I'll probably get shot for this but here's an extract from Calt's book. I don't have a copy, this was passed along from Calt through a friend. I did pre-order a copy so maybe that will make amends.
(n.): An’ I tol’ my woman, ‘fore I left the town:
“Don’t you let nobody tear the barrelhouse down.”
(Hambone Willie Newbern, Roll And Tumble Blues, 1929)
As used by Southern blacks, an illicit commercial establishment serving as an all-purpose tavern, gambling den, dance hall, and often, brothel, located (if not in a city) near the railroad depot of a small town, or in a sawmill or levee camp. These white-owned enterprises probably arose in the late 1800s; because their main attraction was bonded liquor, they were decimated by Prohibition. There is no truth to the frequent dictionary supposition, perpetuated by jazz writers, that the term barrelhouse arose from the presence of whiskey barrels on the walls of such places. Rather, the term stems from the outmoded use of barrel to mean liquor, which survived into the 19th century and produced the term barrel fever (Partridge).
Barrelhouse appeared in American colloquial speech by 1883, when it signified a low-class tavern (DAH); another source (Anderson) describes it as “a rooming-house, tavern, saloon, and house of prostitution, all in one,” which approximates the black understanding of the word while omitting gambling. The latter held that barrelhouses (described as “a thing of the past” in 1923) catered to tramps; that was not true of black barrelhouses, which sometimes enforced dress codes and were more decorous than juke joints. Skip James said of them: “You used to pay to go in those places, maybe a dollar and a half, or two dollars for a couple. You would be served perhaps a small drink, and sandwiches. Then you had a chance to gamble, and anything else that you wanna do in there.”
get religion: Oh I’m gonna get religion, I’m gonna join the
I’m gonna be a Baptist preacher an’ I sure won’t
have to work.
(Son House, Preachin’ Blues, Part One, 1930)
To be seized by sudden religious transport; to become a convert or religious enthusiast; a largely Southern colloquialism scored by Partridge as a phrase of “insensitive vulgarity.” The above couplet remarks on the fact that Southern Baptist congregations (unlike their Methodist and Holiness counterparts) supported a full-time minister, who was not expected to hold down a job beyond the pulpit.
Several of dem got religion right out in de field
and would kneel down in the corn-field.
(“Aunt” Hannah Allen, Born In Slavery)
Appendix: What Is This Thing Called Blues?
Definitions of blues can only be generalities because the genre had no formal, mandatory compositional features, but rather adhered to stereotyped conventions. When blues were in fashion, black performers were likely to label any material they proffered as being blues in the interests of making it appear more commercially relevant. By the same token, the term blues was employed as a catch-all by the music industry, in which light it may be defined thusly:
1. A music industry trade term for any serious-
sounding black secular song composed
or recorded between 1912-1945 that was
taken to reflect a racial musical sensibility,
distinct from that of whites.
2. A designation for a white-authored
song whose lyrics refer to “having the blues.”
It was in the latter sense that the first inkling of the term ”blues” as a song label occurred around 1906, via a white Louisville performer’s composition, Joy Man Blues, which began: “Tuesday when I awoke I felt so awful blue.”
A technical definition of blues, designed to isolate its most typical distinguishing musical features, would run as follows:
1. A name given both individually and collectively
to self-accompanied songs of Afro-American street and dance performers of the early twentieth century,
in which each vocal phrase characteristically ends on the keynote and is followed by a brief instrumental phrase that similarly ends on the tonic, and each vocal phrase forms a grammatically complete statement.
2. Such a song, adapted for stage or ensemble
3. An instrumental that suggests a blues song.
Even though blues singers concocted thousands of tunes with these characteristics, they did not apprehend blues in actual musical terms. A definition that would attempt to account for the meaning of blues to the bulk of its performers and black listeners alike is as follows:
A term applied to an Afro-American song related in the first person that emphasizes the misfortunes of the singer, depicts an unstable relationship, or expresses strife with others.
It was this understanding of such songs that probably gave rise to the label “blues,” which almost certainly came into existence well after the musical characteristics associated with blues were already established. Although blues had no obligatory lyric content, singers who ignored the stereotype of blues as a recitation of unhappy or embittering experiences did so at their own peril. Thus Bo Carter, a purveyor of placid, pleasant blues material, was regarded by his brother Sam Chatmon as something other than a bona fide blues entertainer. “Bo was the best in his field,” Chatmon said, “and Ben Mike [another Mississippi singer] was the best in his – that’s them pure old country blues, where they could sing nasty [employ vituperative lyrics].”