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Says, I feel just like, mama, throwin' my slop jar in your face - Kokomo Arnold, Slop Jar Blues

Author Topic: Twelves (Dirty Dozens) as played by Kokomo Arnold, Memphis Minnie  (Read 4567 times)

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Twelves (Dirty Dozens) by Kokomo Arnold is approximately in key of D, is he using vestapol tuning?
Same song by Memphis Minnie is approximately in key of Bb, is main guitar in low vestapol tuning? And what about 2nd guitar?
I know this song is based on the street game but who wrote it?
« Last Edit: March 18, 2017, 06:48:13 AM by Johnm »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Twelves (Dirty Dozens)
« Reply #1 on: May 27, 2006, 11:12:37 AM »
I know this song is based on the street game but who wrote it?
Mack McCormick in his booklet to The Unexpugated Folksong Of Men (Raglan LP51, 1960) which includes an "anonymous" version by a singer he recorded (actually Lightniin' Hopkins) and describes it as follows. [Hope I've corrected most of the scanning errors, booklet has seen better days]

THE DIRTY DOZENS: There is nothing in American folklore that has quite the reputation of that cycle of insults, known as "The Dirty Dozens." Probably better than ten million people have played the "game" but they've kept it a secret from the rest of America. Still as far back as 1919, a white girl named Gilda Gray was entertaining New Yorkers (see Current Opinion, Sept. 1919) with something derived from the original:

Oh, the old dirty dozen,
The old dirty dozen;
Brothers and cousins,
Living like a hive of bees,
They keep a buzzin', fussin' and mussin'.
There wasn't a good one in the bunch.

Some scraps appeared in the Journal of American Folklore in 1915, and in Publications of the Texas Folklore Society in 1926:

Talk about one thing, talk about another;
But ef you talk about me, I'm gwain to talk about your mother.

A number of derivations appeared on race records such as Henry Thomas' "Don't Ease Me In," Dirty Red's "Mother Fuyer," Gabriel Brown's "You Ain't No Good," State Street Boys; "The Dozen," Victoria Spivey's "From One to Twelve," Bumblebee Slim's "New Mean Mistreater," and Leroy Carr's "The Dirty Dozen." Most of these were inspired by the great commercial success of Speckled Red's famed 1929 record and its sequel "The Dirty Dozen No. 2":

Your face is all hid, now your back's all bare,
If you ain't doing tbe bobo, what's your head doing down there?

The sum of these, while far from the Dozens itself, was sufficient to establish it's notorious reputation as a verbal contest in which the players strive to bury one another with vituperation. In the play, the opponent's mother is especially slandered and thus the male asserts himself through this rejection of the feminine and by the skill with which he manages the abuse. The appropriate reply is not to deny the assault, but to return by even greater evil- speaking hurled at the other person's mother. Then, in turn, fathers are identified as queer and syphilitic. Sisters are whores, brothers are defective, cousins are "funny" and the opponent is himself diseased. A single round of a dozen or so exchanges frees more pent-up aggressions than will a dose of sodium pentothal, though of course it is always veiled as being against the other fellow's family. Through it all is a pervasive quality of the urban slum where too many relatives are packed into too few rooms, where children are spectators to the sex life of the parents, and shocked by the infirmities of the older relatives, and beyond which the white folks live with all that light-skin can purchase in a world of plenty. The latter point is illustrated by the expurgated scrap of the Dozens that Richard Wright wove into his autobiography, Black Boy: "All these white folks dressed so fine, their ----- smell just like mine. " Moreover the Dozens may offer bewildered explanations for the perogatives of the whites, as in this recording with the verse which begins "A white man was born with a veil over his face" and thus brings to bear the belief that being born with a veil or a caul gives a person special powers. The verse draws an acutely meaningful and damming portrait, and gives the speaker ease by making the circumstances of race appear a little less arbitrary, and more a matter of special gifts.

In 1939, John Dollard's "The Dozens: The Dialect of Insult" (in American Image, 1) gave this remarkable social phenomena its first scholarly attention. The author links the Dozens with other children's lore which abuses the mother, and which sometimes comes as a set of 12 rimes. Other writers concerned with human behavior, in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology in 1947 and American Speech in 1950, have poked speculations at the source of the Dozens but have made the matter somewhat more mysterious than it needs to be. The name simply derives from the accepted rules of the game which are that the dialogue shall consist of 12 insults hurled back and forth, each of which should surpass what has gone before. In actuality the game is only seldom played with so strict a discipline though these are important points of skill among the more artful players. When this is done, the enumeration may be part of each verse, or more typically each volley will be counted off by a prefacing remark such as "Now, first thing, I'm gonna talk about your old momma . . ." and so on up to the final and climatic twelfth exchange.

The pattern is a most-familiar one in folklore: The Tale of The Twelve Truths. As one of the most favored numbers, both for its mystic as well as its practical qualities, twelve is especially popular in setting forth sets of facts or laws. As a base, twelve occurs as the divisions of the Zodiac, in the fixtures of Heaven (Revelations 21, 22) and in the measure of hours, inches, and dice. Its history ranges from the earliest Roman Law, codified in the 5th Century B. C. as the Xll Tables, to the fact that it is still twelve men that we put in the jury box. Invariably, apostles of truth and rule are counted by the dozen whether they be peers, elders, patriarch, knights, or the Disciples of Christ. While this comes to us as Christian custom, the early Christian tradition was itself following a pattern that has been traced to the ancient orient and is known in a wide range of mythic formula. Narratives which count-off a dozen facts or beliefs are known in many different cultures. Second only to counting on the ten fingers, the duodecimal system is prefered by communities which rely on oral tradition for committing twelve truths of one kind or another to memory. It is, for example, used in the catechismal form of many religious tracts:

Q: Of the Twelve Truths of the World, tell me one?
A: One is the House of the Lord where Christ crucified lives and reigns forevermore.
Q: Tell me two?
A: The two are the tables on which Moses wrote his Divine Law.
. .. etc.

There are numerous examples of folk song which count-off articles of faith, of worship, or other items, usually twelve in number, and often as a kind of ritual dialogue: "Carol of the Twelve Numbers," "Green Grow The Rushes, Oh," and "The Twelve Days of Christmas." These probably come directly from the 16th Century Passover chant "Ehad Mi Yodea" which pays tribute to One God, two tablets of Moses, three patriarchs, four mothers . . . and so on, up to the twelve tribes of Israel, and the thirteen attributes of God. A few years ago all the juke boxes carried a modern example in "Deck of Cards," a dreary recitation assigning a religious significance to each card in the deck from Ace to King. Another modern descendant is the lusty drinking song "Here's To Good Old Beer" which ticks off twelve successive toasts to beer, whiskey, brandy, vodka, ale, and so on.

In Negro tradition the twelve-pattern is particularly favored. It has, for instance, expanded the old English carol "The Seven Blessings of Mary" to become "Sister Mary's Twelve Blessings." (see the Tuskegee Institute collection published in 1884). However, best known is the standard quartet piece, "The Twelve Apostles," which begins One was the Holy Babe, Two was Paul and Silas, Three was the Hebrew children, Four was the four come a-knocking on the door, etc.

While all of these illustrate the popularity of the pattern, the direct basis for "The Dirty Dozens" was a 19th Century religious teaching device: a canto of twelve verses setting forth essential Biblical facts which children were made to memorize. It typically began:

Book of Genesis got the first truth,
God Almighty took a ball of mud to make this earth.

It doubtless originated in slavery, though the recollections of elderly Negroes still living can place it only back to the 1880s. Some recall "The Bible Dozens" as being but a single set of twelve rimes, but others recall different ones having to do with favorite books of the Bible. A man in Conroe, Texas remembers fragments of one set summarizing the Crucifixion, another having to do with Jonah, and one capsuling the Book of Revelations, its final verse being derived from Chapter 21:

Twelve jewels is the foundation to Heaven,
And twelve gates to admit the saved children.

In a community where there is little literacy such mnemonics play an important role in teaching children and of course, youngsters drilled in this fashion will instantly produce a burlesque. Thus, "The Dirty Dozens" was born, a vehicle for tirade and insult dwelling at first on the physical charms of others: "When the Lord gave you shape, he musta been thinking of an ape; your mother knows and your father too, it hurts my eyes to look at you." An old vaudevillian named Sugar Foot Green recalls once employing an act in which a young man comes out on stage and begins piously reciting the Biblical Dozens, but promptly becomes the stooge for the comedian who continually interrupts him with slurs:
First: Book of Genesis got the first truth . . .
Second: No, you ugly thing, I got the first truth,
Somebody kicked a ball of mud to let you loose.

Another minstrel and medicine show adaptation appears on the Blues N' Trouble anthology (Arhoolie F1006) in "God Don't Like Ugly" sung by the aged Sam Chatman in 1960. This one clearly shows vestiges of the original "Bible Dozens,' but turned to detail the ugliness of the one being slandered:

Got took a ball of mud
When he got ready to make man.
When he went to make the part that was you,
I believe it slipped outa his hand

Adam named everything
They put out in the zoo.
I'd like Adam to be here
To see what in hell he called you.

cho: I don't play no dozens?
Cause I didn't learn to count to twelve
They tell me God don't like ugly:
Say, boy, you're home's in Hell.

(Yet another burlesque probably based on the Biblical Dozens is a monologue of white minstrels, "Darky Sunday School,. which mocks Negro worship: "Then down came Peter, the Keeper of the Gates; He came down cheap on escursion rates".)

However, "The Dirty Dozens" did not remain long a religious parody but grew to serve a significant function in its own right. In Blues Fell This Morning (Cassell, 1960), Paul Oliver associates the Dozens with other insult songs circulated by adult Negroes, taking vengeance on bosses, relatives, and neighbors: "If a particular person was the subject of enmity in a Negro folk community the offended man would 'put his foot up'?in other words, jam the door of his cabin with his foot and sing a blues that 'put in the Dozens' at the expense of his enemy . . ." Thus a person will retort "Don't ease me in," and even in the midst of returning the abuse will piously maintain "I don't play the Dozens, doncha ease me in." In an article entitled "Playing The Dozens" (Journal of American Folklore, 1962) Roger D. Abrahams (l) discusses the psychological function of the game, both as an essential cathartic and a means to sharpen necessary tools, among its originators, Negro children: "But the dozens functions as more than simply a mutual exorcism society. It also serves to develop one of the devices by which the nascent man will have to defend himself?verbal contest. Such a battle in reality is much more important to the psychical growth of the Negro than actual physical battle. In fact, almost all communication among this group is basically agonistic, from the fictive experience of the narratives to the ploying of the proverbs. Though the children have maneuvers which involve a kind of verbal strategy, it is the contest of the dozens which provides the Negro youth with his first opportunity to wage verbal battle."

The commercial race record and the written description must necessarily fall short of evoking the power of the Dozens. This can only be done by letting it assail the ears. There was, however, a passage in Gilmore Millen's novel Sweet Man (Viking, 1930) which with uncanny foresight describes not only this recording but also the mood and posture of the man from whom it was obtained. The book speaks of a blues singer named Midnight: ".. . his eyes would close and he would clutch a cigarette butt in the left corner of his mouth when he mumbled one of the foulest anthems of invective ever composed in the English language, a song that few white men haveheard even snatches of ? the true 'Dozens'."
(1) See also Abrahams' book Deep Down In The Jungle: Negro Narrative Folklore From the Streets of Philadelphia to be published in the winter of 1963-64. An intense study of spoken tradition among the Negroes of one city, this book will be unique in that it will place bawdy lore in proper perspective and deal with it without expurgation.


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Re: Twelves (Dirty Dozens)
« Reply #2 on: May 27, 2006, 01:29:05 PM »
Thanks, Bunker Hill, for all the fascinating info. I am going to try to listen to some of those other versions you pointed me to. The Henry Thomas one is on the juke so might start with that. Learning the history of this song has made me even keener to play it. So far I have figured a way to play it in standard tuning in G position which works fairly well however I might change that when I find out what key my friend wants (she sings so she gets to choose the key). We will probably add a second guitar playing slide.

Offline blueshome

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Re: Twelves (Dirty Dozens)
« Reply #3 on: May 27, 2006, 02:26:41 PM »
Thanks BH! Wonderful stuff again.It just keeps on coming - please don't stop sharing this with us.

Kokomo's Dozens is in vastopol and is probably one of his easier tunes to play once (if) you can gat it up to speed. Singing's a different matter!

I haven't listened to Minnie's version for a while and there are many more qualified than me to offer advice, but I would start in Spanish if I were going to attempt her version.


Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Twelves (Dirty Dozens)
« Reply #4 on: May 27, 2006, 11:42:24 PM »
Thanks BH! Wonderful stuff again.It just keeps on coming - please don't stop sharing this with us.
More recently Paul Garon discussed the recorded blues versions in a three page article called The Dirty Dozens in Living Blues 97 (May/Jun 1991) but my copy seems to be AWOL

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Twelves (Dirty Dozens)
« Reply #5 on: May 28, 2006, 01:09:51 AM »
This is what Speckled Red told Dave Mangurian about his recording during a lengthy interview conducted in St. Louis, October 1959 and published in Jazz Journal, June 1960:

"Jim Jackson was already playin' for Brunswick. Oh, he had done made a hit with that piece he made called I'm Goin' Move to Kansas City. He knew the people that I was playin' for there on Maeweather an' Pauline, an' he'd come out there an' pick his guitar. So. Mayo Williams come to Memphis. Well, he come out there an' heard me play. He liked the Dirty Dozen when I played it, an' he asked me could I make it on record. I told him I never played on no record. An' then he say, 'Well, I want you to play on record. You'll get paid for it.' An' I said, 'Well, anything to make me some money!'

"So, I played it for him there, an' then he give me a 'signment to play. I went down to the Peabody Hotel in the basement floor. We recorded down there. I made eight songs that day: Dirty Dozen, an' Wilkins Street Stomp, an'...I can't think of the rest of them."

The records (at least The Dirty Dozen and Wilkins Street) were issued by Brunswick in March, 1928. Red got $125 at the time of the date, and $75 more a month later. He claims that the money was supposed to be for The Dirty Dozen and that he never got paid for the rest of them. Two hundred dollars was a good fee for a recording session by a "race" artist in those days, but for Brunswick it was a cheap price. The Dirty Dozen became a big hit immediately. It was so well liked that it was learned in one form or another by nearly every blues singer of that time. The song itself written by Red, had an interesting origin.

"You know how boys do be around an' tellin' lots a foolishness, callin' different kind of names? One try to out-talk the other, an' played it when one beat the other one he say, 'Well, you put me in the dozen.' So, I decided I'd make a song. Heh! 'Course, on record it's all right. But I made it bad! When he wanted me to, put it on record, well, I just changed the words. It all mean the same thing but I just changed the words."


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Re: Twelves (Dirty Dozens)
« Reply #6 on: May 28, 2006, 03:35:20 AM »
Just heard a clip of Dirty Dozens by Speckled Red ( at - it is great. Also clips of two alternate takes - Dirtier Dozens and Dirtiest Dozens.


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