Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Show 50 - Beating Blues



Songs about abusing women are pretty common and there is another huge set of songs about murdering women. They do illustrate how attitudes toward violence against women have changed and how prevalent this problem was. One of the great Robert Johnson songs, Me and the Devil Blues,
includes lyric about beating:
Early this morning, when you knocked upon my door
Early this morning, ooh, when you knocked upon my door
And I said, "Hello, Satan, I believe it's time to go"


Me and the devil, was walking side by side
Me and the devil, ooh, was walking side by side
And I'm going to beat my woman, until I get satisfied


She say you don't see why, that you will dog me around
Now, babe, you know you ain't doing me right, don't you
She say you don't see why, ooh, that you will dog me around
It must be that old evil spirit, so deep down in the ground


You may bury my body, down by the highway side
(Baby, I don't care where you bury my body when I'm dead and gone)
You may bury my body, ooh, down by the highway side
So my old evil spirit, can catch a Greyhound bus and ride

Robert Johnson associates himself with the devil, calling himself evil and talking about the bad things a man does in life including beating his woman. Roosevelt Sykes Single Tree Blues, recorded in 1929, is not so metaphorical. It’s about how a man deals with a woman that’s not treating him right. A singletree is a wood bar that’s a part of a plow.
Hit my woman with a singletree
Hit my woman with a singletree
You might've heard her hollering “daddy don't you murder me”


Going to shoot you mama, going to cut you too
Going to shoot you mama, I’m going to cut you too
Lord on account of the old way you do


Been sick and down babe, I'm getting up again
Been sick and down mama, I'm getting up again
Mmm but I'm bl...


Going away mama, coming here no more
Going away baby, coming here no more
You know you shout at me, you’ve thrown my trunk outdoors


She's a good old girl, but she do mess around
She's a good old girl, but she do mess around
She ain't there, she's all over town

The Memphis Jug Band recorded a similar song with first couple verses alone the same lines, I Whipped My Woman With a Single Tree:

I said my woman had a falling out
People in the town want to know what it was all about
Same thing, same thing
Now don’t you hear me talking to you, talking about the same old thing


Yes, I whipped my woman with a singletree
You oughta heard her hollering don't you murder me
What about? Same thing, same thing
Now don’t you hear me talking to you, talking about the same old thing


Yes, I went to the Gypsies to get my fortune told
The Gypsies told me something I didn't want no one to know
What about? Same thing, same thing
Now don’t you hear me talking to you, talking about the same old thing


Yes, I went to my back door and that ??? was locked
I went to that front door you know the ??? was locked
What was it doing? Same thing
Now don’t you hear me talking to you talking about the same old thing


Now don't you wish your easy roller was little and cute like mine
Every time she walks she leaves a lot behind
Oh same thing, same thing
Now don’t you hear me talking to you talking about the same old thing

Sonny Boy Williamson recorded another example of a song about beating a woman that a man feels is out of line. You Give an Account:
I'm going to tell you something baby you can't do
You better take it kind of easy, I've got my eyes on you
You got to give an account of just what you do


If you got a good woman and she won't treat you right
You feed her three times a day and whip her a little at night
You got to give an account of just what you do


Now Mr. depot agent, don't you make me cry
Did my baby stop here, did she keep on by?
You got to give an account of just what you do


Now I want all you people to gather around
My baby done left me, treat me like a hound
You got to give an account of just what you do


I told her I'd buy her a Chevrolet say but she wanted a V‑Eight Ford
She say she wanted something would beat us a hole in the road
She got to give an account of just what she’ll do


Now I waved my hands, she wouldn't pay me no mind
Way out on my door she made a loving sign
But she got to give an account of just what she’ll do
In one of his few pre-war recordings, 1941’s Little Boy Blue, Robert Lockwood jr. sang about whipping and stabbing a woman:
Little boy blue, please come blow your horn
Little boy blue, please come blow your horn
My baby she gone and left me, she left me all alone


Now the sheep is in the meadow and the cows is in the corn
I've got a girl in Chicago she loves to hear me blow my lonesome horn
Little boy blue, please come blow your horn
My baby she gone and left me, she left me all alone


I'm going to take my whip and whip her, I'm going to whip her down to the ground
I'm going to take my dirk and stab her then I'm you know I'm going to turn it round and round
Little boy blue, please come blow your horn
My baby she gone and left me, she left me all alone


I have rambled and I've rambled until I broke my poor self down
I believe to my soul that the little girl is out of town
Little boy blue, please come blow your horn
My baby she gone and left me, she left me all alone

There’s often at least some female perspective to provide counterpoints in the blues, and Jewell Nelson provided one in 1928, Beating Me Blues:
I wish someone could tell me where that man of mine that has been mistreating me all the time
My daddy’s beating me almost every day
I’m getting sick and tired of the way my daddy’s killing me


He used to be sweet, everybody know
But here on lately, he beats me everywhere we go
He’s just killing me, yes just killing me
I’m getting sick and tired of the way my daddy’s treating me


I went on the mountaintop, he found me there
I believe he’ll find me anywhere
He’s just killing, yes, just killing me
I’m getting sick and tired of the way my daddy’s killing me


I’m going to find the policeman
Tell him how my daddy is beating me
You know he’s killing me, just killing me
I’m getting sick and tired of the way my daddy’s beating me

Clara Herring also recorded a song about receiving beatings in 1928, Beating Blues:
Woke up this morning, my eyes were dark as night
I woke up this morning, my eyes were dark as night
And you know about that, my man ain’t acting right


He beats me in the morning and before the break of day
Beats me in the morning and before the break of day
Then I’m getting tired of being treated this way


Now the way he beats me, there must not be no laws
The way he beats me, there must not be no laws
And I know about that, some other girl is in my ...


Someday sweet papa, someone’s going to take your place
Someday sweet papa, someone’s going to take your place
But you took off(?) and left with that in your place(?)


You don’t want me papa, I’ll pack my things and go
You don’t want me papa, I’ll pack my things and go
But remember daddy, you got to reap just what you sow

So what should we think about men like Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Lockwood, men whose music I admire tremendously, singing about whipping, stabbing, and beating women? Well, it’s always a mistake to assume that these songs are autobiographical. But they do reflect the culture that these men were a part of and that they helped create. Their casual mentions of beatings should be recognized. Though the violence can certainly be seen as yet another consequence of the oppression of the black male in a Jim Crow world, it can never be excused and shouldn’t be ignored.

Songs:
Me and the Devil Blues - Robert Johnson
Single Tree Blues - Roosevelt Sykes
I Whipped My Woman with a Single Tree - Memphis Jug Band
You Give an Account - Sonny Boy Williamson
Little Boy Blue - Robert Lockwood, jr.
Beating Me Blues - Jewell Nelson
Beating Blues - Clara Herring

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Show 49 - Sick With the Blues



Perhaps the most poetic song ever written about being sick is St. Louis Jimmy Oden’s 1941 classic Goin’ Down Slow:
I have had my fun if I don't get well no more
I have had my fun if I don't get well no more
My health is failing me and I'm going down slow


Please write my mother, tell her the shape I'm in
Please write my mother, tell her the shape I'm in
Tell her to pray for me, forgive me for all my sins


Tell her don't send no doctor, doctor can't do no good
Tell her don't send no doctor, doctor can't do no good
It's all my fault, didn't do the things I should


On the next train south, look for my clothes home
On the next train south, look for my clothes home
If you don't see my body, all you can do is moan


Mother please don't worry, this is all in my prayer
Mother please don't worry, this is all in my prayer
Just say your son is gone, I'm out in this world somewhere

Oden expressed the sentiment that a doctor couldn’t help. Bukka White did the same thing when he was calling for his lover to help with the High Fever Blues:
I'm taken down with the fever and it won't let me sleep
I'm taken down with the fever and it won't let me sleep
It was about three o'clock before he could let me be


I wish somebody would come and drive my fever away
I wish somebody come and drive my fever away
This fever I'm having sure is in my way


The fever I'm having sure is hard on a man
The fever I'm having sure is hard on a man
They don't allow my lover come and shake my hand


I wonder what’s the matter with the fever, sure is hard on a man
I want to know what’s the matter, how come it’s hard on a man
Doctor said it ain’t the fever, it’s that your lover had another man


Doctor get your fever gauge and put it under my tongue
Doctor get your fever gauge and put it under my tongue
Doctor says all you need, your lover in your arms


I want my lover come and drive my fever away
I want my lover come and drive my fever away
Doctor said she do me more good in a day than he would in all of his days

In Sick Bed Blues from 1937, Peetie Wheatstraw expressed what it’s like to have your baby suffering in bed:
When I left, my little girl was sick and in the bed
I said when I left home, my little girl was sick and in the bed
Now I know she wished that I was there, well now to hold her aching head


She's on her sickbed suffering with aches and pains
She's on her sickbed suffering with aches and pains
Now you know it hurts my heart well now when she calls my name


She rolls and she tumbles now from side to side
She rolls and she tumbles I said from side to side
Then again now you know all that I can do is start and hang my head and cry


Ain't it hard now when you're all alone
I said ain't it hard when you're all alone
I never did mind though, well now when all you’ve got is gone

The future gospel great Thomas Dorsey recorded a couple of variations on a song featuring a duet between a doctor and a patient. One featured Big Bill Broonzy and was released under the name Georgia Tom and Jane Lucas. Terrible Operation Blues:
Alright nurse, bring in the next patient


Get up on this table, pull off that gown
Raise up that right leg, let that left one down
Pull off them stockings, that silk underwear
The doctor's got to cut you, mama, don't know where


You got two or three tumors, shaped like a cube
Two or three leaks in your inner tube
Bring on that ether, bring on that gas
The doctor's got to cut you, mama, yes, yes, yes
The doctor knows to fix it, the doctor knows just what to do


Oh doctor, can I have a just a little water?
Shh, be quiet now, be quiet
Oh doctor, I'm so sick!
That’s alright, the doctor ain't gonna hurt you
Can I have a little water?
After a while
Oh, what you gonna do with that long knife?
Oh, don’t worry about that, that's just the doctor's tool
Oh doctor, what you gonna do with that saw?
Oh, we just take off legs with that, be quiet now
Ooooo


Now see, there you are, the doctor's through!
Oh doctor, what did you take out of me?
Alright, I’ll tell you now


Four monkey wrenches, and a two-horse shed
Pair of old britches and a bale of hay
Your ribs were kinda loose, they moved about
if I hadn't sewed you up, everything woulda fell out
I put in new tubes, tightened the exhaust
I went into your hood and cleaned your spark plugs off
Your body's kinda weak, now don't be hard
From now on be careful with them connection rods
Alright, doctor!
The doctor knows to fix it, the doctor knows just what to do


Oh gee, doctor, but I feel fine
Oh... that’s fine
Hey doctor, I feel like I wanna do a little messaround
That so? Go ahead
Ooooh, say doctor that’s good
Now, that's the way patients do that come to this hospital


Now your body's kinda weak, don't be hard
Go kinda easy with them connection rods
Alright, doctor!
The doctor knows to fix it, the doctor knows just what to do

The other was Operation Blues with Frakie Jaxon doing his female impersonation:
Is Doctor Eazit in?
I’m right in, what’s your trouble?
Oh Doctor I think I’ve got appendicitis
What side?
I need operating right there


I can see right now, you’ve got to take off all of your clothes
Do what? Now doctor, don’t get fresh, I’m a married woman
I can see right now madam, you’ve got to take off all of your clothes
Oh, I understand that, I can see you know what I need
Yes, better than anyone knows
Oh, doctor


Oh doctor, doctor I can’t undress before you
Alright now, don’t be bashful, don’t be bashful, I’m a doctor
I know, but doctor oh doctor, I cant ‘u’nress before you


But you do a lot of funny things, honey
When?
Before the doctor sees
Oh doc, you don’t mean to tell me that
Quiet


I know but look, what’s that you got there doctor? What’s that you got holding in your hand?
Don’t you worry about that, now don’t you worry I’m, the doctor
Yeah, but a woman knows doctor
Please tell me, what’s all of that you’ve got holding in your hand
That’s nothing but my tools honey, can’t you understand?
Oh, I understand now


Now be real quiet madam, lay flat on your back
This way doc? This way?
No, just kinda raise that left leg a little
Oh, now, I can do that
Now be real quiet madam, lay flat on your back
How am I doing now?
Fine


But if you hurt me doctor, I swear I ain’t never coming back
I won’t hurt you
Oh, doctor you’re hurting me...
Oh... oooo.. yes, that is nice, you’re doing so much good
O doctor, kiss me, kiss me
Be quiet


Now how do you feel sweet lady?
Is there anymore that the doctor can do?
Now how do you feel sweet lady?
Is there anymore that the doctor can do?
Put your clothes on now


Oh, I could stay right here forever
and take off a reason from you
Kiss me again doc....

In 1924, Clara Smith sang about needing a doctor to cure her blues in Prescription for the Blues:
All day long I'm worried, all night long I'm blue
I'm so awfully lonesome, I don't know what to do
So I ask you doctor, see if you can find
Something in your practice to pacify my mind
Doctor, doctor write me a prescription for the blues, the weary blues


Let me tell you doctor why I'm in misery
Once I had a love, he went away from me
Been to see the Gypsy, hoodoo doctors too
Shook their heads and told me, nothing they could do
Doctor, doctor write me a prescription for the blues, the mean old blues


Like a little baby, all day long I cry
And if you can't cure me, I'm just as sure to die
Give me something poison, doctor won't you please
Then I'll sign a paper, died with the heart disease
Doctor, doctor write me a prescription for the blues, the plain old blues

Memphis Minnie sang about how tough it is when the doctor tells you not to drink anymore in Doctor, Doctor Blues:
Doctor stopped me from drinking, boys, I can't smoke no more
Doctor stopped me from drinking, boys, I can't smoke no more
And I can't see no peace, seems like nowhere I go


Oh, doctor, doctor, you know I got a lot of faith in you
I'd trust you everywhere
Oh, doctor, doctor, you know I got a lot of faith in you
But it hurt me so bad, when you say if I took another drink, nothing you could do


Oh, doctor, doctor, I ain't drinked in a great long time
Oh, doctor, doctor, I ain't drinked in a great long time
Bring us half a pint
I'm gonna take a drink of this, if the good Lord don't change my mind


Now, look here, doctor, don't you know my mama's done gone blind?
Now, look here, doctor, don't you know my mama's done gone blind?
I know her trouble
I was doing the best I could, but she wouldn't pay the doctor no mind


Oh, doctor, doctor, tell me what's my trouble now
Oh, doctor, doctor, tell me what's my trouble now
If you take another drink, I bet they put you in the ground
Doctor, you all right with me anyhow

Songs:
Going Down Slow - St. Louis Jimmy Oden
High Fever Blues - Bukka White
Sick Bed Blues - Peetie Wheatstraw
Terrible Operation Blues - Georgia Tom and Jane Lucas
Operation Blues - Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon
Prescription for the Blues - Clara Smith
Doctor, Doctor Blues - Memphis Minnie

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Show 48 - Disease Blues




Pneumonia -- it’s a disease of the lungs. Even by the first part of the twentieth century, medical developments had improved the prognosis for people with pneumonia, but it was still dangerous in the 1920s (as it is today). In 1929, Blind Lemon Jefferson sang about the aches and pains after catching pneumonia while running down alleys in a cold rain trying to catch his woman cheating. Pneumonia Blues:

I'm aching all over, believe I got the pneumonia this time
I'm aching all over, believe I got the pneumonia this time
And it's all on account of that lowdown gal of mine


Slinking around the corner, running up alleys too
I said slinking around corners, running up alleys too
Watching my woman trying to see what she going to do


Stood out in the street one cold dark stormy night
I stood out in the street one cold dark stormy night
Trying to see if my good gal going to make it home alright


I believe she's found something that probably made her fall
She must have found something that made her fall
I stood out in the cold all night and she didn't come home at all


Wear BVDs in the winter, traveling around in the rain
Wear BVDs in the winter, traveling around in the rain
Last time my baby give me this pneumonia pain


Now when I die, bury me in a Stetson hat
I said when I die, bury me in a Stetson hat
Tell my good gal I'm going but I'm still standing pat

Big Bill Broonzy talked about aches from pneumonia in Pneumonia Blues (I Keep on Aching) in 1936:
I’m feeling sick and bad, my head is hurting too
Go get the doctor so he can tell me just what to do
Because I keep on aching, yes I ache both night and day
Yes, doctor, doctor please drive this old pneumonia away


I have got the pneumonia, I’ve got it in both my sides
My friends treat me so bad, til I just cant keep from crying for me
I keep aching, yes I ache both night and day
Yes, doctor, doctor please drive this old pneumonia away


I have used big fan(?), I used everything my friends say
Now I believe I’ll drink a hot toddy and go to bed
Because I keep aching, yes I ache both night and day
Yes, doctor, doctor please drive this old pneumonia away


My friends told my wife they had did all they could
They said put him in the hospital before he ruins the neighborhood
I keep aching, yes I ache both night and day
Yes, doctor, doctor please drive this old pneumonia away


The doctor said my fever was 103
The nurse said put him in crowded room, that’s where he ought to be
Because he keeps aching, yes I ache both night and day
Yes, doctor, doctor please drive this old pneumonia away

Influenza or the flu killed countless millions around the world in the twentieth century. One of the pandemics broke out in 1918. This was a few years before blues music was being recorded, but given the incredible virulence of what they called Spanish Flu, it’s surprising there aren’t more blues records about it. At east a couple recording artists did mention the flu including gospel great Blind Willie Johnson when he recorded Jesus is Coming Soon:

Well, we done told you, our God's done warned you, Jesus coming soon
We done told you, our God's done warned you, Jesus coming soon


In the year of 19 and 18, God sent a mighty disease
It killed many a-thousand, on land and on the seas
We done told you, God's done warned you, Jesus coming soon
We done told you, God's done warned you, Jesus coming soon.


Great disease was mighty and the people were sick everywhere
It was an epidemic, it floated through the air
We done told you, God's done warned you, Jesus coming soon
We done told you, God's done warned you, Jesus coming soon


The doctors they got troubled and they didn't know what to do
They gathered themselves together, they called it the Spanish influ
We done told you, God's done warned you, Jesus coming soon
We done told you, God's done warned you, Jesus coming soon


Soldiers died on the battlefield, died in the count too
Well the Captain said to the lieutenant, "I don't know what to do"
We done told you, God's done warned you, Jesus coming soon
We done told you, God's done warned you, Jesus coming soon


Well, God is warning the nation, He's a-warning them every way
To turn away from evil and seek the Lord and pray
We done told you, God's done warned you, Jesus coming soon.
We done told you, God's done warned you, Jesus coming soon.


Well, the nobles said to the people, "You better close your public schools"
"Until the events of death has ending, you better close your churches too"
We done told you, God's done warned you, Jesus coming soon
We done told God's done warned you, Jesus coming soon

Read the book of Zacharias, bible plainly says
Said the people in the cities dying, account of they're wicked ways

Ace Johnson was recorded for the Library of Congress by John Lomax at Clemens State Farm, Brazoria, Brazoria County, Texas.  Influenza:
In nineteen hundred and twenty-nine, men and women sure was dying
From the disease, what the doctors called the flu
People was dying everywhere, death went creeping through the air
For the groans of the sick sure was sad


It was God's almighty hand, he was judging this old land
North and South, East and West can be seen
Yes, he killed the rich and poor, and he's going to kill more
If you don't turn away from your sins


It was Memphis, Tennessee, doctors said it soon would be
In a few days, influenza we’ll control
But God showed that He was head, and He put the doctor to bed
And the nurse they broke down with the same


It was God's almighty hand, he was judging this old land
North and South, East and West can be seen
Yes, he killed the rich and poor, and he's going to kill more
If you don't turn away from your sins


Influenza is a disease, that makes you weak all in your knees
Tis a fever everybody sure does dread
Puts a pain in every bone, a few days and you are gone
To a place in the ground called the grave


It was God's almighty hand, he was judging this old land
North and South, East and West can be seen
Yes, he killed the rich and poor, and he's going to kill more
If you don't turn away from your sins

Silicosis, is a lung disease caused by inhalation of crystalline silica dust. It’s common to tunnel diggers and mine workers. Josh White sang something of a labor protest song called Silicosis is Killing Me:
I said silicosis, you made a mighty bad break of me
Awww, silicosis made a mighty bad break of me
You robbed me of my youth and health
All you brought poor me was mis..


Now silicosis, you're a dirty robber and a thief
Awww silicosis, dirty robber and a thief
Robbed me of my right to live and all you brought poor me was grief


I was there digging that tunnel for six bits a day
I was there digging that tunnel for six bits a day
Didn't know I was digging my own grave, silicosis eating my lungs away


I says mama, mama, mama, cool my fevered head
I says mama, mama, come and cool my fevered head
I’m going to meet my Jesus, God knows I'll soon be dead


Six bits I got for digging, digging that tunnel hole
Six bits I got for digging, digging that tunnel hole
Takes me away from my baby, it sure done wrecked my soul


Now tell all my buddies, tell all my friends you see
Now tell all my buddies, tell all my friends you see
I'm going way up yonder, please don't grieve for me

Blind Blake used the parasitic hookworm as a metaphor for that man you don’t want hanging around:
Hookworm in your body and your food don't do you no good
Hookworm in your body, your food don't do you no good
Same way with a rounder come in a nice neighborhood


Dirty old hookworm got into my room, causes me to walk, groan and moan
Man like a hookworm got a hold to my baby
He got to point it fast people and I don't mean maybe


Never can tell what a hookworm man will do
You never can tell what a hookworm man will do
Take your baby and make her stop loving you


I'm going to leave my baby and let her have her way
I'm going to leave my baby and let her have her way
She’ll want me back some day when he throws her down


Mmmmm, mmmm, mmmm, mmmm
Her man like a hookworm taking a hold to my babe

Bumble Bee Slim used or a cold or tonsilitis to address a fear of pain and death in I Done Caught My Death of Cold:
Doctor, please give me something just to ease these awful pains
Doctor, please give me something just to ease these awful pains
I done caught my death of cold and it’s settling on my brain


I can’t hardly breathe, I got a wheezing in my chest
I can’t hardly breathe, I got a wheezing in my chest
Well, I’m having tonsilitis, doctor you should know the rest


Give me Oil of ninety-nine, three-sixty , anything
I done caught my death of cold
Lord have mercy


Ay doctor, is there any cure for me?
Ay doctor, is there any cure for me?
Well I’m in so much misery, I’m in so much misery


I done caught my death of cold, now my friends cannot be found
I done caught my death of cold, well my friends cannot be found
Well I been wading deep water and I been sleeping on the ground

It’s great to see how these different musicians use diseases. Blind Lemon Jefferson sees the aches and pains of pneumonia as yest another consequence of being with a no-good woman. Big Bill sees the aches and pains as a blues situation themselves and Bumble Bee Slim does something similar singing about his tonsilitis. Blind Blake uses the hookworm as a metaphor for a man showing up where’s he’s not wanted. The common thread is the abandonment of friends, family, or lovers with the disease. The fear of sickness and death was all to real, but the fear of the blues that comes from being truly alone never leaves.


Songs:
Pneumonia Blues - Blind Lemon Jefferson
Pneumonia Blues (I Keep on Achin') - Big Bill
Jesus is Coming - Blind Willie Johnson
Influenza - Ace Johnson
Silicosis is Killing Me - Josh White
Hookworm Blues - Blind Blake
I Done Caught My Death of Cold - Bumble Bee Slim

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Show 47 - T.B. is Killing Me




Tuberculosis is a deadly disease that attacks the lungs.  It's been around since ancient times and there's something about it that compels stories about the suffering it cause.  This includes a lot of blues songs. Georgia bluesman Buddy Moss who recorded T.B. is Killing Me in 1933.  He sings that he's headed to the graveyard with T.B. 
I went to the doctor of the sea
I sat right down and he looked at me
He said Y hate to tell you but you got disease
You ain't got nothing but them old T.B.s


Oh T.B. is killing me
I used  to have friends, but none of them that I can see
mmmm, T.B. is killing me
And it won't be long before some lonely graveyard I'll be


I had a good girl and a happy home
But the T.B. got me, she left me all alone
said now, mmmm, T.B. is killing me
And it won't be long before some lonely graveyard I'll be


Now boys, these days I'm just hanging on
And it wont be long before I'll be gone
Said now, mmmm, T.B. is killing me
And it won't be long before some graveyard I will be
The disease often was a death sentence when that song was recorded.  That was due to mostly to the inadequate care available, particularly to poor black men and women.  Victoria Spivey who recorded the first of  the string of T.B. song when she made the often covered T.B. Blues in 1927.  She continued exploring the idea in 1929 with Dirty T.B Blues:
Here I lay a crying
Something is on my mind
It's midnight, I wonder where the nurse can be

I feel down, not a friend in this town
I'm blue and all alone
Sisters are gone, brothers are too
Nowhere to call my own

I can't keep from crying
Left alone while I am dying
Yes, it may look crazy, for me to beat on my knee
But if the Lord 's forgiven between the breaks(?) and T.B



Oh Lord, yes he railroaded me to the sanitarium
Its too late, too late mother, I've finished my run
This is the way all good women are done
When they got the dirty T.B.

Yes I run around for months and months
From gin mill to gin mill to honky tonks
Now its too late, yes look what I gone done

I got the dirty T.B, oh Lord, mmmm

Harmonica legend Sonny Boy Williamson recorded T.B. Blues in 1939:
Now but oh, T.B. is killing me
Now I want my body buried way down in Jackson, Tennessee

Now when I was up on my feet now I couldn't even walk down the street
For the women looking at me from my head to my feet
But oh, T.B. is killing me
Now I want my body buried way down in Jackson, Tennessee

I ain't going to buy you no more pretty dresses, I ain't going to even buy you no diamond rings
And I'm going to sell my V‑8 Ford because I don't want a doggone thing
Because oh, the T.B. is killing me
Now I want my body buried way down in Jackson, Tennessee

Well now my mother she said one thing, you know my father said the same
You keep on fooling around, Sonny Boy, they going to change your name
But I told them Oh, mama T.B. is killing me
Now I want my body buried way down in Jackson Tennessee

Well now here I am here sick baby, you know and I'm laying here in my bed
And now even won't none of my friends come and even rub my aching head
Because oh, T.B. is killing me
Now I want my body buried way down in Jackson Tennessee
In 1028, New Orleans Willie Jackson recorded his version of Victoria Spivey's T.B. Blues:
Too late, too late, too late, too late, too late
too late, too late, too late, too late, too late
I'm on my way to Denver and papa mustn't hesitate

TB is alright to have if your friends don't treat you so lowdown
TB is alright to have if your friends dont treat you so lowdown
Don't you ask 'em for no favors, they'll even stop hanging around

Oh T.B. is killing me, Oh T.B. is killing me
I am like a prisoner always wishing I was free

When I was up on my feet I couldn't walk down the street
For you women looking at me from my head to my feet
But oh now T.B. is killing me

I want my body buried in the deep blue sea
Oh oh, I got tuberculosis, consumption's killing me
In 1936, Victoria Spivey herself returned to the T.B. theme with T.B.'s Got Me

Here I lay a crying Something is on my mind It's midnight, I wonder where the nurse can be

T.B.'s got me, all my friends done throwed me down
T.B.'s got me, and all my friends done throwed me down
But they treated me so nice when I was up able to run around


Ooaah my poor lungs are hurting me so
Mmmm my poor lungs are hurting me so
I don't get no peace or comfort no matter where I go

Lord, my good man don't want me no more
MMMM my good man don't want me no more
Well I wished I was dead and in the land I'm doomed to go
Sleepy John Estes talked about consumption in Milk Cow Blues:
Now ask sweet mama let me be her kid
She says, "I might get boogied Like to keep it hid"
Well, she looked at me, she begin to smile
Says, "I thought I would use you for my man a while"
That you just don't let my husband catch you there
Now, just don't let my husband catch you there"

Now, went upstairs to pack my leaving trunk
I never saw no whiskey, the blues done made me sloppy drunk
Say, I never saw no whiskey, blues done made me sloppy drunk
Now, I never saw no whiskey but the blues done made me sloppy drunk

Now some said disease some said it was dream
But it's the slow consumption killing you by degrees
Lord, it's the slow consumption killing you by degrees
Now, it's the slow consumption and it's killing you by degrees
The songs share a lot of verses and musical ideas, but even when the lyrics are totally different they all dress abandonment by friends, family, and lovers when suffering from a disease that's going to send you to the grave.  That kind of abandonment is really the classic blues situation.

T.B. is Killing Me - Buddy Moss
Dirty T.B. Blues - Victoria Spivey
T.B. Blues - Sonny Boy Williamson
T.B. Blues - Willie Jackson
T.B.'s Got Me - Victoria Spivey
Milk Cow Blues - Sleepy John Estes

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New feed for podcast

The old host for the podcast is dead. So I just set it up with a new feed (http://feeds.feedburner.com/UncensoredHistoryOfTheBlues). Everything should be available again. Still working on getting it fixed in itunes.

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Show 46 - Sales Tax Blues



Most American (and people around the world) are used to paying sales tax when they make a purchase. In the U.S., most of these taxes were enacted in the 1930s, so it's not surprising that blues songs were written when the taxes were new. the first sales tax was in West Virginia in 1921. The sales tax became law in Georgia in 1929, eleven other states enacted sales taxes by 1933 including Mississippi in 1932. The Mississippi Sheiks and Bo Carter recorded this song about the subject with a little introductory skit in 1934:

Say Walter, we need some cigarettes. Let's go in here and get a pack.
Ok
Hello boys, what can I do for you?
I'll have a pack of cigarettes
Alright. Here you are. Be three cents more though
What's that for?
Sales tax. Haven't you ever heard of sales tax?
Sure haven't
What's gonna happen next, man? You know they got a law here they call the sales tax
Sales tax? What is that for?
That's three cents tax on everything that's sold. They say that's the government's rule.
The government's rule? Well there's a lot of things sold that the government knows anything about them
Well, I'll just sing you a little song about these sales tax:


These times now ain't suiting me, corn is costing a dollar and three
Oh, the sales tax is on it, oh, the sales tax is on it
Oh, the sales tax is on it, everywhere you go


Old Aunt Martha lived behind the jail
A sign on the wall saying: "Liquor for Sale"
You know, the sales tax is on it, oh, the sales tax is on it
Oh, the sales tax is on it, everywhere you go


I never seen the like since I've been born
The women got the sales tax on the stuff at home
Oh, the sales tax is on it, oh, the sales tax is on it
Oh, the sales tax is on it, everywhere you go


You know the sales tax is a pain
You used to could buy it for a dollar a round
Now sales tax is on it all over town

Oh, the sales tax is on it, oh, the sales tax is on it
Oh, the sales tax is on it, everywhere you go


I'm as lovin as a woman can be
The stuff I've got'll cost you a dollar and three
Oh, the sales tax is on it, oh, the sales tax is on it
Oh, the sales tax is on it, everywhere you go


Now, you may take me to be a fool
Everything is sold buy the government's rule
You know the sales tax is on it, oh, the sales tax is on it,
Oh, the sales tax is on it, everywhere you go
That version of the sheiks featured brothers Lonnie and Bo Chatmon (Carter) with Walter Vinson on violin. They were talking about everything now costing a dollar and three. And even the bootleggers and the prostitutes charging that extra 3 cents in sales tax for for every dollar. Two years later another great band featuring brothers explored the same theme. It's the Harlem Hamfats with Charlie and Joe McCoy singing Sales Tax on It (But It's the Same Thing).

Listen here boys, don't start no fuss
About these women, selling their stuff
Cause it's the same thing, it's the same thing
They got the sales tax on it, but it's the same thing


Some sell it high, some sell it low
It's done gone bad, and they can't sell it not more
Cause it's the same thing, it's the same thing
They got the sales tax on it, cause it's the same thing


Now I'm going up the river, to sell your sacks
It'll be here, when you get back
Cause it's the same thing, it's the same thing
They got the sales tax on it, but it's the same thing


I done been up the river, sold my sacks
I can buy, but I can't pay no tax
But it's the same thing, but it's the same thing
They got the sales tax on it, but it's the same thing


Big mama told me, little mama told me too
"Come on home, let that do"
Because it's the same thing, it's the same thing
They got the sales tax on it, cause it's the same thing


Went out last night, sure I could be fooled
Tried it once, broke my tool
Cause it's the same thing, but it's the same thing
They got the sales tax on it, but it's the same thing
Yet another brother band explored the them of sales tax on women. This time on the white country side of the fence. The Dixon Brothers of North Carolina recorded Sales Tax on the Women in 1936:

You may sales tax the flour, the lard, and the meat
Take the pennies away from me and my pals
You may sales tax everything that we have to eat
But don't put a tax upon the gals


One cent, two cents, three cents in cash
That's the way my money goes spending
But take off my hat and hit me with a bat
If you put the sales tax on the women


Now don't put the taxes on the good-looking girls
Although I know the pennies have to go
Well I wouldn't have it done for a hundred or more
The boys wouldn't stand a bit of show


One cent, two cents, three cents in cash
That's the way my money goes spending
But take off my hat and hit me with a bat
If you put the sales tax on the women


I love the little girls with their lovely little curls
If that is wrong, I hope I will repent
I would sure be sore and I couldn't love no more
If I had to pay the taxes as I went


One cent, two cents, three cents in cash
That's the way my money goes spending
But take off my hat and hit me with a bat
If you put the sales tax on the women


That's the way it goes, Uncle Sam knows
He's just torturing me and my pals
We would die with the blues without any shoes
If you put the sales tax on the gals


One cent, two cents, three cents in cash
That's the way my money goes spending
But take off my hat and hit me with a bat
If you put the sales tax on the women


Well I don't mean any harm when I step out at night
Happy times with the ladies I've spent
Sales taxes on the kisses just wouldn't be right
In my pockets I would never have a cent


One cent, two cents, three cents in cash
That's the way my money goes spending
But take off my hat and hit me with a bat
If you put the sales tax on the women

Let's get a way from the sales tax to finish up with a couple songs about different kinds of taxes. Here's a piano player who called himself Monkey Joe singing about a fishing tax in a pretty funny song called Taxes on My Pole"

I want to fish out of town, doggone my bad luck soul
I want to fish out of town, doggone my bad luck soul
If I fish out of town I've gotta pay taxes on my pole


I put good bait on my hook, then I stick my pole in the ground
I put good bait on my hook, I stick my pole in the ground
Then I lay back on the thing, just to see my carp(?) go up and down


I've got a long fishing pole, I use the best bait in town
I've got a long fishing pole, I use the best bait in town
The women run after me, just the same as I was a country clown


I've been fishing in Lake Michigan, baby I've fished in there all the time
I've been fishing in Lake Michigan, baby I've fished in there all the time
The reason I fish in Lake Michigan, I don't have to pay taxes on this pole of mine.
A few years later in 1951, folks were of course stil complaing about taxes. Ralph Willis recorded Income Tax Blues where he states his feleling about the sales tax, income tax and other taxes:

I got my income tax this morning, yes and it's gotta be paid
I got my income taxes this morning, yes and it's gotta be paid
It's a shame, it's a shame, no one taxes what my boss made


Tax on my electric, tax on my gas, I'll soon be paying tax on my yes, yes, yes
I got my income taxes this morning, yes it's gotta be paid
It's a shame, it's a shame, no one taxes what my boss made


I went to buy a pack of cigarettes, taxes up three cents
Walked out to my backyard, they put a doggone tax on my fence
I got my income taxes this morning, yes and it's gotta be paid
It's a shame, it's a shame, no one taxes what my boss made


Tax on my electric, tax on my gas, I'll soon be paying tax on my yes, yes, yes
I got my income taxes this morning, yes and it's gotta be paid
Well it hurts me yes it do, though they forget to tax my boss' made


I went to buy a cake of soap, taxes up three cents
Walked out to my backyard, they put a doggone tax on my fence
I got my income taxes this morning, yes and it's gotta be paid
It's a shame, it's a shame, though they forget to tax my boss' made


Tax on my electric, tax on my washing machine, soon be no tax left, boys, on a ten-dollar bill
I got my income taxes this morning, yes and it's gotta be paid
It's a shame, it's a shame, though they forget to tax my boss' made
Nobody likes extra cash leaving their pockets and that's why these songs pop up when new taxes are introduced. It's fascinating to see these musicians immediately consider the money that's exchanged that's beyond the vision of the government. And as always, as in ever situation in life, taxes have these men thinking about women.

Songs:
Sales Tax - Mississippi Sheiks and Bo Carter
Sales Tax on It (It's the Same Thing) - Harlem Hamfats
Sales Tax on the Women - Dixon Brothers
Taxes on My Pole - Monkey Joe
Income Tax Blues - Ralph Willis

Sunday, March 14, 2010

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Show 45 - Dope Head Blues



Drugs and music seem inextricably linked. It certainly shows up in some of the early recorded blues. The word dope came around during the 19th century opium craze. But by 1927, when Victoria Spivey recorded Dope Head Blues (with Lonnie Johnson on guitar and Porter Grainger on piano) the term could apply to all kinds of drugs. Dope Head Blues is about the difficulties of drug addiction and a drug-induced delusional fantasy about being rich, important and healthy:

Just give me one more sniff of, another sniff of that dope
Just give me one more sniff of, another sniff of that dope
I'll catch a cow like a cowboy, and throw a bull without a rope


Doggone, I've got more money than Henry Ford or John D. ever had
Doggone, got more money than Henry Ford or John D. ever had
I bit a dog last Monday and forty doggone dogs went mad


Feel like a fighting rooster, feel better than I ever felt
Feel like a fighting rooster, feel better than I ever felt
Got double pneumonia and still I think I got the best health


Say, Sam
Go get my airplane and drive it up to my door
Aw, Sam, go get my airplane and drive it to my door
I think I'll fly to London, these monkey men makes mama sore


The president sent for me, the Prince of Wales is on my trail
The president sent for me, the Prince of Wales is on my trail
They worry me so much, I'll take another sniff and put them both in jail
Willie the Weeper was already an old song when Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon recorded it in 1927. Jaxon's version of the song would influence Cab Calloway's hit Minnie the Moocher a few years later. Willie the Weeper goes back to the Vaudeville era and tells the story of a drug-using chimney sweep that, like the protagonist of Victoria Spivey's song, engages in fantasy when he gets high:

Have you heard the story, folks, of Willie the Weeper?
Willie's occupation was a chimney sweeper
He had a dreaming habit, he had it kind of bad,
Listen, let me tell you about the dream he had


Dreamed he bought a hound from a man that lived in Turkey
He told the gals who's dancing all to make it kind of jerky
Danced until she wore the carpets off the floor
And said, you haven't done nothing, just do it once more


At the North Pole, someone shouted "Willie!"
Turned around and saw a sight that knocked him silly
Right before him in the zero breeze
A nudie chimp(?) was dancing in his BVDs


He walked around, and his feet started freezing
Someone said, "Kid, you better listen to reason"
Says, "I want my coffee, want it good and strong
I want to have biscuits eighteen inches long"


Now tell me, what would you do
If you could have all of your dreams come true?
Why there's something tells me that you'd lock your door
Like Willie the Weeper, and cry for more


Now take my little ship, dream's about over
Called the best from up on the shore
Hump on a camel, hump on a flea
Put them two humps together, you got nothing on me


Now tell me, what would you do
If you could have all of your dreams come true
There's something tells me that you'd lock your door,
Like Willie the Weeper, and cry for -- please go away and let me sleep
Don't disturb my slumber deep
Something tells me that you'd lock your door
Like Willie the Weeper, and cry for more, more, more, more, more
Marijuana became popular as a recreational drug in the second decade of the 20th century. It was criminalized by Congress in 1937. Drugs are probably more associated with jazz than blues, and the Harlem Hamfats bridged those two musical worlds perfectly. The Hamfats were also frequent accompanists to Frankie Jaxon later in his career. Weed Smoker's Dream is another fantasy about being rich recorded in 1936.

Sitting on a million, sitting on it every day
Can’t make no money giving your stuff away
Why don’t you do now, like the millionaires do
Put your stuff on the market and make a million too


Fay's a betting woman, she bets on every hand
She’s a tricking mother for you every where she land
Why don’t you do now like the millionaires do
Put your stuff on the market and make a million too


May's a good looking frail, she lives down by the jail
On her back though she got hot stuff for sale
Why don’t you do now like the millionaires do
Put your stuff on the market and make a million too
In 1938, Jazz Gillum recorded a song complaining about his woman using too much. Reefer Head Woman:

I can't see why my baby sleeps so sound
Well, I can't see why my baby sleeps so sound
She must have smoked that reefer and it's bound to carry her down


When I left her this morning, I left her sleeping sound
When I left her this morning, I left her sleeping sound
The only way she could kiss me is to run like a full bloodhound


She said she was going to leave, going to some no good town
She said she was going to leave, going to some no good town
She was a rough-cutting woman, she didn't like to break them down


If you got a good woman, mens, please don't take her around
If you got a good woman, mens, please don't take her around
She will get full of reefers and raise sand all over this town
Reefer-Head Woman featured Big Bill Broonzy and Washboard Sam. Those guys played another drug-related song recorded for Bluebird this time under then name Wasboard Sam and His Washboard Band. The song's about giving up pimping for the better money available selling dope. Bucket's Got a Hole in It:


Oh my bucket's got a hole in it, Oh my bucket got a hole in it, Oh my bucket got a hole in it
Can't buy no beer
When you walking down Thirty-First Street, you had better look around
The vice squad is on the beat and you'll be jailhouse bound
I was standing on the corner, everything was going slow
Can't make no money, tricks ain't walking no more

Going to start a little racket, going to start it out right
Going to sell moonshine in the day and sell the dope at night
Then if I can't make no money, going to catch the Santa Fe
Going to drink good liquor and let all women be


Piano player Curtis Jones was a prolific recording artist in both the pre-war period and later. In 1938 he recorded Reefer Hound Blues:
I'm high up on my reefer, I'm nothing but a reefer hound
I'm high up on my reefer, I'm nothing but a reefer hound
My gage has just hit bottom(?), I believe I'll lay my body down


My whole body is king, I feel like I'm a millionaire
My whole body is king, I feel like I'm a millionaire
If I'm broke, I still got money, If I'm hungry, I don't even care


Lord, I really like my gage, that weed you call the reefer tea
I really like my gage, that weed you call the reefer tea
It's done sent my whole body and it sure feels good to me


This weed I've been smoking, it's done sent my very soul
This weed I've been smoking, it's done sent my very soul
And nobody could imagine, unless it's another cat who blows


I'm so high, I swear I'm as high as I could
I am so high, I'm as high as I can be
I'm so doggone high, the sun and sky even look low to me
In 1941, New pianist Champion Jack Dupree recorded the first version of a song that had been around New Orleans for a few years and would become something of a drug anthem and an incredibly influential song on countless New Orleans musicians. Junker Blues:
They call, they call me a junker
Cause I'm loaded all the time
I don't use no reefer, I'll be knocked out with that angel wine


Six months, Six months ain't no sentence
And one year ain't no time
They got boys in penitentiary doing from nine to ninety-nine


I was standing, I was standing on the corner
With my reefers in my hand
Upstairs the sergeant took my reefers out of my hand


My brother, my brother used a needle
and my sister sniffed cocaine
I don't use no junk, I'm the nicest boy you ever seen
My mother, my mother she told me
and my father told me too
That that junk is a bad habit, why don't you leave it too?


My sister she even told me
And my grandma told me too
That using junk partner was going to be the death of you
The 1941 storyteller is in denial while his family and the police sergeant try and get him off the junk. That's unlike some of the later versions of the song (many recorded as Junko Partner) where the drug use is openly embraced.

Whether legal or illegal, drugs were a part of the lives of blues musicians and they sang about it. Almost all of the songs recognize the difficulties of a lifestyle that includes drug use. Delusions, harm to your health, time in jail they all show up. And like most blues, it includes trouble caused by women.


Songs:
Dope Head Blues - Victoria Spivey
Willie the Weeper - Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon
Weed Smoker's Dream - Harlem Hamfats
Reefer Head Woman - Jazz Gillum
Bucket's Got a Hole in It - Washboard Sam and his Washboard Band
Reefer Hound Blues - Curtis Jones
Junker Blues - Champion Jack Dupree

Robert Johnson and Records

If you cannot see the audio controls, your browser does not support the audio element Robert Johnson was both a consumer and creator...