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I really liked it, but I don't ever want to do it again. - Mississippi John Hurt, after a ride through Manhattan on the back of Patrick Sky's motorcycle, liner notes to Complete Studio Recordings

Author Topic: Robert Wilkins (and others) use of the word(s) Bullin' or Bull an' (and)  (Read 99 times)

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Offline btasoundsradio

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I don't know if this has been discussed before but I've been curious about Robert Wilkins potentially interchangeable use of the words "Bullin'" or Bull an'.
In Alabama Blues he sings 2 lines:
"The bullin' alligator, she's doing the shivaree" which could be just a filler word like a sanitized expletive perhaps shortened from "bullying"? He refers to the gator as "she", so it doesn't seem like 2 different things.
 He then sings:
"Tell me friend ever since that, bullin' stack been made, Kansas City Missouri been her regular trade"
Again he refers to the Stack river boat as she/her, so it's one thing which makes me think he's using the word the same way as the previous line.

In "Long Train Blues" he sings:
"It's the Bull an' freight train, runnin' side by side"
This one is different and sounds like 2 separate things. The Bull AND freight train. I always interpreted The Bull, as the Railroad Bull, or railroad cop or dick and he's following the train to apprehend it's hobo. They didn't have radios back then to talk to the conductor so he would have to follow the train as long as he could. Robert uses train/hobo/railroad lingo a lot and this wouldn't surprise me to be the correct interpretation.
But he could be using in a way I don't understand, but if it was just an expletive, it wouldn't be runnin' side by side. He ends with "THEY done stole my rider and I guess THEY satisfied". If they are different, they happen to be sang in the same cadence.

There's another example from at least one other artist that is slipping my mind right now. Maybe someone else can help me with it.

Charlie is the Father, Son is the Son, Willie is the Holy Ghost

Offline jpeters609

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Re: Robert Wilkins (and others) use of the word(s) Bullin' or Bull an' (and)
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2023, 12:50:46 PM »
I know this doesn't answer your question, but I thought it might be of interest to include Stephen Calt's definition of "bullyin'" from his Barrelhouse Words book:

bullyin’
Tell me friend, ever since that bullyin’ Stack been made
Kansas City Missouri has been her regular trade.

—Robert Wilkins, “Alabama Blues,” 1928
A variant of bully-boat, a superlative first recorded in 1894: “ . . . a bully-boat
means a boat that beats everything on those [Mississippi] waters” (quoted
in OED). This term evolved into the general superlative bully, which survives
in Theodore Roosevelt’s storied description of the White House as a “bully
pulpit.”

Calt also includes a definition of "bulls" which jibes with your definition of hired security guards/police, usually employed by railroads.
Jeff

Offline IanD

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Re: Robert Wilkins (and others) use of the word(s) Bullin' or Bull an' (and)
« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2023, 01:22:26 PM »
I hear "two bullin' freight trains running side by side" in Long Train Blues. The "two" is clearer the second time he sings it.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Wilkins (and others) use of the word(s) Bullin' or Bull an' (and)
« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2023, 01:35:40 PM »
I agree with Ian that it is "Two bullin' freight trains runnin' side by side". and it is transcribed that way in Weeniepedia. As to how a single rider could be stolen by two trains at once, I think the implication is that he doesn't know which one she is on.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Wilkins (and others) use of the word(s) Bullin' or Bull an' (and)
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2023, 07:50:46 AM »
Hi all,
In "Sweet to Mama", Frank Stokes sings essentially the same verse as Wilkins' "Long Train Blues" verse, except he makes it "two bullin' steamers" rather than "two bullin' freight trains". The taglines in both songs are the same.
All best,
Johnm

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