Sunday, December 15, 2013

Show 64 - Where the Weather Suits My Clothes


I think I'm going back down South where the weather suits my clothes. Variations on that line appear in a lot of blues songs. In the context of the great African-American migration to the North, leaving Chicago or Detroit to return South for the better weather can be a metaphor for a few things. The longing for friends and family and the life you grew up with or the more troubling flip side which suggests its too hard for a black man to make it in the North. Or maybe sometimes it wasn't a metaphor at all and the singer just didn't like the cold. Lee Green seems to get at all these varieties while singing about his final resting place in Death Bell Blues from 1930.
I hate to hear that lonesome death bell toll
I hate to hear that lonesome death bell toll
But it reminds me of my dear mother, I mean that’s dead and gone
I can’t stay here, Lord, I can’t stay nowhere
Lord, I can’t stay here, Babe, I can’t stay nowhere
Lord I’ve been to the Nation, sweet woman I couldn’t stay there
From St. Louis to the river, river to the deep blue sea
From St. Louis to the river, from the river to the deep blue sea
If I don’t get woman that I’m loving, I don’t care what becomes of me
It’s so cold in Chicago, the birds can’t hardly sing
It’s so cold in Chicago, the birds can’t hardly sing
It’s so cold in East St. Louis, that these women can’t make a doggone thing
But my babe, she done quit me and I don’t even care
I mean my babe done quit me and I don’t even care
I believe that lonesome death bell will take me away from here
In the end Lee Smith is so empty without his woman, he longs for death to take him away from the cold Northern cities.

Clara Smith was one of the earlier recorded blues singers. In Down South Blues from 1923, she wants to hop on a train to head down south away from the men who've mistreated her in that cold weather:

I think of the ones down there, down South is my Southern home
I realize my life has been driftwood, like some kind of rolling stone
But I’ve learned my lesson, I mean it, I am through and folks I am not joking when I sing these Down South blues
I'm going to the station and catch the fastest train back home
I'm going to the station and catch the fastest train back home
I'm going back South where the weather suits my clothes
Because my mama told me and my daddy told me too
I say my mama told me and my daddy told me too
Don't go North and let them men make a fool out of you
Because their love's like water, it turns off and on
Because their love's like water, it turns off and on
Time you think you've got them, it’s turned off and gone
I'm going back South, if I wear out ninety‑nine pairs of shoes
I'm going back South, if I wear out ninety‑nine pairs of shoes
Because I'm broken-hearted, got those Down South blues
Ida Cox Southern Woman's Blues is from 1925:

Takes a southern woman to sing this southern song
Takes a southern woman to sing this southern song
Lord, I'm worried now but I won't be worried long
When I was downtown, I wouldn't take no one's advice
When I was downtown, I wouldn't take no one's advice
But I ain't going to let that same bee sting me twice
Because I'm going back down where the weather suits my clothes
Yes, I'm going back down where the weather suits my clothes
Down where there ain't no snow and the chilly wind never blows
I don't want no northern yellow, no northern black nor brown
I don't want no northern yellow, no northern black nor brown
Southern men will stick by you when the northern men can't be found
If you ever been South, you know just what I meanIf you ever been South, you know just what I mean
Southern men are all the same from Kentucky to New Orleans
I'm going back south where I can get my hambone boiled
I'm going back south where I can get my hambone boiled
These northern men are about to let my poor hambone spoil

John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson was a Jackson, Tennessee native and long time Chicago resident. In Down South from 1938, he talked about heading back to warmer weather:
Now I’m going back down South, man, where the weather suits my clothes
Now I done fooled around in Chicago, Lord, I done almost froze
Now that I done fooled around in Chicago, Lord, I done almost froze
Lord, my baby, my baby, she don’t treat me good no more
Now I know the reason she don’t love me, she’s wild about Mr. so and so
Now I know the reason she don’t love me, she’s wild about Mr. so and so
Now I know my baby, I know Ms. Lacy gonna want to see me now
Because my baby she didn’t want me to come way back up here no how
Lord, my baby she didn’t want me to come way back up here no how
Guitar great Scrapper Blackwell was an Indianapolis native, so his Down South Blues clearly isn't autobiographical. He sings about wondering if his baby is waiting for home in dear old sunny Tennessee. He's accompanied here by his famous piano playing partner Leroy Carr:
I'm just sitting here thinking of dear old sunny Tennessee
I'm just sitting here thinking of dear old sunny Tennessee
And wondering if my baby is waiting there for me
I'm going where the Monon crosses the L and N
I'm going where the Monon crosses the L and N
And catch me a freight train and go back home again
I'm going back South where it's warm the whole year round
I'm going back South where it's warm the whole year round
I'll be so glad when my train pulls up in town
In 1936, Victoria Spivey recorded Detroit Moan. More than any other song, it tells the story of someone who just can't make it financially in the cold cold place of Detroit.

Detroit's a cold cold place and I ain't got a dime to my name
Detroit's a cold hard place and I ain't got a dime to my name
I would go to the poorhouse but Lord you know I'm ashamed
I been walking Hastings Street, nobody seems to treat me right
I been walking Hastings Street, nobody seems to treat me right
I can make it in the daytime, but Lord these cold cold nights
Well I'm tired of eating chili and I can't eat beans no more
Yes, I'm tired of eating chili and I can't eat beans no more
People it hurts my feelings, Lord, from door to door
I've got to leave Detroit if I have to flag Number 94
I'm gonna leave Detroit if I have to flag Number 94
And if I ever get back home, I ain't never coming to Detroit no more
Memphis Jug Band showed their affinity for the warmth in their hometown in Going Back to Memphis
I'm leaving here, mama, don't you wanna go
I'm leaving here, mama, don't you wanna go
Because I'm sick and tired of all this ice and snow
When I get back to Memphis, you can bet I'll stay
When I get back to Memphis, you can bet I'll stay
And I ain't gonna leave until that judgment day
I love old Memphis, the place where I was born
I love old Memphis, the place where I was born
Wear my box-back suit, and drink my bottle of corn
I wrote my gal a letter, way down in Tennessee
I wrote my gal a letter, way down in Tennessee
Told her I was up here hungry, hurry up and send for me
I'm gonna walk and walk 'til I walk out all my shoesI'm gonna walk and walk 'til I walk out all my shoes
Because I've got what they call them leaving here blues
Blind Blake recorded Georgia Bound in 1929. It's a poetic take on returning to his native state and the agricultural lifestyle replacing the ice and snow:
Packing up my duffel, gonna leave this town
Packing up my duffel, gonna leave this town
And I'm gonna hustle to catch that train southbound 
I got the Georgia blues for the plow and hoe
I got the Georgia blues for the plow and hoe
Walked out my shoes over this ice and snow 
Tune up the fiddle, dust the catgut bow
Tune up the fiddle, dust off the catgut bow
Put on the griddle, and open up the cabin door 
I thought I was going to the Northland to stay
I thought I was going to the Northland to stay
South is on my mind, my blues won't go away 
Potatoes in the ashes, possum on the stove
Potatoes in the ashes, possum on the stove
You can have the hash, but please leave me the clove(?) 
Chicken on the roost, babe, watermelon on the vine
Chicken on the roost, babe, watermelon on the vine
I'll be glad to get back to that Georgia gal of mine

"I’ll be glad to get back to that gal of mine." That seems to be the most common theme in the songs about getting away from the cold North to return home to the South. The economic opportunities and escape from Jim Crow brought many African-American north, but knowing loved ones were still down South must have presented a constant lure to return home where it’s warm.

Songs:

Lee Green - Death Bell Blues
Clara Smith - Down South Blues
Ida Cox - Southern Woman's Blues
Sonny Boy Williamson - Down South
Scrapper Blackwell - Down South Blues
Victoria Spivey - Detroit Moan
Memphis Jug Band - Going Back to Memphis
Blind Blake - Georgia Bound

2 comments:

Uncle Herb said...

This line appears in all kinds old music. Hillbilly music as well as Blues.

John Forrester said...

I love wild photography and so need different weather to observe everything with changing weathers. I can get prepared everything forecasting the weather info but I don't have any instrument to measure wind speed. Next target is buying that.

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