you got me beat
You so dumb baby, you thought Birmingham was a piece of meat
BB: Now when I met you I had my diamonds on
GW: Yeah, you sure did
BB: When I met you I had my diamonds on
GW: If you fell down you’ve cut your head off
Now look at me George, everything I’ve got is gone
GW: Now I’ve done something that the lord ain’t never done
BB: What did you do?
GW: Now I’ve done something that the lord ain’t never done
BB: Just keep me in trouble all the time
GW: I gave you some hair Bessie, cause the Lord didn’t give you none, none, none none, none
You was bald-headed
You was bald-headed
You was bald-headed
You was bald-headed

Luke Jordan - Church Bell Blues from 1927 is another insult song about the bald-headed woman:

The Church Bells ringing
Secretary’s singing
The preachers preaching
Can't you hear the sisters shouting
Childrens in the pulpit
Mama's trying to learn my song
Now that low down dirty deacon
Done stole my gal and gone
Yeah my older brother had 'em
My sister had 'em
My auntie had 'em
My mother died with them
Woke up this morning
The family had the weary blues
Poked my head over in the corner
Poor grand mammy had em too
I did more for you woman
Way last winter
Laid in the forty
You know I scuffled through the summer
I did more for you woman then the the good lord had ever done
Came downtown and bought you good hair
The lord hadn't given you none
Hand me back that hat I bought you
That coat and waist
That shawl I bought you mama
Gotta bring shoes and all
If you don’t like your daddy
You got no right to care or stall
Hand me back that wig I bought you mama
Let you doggone head go bald
You know I can't be no bank boy
No superintendent
Can't clerk in no commissary
Ain't gonna work on no tipple
And I promised the good lord
Partner not to dig no coal
I'm gonna hang around the country
Try to find some jelly roll
Said my mammy got a hatchet
My papa’s got an axe
My sister's got a shepherd
My brother’s got some hounds
Some men crazy about yellow women
Some men like a teasing brown
I'm a stranger in town mama
Believe I'm going the whole way down
She wouldn't cook me no breakfast
She wouldn't get me no dinner
She squalled and brought me supper
And she kicked me outdoors
She had the nerve to ask me would a matchbox hold my clothes
Had a nerve to ask me would a matchbox hold my clothes
Memphis banjo player Gus Cannon recorded Heart Breakin' Blues in 1928 with Noah Lewis on harmonica: 
Well I'm going downtown baby won't be gone so long
Well I'm going downtown baby won't be gone so long
Say I'm tired and worried about to sing this song
And I stay at home baby, you don't treat me right
And I stay at home baby, you don't treat me right
The best time I have girl when you is out of my sight
Said give me back the wig I bought you, let your head go bald
Give me that wig I bought you, let your head go bald
But when I first met you girl, you didn't have no hair at all


Kid Stormy Weather was a New Orleans pianist who only released two records including Short Hair Blues:

That’s alright baby, Lord, that’s alright for you
That’s alright baby, Lord, that is alright for you
Now it’s alright, baby, Lord, about the way you do
Said blues came down my alley rolling up into my back door
Said blues came down my alley rolling up into my back door
I got the blues this morning, Lord, Lord, like I’ve never had before
Mama, remember the time, babe, I met, you liked it and how
Mama, do you remember the time, babe, I met, you liked it and how
But the thing you tried to do, babe, somebody doing it now
Go on old black gal, you know you can't make me shamed
Said go on old black gal, you know you can't make me shamed
But you’re hair is so short, I swear to God I can smell your brand
Way way down babe, way down in old Pollock town
Now way way down babe, way down in old Pollock town
Said the roaches and the chinches done tore my little gin house down
Kid Stormy Weather was an inspiration to Professor Longhair. In 1950, working under the name Roy Byrd, he recorded Bald Head:

Look there, she ain’t got no hair
My, look there, where’s that girl's hair?
Oh! look here, she ain’t got no hair
Ah look there, where’s that girl’s hair?
You know folks this girl I’m trying to tell you all about
Supposed to be a good friend of mine’s wife
But everyday on the job he’s always telling me the same old thing
He wished he had married her on some other night
Cause look there she didn’t have no hair
My, look there, where’s that girl's hair?
Oh! look here, she ain’t got no hair
Ah, look there, where’s that girl's hair?
And everyday on the job don’t you know she’s just begging
She’s just begging to take her out to a ball
But he got her straight you know he told her:
Said I can’t take chances
If I carry you girl, you got to stand out in the hall
Cause look there, you ain’t got no hair
Ah, look there, how come no hair?
Oh look there, she ain’t got no hair
Ah, look there, where’s that girl's hair?
She said if I get my fella a jug
He’d take me for a walk maybe down at Lee Circle’s park
Which he did, he got drunk and he wanted to make a little love
He put his arms around her neck and he knocked her wig off
Look there, she ain’t got no hair
My, look there, where’s that girl's hair?
Oh! look here, she ain’t got no hair

Bald Head is certainly funny. But, like the other songs from an earlier era, it’s kind of mean. It attacks women who don’t meet a certain standard of beauty. And these short haired, tight-haired and bald-headed women often would have been that way because the excessive use of beauty products caused their hair to break off. Standards of beauty can be complicated things and the often repeated lines where men who claim credit for buying wigs show a kind of male desire to be the one who determines what’s properly feminine.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Show 67 - Back-biting Man




"They call me a back biter, I’ll bite any man in the back." There’s nothing unusual about cheating songs in the blues. Stepping put on your man or woman could be considered one of the cornerstones of the genre. Today we’ll take a look at a specific subset of those songs: men who stole their friend’s woman. It’s interesting to hear men sing about being that backbiting friend, because the stereotypical depiction of women as the ones who are out to steal and backbite when it come to romance. But here are a few where men pronounce themselves the backbiting woman stealers. We’ll start with Ramblin’ Thomas from 1928, Back Gnawin' Blues:
I ain’t never loved but three womens in my life
I ain’t never loved but three womens in my life
My mother and my sister and my partner's wife
My mama told me when I was about twelve years old
My mama told me when I was about twelve years old
"Son, you're nothing but a back-biter. May God bless your soul."
They call me back-biter. I am a back-biter. I'll bite any man in the back.
Gonna tell all of you women something, baby, you might not like
And I'm gonna tell all of you women something, baby, you might not like
I want to know if I can bite your man in the back 
You might risk me, brother, but I will never risk you
Well, you might risk me, brother, but I will never risk you
If you allow me a chance, I will gnaw your backbone half in two 

Sylvester Weaver was one of the earliest musicians to record in the country blues format. In 1927, he sang about being a back biter in Can't Be Trusted Blues:
I don't love nobody, that's my policy
I don't love nobody, that's my policy
I'll tell the world that nobody can get along with me
I can't be trusted, can't be satisfied
I can't be trusted, can't be satisfied
The men all know it and pin their women to their side
I will sure back-bite you, gnaw you to the bone
I will sure back-bite you, gnaw you to the bone
I don't mean maybe, I can't let women alone
Pull down your windows and lock up all your doors
Pull down your windows, lock up all your doors
Got ways like the devil, papa's creeping on all fours 

In Stole Rider Blues, Blind Willie McTell sang about stealing a girl from his friend as well as indulging in the more typical description of women as the back biting friends.
I'm going to grab me a train ride the lonesome rail
Going to grab me a train ride the lonesome rail
Nigger stole my baby, she's in the lonesome jail
He took my mama carried her to the town of Rome
He took my mama carried her to the town of Rome
Now she's screaming and crying papa let your mama come back home
I stole my good gal from my bosom friend
I stole my good gal from my bosom friend
That fool got lucky, he stole her back again
Now the woman I love got a mouth chock full of good gold
Now the woman I love got a mouth chock full of good gold
Every time she hug and kiss me it make my blood run cold
When you see two women running hand in hand
When you see two women running hand in hand
Bet you my last dollar one done stole the other’s man
I'm leaving town, please don't spread the news
I'm leaving town, please don't spread the news
That why I've got these old stole rider blues 

Robert Johnson's classic Come on In My Kitchen centers around the idea of having stolen your best friend's woman and some of the bad things that seems to come with it.
You better come on in my kitchen, It's going to be raining outdoors
The woman I love, took from my best friend
Some joker got lucky, stole her back again
You better come on in my kitchen, it's going to be raining outdoors
Why she’s gone, I know she won’t be coming back
I’ve taken the last nickel out of her nation sack
You better come on in my kitchen, it's going to be raining outdoors
Mama, can't you hear that wind howl?
Oh how the wind do howl
When a woman gets in trouble, everybody throws her down
Looking for her good friend, none can be found
You better come on in my kitchen, it's going to be raining outdoors
Bad times coming, it’s gonna be slow
You can’t make the winter babe, just dry long so
You better come on in my kitchen, cause it's going to be raining outdoors 
Johnson borrowed the "stole from my best friend" line from either Johnnie Temple's song Evil Devil Blues or Skip James' original version of the same song titled Devil Got My Woman. Both songs end with the line and it feels like something of a conclusion about why difficult times are here.

Johnnie Temple - Evil Devil Blues:
I'd rather be dead and in my horrible tomb
To hear my woman, some man done taken my room, taken my room
I'd rather be the devil, to be that woman's man, that woman’s man
The woman I love, the woman I love, the woman I love, she don't pay me no mind, me no mind
Going to pack my things going further down the line, down the line
I lay down last night, I laid down last night, and I tried to take my rest
My mind got to rambling like the wild geese from the west, from the west
The devil is evil, changed my baby's mind
You be my woman, be my woman, be my woman, I tell you what I will do, I will do
I'll cut your kindling, I will build your fire
I'll tote your water, from the boggy bayou
The woman I love, I stole her from my best friend, my best friend
Lord he got lucky and stole her back again, stole her back again 
Skip James - Devil Got My Woman:
I'd rather be the devil to be that woman's man
I'd rather be the devil to be that woman's man
Oh nothing but the devil changed my baby's mind
Oh nothing but the devil changed my baby's mind
I laid down last night, I laid down last night, I laid down last night, tried to take my rest
My mind got to rambling like the wild geese from the west
The woman I love, woman that I love, the woman I love, took her from my best friend
But he got lucky, stole her back again
And he got lucky, stole her back again


Songs:
Back Gnawing Blues - Ramblin' Thomas
Can't Be Trusted Blues - Sylvester Weaver
Stole Rider Blues - Blind Willie McTell
Come On In My Kitchen - Robert Johnson
Evil Devil Blues - Johnnie Temple
Devil Got My Woman - Skip James

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Show 66 - Biographical Mysteries


The New York Times ran a fascinating story about Elvie Thomas where the author uncovered a lot of new biographical details and interviewed folks that knew her decades after she’d made blues records in 1930 or 1931. Elvie Thomas was found to be a Texan who’d left the blues for the church and who lived until the 1970s. Her life been considered a mystery though her recordings with Geeshie Wiley have been greatly loved. In a way it’s extraordinary that we know anything about folks that happened to make a handful of records 80 years ago. But the blues inspires such devotion that there’s been huge efforts from researchers to learn everything we can about these musicians. So in this show I’m going to present a few of the biographical mysteries of the blues. We’ll start with that classic from Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, Last Kind Words Blues:
The last kind words I heard my daddy say
Lord, the last kind words I heard my daddy say

If I die, if I die in the German war
I want you to send my body, send it to my mother-in-law

If I get killed, if I get killed, please don't bury my soul
I cry just leave me out, let the buzzards eat me whole

When you see me coming look across the rich man's field
If I don't bring you flour, I'll bring you bolted meal

I went to the depot, I looked up at the sun
Cried, some train don't come, Lord, be some walking done

My mama told me, just before she died
Lord, say to your daughter, don't you be so wild

The Mississippi river, you know it's deep and wide
I can stand right here, see my baby from the other side

What you do to me baby it never gets outta me
I may not see you after I cross the deep blue sea

Kid Bailey remains a mystery. Some assume that the name is a pure pseudonym. One theory if that Bailey is the same person as Willie Brown, the associate of Charley Patton, Son House, and Robert Johnson. Only a few of his records survive, recorded in 1929 at a famous session at Memphis’ Peabody Hotel. Mississippi Bottom Blues may tell something of his story.

Way down in Mississippi where I was bred and born
I believe that will forever be my native home

My poor mother’s old and her hair is turning gray
And my poor mother’s old now and her hair is turning gray
I know it would break her heart if she found out I was barrelhousing this way

I’m going where the water drinks like wine
I’m going where the water drinks like wine
Where I can be drunk and staggering all the time

And it ain’t but the one thing now, Lord, it worries my mind
And it ain’t but the one thing now, Lord, it worries my mind
That’s a house full of women, Lord, Lord, ain’t none of them mine

My baby passed me and she never said a word
And my baby passed me and she never said a word
Nothing I had did, but it was something she had heard

Was Willie Brown also known as Kid Bailey. Experts disagree. My thought… probably not. Future Blues is Brown's most famous song:
Can't tell my future and I can't tell my past
Lord, it seems like every minute sure gonna be my last

The minutes seem like hours and hours seem like days
The minutes seem like hours and hours seem like days
And it seems like my woman oughta stop her lowdown ways

The woman I love now she's five feet from the ground
I said, the woman I love now, Lord, is five feet from the ground
And she's tailor made and ain't no hand me down

Lord, and I got a woman now, Lordy, she's lightning when she
Lightnin when she…
I say, I got a woman
Lord, and she's lightnin when she smiles
Five feet and four inches and she's damn good looking size

Well, I know you see that picture, now, Lord, up on your mother's, up on your mother's, mama's shelf
I know you see that picture now, up on your mother's shelf
Well, you know about that, I'm getting tired of sleeping by myself

And it's T for Texas, now, it's T for Tennessee
And it's T for Texas, now, it's T for Tennessee
Lord, bless that woman, that put that thing on me

The intensity of the singing and playing on his song Gone Dead Train, made King Solomon Hill one of the biggest mysteries in the blues for decades. It’s now agreed that his real name was Joe Holmes and the name King Solomon Hill was taken from the community where he lived and probably assigned by someone at Paramount solely for the 8 sides he made there. Holmes was from McComb, Mississippi and is known to have spent some time traveling with Blind Lemon Jefferson. Decades of research from Gayle Dean Wardlow gave us his story.

And I'm going way down Winden
Lord, I'm gonna try to leave here today
Tell 'em I believe I'll find my way and that train is just that way

Gotta get on that train, I said I'd even broke my jaw
Boys, if you out and running around in this world this train will wreck your mind, your life too

Lord, I once was a hobo, I crossed many a point
But I decided I'd go down the fog traveling light
And take it as it comes

I reckon you know the fireman and the engineer would too

There are so many people have gone down today
And this fast train north and southern traveling light and clear

I wanna ride your train
I said, "Look here, engineer, can I ride your train?"
He said, "Look here, you oughta know this train ain't mine and you're asking me in vain"

Said, "You go to the Western Union, you might get a chance"
I didn't know the Western Union run no train

Said, "You go to the Western Union, you might get a chance"
You might get wire to some of your people and your fare will be sent right here
Hadn't thought that's the way it was

I wanna go home, and that train is done gone dead
I wanna go, that train is done gone dead
I done lost my wife and my three little children, and my mother's sick in bed

Please, help me win my fare
Cause I'm a traveling man, boys I can't stay here

Virginia harmonica player Blues Birdhead hasn't inspired the same kind of devotion and curiosity but his mystery is intriguing. We know his names was James Simons and he played around Norfolk, but that's it. He was clearly an extraordinary talent coaxing all kinds of notes out of that little diatonic harp. Mean Low Blues, his jazz trumpet influenced instrumental recorded with an unidentified pianist shows his skills. J.T. Funny Paper Smith made some fantastic records, but we know virtually nothing about him. It's still debated if his nickname was "Funny Paper" or "Funny Papa." "Funny Paper" is what appears on the records and I've never seen any evidence to show that's incorrect. He was also known as the Howlin' Wolf. One report is that he was a Texan who was once arrested for murder. If that's true, County Jail Blues, seems pretty autobiographical:

Come on all you people hear me tell my tale
Come on all you people hear me tell my sad tale
I’m through with all of my worries, and I don’t even want no bail
I killed my woman, I’m in a hurry, I’m going to the county jail

Judge, here I am this morning and here’s my .45
Judge, here I am this morning and here’s my .45
Here I am, Judge, this morning, and here is my .45
I shot my woman on the other corner and I don’t know whether she’s dead or live

Now don’t ask me no questions, Judge about how our troubles begin
Don’t ask me no questions, Judge, about how our troubles begin
Judge don’t ask me no questions about how our trouble begin
Just have it printed in your paper, little trouble between women and men

Mmmmm, Oh Lord, I heard that judge say 99
Mmmmm I heard that old judge say 99
Mmmmm, Oh Lord, I heard that old judge say 99
And it’s one thing I wish I had this morning and that’s that .45 of mine

Well I’m gonna lay down in jail like I used to lay down out on Calumet
(Well) I’m gonna lay down in jail like I used to lay down on Calumet
I’m gonna lay down like I used to lay down way out on Calumet
Maybe good luck to you cause I haven't forgot you yet

Songs:
Geeshie Wiley - Last Kind Words Blues
Kid Bailey - Mississippi Bottom Blues
Willie Brown - Future Blues
King Solomon Hill - Gone Dead Train
Blues Birdhead - Mean Low Blues
J.T. Funny Paper Smith - County Jail Blues

Friday, March 07, 2014

Show 65 - Snitcher's Blues




A few years back, the Stop Snitching movement received a lot of attention in the media with high profile rappers and athletes using songs and films to urge people not to cooperate with police investigating crimes. Of course, disdain for snitchers was nothing new and there have always songs about the problems with snitchers. Let’s start with one from 1928 that gives some history going back to 1894. It’s the Memphis Jug Band’s Snitchin' Gambler Blues:

People in this town, Lord, they ain't no friend to you
Oh, they'll do you a favor, go around and tell lies on poor you

If I only had me a brick house of my own
I wouldn't allow snitching and gambling people around my home
I hate a snitcher, worse than the good Lord hates the sin

If they ever give me any trouble, soon be on my way to the pen
If I only had me a shelter of my own

I wouldn't allow snitching and gambling people around my home
Now it's eighteen hundred, and it's ninety-one

That's when the snitching work, people, Lord, had just begun
Now it's eighteen hundred, and it's ninety-two

The snitchers in this town, Lord, they just won't do
Now it's eighteen hundred, and it's ninety-three

I got arrested off of Beale Street
I went before the judge, I said judge, what is my fine?

A hundred dollar fine, and do eleven twenty-nine
Now look-a-here, judge, can't you hold up off of that fine?

He said, go ahead on, nigger, that ain't no great long time
Oh, don't I hate a snitcher worse than the good Lord hates the sin

Now it's eighteen hundred and it's ninety-four
The white people rolled me in the workhouse door

It's eighteen hundred and it's ninety-five
These people in this town don't do nothing but tell dirty lies

Now it's eighteen hundred and it's ninety-six
That's when the snitchers got all-all their little snitching work fixed

It's nineteen-hundred and it's twenty-seven
They snitch so bad they're trying to snitch their way into heaven

It's nineteen-hundred and it's twenty-eight
I left the snitchers standing at the workhouse gate

Now, It's nineteen-hundred and it's twenty-nine
I left all the snitching people way behind

Oh, don't I hate a snitcher worse than the good Lord hates the sin


James Stump Johnson recorded Snitchers Blues singing about losing his friends and the police and the snitches around St. Louis:
When I had money, I had friends for miles around
When I had money, I had friends for miles around
Ain’t got no money, now my friends cannot be found

Some give me a nickel, some give me a lousy dime
Some give me a nickel, some give me a lousy dime
Some people say that old dunce ain’t no friend of mine

Be with me when I’m down, I’ll be the same when I rise
Be with me when I’m down, I’ll be the same when I rise
These St. Louis women, they think they are too wise

She cook good cabbage and she called them turnip greens
Oh, she cooked good cabbage, she called them turnip greens
Now she’s the best old woman, the best I’ve ever seen

Called my babe way down in Pollock town
mmmm, babe way down in Pollock town
Well the police and these snitches they have tore my playhouse down

Take me to Kirkwood, I’ll make St. Louis all by myself
Mmmm,, St. Louis by myself
When I get there, I hope you haven’t got nobody else
George Hannah recorded another version of the same song as The Snitches Blues:
When I had money, I had friends for miles around
When I had money, I had friends for miles around
Ain’t got no money, my friends cannot be found

Some give me a nickel, some give me lousy dime
Some give me a nickel, some give me lousy dime
Some let me know that they ain’t  no friend of mine

Be with me when I’m down, I’ll be the same way when I rise
Be with me when I’m down, I’ll be the same when I rise
These St. Louis women, they really are too wise

She cook good cabbage, she called them turnip greens
She cooked good cabbage, she called them turnip greens
She’s the best old woman, the best I’ve ever seen

Called my babe way down in Pollock town
Called my babe way down in Pollock town
The police and these snitches tore my playhouse down

Take me to Kirkwood, I’ll make St. Louis by myself
Take me to Kirkwood, St. Louis by myself
When I get there,babe, I hope you ain’t got nobody else

In 1937, Big Joe Williams took some elements of the Snitcher's Blues and recorded I Won't Be in Hard Luck No More talking about the police and the snitches trying to tear his reputation down.
 
 I said goodbye baby, oh yes I got to go
 I said goodbye baby, oh yes I got to go
 I don't want to be way in the South, ooh well mistreated for Mister so‑and‑so

 I stayed in hard luck and trouble every old place I go
 I stayed in hard luck and trouble most every old place I go
 I believe somebody put bad luck on me, ooo well I believe now it's time to go

I had money baby, I even had friends for miles around
When  I had money babe, I even had friends for miles around
Well all the money gone,  ooo well and my friends cannot be found

I started down, I started down in Pollock Town
I started down, baby, I started down in Pollock Town
Seem like the snitches and the police is trying to tear poor Joe's reputation down

Now you can hear me when I'm down, be the same way when I rise
you can hear me when I'm down, be the same way when I rise
I got a gal in East St Louis she lives down in Polack Town

Blind Boy Fuller's 1935 hit Rag, Mama, Rag has a good time feel, but some threatening lyrics directed at the woman who hollered murder:
Says I'm going uptown hat in my hand
Looking for the woman ain't got no man
Just as well be looking for a needle in the sand
Looking for a woman ain't got no man

Oh, rag Rag.
Rag Said do that rag

Oh, rag
Oh, rag
Rag
Said do that rag

Says I wouldn't have thought my gal would treat me so
Love another man stay at my back door
Mind, mama, what you sow
You got to reap just what you sow

Oh, rag
Rag, now
Rag, baby
Rag, mama
Said do that rag

Oh, rag
Do it a long time
Rag
Said do that rag

Now if you'll get you one woman, better get you two
One for your buddy other one for you
Got me a wife and a sweetheart too
Wife don't love me, my sweetheart do

Oh, rag
Rag, baby
Rag
Rag, mama,
Said do that rag
Oh, rag
Rag
Rag, baby
Said do that rag
Oh, rag
Oh, rag, baby
Rag, mama
Said do that rag
Oh, rag
Oh, rag, baby
Rag, mama
Said do that rag
Now rag, baby
Oh, rag
Oh, rag
Rag, mama
Said do that rag

Said my gal hollered murder I ain't raised my hand
Pistol in my pocket, blackjack in my hand
Took my gal under the willow tree
Ought to hear her hollering, "Don't murder me!"

Oh, rag, shh...
Oh, rag
Rag, now, baby,
Rag
Said do that rag

Oh, rag
Oh, rag, baby
Rag again
Said do that rag

Joe McCoy recorded a similarly threatening song in 1935, Something Gonna Happen to You:

I'm going to ask my old buddy now how come he shares
Won’t fool around if he’s has to go to the electric chair
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

I have bought me a pistol, shotgun and some shells
Start some stuff to show them, raise some hell
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

Yes you talked about me all through the neighborhood
Told everybody that I was no good
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

Yes you called on the old law and he brought his ball and chain
Accused me of murder, I never harmed a man
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

Yes my mother she told me, my daddy sat down and he cried
Someday son you’ve got to lay down and die
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
When I done everything that a poor boy could do

There'll be one of these mornings, you going to jump and shout
Open the jailhouse door and you come walking out
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

I used to have so many women, I didn't know who I loved
Used to gather around me like the angels above
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

Songs:
Snitchin' Gambler Blues - Memphis Jug Band
Snitchers Blues - James Stump Johnson
The Snitches Blues - George Hannah
I Won't Be in Hard Luck No More - Big Joe Williams
Rag, Mama, Rag - Blind Boy Fuller
Something Gonna Happen to You - Joe McCoy