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Ten thousand river commissions, with the mines of the world at their back, cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or define it, cannot say to it 'Go here,' or Go there, and make it obey; cannot save a shore which it has sentenced; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at - Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

Author Topic: Billiken Johnson Lyrics  (Read 1290 times)

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Offline dj

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Billiken Johnson Lyrics
« on: September 01, 2009, 04:22:26 PM »
One of the lyrics I've always wondered about is "If I could holler just like a mountain jack".  It appears in dozens, if not hundreds, of blues from the 1920s and 30s.  I'd always assumed that a "mountain jack" was a hillbilly, or even a Swiss yodeler.  But listening to "Wild Jack Blues" by Billiken Johnson With Neal Roberts has set me straight.  A "jack" is a male mule.  You can go to the dictionary and look it up.  And if you have any doubt that jacks could holler, you just have to listen to this song, where Billiken Johnson brays where there would normally be instrumental tags at the ends of lines and even takes a braying solo.

I've written a bit about Billiken Johnson elsewhere in the forum - follow the tag to find that.  I know nothing about Neal Roberts.  He may play the piano accompaniment, and he sounds like he was more used to singing from the vaudeville stage than in jukes and barrelhouses.  The song itself, recorded in Dallas on December 8, 1928, sounds like it should be a woman's song, with the "wild jack" a metaphor for her roving husband/lover.  Does anyone know if this was ever recorded by a woman?  Here is "Wild Jack Blues":


"Wild Jack Blues"
Billiken Johnson with Neal Roberts

Wild jack on the mountain and he brays the whole day long
Wild jack's on the mountain and he brays the whole day long
Gonna find me some lumber, build that old jack a home

I'm going to build a stable as long as he is tall
Honey build a stable as long as he is tall
So I can hear my wild jack every time he calls

You ought to see that big black jack o' mine
Ought to see that big black jack o' mine
He can eat more corn than I feel like buyin'

Instrumental verse with braying:

Spoken : That's long-eared jack
Spoken : Just hear him bray

This big black jack's got manes just like the Lord
Big black jack's got manes just like the Lord
So I can keep my wild jack, lock him in my stall

He's a big bad jack and you can hear him all over town
Big bad jack and you can hear him all over town
Gonna keep my wild jack 'f I have to chain him down   
« Last Edit: July 03, 2020, 07:53:26 AM by Johnm »

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Billiken Johnson Lyrics
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2009, 06:36:09 AM »

I always thought that this line refered to a bird. Types of jays are refered to as jacks. The one I'm most familiar with is a whiskey jack, a jay of the boreal forest (where it seems I spend a lot of time). But there are jays referred to and mountain jacks closer to where I live (Rockey Mountains). The whiskey jacks can be pretty noisey!
But this song seems to settle the dispute.



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