Friday, January 23, 2015

Show 67 - Back-biting Man




"They call me a back biter, I’ll bite any man in the back." There’s nothing unusual about cheating songs in the blues. Stepping put on your man or woman could be considered one of the cornerstones of the genre. Today we’ll take a look at a specific subset of those songs: men who stole their friend’s woman. It’s interesting to hear men sing about being that backbiting friend, because the stereotypical depiction of women as the ones who are out to steal and backbite when it come to romance. But here are a few where men pronounce themselves the backbiting woman stealers. We’ll start with Ramblin’ Thomas from 1928, Back Gnawin' Blues:
I ain’t never loved but three womens in my life
I ain’t never loved but three womens in my life
My mother and my sister and my partner's wife
My mama told me when I was about twelve years old
My mama told me when I was about twelve years old
"Son, you're nothing but a back-biter. May God bless your soul."
They call me back-biter. I am a back-biter. I'll bite any man in the back.
Gonna tell all of you women something, baby, you might not like
And I'm gonna tell all of you women something, baby, you might not like
I want to know if I can bite your man in the back 
You might risk me, brother, but I will never risk you
Well, you might risk me, brother, but I will never risk you
If you allow me a chance, I will gnaw your backbone half in two 

Sylvester Weaver was one of the earliest musicians to record in the country blues format. In 1927, he sang about being a back biter in Can't Be Trusted Blues:
I don't love nobody, that's my policy
I don't love nobody, that's my policy
I'll tell the world that nobody can get along with me
I can't be trusted, can't be satisfied
I can't be trusted, can't be satisfied
The men all know it and pin their women to their side
I will sure back-bite you, gnaw you to the bone
I will sure back-bite you, gnaw you to the bone
I don't mean maybe, I can't let women alone
Pull down your windows and lock up all your doors
Pull down your windows, lock up all your doors
Got ways like the devil, papa's creeping on all fours 

In Stole Rider Blues, Blind Willie McTell sang about stealing a girl from his friend as well as indulging in the more typical description of women as the back biting friends.
I'm going to grab me a train ride the lonesome rail
Going to grab me a train ride the lonesome rail
Nigger stole my baby, she's in the lonesome jail
He took my mama carried her to the town of Rome
He took my mama carried her to the town of Rome
Now she's screaming and crying papa let your mama come back home
I stole my good gal from my bosom friend
I stole my good gal from my bosom friend
That fool got lucky, he stole her back again
Now the woman I love got a mouth chock full of good gold
Now the woman I love got a mouth chock full of good gold
Every time she hug and kiss me it make my blood run cold
When you see two women running hand in hand
When you see two women running hand in hand
Bet you my last dollar one done stole the other’s man
I'm leaving town, please don't spread the news
I'm leaving town, please don't spread the news
That why I've got these old stole rider blues 

Robert Johnson's classic Come on In My Kitchen centers around the idea of having stolen your best friend's woman and some of the bad things that seems to come with it.
You better come on in my kitchen, It's going to be raining outdoors
The woman I love, took from my best friend
Some joker got lucky, stole her back again
You better come on in my kitchen, it's going to be raining outdoors
Why she’s gone, I know she won’t be coming back
I’ve taken the last nickel out of her nation sack
You better come on in my kitchen, it's going to be raining outdoors
Mama, can't you hear that wind howl?
Oh how the wind do howl
When a woman gets in trouble, everybody throws her down
Looking for her good friend, none can be found
You better come on in my kitchen, it's going to be raining outdoors
Bad times coming, it’s gonna be slow
You can’t make the winter babe, just dry long so
You better come on in my kitchen, cause it's going to be raining outdoors 
Johnson borrowed the "stole from my best friend" line from either Johnnie Temple's song Evil Devil Blues or Skip James' original version of the same song titled Devil Got My Woman. Both songs end with the line and it feels like something of a conclusion about why difficult times are here.

Johnnie Temple - Evil Devil Blues:
I'd rather be dead and in my horrible tomb
To hear my woman, some man done taken my room, taken my room
I'd rather be the devil, to be that woman's man, that woman’s man
The woman I love, the woman I love, the woman I love, she don't pay me no mind, me no mind
Going to pack my things going further down the line, down the line
I lay down last night, I laid down last night, and I tried to take my rest
My mind got to rambling like the wild geese from the west, from the west
The devil is evil, changed my baby's mind
You be my woman, be my woman, be my woman, I tell you what I will do, I will do
I'll cut your kindling, I will build your fire
I'll tote your water, from the boggy bayou
The woman I love, I stole her from my best friend, my best friend
Lord he got lucky and stole her back again, stole her back again 
Skip James - Devil Got My Woman:
I'd rather be the devil to be that woman's man
I'd rather be the devil to be that woman's man
Oh nothing but the devil changed my baby's mind
Oh nothing but the devil changed my baby's mind
I laid down last night, I laid down last night, I laid down last night, tried to take my rest
My mind got to rambling like the wild geese from the west
The woman I love, woman that I love, the woman I love, took her from my best friend
But he got lucky, stole her back again
And he got lucky, stole her back again


Songs:
Back Gnawing Blues - Ramblin' Thomas
Can't Be Trusted Blues - Sylvester Weaver
Stole Rider Blues - Blind Willie McTell
Come On In My Kitchen - Robert Johnson
Evil Devil Blues - Johnnie Temple
Devil Got My Woman - Skip James

Robert Johnson and Records

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