Sunday, June 30, 2013

Show 62 - Historical Figures and the Law



Many blues songs feature real historical figures. Some are figures who operate on both side of the law, sometimes straddling that divide. These are all folks from Memphis, North Mississippi and Arkansas. We'll start with a song about a man Jim Kinane, the man who ran the Memphis underworld including club’s featuring live music including Beale Street’s Monarch Club which might be the place Robert Wilkins is singing about. It was a gambling hall where you could find whiskey, drugs, and women. Old Jim Canaan’s was recorded in 1935:
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's
I'd stand on the corner and wave my hand
And if you don't believe that I'm a drinking man
Just baby stop by here with your beer can
I wish I was back at old Jim Canan's
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s
I'm going uptown, buy me coke and beer
Coming back and tell you how these women is
They drink their whiskey, drink their coke and gin
When you don't play the dozens they will ease you in
Still I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's
I’d take my baby to old Jim Canaan’s
The men and women running hand in hand
Going to and fro to old Jim Canan's
Drinking their whiskey sniffing cocaine
That's the reason why I wished I was back at Jim Canan's
I wished I was back at old Jim Canan's

E.H. Crump acted as political boss in Memphis running the machine that operated the city. In this time that meant understanding what was happening on both sides of the divide between the law abiding and those that wanted the city wide open. When the Memphis Sheiks recorded it, this was probably already an old song, but Crump would continue to run Memphis for several decades. Mr. Crump Don’t Like It:

If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
No barrelhouse women, God and drinking no beer
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
I saw the Baptist sister jumped up and began to shout
I saw the Baptist sister jumped up and began to shout I saw the Baptist sister jumped up and began to shout
But I'm so glad that that whiskey vote is out
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
I saw the Methodist sister jumped up and they had a fit
I saw the Methodist sister jumped up and they had a fit
I saw the Methodist sister jumped up and they had a fit
She was doggone sorry wasn't king corn here
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here I saw the Presbyterian sister turn around and began to grin
I saw the Presbyterian sister turn around and began to grin
I saw the Presbyterian sister turn around and began to grin
Lord I believe I'll start out to barrelhousing again
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here I saw the deacon look around sister why in the world don't you hush
I saw the deacon look around sister why in the world don't you hush
I saw the deacon look around sister why in the world don't you hush
I'd rather see you get drunk than wear this awful skirt You don't like my peaches don't shake my tree
You don't like my peaches don't shake my tree
You don't like my peaches don't shake my tree
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
No barrelhouse women, God and drinking no beer
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
I saw the Baptist sister jumped up and began to shout
I saw the Baptist sister jumped up and began to shout
I saw the Baptist sister jumped up and began to shout
But I'm so glad that that whiskey vote is out
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
I saw the Methodist sister jumped up and they had a fit I saw the Methodist sister jumped up and they had a fit
I saw the Methodist sister jumped up and they had a fit
She was doggone sorry wasn't king corn here
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here I saw the Presbyterian sister turn around and began to grin
I saw the Presbyterian sister turn around and began to grin
I saw the Presbyterian sister turn around and began to grin
Lord I believe I'll start out to barrelhousing again
If Mr Crump don't like it, he ain't going to have it here
I saw the deacon look around sister why in the world don't you hush
I saw the deacon look around sister why in the world don't you hush
I saw the deacon look around sister why in the world don't you hush
I'd rather see you get drunk than wear this awful skirt
You don't like my peaches don't shake my tree
You don't like my peaches don't shake my tree
You don't like my peaches don't shake my tree
Don't like my fruit, let my orange juice be
Mr. Crump don’t allow now...
Don't like my fruit, let my orange juice be
Mr. Crump don’t allow now...  

Mississippi legend Charley Patton was no stranger to run-ins with the law and he recorded the names of several real-life law enforcement figures in his songs. Tom Rushen Blues recalls Deputy Sheriff Tom Rushing of Cleveland, Ms. The song walks the difficult line of describing the difficulties of dealing with the law as a black man in Mississippi in 1929 while perhaps trying to simultaneously get in good favor with the lawman by immortalizing him in song. Tom Rushen Blues:

I lay down last night hoping I would have my peace
I lay down last night hoping I would have my peace
But when I woke up, Tom Rushen was shaking me 
When you get in trouble, there's no use of screaming and crying
When you get in trouble, there's no use of screaming and crying
Tom Rushen will take you back to Cleveland flying 
It was late one night, Holloway was gone to bed
It was late one night, Holloway was gone to bed
Mr Day brought the whiskey taken from under Holloway's head 
It takes booze and booze, Lord, to carry me through
It takes booze and booze, Lord, to carry me through
Thirty days seem like years in the jailhouse where there is no booze 
I got up this morning, Tom Day was standing around
I got up this morning, Tom Day was standing around
If he lose his office now, he's running from town to town 
Let me, tell you folksies just how he treated me
I'm going to tell you folksies just how he treated me
Ah he brought me here and I was drunk as I could be 

The song also describes Merigold, Ms. town marshal Tom Day. Five years later when Patton was back in the recording studio, he had a whole new set of lawmen to sing about. The record company producer had reportedly found Patton locked up in Belzoni, Ms. in Humphreys County where John D. Purvis was sheriff and R. Carlos Webb was his deputy. High Sheriff Blues:

Get in trouble in Belzoni, ain't no use to screaming and cry
Get in trouble in Belzoni, ain't no use to scream and cry
Mr. Webb will take you back to Belzoni jailhouse flying 
Let me tell you folks how he treated me
Let me tell you folks just how he treated me
And he put me in a cellar, it was dark as it could be
It was late one evening, Mr Purvis was standing around
It was late one evening, Mr Purvis was standing around
Mr. Purvis told Mr. Webb to let poor Charley down
It takes booze and booze, Lord to carry me through
It takes booze and booze, Lord to carry me through
Thirty days seem like years in a jailhouse where there is no booze
I got up one morning feeling mmm
I got up one morning feeling mighty bad
And it must not have been them Belzoni jail I had, blues I had
When I was in trouble it ain't no use to scream and cry
When I was in prison, it ain't no use to scream and cry
Mr. Purvis the only man who can ease that pain of mine 

Let’s head across the Mississippi River to Helena, Arkansas where Memphis Minnie sang about the baddest copper ever to walk a beat. I don’t have his real name, but he seems to be a historical figure that the locals called Reachin’ Pete. It’s another one that walks the thin line between explicitly stating how tough the local police were on black people without offending the people you mention and causing even more trouble for yourself. Reachin’ Pete:

When you go to Helena stop on Cherry Street
When you go to Helena stop on Cherry Street
And just ask anybody to show you Reaching Pete
He's the tallest man walks on Cherry Street
He's the tallest man walks on Cherry Street
And the baddest copper ever walked that beat
He met me one sunny morning just about the break of day
Lord, he met me one sunny morning just about the break of day
I was drinking my moonshine he made me throw my knife away
Well he taken my partner, carried her to the jail
Well he taken my partner, carried her to the jail
After he locked her up he turned and went her bail
Reaching Pete's all right but his buddy Old Buzzell
Reaching Pete's all right but his buddy Old Buzzell
Every time he meet you he's ready for plenty hell
Somebody get out of the way too
What you say about it, partner?
Aw, it’s good to me
Looks like to me, you can’t take it

Songs:
Old Jim Canaan's - Robert Wilkins
Mr. Crump Don't Like It - Beale Street Sheiks
Tom Rushen Blues - Charley Patton
High Sheriff Blues - Charley Patton
Reachin' Pete - Memphis Minnie