Sunday, February 17, 2013

Show 60 - Pistol Blues



With the gun control debate raging in the U.S., I thought it seemed like a good time to look at some songs about guns. The first gun control law was passed right in the middle of the period we focus on here in 1934. The National Firearms Act was a response to the shootings occurring as part of the culture surrounding prohibition. It did specifically exempt handguns from any regulation under that law. It’s pistols that appear most often in the blues. They appear in the songs for a couple reasons, sometimes for going to bad neighborhoods or other rough spots. But mostly for revenge on that woman that’s done you wrong. Let’s start with a hit from 1929, Roosevelt Syke’s hugely influential 44 Blues:

And now I walked all night long with my .44 in my hand
And now I walked all night long with my .44 in my hand
I was looking for my woman, found her with another man

Lord I wore my forty‑four so long, Lord it made my shoulder sore
Lord I wore my forty‑four so long, Lord it made my shoulder sore
After I do what I want to ain't going to wear my forty‑four no more

Lord my baby say she heard the 44 whistle blow
Lord my baby say she heard the 44 whistle blow
Lord it sound just like ain't going to blow this horn no more

Lord I got a little cabin,, Lord it's number 44
Lord I got a little cabin, Lord it's number 44
Lord I wake up every morning, the world be scratching on my door
Blind Boy Fuller's Pistol Slapping Blues:
I can tell my dog anywhere I hear him bark
I can tell my rider if I feel her in the dark
You a cold-blooded murderer, when you want me out your way Says, that's alright mama, you gonna need my help some day
And you say you're gonna put me, mama, down in my lonesome grave Say you must remember, I once have been your slave

And I feel like snapping my pistol in your face
Let some brownskin woman be here to take your place
Let some brownskin woman be here to take your place

Now you know you didn't want me when you lie down across my bed
Drinking your moonshine whisky, mama, talking all out your head
Now give me the money, baby, I'll catch that train and go You don't have to kill me cause you don't want me no more Hey, hey, cause you don't want me no more Now you give me the money, baby, and I'll catch that train and go

Now you see my rider, tell her I said bring it home
I ain't had no loving since my gal been gone
It's two kind of people in the world that I can't stand That's a lying woman and a monkey man

Boweavil Jackson recorded Pistol Blues in 1926 with some violent lyrics for a woman that left:

Oh Jane, oh Jane, what makes you hold your head so high?
Oughta just remember, you got to live so long and die

I need not write me no letter, don't send me no word
Cut your head, woman, about the word I heard
I heard you had a man on the wheeler, had a man on the plow
Had a big man, swinging on the Johnson Bayou(?)

I'm going to carry that woman to the weeping willow tree
Oughta hear her crying, "Honey, don't murder me!"

I'm going to black her face, going to black that woman's eye
Going to kill her when she begins to cry

She said, "Roll on, Jack, Daddy do roll on"
"Roll on, Jack, Daddy do roll on"
Said, "Roll on, Jack, Daddy do roll on”
Like the way you rolling, but you ain't gonna roll so long

Ain't but two women in the world can spend my change
Not but two women, world can spend my change
Ain't but two women, mama, can spend my change
That represent Stella and that brown, my Jane

Lord, Lord, look what my brown said to me
Lord, Lord, look what she said to me
Said, Lord, Lord, look what she said to me
Said, "When I leave this town, gonna carry you back with me."
William Moore's Midnight Blues contains the classic lyric about buying a pistol as long as my right arm:

Some people say that the midnight blues ain't bad Some people say that the midnight blues ain't bad
Some people say that the midnight blues ain't bad
Well, it must not have been those midnight blues I had


Tell me, fair brownie, where did you stay last night
Tell me, fair brownie, where did you stay last night
Tell me, fair brownie, where did you stay last night
Your hair's all down and your clothes ain't fitting you right


Oh, run here, mama, run and tell me now
Run here, mama, run and tell me now
Run here, mama, run and tell me now
Say, do you love your papa anyhow?


When you see two women going together so long
When you see two women going together so long
When you see two women going together so long
You can bet your life that there's something going on wrong


I'm gonna buy me a pistol as long as my right arm
I'm gonna buy me a pistol as long as my right arm
I'm gonna buy me a pistol as long as my right arm
Gonna carry it in my pocket and make you stay at home

Walter Roland's 45 Pistol Blues talks about needing a gun to go to the baddest place in town:
I'm going over to Third Alley, Lord but I'm going to carry my .45
I'm going over to Third Alley, Lord but I'm going to carry my .45
Because you know ain't many men go there and come back alive
They will shoot you and cut you, Lord they will knock you down
Lord, they will shoot you and cut you, Lord they will knock you down


And you can ask anybody ain't that the baddest place in town
Mens carry .38s, womens carry their razors too
Mens carry .38s, womens carry their razors too
And you know you better not start nothing, know they'll make away with you
Says I ain't going to Third Alley no more unless I change my mind
Ain’t going to Third Alley no more, Lord, unless I change my mind


Because you know I done got shot once over there, Lord it's about three or four times
Says you know I'm gonna need my .45 much too big
Lord, my .45 much too big
Cause you know when I carry that gun, Lord I can’t keep it hid


J.T. "Funny Paper" Smith takes on the role of an obsessive former lover who can't get over the woman that left him in Forty-Five Blues
I feel mean and hateful, I just can't feel satisfied
I feel mean and hateful, I just can't feel satisfied
I'm going out after my woman this morning and I'm taking my .45

My woman quit me last summer and I can't get her off my mind
My woman quit me last summer and I can't get her off my mind
And if she don't come back this morning, you gonna hear my .45 crying

Folks, I hate to be mean, but I can't be good if I try
Folks, I hate to be mean, but I can't be good if I try
And when I call my baby this morning, I'm calling her with my .45

Now the police got so they arrest me every time they catch me on the street
Police got so they arrest me every time they catch me on the street
And told me this morning, they're gonna let me catch you on my beat

Now everybody talking and telling me, why don't I let that no good woman be
Everybody talking and telling me, why don't I let that no good woman be
Cause she may show me that she didn't want me, but I don't got sense enough to see

Soon as I do what I want to do, then I'll be satisfied
Soon as I do what I want to do, then I'll be satisfied
That's kill my woman and walk to the police and hand them my .45
Leroy Carr's also singing about finding a woman who's left and he's bring a new Shinin’ Pistol, recorded in 1934:

I'm going to get me a brand new pistol with a long shiny barrel
I'm going to get me a shiny pistol with a long shiny barrel
I'm going to ramble this town over until I find my girl


I'm going to go to the station and try to find her there
I'm going to go to the station and try to find her there
And if the Lord has not got her, she's in this world somewhere


She left me with a head full of trouble and a head full of misery
She left me with a head full of trouble and a head full of misery
And now she's got me crying, baby please come back home to me


My mother told me, don't you weep don't you moan
My mother told me, don't you weep don't you moan
Because, son, there'll be women here when you’re dead and gone


When I get through rambling and looking this whole world through
When I get through rambling and looking this whole world through
I won't be dead with trouble you know I died to lose

Robert Johnson 32/20 Blues is all about handguns and ow he's got the advantage over his woman if she doesn't listen to him:

I send for my baby, and she don't come
If I send for my baby, man, and she don't come
All the doctors in Hot Springs sure can't help her none


And if she gets unruly, thinks she don't want to do
And if she gets unruly and thinks she don't want to do
Take my 32-20, now, and cut her half in two


She got a .38 special but I believe it's most too light
She got a .38 special but I believe it's most too light
I got a 32-20, got to make the caps alright


If I send for my baby, man, and she don't come
If I send for my baby, man, and she don't come
All the doctors in Hot Springs sure can't help her none


I'm gonna shoot my pistol, gonna shoot my gatling gun
I'm gonna shoot my pistol, got to shoot my gatling gun
You made me love you, now your man has come


Oh, baby, where you stayed last night
Oh, baby, where you stayed last night
You got your hair all tangled and you ain't talking right


Her .38 special, boys, it do very well
Her .38 special, boys, it do very well
I got a 32-20 now, and it's a burning...


If I send for my baby, man, and she don't come
If I send for my baby, man, and she don't come
All the doctors in Wisconsin sure can't help her none


Hey, hey, baby, where you stayed last night
Hey, hey, baby, where you stayed last night
You didn't come home until the sun was shining bright


Oh boys, I just can't take my rest
Oh boys, I just can't take my rest
With this 32-20 laying up and down my breast


These songs about men finding a weapon to go hurt a woman can be frightening, but they show how much despair getting hurt in a relationship can cause, which is the heart of the blues.
Songs:
44 Blues - Roosevelt Sykes
Pistol Slapping Blues - Blind Boy Fuller
Pistol Blues - Boweavil Jackson
Midnight Blues - William Moore
45 Pistol Blues - Walter Roland
Forty-Five Blues - J.T. "Funny Paper" Smith
32/20 Blues - Robert Johnson

1 comment:

jesse Sublett said...

Hi there! Strangely, I just now found your post. I say it's strange because I play a lot of murder ballads in my solo show and also blog about bringing sanity to the gun laws in this country. I only recently discovered "Pistol Blues." I wanted to point out something that you may be unfamiliar with, and that is, a lot of old songs that seem to be about killing a lover, such as Crow Jane, are actually about killing the white master, with the lyrics in code. This is an important thing to know. One of the most recent additions to my set is "Railroad Bill," which is full of murderous intent for the railroad bull. Fun song. Usually has a old fashioned sound, but I have rocked it up with Open G rock n roll rhythm, more like something off Beggars Banquet or Let it Bleed.