Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Show 59 - Walking the Street


Prostitution was illegal almost everywhere in the United States by the blues era. But, of course it was everywhere. Most blues songs on the subject address women walking in the street trying to find a trick. There’s no sign of the brothels that are often thought to be a higher class form of prostitution. Call girls that can be reached by telephone don’t seem to turn up either. In the blues, it’s the street walking woman. Some of the songs are poignant and touching descriptions of life of the street, others are pretty funny. Let’s start with a woman who chronicled prostitution in several songs. Georgia White’s Walking the Street:

Stood on the corner til my feet got soaking wet
Stood on the corner til my feet got soaking wet
These are the words I said to each and every man I met
If you ain't got a dollar, give me a lousy dime
If you ain't got a dollar, give me a lousy dime
I've got to beg and steal to please that man of mine
My feets are blistered just from walking these lonesome streets
My feets all blistered just from walking these lonesome streets
I've been walking all night like a police on his beat
Wait a minute mister, mister, give me a cigarette
Wait a minute minute mister, give me a cigarette
Stop your car, let me in, I've got what you should get
I've got these streetwalking blues, I ain't got no time to lose
I've got these streetwalking blues, I ain't got no time to lose
I've got to make six dollars just to buy my man a pair of shoes
Like Georgia White, Memphis Minnie was named for her Southern roots, but resided in Chicago by the mid-thirties. Down in the Alley is probably about the dangers of working the streets in that town.
I met a man, asked me did I want a pally
Yes, baby, let's go down in the alley
Take me down in the alley
Take me down in the alley
Take me down in the alley
And I can get my business fixed all right
Well, I met another man, asked him for a dollar
Might have heard that mother-for-you holler
Let's go down in the alley
Let's go down in the alley
Let's go down in the alley
Take me down in the alley
And I can get my business fixed all right
When he got me in the alley, he called me a name
What I put on him was a crying shame
Down in this alley
Down in this alley
Down in this alley
Where I got my business fixed all right
You got me in the alley, but don't get rough
I ain't gonna put up with that doggone stuff
Way down in this alley
Down in this alley
Down in the alley
Got me down in the alley, now my business fixed all right
(spoken:Woo, it's dark
Can't see no light
Got to feel my way out this alley
I'm sure gonna stop working at night)
You took me in the alley, you knocked me down
Now I'm gonna call every copper in this town
You got me down in the alley
Way down in the alley
You got me down in the alley
Now you got your business fixed all right

(spoken: Boys, I'm sure gonna stop working, and walking late at night, especially when you gotta do it in the alley)
Memphis Minnie recorded Tricks Ain’t Walking No More in 1931 about the difficulty of finding a trick during the hard times of the Great Depression.
Times has done got hard, work done got scarce
Stealing and robbing is taking place
Because tricks ain't walking, tricks ain't walking no more
Tricks ain't walking, tricks ain't walking no more
And I'm going to grab somebody if I don't make me some dough
I'm going to do just like a blind man, stand and beg for change
Tell these tricking policemen change my second name
Because tricks ain't walking, tricks ain't walking no more
Tricks ain't walking, tricks ain't walking no more
And I've got to make some money, I don't care where I go
I'm going to learn these walking tricks what it's all about
I'm going to get them in my house and ain't going to let them out
Because tricks ain't walking, tricks ain't walking no more
Tricks ain't walking, tricks ain't walking no more
And I can't make no money, I don't care where I go
I got up this morning with the rising sun
Been walking all day and I haven't caught a one
Because tricks ain't walking, tricks ain't walking no more
Tricks ain't walking, tricks ain't walking no more
And I can't make a dime, I don't care where I go
I got up this morning, feeling tough
I got to calling my tricks and it's rough, rough, rough
Because tricks ain't walking, tricks ain't walking no more
Tricks ain't walking, tricks ain't walking no more
And I have to change my luck if I have to move next door
Atlanta's Curley Weaver recorded his take on Tricks Ain’t Walkin’ No More in 1935 providing a male perspective and some humorous verses:
Tricks ain’t walking no more, babe, tricks ain’t walking no more
Tricks ain’t walking no more, babe, stay away from my door
I got a gal, she’s little and low
Used to have a trick, but she don’t no more
Now tricks ain’t walking no more, babe
Tricks ain’t walking no more
I said tricks ain’t walking no more
Tricks ain’t walking no more, babe, tricks ain’t walking no more
Tricks ain’t walking no more, babe, stay away from my door
Two fat women laying in the shade, waiting on the money the monkey man made
Tricks ain’t walking no more, babe, tricks ain’t walking no more
I said, tricks ain’t walking no more
Tricks ain’t walking no more, babe, tricks ain’t walking no more
Tricks ain’t walking no more, babe stay away from my door
I got a gal she’s long and tall, sleeps in  in the kitchen with her head in the hall
Tricks ain’t walking no more, babe, tricks ain’t walking no more
Tricks ain’t walking no more, babe, tricks ain’t walking no more
Tricks ain’t walking no more, babe, stay away from my door
Sue’s out running every day, trying to drive her friends away
Tricks ain’t walking no more, babe, tricks ain’t walking no more
I said, tricks ain’t walking no more
Tricks ain’t walking no more, babe, tricks ain’t walking no more
Tricks ain’t walking no more, babe, stay away from my door
Come in hot mama you long and tall, shake for me like a cannonball
Tricks ain’t walking no more, babe, tricks ain’t walking no more

Sonny Boy Nelson recorded Street Walkin’ Woman about the difficulty of living with a woman that's walking the streets:
Nobody knows street walking woman like I do
Well, nobody knows street walking woman like I do
She’ll keep you up all night long, then will spend your money too
She’ll come home every morning with a rag tied on her head
She’ll come home every morning with a rag tied on her head
And if you speak about loving, man, she’ll swear she’s almost dead
She won’t cook you no breakfast, clothes ain’t never clean
She won’t cook you no breakfast, and your clothes ain’t never clean
But she can spend more money than any woman that you’ve ever seen
Sometimes she will say “Baby, I love you so”
Sometimes she will say “Baby, I love you so”
And again she will tell you to pack your clothes and go
I don’t want no woman that walks the streets all night
I don’t want no woman that walks the streets all night long
She will spend all of your money and then won’t want to treat you right
Memphis Jug Band recorded the metaphor-filled She Done Sold it Out in 1934:
You know I had a gal, she run a java shop
I asked her how about it, not a crust in that shop
You ought to know she done sold it out
You ought to know she done sold it out
You ought to know, you oughta know, she done sold it out
You know a man walked in, say have you any eggs
Say I'll sell you some meat, if you furnish your bread
You ought to know she done sold it out
You ought to know she done sold it out
You ought to know, you oughta know, she done sold it out
Now the butcher's in the market they begin to pout
She sold all their meat and the butchers could not sell out
You ought to know she done sold it out
He ought to know she done sold it out
He ought to know, you oughta know, she done sold it out
You know they taken her before the judge, the judge asked me what is your name?
Cooncan Suzie and my mother was to blame
He ought to know she done sold it out
He ought to know she done sold it out
He ought to know, you oughta know, she done sold it out
You know the judge said little girl, you know you're rather bold
You can sell me some meat just before you go
He ought to know she done sold it out
He ought to know she done sold it out
He ought to know, you oughta know, she done sold it out
I'm going to the races, see my pony run
I believe I can find something just begun
He ought to know I done sold her out
He ought to know I sold my racehorse out
He oughta know, he oughta know, I done sold him out out out.

Georgia White recorded a humorous take on the subject I’ll keep Sitting on It:


If I can't sell it, keep sitting on it
Before I give it away
You've got to buy, don't care how much you want it
I mean just what I say
Just feel that nice old bottom built for wear or tear
I really hate to part with such a lovely chair
If I can't sell it, keep sitting on it
Before I'll give it away
If I can't sell it, I'll keep sitting on it
Before I'll give it away
You've got to buy, don't care how much you want it
I mean just what I say
When you want something good you've got to spend your jack
I guarantee you will never want your money back
If I can't sell it, I'll keep sitting on it
Before I'll give it away
If I can't sell it, keep sitting on it
Before I give it away
You've got to buy, don't care how much you want it
I mean just what I say
When you want something good you've got to spend your jack
I guarantee you'll never want your money back
If I can't sell it, I'll keep sitting on it
Before I'll give it away

In these blues songs, prostitution is presented largely without judgment. It’s shown as a tough life, where sometimes you need to laugh. Having to walk the streets is a classic blues situation. 

Songs:
Walking the Streets - Georgia White
Down in the Alley - Memphis Minnie
Tricks Ain't Walking No More - Memphis Minnie
Tricks Ain't Walkin' No More - Curley Weaver
Street Walkin' Woman - Sonny Boy Nelson
She Done Sold It Out - Memphis Jug Band
I'll Keep Sitting On It - Georgia White

2 comments:

dazeofdeception said...

How did you obtain these lyrics? Was it just by listening and transcribing them? I'm curious because I'm writing an undergraduate thesis on African American prostitutes in the 1920's and 1930's, and I want to use some blues songs.
Thanks

Mike Rugel said...

I transcribe them myself, but I refer to plenty of other sources. Weenie Campbell forum is one. Here's a link to their lyrics on the subject http://weeniecampbell.com/wiki/index.php?title=Category:Prostitution, Michael Taft's lyric site is another http://www.dylan61.se/taft.htm. You might also check books like Paul Oliver's Blues Fell This Morning and Screening the Blues also Paul Garon's Memphis Minnie biography and Blues and the Poetic Spirit.

If you're going to use the lyrics for a thesis, I'd recommend taking a shot at transcribing yourself or at least listening for words and phrases where you hear something different from another transcription.

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