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Tell Me, Honey, tell me please. Is my lover hard to please? I'm getting groggy in my knees. Honey, it must be love - Blind Willie McTell

Author Topic: Who or what is Cunningham?  (Read 1692 times)

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Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Who or what is Cunningham?
« on: October 01, 2010, 09:10:38 AM »
Leadbelly, in "Whoa Back Buck," sings "who made the back band? Cunningham."
( Annie, Judy & Zeke Canova in their version of the same song on Banner 32126 sing "who made the back band? I don't know.").

Henry Thomas in "Don't Ease Me In" sings "all night long, Cunningham, don't ease me in."

So who or what was Cunningham?

(I also don't know what the phrase "Don't Ease Me In" refers to -- if Thomas were a natural-born easeman, he presumably would want to be eased in.)

Curious as usual,

Signed,

Lyle


Offline Alexei McDonald

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Re: Who or what is Cunningham?
« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2010, 09:51:59 AM »
It's what Leadbelly sang instead of "whoah goddamn" when he self-censored his songs.   I think I have seen it suggested that this is a reference to the Cunningham Plantation at Sugar Land (Leadbelly spent some time there at the Central State Prison Farm).

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Who or what is Cunningham?
« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2010, 10:59:49 AM »
Just to muddy the waters a bit Mack McCormick in the booklet to the Henry Thomas Herwin LP says of the usage in  Don't Ease Me In"

A century ago a businessman named Cunningham leased convicts from the state prison to work the sugar cane fields along the Brazos. His name became immutably fixed in the prison song tradition, surviving in songs through generations of convict song leaders, and even cropping up on recorded blues derived from the prison tradition.

I'm writing from memory now and may have this a bit garbled. I believe his name was Ed Cunningham who owned vast agricultural properties around Houston. The Penitentiary sent inmates to work on his land and he in turn "sublet" them out to private farmers and all manner of establishments.

This is all a bit fuzzy but I might eventually recall in which book this has been documented at length. Not a book about blues I might add.
« Last Edit: October 01, 2010, 11:01:34 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Alexei McDonald

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Re: Who or what is Cunningham?
« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2010, 11:28:20 AM »
I'm writing from memory now and may have this a bit garbled. I believe his name was Ed Cunningham who owned vast agricultural properties around Houston. The Penitentiary sent inmates to work on his land and he in turn "sublet" them out to private farmers and all manner of establishments.

Col. E.H. Cunningham, the man the plantation was named for, according to Wikipedia.

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Who or what is Cunningham?
« Reply #4 on: October 01, 2010, 11:33:00 AM »
Great information, so far. Yes, Google says that Colonel E.H. Cunningham owned a large sugar plantation at Sugar Land (now Imperial Sugar Company), and I don't doubt that he leased convicts from the state prison (the same arrangement that Tennessee used at Coal Creek).

I'd be interested in the name of that book, if you can dredge it out of your memory.

And I still don't know what the phrase "don't ease me in" means. Of course, I don't know what diddy-wah-diddy means, either.

Lyle

Offline Stumblin

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Re: Who or what is Cunningham?
« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2010, 09:44:39 AM »
H. Cunningham gets a namecheck on p.62 of Worse Than Slavery, which has been discussed elsewhere in these pages.
I don't know what Diddy-Wah-Diddy means either, I wish somebody would tell me.

Offline Bricktown Bob

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Re: Who or what is Cunningham?
« Reply #6 on: October 09, 2010, 06:47:25 PM »
And I still don't know what the phrase "don't ease me in" means. Of course, I don't know what diddy-wah-diddy means, either.
Sure you're still panting to know.  Just got for my birthday Stephen Calt's Barrelhouse Words, which tells us that "to ease someone in" is to entice or provoke them into playing the dozens.  That seems the sense in the Henry Thomas song (which Calt uses for illustration), and pretty clearly in Little Hat Jones's "Kentucky Blues": "I don't play the dozen and neither the ten, 'course if you keep on talkin' I'll ease you in."  (I had long thought this a reference to policy, as I could not otherwise explain the "ten" -- and still don't know what it means in the context of the dozens.  Of course policy isn't much of a threat against somebody who won't shut up.)

(While we're here.  Diddy Wah Diddy is said to be a legendary paradise in the folklore of rural central Florida.  Zora Neale Hurston, who did much fieldwork in rural central Florida, also places it in Harlem as a metaphor for an immeasurably great distance or an unimaginably distant place.  This is not what Blind Blake means.)

 


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