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

2 comments:

O Pescador said...

Excellent selection of tracks.
I usually come by to listen to them and never leave disappointed.
I wish you to continue this good work.
Greetings from Portugal,

The Fisherman

Torie Yang said...

Good post and I like it very much. By the way, anybody try this Sony SD Card Recovery Software? I try it and I think it is good.

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