Friday, March 07, 2014

Show 65 - Snitcher's Blues




A few years back, the Stop Snitching movement received a lot of attention in the media with high profile rappers and athletes using songs and films to urge people not to cooperate with police investigating crimes. Of course, disdain for snitchers was nothing new and there have always songs about the problems with snitchers. Let’s start with one from 1928 that gives some history going back to 1894. It’s the Memphis Jug Band’s Snitchin' Gambler Blues:

People in this town, Lord, they ain't no friend to you
Oh, they'll do you a favor, go around and tell lies on poor you

If I only had me a brick house of my own
I wouldn't allow snitching and gambling people around my home
I hate a snitcher, worse than the good Lord hates the sin

If they ever give me any trouble, soon be on my way to the pen
If I only had me a shelter of my own

I wouldn't allow snitching and gambling people around my home
Now it's eighteen hundred, and it's ninety-one

That's when the snitching work, people, Lord, had just begun
Now it's eighteen hundred, and it's ninety-two

The snitchers in this town, Lord, they just won't do
Now it's eighteen hundred, and it's ninety-three

I got arrested off of Beale Street
I went before the judge, I said judge, what is my fine?

A hundred dollar fine, and do eleven twenty-nine
Now look-a-here, judge, can't you hold up off of that fine?

He said, go ahead on, nigger, that ain't no great long time
Oh, don't I hate a snitcher worse than the good Lord hates the sin

Now it's eighteen hundred and it's ninety-four
The white people rolled me in the workhouse door

It's eighteen hundred and it's ninety-five
These people in this town don't do nothing but tell dirty lies

Now it's eighteen hundred and it's ninety-six
That's when the snitchers got all-all their little snitching work fixed

It's nineteen-hundred and it's twenty-seven
They snitch so bad they're trying to snitch their way into heaven

It's nineteen-hundred and it's twenty-eight
I left the snitchers standing at the workhouse gate

Now, It's nineteen-hundred and it's twenty-nine
I left all the snitching people way behind

Oh, don't I hate a snitcher worse than the good Lord hates the sin


James Stump Johnson recorded Snitchers Blues singing about losing his friends and the police and the snitches around St. Louis:
When I had money, I had friends for miles around
When I had money, I had friends for miles around
Ain’t got no money, now my friends cannot be found

Some give me a nickel, some give me a lousy dime
Some give me a nickel, some give me a lousy dime
Some people say that old dunce ain’t no friend of mine

Be with me when I’m down, I’ll be the same when I rise
Be with me when I’m down, I’ll be the same when I rise
These St. Louis women, they think they are too wise

She cook good cabbage and she called them turnip greens
Oh, she cooked good cabbage, she called them turnip greens
Now she’s the best old woman, the best I’ve ever seen

Called my babe way down in Pollock town
mmmm, babe way down in Pollock town
Well the police and these snitches they have tore my playhouse down

Take me to Kirkwood, I’ll make St. Louis all by myself
Mmmm,, St. Louis by myself
When I get there, I hope you haven’t got nobody else
George Hannah recorded another version of the same song as The Snitches Blues:
When I had money, I had friends for miles around
When I had money, I had friends for miles around
Ain’t got no money, my friends cannot be found

Some give me a nickel, some give me lousy dime
Some give me a nickel, some give me lousy dime
Some let me know that they ain’t  no friend of mine

Be with me when I’m down, I’ll be the same way when I rise
Be with me when I’m down, I’ll be the same when I rise
These St. Louis women, they really are too wise

She cook good cabbage, she called them turnip greens
She cooked good cabbage, she called them turnip greens
She’s the best old woman, the best I’ve ever seen

Called my babe way down in Pollock town
Called my babe way down in Pollock town
The police and these snitches tore my playhouse down

Take me to Kirkwood, I’ll make St. Louis by myself
Take me to Kirkwood, St. Louis by myself
When I get there,babe, I hope you ain’t got nobody else

In 1937, Big Joe Williams took some elements of the Snitcher's Blues and recorded I Won't Be in Hard Luck No More talking about the police and the snitches trying to tear his reputation down.
 
 I said goodbye baby, oh yes I got to go
 I said goodbye baby, oh yes I got to go
 I don't want to be way in the South, ooh well mistreated for Mister so‑and‑so

 I stayed in hard luck and trouble every old place I go
 I stayed in hard luck and trouble most every old place I go
 I believe somebody put bad luck on me, ooo well I believe now it's time to go

I had money baby, I even had friends for miles around
When  I had money babe, I even had friends for miles around
Well all the money gone,  ooo well and my friends cannot be found

I started down, I started down in Pollock Town
I started down, baby, I started down in Pollock Town
Seem like the snitches and the police is trying to tear poor Joe's reputation down

Now you can hear me when I'm down, be the same way when I rise
you can hear me when I'm down, be the same way when I rise
I got a gal in East St Louis she lives down in Polack Town

Blind Boy Fuller's 1935 hit Rag, Mama, Rag has a good time feel, but some threatening lyrics directed at the woman who hollered murder:
Says I'm going uptown hat in my hand
Looking for the woman ain't got no man
Just as well be looking for a needle in the sand
Looking for a woman ain't got no man

Oh, rag Rag.
Rag Said do that rag

Oh, rag
Oh, rag
Rag
Said do that rag

Says I wouldn't have thought my gal would treat me so
Love another man stay at my back door
Mind, mama, what you sow
You got to reap just what you sow

Oh, rag
Rag, now
Rag, baby
Rag, mama
Said do that rag

Oh, rag
Do it a long time
Rag
Said do that rag

Now if you'll get you one woman, better get you two
One for your buddy other one for you
Got me a wife and a sweetheart too
Wife don't love me, my sweetheart do

Oh, rag
Rag, baby
Rag
Rag, mama,
Said do that rag
Oh, rag
Rag
Rag, baby
Said do that rag
Oh, rag
Oh, rag, baby
Rag, mama
Said do that rag
Oh, rag
Oh, rag, baby
Rag, mama
Said do that rag
Now rag, baby
Oh, rag
Oh, rag
Rag, mama
Said do that rag

Said my gal hollered murder I ain't raised my hand
Pistol in my pocket, blackjack in my hand
Took my gal under the willow tree
Ought to hear her hollering, "Don't murder me!"

Oh, rag, shh...
Oh, rag
Rag, now, baby,
Rag
Said do that rag

Oh, rag
Oh, rag, baby
Rag again
Said do that rag

Joe McCoy recorded a similarly threatening song in 1935, Something Gonna Happen to You:

I'm going to ask my old buddy now how come he shares
Won’t fool around if he’s has to go to the electric chair
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

I have bought me a pistol, shotgun and some shells
Start some stuff to show them, raise some hell
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

Yes you talked about me all through the neighborhood
Told everybody that I was no good
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

Yes you called on the old law and he brought his ball and chain
Accused me of murder, I never harmed a man
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

Yes my mother she told me, my daddy sat down and he cried
Someday son you’ve got to lay down and die
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
When I done everything that a poor boy could do

There'll be one of these mornings, you going to jump and shout
Open the jailhouse door and you come walking out
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

I used to have so many women, I didn't know who I loved
Used to gather around me like the angels above
Crying something bad now sure is going to happen to you
That's when I done everything that a poor boy could do

Songs:
Snitchin' Gambler Blues - Memphis Jug Band
Snitchers Blues - James Stump Johnson
The Snitches Blues - George Hannah
I Won't Be in Hard Luck No More - Big Joe Williams
Rag, Mama, Rag - Blind Boy Fuller
Something Gonna Happen to You - Joe McCoy

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