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When I listen to old music, that's one of the few times that I actually have a kind of love for humanity - Robert Crumb

Author Topic: Robert Pete Williams Lyrics  (Read 3514 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Robert Pete Williams Lyrics
« on: February 15, 2007, 11:23:13 PM »
Hi all,
Robert Pete Williams' performance of "Can't Yo-Yo No More" came out on the 2003 Arhoolie double-CD release, "Robert Pete Williams--Poor Bob's Blues", Arhoolie CD 511.  Like the rest of the performances on the set, it was recorded by Dr. Harry Oster, the folklorist who "discovered" Robert Pete Williams in Angola Penitentiary in Louisiana.  There is no indication included in the CD's liner notes of when the various songs on the record were recorded.  It would be interesting to know this, but it is so great to have the music that it is hard to get too worked up over the omission of this information.
Robert Pete plays "Can't Yo-Yo No More" out of E position in standard tuning, and as with most of the performances on the recording, he runs long--five minutes and fourteen seconds in this instance.  He had a seemingly inexhaustible source of invention, and runs through enough musical ideas in the course of the tune for three or four performances by almost anyone else.  It's hard to think of another player in the style, except perhaps Charlie Patton, who so consistently contrasted really rough playing with the finest shadings of nuance with regards to touch and execution.  A high percentage of Robert Pete's ideas also do not sound like anyone else's playing, which is especially surprising when you consider that there was already a legacy of over thirty years of Blues recordings at the point at which he first recorded.  He did hear recorded blues, too; he cited Lemon Jefferson and Peetie Wheatstraw as influences, but for whatever reason, the music he heard manifested diffferently in his making of it than the way his models made it.
Robert Pete Williams' lyrics speak to country concerns, and draw much less from the Blues conventions that arose out of the Classic Blues lyric pool than those of most other players.  As you can see from the lyrics to "Can't Yo-Yo No More", he wasn't particularly concerned with craft-oriented issues like rhyming.  Nonetheless, I think he was a great lyricist at his best, with a real capacity to surprise, as in the opening line of the last verse here.  What a beauty!  Many of his lyrics speak to issues around superstition and hoodoo.  The opening line of the next-to-last verse sounds like it might relate to a superstition.  In the first verse, he uses "pig" as a verb, as in "has a litter of pigs".  Is the spotted boar piglet imagined to be a cure for impotence?  Your guess is as good as mine.  It could just as well be like some early verses of Lemon's, where the tag line does not pertain to the opening line.  Here is "Can't Yo Yo No More":



   When your sow pig, please save me a spotted boar
   When your sow pig, baby, please save me a spotted boar
   Lord, I done lose my nature, Lord, and I can't yo-yo no more

   Well, I love you, woman, but I b'lieve you have drive me away
   Yes, I love you, baby, but I b'lieve you're gonna drive me away
   Lord, I done losed my nature, baby, and I just can't yo-yo no more

   Want you run here, black woman, set down on my knee
   Run here, black woman, set down on my knee
   Lord, I got somethin' to tell you, darling, make the hair rise on your head

   If you love me, darlin', please show me the white of your eye
   Put your arms around me, darling, just like a circle 'round the sun

   Run here, woman, and tell me your downfall
   Lord, look like to me, darling, somebody been doin' you wrong

All best,
Johnm

 
« Last Edit: June 12, 2020, 09:00:23 AM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Pete Williams Lyrics
« Reply #1 on: February 15, 2007, 11:36:02 PM »
Hi all,
Another cut appearing on "Poor Bob's Blues" is "Out All Night Long", a drinking blues.  Like "Can't Yo-Yo No More", it is played in E position in standard tuning, though the sound is quite different.  After the third verse, Robert Pete takes a solo that is stunning both in its concept and execution--Whew!  This is very funky playing.
As in "Can't Yo-Yo No More", Robert Pete starts out with somewhat conventional AAB verses, but as the song goes along, he eventually switches to an AB verse format.  Here is "Out All Night Long":



   I was out all night long, in my boo'
   I was out all night long, darlin', drinkin' that booze of mine
   Me and my gal of mine, we been drinkin' all night long

   How weak I'm am in my knees, from drinkin' all night long
   How weak I am in my knees, darlin', from drinkin' all night long
   I was drinkin' my booze all night, I just can't hardly get along

   I got my head tired out this mornin', by drinkin' all night long
   Got my head tired out this morn, baby, from drinkin' all night long
   My head beatin', hurts so bad, beatin' like a hammer

   Well, I b'lieve, I b'lieve, I'm a-, I'm a-stop drinkin' so hard
   Rea'on why I say it darlin', it sure is carryin' me down

   Well, I worked, I worked, mama, that you would do the same
   Drinkin' ain't no good, mama, but to keep you broken down

All best,
Johnm

   


     
 
« Last Edit: June 12, 2020, 09:01:31 AM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Pete Williams Lyrics
« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2007, 12:27:08 AM »
Hi all,
Robert Pete Williams played the title cut from "Poor Bob's Blues" out of A position in standard tuning, and he was in "maximum funk" mode for the performance, a rhythmic approach that he most often employed when playing out of D position in standard tuning.  The song is a one-chorder, and though he phrases the front end of the performance as a 12-bar blues, that approach loosens and degrades as the performance goes along.  Really, the guitar provides a fascinating, non-prescriptive rhythmic bed over which to lay whatever lyrical concepts come to Robert Pete; this is as opposed to conventional notions of Blues forms.  Here is "Poor Bob's Blues":



   Lord, look-a-here, baby, ohh, what you want poor Bob to do?
   Oh, baby, what you want poor Bob to do?
   You must want me, baby, Lord, well, to lay down and die for ---

   If you ever been down, baby, you know just how it is, poor
   If you ever been down, woman, you know a-how it is every day
   
   Wonder why, woman, you wanta treat me this-a-ways
   Whoa, wonder why, baby, you wanta treat me this way

   I'm worried, woman, I ain't got no place to go

   Let's go out and have some fun, baby
   We gotta ball all night long
   Let's go out and have some fun, darlin'
   We gonna ball 'til the break of day

   If the river was wine, me and my baby be drunk all the time

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 12, 2020, 09:02:42 AM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Pete Williams Lyrics
« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2007, 11:34:58 PM »
Hi all,
Another Robert Pete Williams song featured on his Arhoolie CD, "Poor Bob's Blues", is "Been Mistreated So Long".  He plays the song out of A position, in standard tuning, and after starting at a fairly laid-back tempo, acelerates throughout the remainder of the rendition and ends up moving very briskly.  Williams' chanty sort of delivery on this and other songs in his repertoire reminds me of a Malian singer and guitarist, Boubacar Traoure, whom I saw perform a number of years ago.

When a song opens with the kind of line this one does, you come away feeling a bit disarmed.  Most blues lyrics are so stylized that a line like this that is so particular to the person singing it comes as something of a shock.  Here is "Been Mistreated So Long":

 

   Lord, I been mistreated so long, I don't know how to act sometime
   I been mistreated so long I don't know how to act sometimes
   You midnight women don't know how to treat no man

   You been dealin' with the Devil, you better leave that man alone
   You been dealin' with the Devil, you better leave, eee, that man alone
   You gonna wake up some morning, baby, you gonna find yourself outdoors

   Mama,mama, mama, please talk to your daughter for me
   Oh Mama, mama, please talk to your daughter one time for me
   You don't know that woman, no, she don't pay poor Bob no mind

   I'm goin' to the hoodoo, I'm gon' put you under my feet (2)
   I'm gonna have you, baby, do anything in the world I want you to do

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 12, 2020, 09:04:20 AM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Pete Williams Lyrics
« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2007, 11:58:29 PM »
Hi all,
Yet another Robert Pete Williams performance included on "Poor Bob's Blues" is "My Daddy Was A Hoodoo Man", which Robert Pete plays out of E position in standard tuning.  The song opens with an eerie-sounding released bend that I have never heard anyone else play before on an E Blues.  Robert Pete strikes the second string with the second fret bent up to the pitch of a flat VII note, D, and releases the bend, resolving down in the VI note, C#.  The bend sets the tone for the song, which has unusual creepy feel to it.  Robert Pete Williams is communicating dread here; the effect is compelling, but at the same time, you want to get away from it.  In a way, what he's communicating seems almost too private to share.  There are a couple of words I am not sure of, and I've enclosed them in bent brackets.  Here is "My Daddy Was A Hoodoo Man":



   Well, I told my woman, to stop bein' so fa'
   Told my ba', "Stop bein' so fast.
   You go out runnin' around here, get a mojo hand on you

   Baby, don't run 'round here with these mojo hands
   'Cause I know this town must [this] hoodoo [can]

   Don't bring your mens around me
   They don't think about a thing but the hoodoo man
   Don't bring your men around me, but that mojo done

   I don't like no hoodoo, I don't want it 'round here at all
   I don't want no hoodoo hangin' 'round me at all
   'Cause I'm scared, I'm scared that mojo [done] be [God]

   Well, my daddy, my daddy, he was a hoodoo man
   My daddy, my daddy, you know, was a hoodoo man
   He could tell you anything, darlin', anything you want to know

   But now he's gone on, this ain't no hoodoo no more
   Says, he's gone on here, ain't no hoodoo no more

All best,
Johnm
   
« Last Edit: June 12, 2020, 09:05:36 AM by Johnm »

Offline Coyote Slim

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Re: Robert Pete Williams Lyrics
« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2007, 07:09:41 PM »
Johnm, "Poor Bob's Blues" is one of my favorite albums.  I especially love "Cane Cut Man."

Interesting that you mention Kar Kar.  He's another of my favorite musicians and I was lucky enough to see him perform in Berkeley several years ago.  Oddly enough, a song I made that was inspired by Robert Pete's playing ("Tell Me Baby") often comes out sounding more like I'm playing Kar Kar's style...weird...
Puttin' on my Carrhartts, I gotta work out in the field.

Coyote Slim's Youtube Channel

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Pete Williams Lyrics
« Reply #6 on: February 19, 2007, 09:41:29 AM »
Hi Coyote Slim,
I'm glad you're a fan of "Poor Bob's Blues".  What a great recording!  It took me a moment to figure out who Kar Kar was, since I had never heard the nickname before.  I see more of a vocal affinity between the two musicians than an instrumental one.  They seem pretty different there, mostly due to Robert Pete working such an individualized area.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Pete Williams Lyrics
« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2007, 10:26:42 PM »
Hi all,
Robert Pete Williams' "Death Blues" appeared on his Prestige Bluesville album, "Free Again", most recently available on CD from the now-defunct Fantasy Records as Bluesville OBCCD-553-2.  You may yet be able to find copies of it from specialist distributors like Red Lick or Roots and Rhythm. 
The song was recorded "on or about November 14, 1960" according to the CD's liner.  At that point, Robert Pete had been paroled from Angola Penitentiary after Dr. Harry Oster had written to then-Governor Long on his behalf, but the terms of his parole placed him in a situation that was in some respects worse than being in Angola.  From Dr. Oster's liner notes, we find,
   "Like Leadbelly, another alumnus of Angola, Robert Pete had sung his way to freedom; unfortunately the freedom was more restricted.  He was released on seven year parole to a farmer near Denham Springs, Louisiana, where he spends some eighty or ninety hours a week taking care of pigs, goats, cows and horses; planting and sowing; cleaning the grounds, washing dishes, etc. for $75 a month and room and board.  He says quite accurately, "I'm still not free."."

"Death Blues" starts out as a talking blues, with Robert Pete accompanying himself out of D position in standard tuning.  He speaks of the situation of enforced servitude he is in, and contrasts it with his time at Angola, where they "allow a man a break".  I think it is an indication of how much Robert Pete trusted Dr. Oster that he was willing to express himself so frankly on a recording for him. 
Robert Pete's accompaniment for the song takes a sort of droning, contemplative approach, and while not strictly adhering to any commonly recognized Blues form, the sound is certainly a blues sound, with exciting riffing punctuating and occasionally breaking free from his ruminations.  When Robert Pete goes into singing, near the end of the cut, he's working off a loose 12-bar framework in which the first two four-bar phrases start on the IV chord, much like John Hurt's "Monday Morning Blues".  Here is "Death Blues":



SPOKEN:  You know, I walk along sometime, to myself.  I wonder, "Does eve'ybody have the same idea that I got?"  Sometime I has a mind to leave this place.  I tell my people that sometime--but they say, "You know, you doin' time."  Yeah, I do know I'm doin' time, but I thinks about my brother then.  All of them is well, and I'm the one that's been hangin' around here.  I take the Blues bad sometimes.  I got somethin to tell you, baby, but I hate to tell you this.  You may not want to hear it.  Sometime I be walkin' along, feel like to me I'm gon' fall dead.  She asks me what's wrong with me.  I don't know, maybe my nerves bad.  'Cause I don't drink that much.  But I think the most of it--just about worked out.  But you know, the way I work outchere, baby, now, it's many mornin' to go back there and work.  You know, they, they do allow a man a break up there.  But I ain't had nary here, since I been here.  Work you up in there.

SUNG:  But I don't blame nobody, nobody but myself
   I don't blame nobody, baby, nobody but myself
   Lord, what I did down there, brought it all on myself

   You better draw me an insurance, darlin'
   So you can have somebody to debt on me
   'Cause I liable to haul off and die, baby,
   Ain't about the thing that you get after my death

All best,
Johnm     
« Last Edit: June 12, 2020, 09:06:59 AM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Pete Williams Lyrics
« Reply #8 on: January 05, 2012, 03:38:12 PM »
Hi all,
Robert Pete Williams' recording of "I Had Trouble" is on "Robert Pete Williams, vol. 2, When a Man Takes the Blues", Arhoolie CD 395.  The tune was recorded in Berkeley in 1970.  It tells of a scary episode that Robert Pete Williams had.  His accompaniment does so much to set the spooky mood of the song.  One of the reasons Robert Pete sounded so different from everyone else, is that unlike the great mass of Country Blues players, he was not working from chordal positions in his left hand.  Instead, he free-handed everything, which allowed him greater freedom of inflection--he could mess with his notes more.  Not working from chords also had the effect of creating a more open, airy sort of sound, less earth-bound.  He played not chord progressions but key areas with an underlying scalar context.  For "I Had Trouble", he works out of E minor in standard tuning, but a particular E minor, the Dorian mode, which has a minor third, minor seven, and the very spooky major six note.  The works out to be E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D-E.
Vocally, the song is very freely phrased, indeed it sounds as though it's being made up on the spot.  Listening to Robert Pete Williams after having not heard his music for a while is like stepping into an ice-cold shower.  You forget how much you take for granted the familiarity you have with the commonly encountered blues forms and phrasing, and realize how relatively unmoored you feel when you don't have them to keep you oriented.  You're more living the music in real time as it is made as opposed to having your expectations satisfied. 

   SPOKEN:  I'm gonna talk about it all.

   I had trouble, oh, yestidday-ee
   It's somebody I ain't never seen
   Yes, I had trouble
   With someone I ain't never seen

   It was a woman, a woma', a woma'
   She picked me up, taken me for a ride
   "Oh Lord," I said, "Where you takin' me?
   Oh lady, where you takin' me?"
   "I'm carryin' you to my residen'."

   I say, "Is you got a husband?"
   She say, "Yeah."  mmmm-mmm  mmmm-mmmm
   Say, "You walk on in."
   She set me down
   "I'm gonna fix you dinner."
   I say, "All right."
   
   I say, "Lady, let me see your husband."
   She told me, "I'm livin' alone."
   "You told me you had a husband.
   You can fool me here.  You can fool me here.
   You don't know me.
   Please take me back--back to my house.
   I'm a stranger here.  I'm scared, baby.
   Somebody may take my life."

   Mmmm, you know, I cried.
   The way you did, treated me.



All best,
Johnm

   
« Last Edit: June 12, 2020, 09:08:35 AM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Pete Williams Lyrics
« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2016, 01:02:34 PM »
Hi all,
Robert Pete Williams' version of "Louise" first appeared on his first Arhoolie album (which was originally released on Dr. Harry Oster's Folk Lyric label).  Hearing his performance completely turned my head around with regard to the possibilities in playing covers, for if ever there was a cover version of a popular song that fell far from the tree, it is this one.  Robert Pete played it out of B position in standard tuning, but tuned a full fourth low, so that his open strings were BEADF#B and he was sounding in F#.  His approach of free-handing virtually everything he plays in the left hand and eschewing chordal positions stands him in good stead here.  He leaves a great deal of space between his vocal phrases, and the whole thing has an eerie quality of being surrounded by silence.  Here is his performance:



INTRO

Louise is the sweetest gal I know
Louise is the sweetest gal I know
She made me walk from Chicago back to the Gulf of Mexico

Well, Louise, what you tryin' to do?
Gives your other man my lovin', and me too
You know, Louise, Louise, that won't do
Tryin' to love me, baby, and love some of your other men, too

Big boat's up the river, out on a bank of sand
If she never to water, I swear, she'll never land
You know, Louise, baby, why don't you hurry home?
I ain't had no lovin', since Louise been gone

SOLO

Somebody been fishin' in my pond, catchin' all my perchies
Grindin' up their bones
Loui', baby, what is you tryin' to do?
Givin' some your other men my lovin', and tryin' to love me too

Loui', is the sweetest gal I know
She made me walk from Chicago to the Gulft [sic] of Mexico

Some like a rattlesnake, partner, when in its coil
When it get to lovin', gets all out of its coil
Loui', baby, what is you tryin' to do?
Give some of your other men my lovin', tryin' to love me too

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: February 14, 2016, 01:24:38 PM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Pete Williams Lyrics
« Reply #10 on: February 24, 2016, 05:28:41 PM »
Hi all,
"Just Tippin' In" is from Robert Pete Williams' first album on Arhoolie, recorded by Dr. Harry Oster while Robert Pete was still an inmate in Angola Penitentiary.  He played the song out of D minor in standard tuning.  What was he getting at?  Here is his performance of the song:



I'm just tippin' in
Yeah, yeah, I'm just tippin' in
Oh yes, baby,
Don't walk too hard

Woman, you know that I love you
And I tell you what I do
First time I saw you, darlin'
I fell in love wit' you

SOLO

I done got lonesome here
I need me someone to consolate my mind
Yes, I done got lonesome here
I need someone, consolate my mind

SOLO

I'm a worried man
I ain't never satisfy
Yes, I'm a worried man
God knows, I ain't never satisfied

SOLO

Did you get that letter, baby,
I throwed over in your back yard?
Did you get that letter, baby,
I throw over in your back yard?
I would come and see you, darlin',
Your best man got me barred

All best,
Johnm

« Last Edit: February 24, 2016, 05:36:57 PM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Pete Williams Lyrics
« Reply #11 on: October 06, 2016, 10:01:38 AM »
Hi all,
"I'm Lonesome Blues" from "Angola Prisoners' Blues" was one of Robert Pete Williams' earliest recordings to be released.  He's in his extreme funky mode for the song, working out of A position in standard tuning, and for the most part alternating his bass from the open fifth string I note to the minor third located at the third fret of the fifth string.  He free-hands the whole thing, and is so well in touch with his mode of expression that he's able to move seamlessly through a host of variations, some of which are almost certainly improvised.  Here is his performance:



INTRO

Lord, look-a-here, baby, oh darlin', what you want poor Bob to do?
Oh babe, what you want poor Bob to do?
You must want me, baby, Lord, well, to lay down and die for --

If you ever been down, baby, you know just how it is, poor --
If you ever been down, woman, you know a-how it is, really

Wonder why, woman, you wanta treat me this-a-ways
Oh, wonder why, baby, you wanta treat me this way

I'm worried, woman, I ain't got no place to go

Let's go out and have some fun, baby, we gotta ball all night long
Let's go out and have some fun, darlin', we gotta ball 'til the break of day

If the river was wine, me and my baby be drunk all the time

All best,
Johnm
 
« Last Edit: October 06, 2016, 02:09:29 PM by Johnm »

 


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