Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Mississippi Roots of John Lee Hooker



We’ll take a look at the Mississippi John Lee Hooker, his roots and influences, the music that impacted him when he was young. John Lee Hooker’s music has an undeniable urban grit that came from his detroit surroundings, but Mississippi was at his core and you could hear it in every song he ever recorded. The Hook was born August 22, 1912 outside of Clarksdale. His early years would have been musically defined by church music. But before long he discovered the blues.

Hooker’s earliest blues influence was another Clarksdale bluesman, Tony Hollins. Hollins is best remembered today because he’s associated with two songs that became standards: Crawling King Snake and Cross Cut Saw. The story of his association with John Lee Hooker begins with Hollins dating a young John Lee’s sister. The sister had responsibility for taking care of her younger brother. Hollins was quick to discover that when you stuck a guitar in Hooker’s hands, the kid would be occupied for hours, freeing up the sister for some alone time. Hollins gave Hooker his first guitar and John Lee would go onto to cite his influence his whole life.Let’s start with a song of Hooker would later incorporate into his own music: Traveling Man Blues:

Boys, when my first wife quit me, Lord, it put me on the road
I said, when my first wife quit me, boys, it put me on the road
I ain't got no home, ain't got no place to go
Lord, and I've been traveling ever since my wife been gone
Lord, and I've been traveling ever since my wife been gone
I ain't found nobody that I could call my own
Lord, she was a kind-hearted girl, just as good as she could be
Lord, she was a kind-hearted girl, just as good as she could be
But the reason we ain't together today, baby, I wanted every woman I'd see
Lord, when I started to traveling I never had no place to go
I said, when I started to traveling, never had no place to go
But if I get my wife back again, ooh boys, I ain't gonna travel no more

Crawlin' King Snake:

I'm gonna crawl into your window, baby, crawl into your door
Got anything I want, mama, gonna curl up on your floor
'Cause I'm a crawling king snake, and I rule my den
Don't wanna catch you hanging around my mate, gonna use you for my friend
Well I need feeding mama so I can get it down
If you don't feed me I'm gonna crawl back in the ground
'Cause I'm a crawling king snake, and I rule my den
Don't wanna catch you hanging around my mate, gonna use you for my friend
Well you caught me crawling baby, the bed was very high
Gonna keep on crawling mama until the day I die
'Cause I'm a crawling king snake, and I rule my den
Don't wanna catch you hanging around my mate, gonna use you for my friend
I'm gonna crawl into your window, baby, crawl into your bed
Make you remember the words that you have said
'Cause I'm a crawling king snake, and I rule my den
Don't wanna catch you hanging around my mate, gonna use you for my friend

More than anyone else, John Lee Hooker credited his stepfather Will Moore as the key influence in developing his sound. Hooker always said it was Moore that put the boogie in the music. Will Moore never recorded, but he was an associate of Charley Patton and one of Patton's numbers, Pea Vine Blues was a song that Moore frequently played:

I think I heard the Pea Vine when it blowed
I think I heard the Pea Vine when it blowed
It blow just like my rider getting on board
Well, the levee sinking, you know I...
(spoken: Baby, you know I can't stay!)
The levee is sinking, Lord, you know I cannot stay
I'm going up the country, mama, in a few more days
Yes, you know it, she know it, she know you done done me wrong
Yes, you know it, you know it, you know you done done me wrong
Yes, you know it, you know it, you know you done done me wrong
Yes, I cried last night and I ain't gonna cry anymore
I cried last night and I, I ain't gonna cry anymore
'Cause the good book tells us you've got to reap just what you sow
Stop your way of living and you won't...
(spoken: You won't have to cry no more, baby!)
Stop your way of living and you won't have to cry no more
Stop your way of living and you won't have to cry no more
I think I heard the Pea Vine when she blowed
I think I heard Pea Vine when she blowed
She blowed just like she wasn't gonna blow no more

John Lee Hooker recorded his own version of Pea Vine Blues that on his Country Blues of John Lee Hooker album released in 1960:

Well, I thought I heard that pea vine when she blow
Well, I thought I heard that pea vine when she blow
You know it blow just like it, ain't gonna blow no more
I'm gonna catch my pony boys, saddle up my black mare, oh yeah
I'm gonna catch my little pony boys, gonna saddle up my black mare
I'm gonna find my baby, she's in the world somewhere
I ain't got no money boys, I can't ride the train
I ain't got no money boys, I can't ride that train
But I thought I heard this morning that pea vine when she blow
Carrying my baby away, carrying my baby away
Carrying my baby away, carrying my baby away
Carrying my baby away
You know it blow just like
Ain't gonna bring my baby back no more
I'm gonna catch my pony boys
Gonna saddle up my black mare
I'm gonna leave ya jogging
Jogging on away from here
John Lee Hooker was of the generation that learned not only from the people they knew, but had the opportunity to learn music from records. Blind Lemon Jefferson was one of the most popular of the eraly coutry blues musicians. John Lee Hooker would have known is records and probably listened to the frequently as a young man. See That My Grave is Kept Clean:

Well, there's one kind favor I ask of you
Well, there's one kind favor I ask of you
Lord, there's one kind favor I'll ask of you
See that my grave is kept clean
It’s a long lane got no end
It’s a long lane and it's got no end
It’s a long lane and it's got no end
It's a bad wind that never change
Lord, it’s two white horses in a line
Well, it’s two white horses in a line
Well, it’s two white horses in a line
Gonna take my to my burying ground
My heart stopped beating and my hands got closed
My heart stopped beating and my hands got closed
Well, my heart stopped beating, Lord, my hands got closed
It wasn't long 'fore they took me to a cypress grove
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Have you ever heard a coffin sound?
Then you know that the poor boy is in the ground
Oh, dig my grave with a silver spade
Just dig my grave with a silver spade
Well, dig my grave with a silver spade
You may lead me down with a golden chain
Have you ever heard them church bells toll?
Have you ever heard them church bells toll?
Have you ever heard them church bells toll?
Then you know that the poor boy's dead and gone

In 1949, John Lee Hooker was recorded playing a private party with just an acoustic guitar. The songs included Two White Horses in a Line:


Two white horses in a line
Yes, two white horses in a line
Gonna take me to my burying ground
Dig my grave with a silver spade
Dig my grave with a silver spade
Let me down with a golden chain
Dig my grave with a silver spade
Yes, it's a mighty long lane ain't got no end
Yes, it's a mighty long lane ain't got no end
Yes, it's a mighty bad wind, don't never change
It's a long long lane ain't got no end
You can dig my grave with a silver spade
You can dig my grave with a silver spade
And let me down with a golden chain
Yes, there's two white horses in a line
Yes, there's two white horses in a line
Gonna take me to my burying ground
And dig my grave with a silver spade
And lay my guitar by my head
And lay my old guitar down by my head
Yes and dig my grave
All you can say I'm dead and gone
Yes, there's two white horses in a line
Yes, there's two white horses in a line
Gonna take me to my burying ground
Long long lane ain't got no end
Leroy Carr was arguably the most popular blues musician of his time. His records certainly influenced John Lee Hooker including When the Sun Goes Down:

In the evening, mama
When the sun goes down
In the evening, baby
When the sun goes down
Well, ain't it lonesome
Ain't it lonesome, babe
When your love is not around?
When the sun goes down
Last night, I laid a-sleeping I was thinking to myself
Last night, I laid a-sleeping I was thinking to myself
Well, what I been thinking Is why that the one that you love
Will mistreat you for someone else? 
When the sun goes down
The sun rises in the east and it sets up in the west
The sun rises in the east, mama and it set's in the west
Well, it's hard to tell, hard to tell, which one will treat you the best
When the sun goes down
Good-bye old sweetheart and pals, yes, I'm going away
But I may be back to see you again some old rainy day
Well, in the evening, in the evening when the sun goes down
When the sun goes down
John Lee Hooker played When the Sun Goes Down at that same 1949 party:

In the evening, when the sun goes
In the evening, when the sun goes
That’s when I miss you darling
I can’t keep from crying, just can’t keep from crying
You know I miss you, I just can’t keep from crying
I want you by my side darling everywhere i go
Because night time is the right time to be with the one you love
With the one you love
You know I miss you so
I can’t stand to see you go baby
You know it hurts me so
Because night time is the right time to be with the one you love
With the one you love
Every morning when I wake up
You know I hang out my tears darling
My tears to dry
You know I miss you darling
Can’t stand to see you go
Just to see you go
Although I miss you, you so far away
Because night time is the right time to be with the one you love
With the one you love

John Lee Hooker continued the great Mississippi blues tradition of describing natural disaster when he recorded the song about the Tupelo, Mississippi flood. Hooker's describing events of decades earlier when he recorded Tupelo Blues for the 1960 Country Blues album.

Did you read about the flood?
Happened long time ago in Tupelo, Mississippi
There were thousands of lives destroyed
It rained, it rained both night and day
The poor people was worried, didn't have no place to go
Could hear may people, crying "Lord, have mercy"
'Cause You're the only one that we can turn to
Happened a long time ago
A little town  way back in Mississippi, in Tupelo
There was women, and there was children
They were screaming and crying
Crying, "Lord, have mercy
You're the only one now, that we can turn to
Way back down in Mississippi, a little country town
I know you read about it
'Cause I'll never forget it
The mighty flood in Tupelo, Mississippi
Been years ago
Lord, have mercy
Wasn't that a mighty time?
Tupelo's gone
John Lee Hooker repeatedly said that Mississippi had the best blues because it was the worst state. His experiences as a child and young man in the state clearly shaped the musician he became.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Show 68 - Short-Haired Woman


Songs about the tight-haired woman, short-haired and bald-headed woman are a type of insult song. Many include one of the classic floating verses: "Babe you know I did more for you than the good Lord ever done. You know I bought you some hair because he sure didn't give you none."

Charley Jordan accompanied by Peetie Wheatstraw recorded Tight Haired Mama Blues in 1931.
   
Here come my tight‑haired woman, I can tell by the way she walks
Here come my tight‑haired woman, I can tell by the way she walks
But I know she be shaking that thing, because I can tell by the way she talks
I don't want no tight‑haired woman to cook no meat for me
I don't want no tight‑haired woman to cook no meat for me
Because she's so tight‑haired and evil, I'm scared she might poison poor me
Now your hair ain't curly, no your teeth ain't neither pearls
You know your hair ain't curly, you know your teeth ain't neither pearls
If the men were asking for hair, you would have a hard time in this world
Babe you know I did more for you than the good Lord ever done
Babe you know I did more for you than the good Lord ever done
You know I bought you some hair because he sure didn't give you none
Now if you got good hair, you want to keep it looking neat
If you got good hair, and you want to keep it looking neat
Just go down to the ten‑cent store, get you a nickel worth of white Vaseline
I will tell you girls one thing, you know it really is true
I will tell you girls one thing, and you know it really is true
Baby now you got good hair, but you bought this from the Jew

George Williams and Bessie Brown were a husband and wife duo who sang duets in a vaudeville blues style. Bald-Headed Mamma Blues from 1925 is about trading insults with George winning the battle when he calls her bald headed.

GW: Come Here Mama and take a look at me
BB: What I want to look at you for?
GW: Come Here Mama and take a look at me.
BB: I’ve been looking at you for the past twelve years
GW: Cause you’re papa’s happy as a man can be
BB: You was not happy when I first met you
GW: Happy as a lark, happy as a lark
BB: You was not happy when I first met you
Happy as a ? in a meat house?
Cause you was so hungry, you didn’t have two dollars worth of food
GW: Now you can’t kid me, cause you got me beat
BB:I always had you beat
GW: Now you can’t kid me, mama, cause you got me beat
You so dumb baby, you thought Birmingham was a piece of meat
BB: Now when I met you I had my diamonds on
GW: Yeah, you sure did
BB: When I met you I had my diamonds on
GW: If you fell down you’ve cut your head off
Now look at me George, everything I’ve got is gone
GW: Now I’ve done something that the lord ain’t never done
BB: What did you do?
GW: Now I’ve done something that the lord ain’t never done
BB: Just keep me in trouble all the time
GW: I gave you some hair Bessie, cause the Lord didn’t give you none, none, none none, none
You was bald-headed
You was bald-headed
You was bald-headed
You was bald-headed

Luke Jordan - Church Bell Blues from 1927 is another insult song about the bald-headed woman:

The Church Bells ringing
Secretary’s singing
The preachers preaching
Can't you hear the sisters shouting
Childrens in the pulpit
Mama's trying to learn my song
Now that low down dirty deacon
Done stole my gal and gone
Yeah my older brother had 'em
My sister had 'em
My auntie had 'em
My mother died with them
Woke up this morning
The family had the weary blues
Poked my head over in the corner
Poor grand mammy had em too
I did more for you woman
Way last winter
Laid in the forty
You know I scuffled through the summer
I did more for you woman then the the good lord had ever done
Came downtown and bought you good hair
The lord hadn't given you none
Hand me back that hat I bought you
That coat and waist
That shawl I bought you mama
Gotta bring shoes and all
If you don’t like your daddy
You got no right to care or stall
Hand me back that wig I bought you mama
Let you doggone head go bald
You know I can't be no bank boy
No superintendent
Can't clerk in no commissary
Ain't gonna work on no tipple
And I promised the good lord
Partner not to dig no coal
I'm gonna hang around the country
Try to find some jelly roll
Said my mammy got a hatchet
My papa’s got an axe
My sister's got a shepherd
My brother’s got some hounds
Some men crazy about yellow women
Some men like a teasing brown
I'm a stranger in town mama
Believe I'm going the whole way down
She wouldn't cook me no breakfast
She wouldn't get me no dinner
She squalled and brought me supper
And she kicked me outdoors
She had the nerve to ask me would a matchbox hold my clothes
Had a nerve to ask me would a matchbox hold my clothes
Memphis banjo player Gus Cannon recorded Heart Breakin' Blues in 1928 with Noah Lewis on harmonica: 
Well I'm going downtown baby won't be gone so long
Well I'm going downtown baby won't be gone so long
Say I'm tired and worried about to sing this song
And I stay at home baby, you don't treat me right
And I stay at home baby, you don't treat me right
The best time I have girl when you is out of my sight
Said give me back the wig I bought you, let your head go bald
Give me that wig I bought you, let your head go bald
But when I first met you girl, you didn't have no hair at all


Kid Stormy Weather was a New Orleans pianist who only released two records including Short Hair Blues:

That’s alright baby, Lord, that’s alright for you
That’s alright baby, Lord, that is alright for you
Now it’s alright, baby, Lord, about the way you do
Said blues came down my alley rolling up into my back door
Said blues came down my alley rolling up into my back door
I got the blues this morning, Lord, Lord, like I’ve never had before
Mama, remember the time, babe, I met, you liked it and how
Mama, do you remember the time, babe, I met, you liked it and how
But the thing you tried to do, babe, somebody doing it now
Go on old black gal, you know you can't make me shamed
Said go on old black gal, you know you can't make me shamed
But you’re hair is so short, I swear to God I can smell your brand
Way way down babe, way down in old Pollock town
Now way way down babe, way down in old Pollock town
Said the roaches and the chinches done tore my little gin house down
Kid Stormy Weather was an inspiration to Professor Longhair. In 1950, working under the name Roy Byrd, he recorded Bald Head:

Look there, she ain’t got no hair
My, look there, where’s that girl's hair?
Oh! look here, she ain’t got no hair
Ah look there, where’s that girl’s hair?
You know folks this girl I’m trying to tell you all about
Supposed to be a good friend of mine’s wife
But everyday on the job he’s always telling me the same old thing
He wished he had married her on some other night
Cause look there she didn’t have no hair
My, look there, where’s that girl's hair?
Oh! look here, she ain’t got no hair
Ah, look there, where’s that girl's hair?
And everyday on the job don’t you know she’s just begging
She’s just begging to take her out to a ball
But he got her straight you know he told her:
Said I can’t take chances
If I carry you girl, you got to stand out in the hall
Cause look there, you ain’t got no hair
Ah, look there, how come no hair?
Oh look there, she ain’t got no hair
Ah, look there, where’s that girl's hair?
She said if I get my fella a jug
He’d take me for a walk maybe down at Lee Circle’s park
Which he did, he got drunk and he wanted to make a little love
He put his arms around her neck and he knocked her wig off
Look there, she ain’t got no hair
My, look there, where’s that girl's hair?
Oh! look here, she ain’t got no hair

Bald Head is certainly funny. But, like the other songs from an earlier era, it’s kind of mean. It attacks women who don’t meet a certain standard of beauty. And these short haired, tight-haired and bald-headed women often would have been that way because the excessive use of beauty products caused their hair to break off. Standards of beauty can be complicated things and the often repeated lines where men who claim credit for buying wigs show a kind of male desire to be the one who determines what’s properly feminine.

Robert Johnson and Records

If you cannot see the audio controls, your browser does not support the audio element Robert Johnson was both a consumer and creator...