Saturday, July 26, 2008

Show 36 - Nicknames



It's amazing how many of the great musicians are known by nicknames. Often, the real names are obscure and even the biggest fans know only a nickname. And there are some great ones in prewar blues: Bumble Bee Slim, Leadbelly, Little Son Joe, Salty Dog Sam, Funny Paper Smith. The list of great nicknames is endless. Many sang songs that define and tell the stories behind those nicknames.
A guy named James Arnold reworked a song that Scrapper Blackwell had recorded a few years earlier. Soon he was known as Kokomo and the name James Arnold all but vanished. The song is Old Original Kokomo Blues from 1934.
Now one and one is two mama, two and two is four
Mess around here pretty mama, you know we got to go
Crying oh baby don't you want to go
Back to eleven light city, to sweet old Kokomo

Now four and one is five mama, five and one is six
You mess around here pretty mama, you going to get me tricked
Crying oh baby don't you want to go
Back to eleven light city, to sweet old Kokomo

Now six and one is seven mama, seven and one is eight
You mess around here pretty mama, you going to make me late
Crying oh baby don't you want to go
Back to eleven light city, to sweet old Kokomo

Says I told you mama when you first fell across my bed
You been drinking your bad whiskey and talking all out your head
Crying oh baby don't you want to go
Back to eleven light city, to sweet old Kokomo

I don't drink because I'm dry mama, don't drink because I'm blue
The reason I drink pretty mama, I can't get along with you
Crying oh baby don't you want to go
Back to eleven light city, to sweet old Kokomo

Now eight and one is nine mama, nine and one is ten
You mess around here pretty mama, I'm going to take you in
Crying oh baby don't you want to go
Back to eleven light city, to sweet old Kokomo

Now ten and one is eleven mama, eleven and one is twelve
You mess around here pretty mama, you going to catch you a lot of hell
Crying oh baby don't you want to go
Back to eleven light city, to sweet old Kokomo
Kokomo Arnold presumably referred to the town the Kokomo, Indiana. Two years later, Robert Johnson would rip the song off, change the city to Sweet Home Chicago and inspire countless covers. But the name Kokomo would be forever attached to Arnold.
Songs about playing cards are frequently heard in this genre. But Texas musician Babe Karo Lemon Turner took it to another level when he took the name of the prettiest card in the deck: the Black Ace. He tells the story in his 1937 recording Black Ace.
I am the Black Ace, I'm the boss card in your hand
I am the Black Ace, I'm the boss card in your hand
And I'll play for you mama if you please let me be your man

Sometimes a black ace never comes inside
Sometimes a black ace never comes inside
But I'll play for you mama, if you please, will treat me right

Says I'll lay in the deck mama, I'll lay forth and tight
But I'll play for you mama if you treat me right
If you don't want me mama, I said please leave me alone

Cause I'll play for you mama when the king is gone
(That means when your husband's gone)

I'll be your winner in any game you play
I'll be your winner in any game you play
And if you don't want me mama, please just let me stay

Yes you know you don't want me mama, you won't even say
That's alright mama, you gonna need my help someday
I sad please, mama, please, don't drive me away
Cause I'll be at the trailer, Mama if you please let me stay
Another Texas musicians got his nickname becuase he was a man that didn't want to stay in any one place for long. He was born Willard Thomas and recorded under the name Ramblin' Thomas. The story of how he earned his name is in the 1928 song, Ramblin' Man.
I feel like rambling, rambling stays on my mind
I feel like rambling, rambling stays on my mind
And I ain't satisfied unless I'm rambling all the time

Now you will wake up in the morning and find me gone
And you will wake up in the morning and find me gone
Because I'm a rambling man and I can't stay at one place long

It's one day and one night is long as I stay in one place
It's one day and one night is long as I stay in one place
But I've been in Chicago one week because I like these Chicago ways

I'm going to leave here walking, chance is that I may ride
And I'm going to leave here walking, chance is that I may ride
Because I'm going to ramble until the day that I die
One nickname is not enough for some people. JT Smith, another Texas musician, was one of them. He was known as Funny Paper or some blues researchers believe Funny Papa. If it was Funny Paper, it probably refers to newspaper comic strips, maybe even specifically to the comic Snuffy Smith. But either Papa or Paper, Smith had yet another nickname, and he had it a couple decades before a more famous bluesman. It's one of the great animal-related nicknames, the Howling Wolf. In 1930, he recorded a song in about it: Howling Wolf Blues
Well here I am got the blues about Little Old Victoria, the Howling Wolf
I guess I'll drop a few lines

I am that wolf that everybody been trying to find out where in the world I prowl
I am that wolf that everybody been trying to find out where in the world I prowl
Nobody ever gets a chance to see me, but they all hear me when I howl

Now I howl to my baby with her mother standing by her side
I howl to my baby with her mother standing by her side
And that's the reason I'm howling, I'm trying to be satisfied

I even prowled for you baby when you was down and couldn't stand up on your feet
I even prowled for you baby when you was down and couldn't stand up on your feet
Now you walk by the lone wolf and act like you don't want to see

What made you quit me, I love you as I did three years ago
What made you quit me, baby, I love you as I did three years ago
Take me back and I'll quit prowling and I won't ever howl no more

Now the preacher told me that God will forgive a black man most anything he do
Now the preacher told me that God will forgive a black man most anything he do
I ain't black but I'm dark‑complexioned, look like he ought to forgive me too

Look like God don't treat me like I'm a human kind
Seem like God don't treat me like I'm a human kind
Seem like he wants me to be a prowler and a howling wolf all the time
Howling Wolf Blues‑No. 2


Baby here I am down on my bended knees
Ask you to take me back and forgive me do that for me if you please

Now when you hear me howling mama, I mean howling at your door
when you hear me howling mama, howling at your door
Come on and give me what I want mama then you won't hear me howl no more

Ever since you quit me mama, I ain't wanted nobody
else Ever since you quit me mama, I ain't wanted nobody else
For I'd rather be with nobody than I'd rather be howling by myself

Now I done howled and howled until I wore my tonsils sore
Now I done howled and howled until I made my tonsils sore
And when I howl this time mama, I never will howl no more

Now here I am in Chicago, doing the best I can
Here I am in Chicago, doing the best I can
If I hear from my baby, I'll act the fool and go howling back south again

Mama listen at me howl
Mama listen at me howl
Watch the roads dark as night mama and you liable to see me prowl


The man born Harold Bunch was another popular musician with a few nicknames. Best known as Peetie Wheatstraw, he's also The Devil's Son-in-Law and the High Sheriff from Hell. I mentioned Robert Johnson borrowing from Kokomo Arnold, he also took a lot from Peetie Wheatstraw including an association with the devil. The troublemaking character of Peetie Wheatstraw became part of American folklore and culture, showing up in Ralph Ellison novels and Rudy Ray Moore films. It's not clear if Bunch got the name from an already existing folk hero, or if he created a new one. Either way he was a hugely popular musician when he recorded the story in Peetie Wheatstraw Stomp in 1937.
Women all raving about Peetie Wheatstraw in this land
Women all raving about Peetie Wheatstraw in this land
He got some of these women now going from hand to hand

Don't tell all the girls what that Peetie Wheatstraw can do
Woohoo... that Peetie Wheatstraw can do
That will cause suspicion now you know they will try him too

If you want to see the women that may clown
If you want to see the women may clown
Just let that Peetie Wheatstraw come into your town

I am Peetie Wheatstraw, the high sheriff from hell
I am Peetie Wheatstraw, the high sheriff from hell
The way I strut my stuff, well now you never can tell
Peetie Wheatstraw Stomp No. 2:


Everybody hollering here come that Peetie Wheatstraw
Everybody hollering here come that Peetie Wheatstraw
Now he's better known by the devil's son‑in‑law

Everybody wondering what that Peetie Wheatstraw do
Woohoo what that Peetie Wheatstraw do
Because every time you hear him, he coming out with something new

He makes some happy, some he make cry
Whoo makes some happy, some he make cry
Well now he made one old lady go hang herself and die

This is Peetie Wheatstraw I'm always in the line
This is Peetie Wheatstraw then again I'm always on the line
Save up your nickels and dimes, you can come up and see me sometime

Nicknames were the sole identification of the artist on many blues records in the prewar period. They were more important than real names for the record buying public and people within smaller communities interacting on peronal levels. For many people, nicknames are an essential part of their identity. They told you something about the man, whether he was connected to the devil and trouble, eager to ramble, or maybe just the fact that he were slim. The songs here are a tiny sample representing artists telling stories of their nicknames. Dozens more can be found in prewar blues. Nicknaming is an important part of American black culture and the legacy of blues nicknaming can certainly still be seen in hip-hop music where virtually no one records under their given name.
Songs:
Old Original Kokomo Blues - Kokomo Arnold
Black Ace - Black Ace
Ramblin' Thomas - Ramblin' Man
Funny Paper Smith - Howling Wolf Blues Part 1
Funny Paper Smith - Howling Wolf Blues Part 2
Peetie Wheatstraw - Peetie Wheatstraw Stomp Part 1
Peetie Wheatstraw - Peetie Wheatstraw Stomp Part 2

2 comments:

Ejler said...

Thank you very much!
Peetie is funny and very much alive. Thanks also for the lyrics. It's a great help for a Dane like me.
Very useful shows. Go on, Mike.
Hi Ejler Svendsen

Jhansen R. Machado said...

Hi Mike.

I'm creating a "Blues Blog" here in Brazil, and it's hard to find good material bout it. I'd like to know if you mind if i use somethings u posted (with citations off course)?

Hugs.

Jhansen R. Machado

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