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Some folks say the Big Bill Blues ain't bad. Musn't have been the Big Bill Blues I had - Big Bill Broonzy, Big Bill Blues

Author Topic: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics  (Read 55380 times)

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Offline Stuart

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #45 on: November 08, 2005, 06:47:51 PM »
John:

I just listened to "Milk Cow Blues" again. Sounds like [beans] and [bean] to me too, but I believe that later, he sung the verse with [beans] and [greens]. This makes better sense I suppose, but on the early recording, it sure sounds like [bean].

Stu

Online Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #46 on: November 09, 2005, 09:32:03 AM »
Thanks very much for the clarification, Stuart.  All these years I thought the lyric was something that sounded like "beans" and "bean" that made sense.  I guess the sense is in the sound, especially if you sing it as "beans" and "greens", as in the later recording you mention.  I have to admit I hate the thought of being killed by beans by degrees.
All best,
Johnm

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #47 on: November 09, 2005, 10:11:05 AM »
I have to admit I hate the thought of being killed by beans by degrees.

Bo Carter felt the same way...

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #48 on: November 09, 2005, 11:35:12 AM »
Milk Cow Blues was discussed recently on PWB. One interesting suggestion for this problem line was that Sonny Boy Williamson does a version, "Blues That Made Me Drunk," with the line "Well, some said it was TB, some said it wasn't nothin' but a disease." They also noted that Bob Macleod in his Document transcriptions uses the Sonny Boy line to decode what would seem to be Estes' intended lyric as "Now, some say TB and some says it was disease," which Estes doesn't actually sing, theoretically because he flubs the line. Complicated, but in the context of the entire verse, the suggestion would seem to make some sense to me.

Or is there perhaps a reason why beans or greens might be linked to consumption? Are they possibly taboo foods? (!) I had both last night...  :o

Online Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #49 on: November 09, 2005, 12:41:00 PM »
Hi Uncle Bud,
I'm not sure I would consider the Sonny Boy lyric cited as an improvement on the Sleepy John lyric.  Is that TB as opposed to consumption, or TB as opposed to a disease?  Let us know if any dire consequences arise from your combining of beans and greens.
All best,
Johnm

Offline dj

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #50 on: November 09, 2005, 01:22:36 PM »
TB = tuberculosis = consumption.  In the 1930s, before antibiotics, you never recovered from TB.  It would just slowly kill you.  So the Sonny Boy Williamson line makes sense, he's saying that some people thought "it" was tuberculosis and hence fatal while some people thought it was just a cough due to some other disease.  I've never been able to decide whether Sleepy John was doing his best with a lyric he didn't fully understand or whether he was being intentionally humorous.  Thanks, Uncle Bud, for supplying the text that Sleepy John probably used as an exemplar.  I still don't know if he was joking or not.  ::)

Online Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #51 on: November 09, 2005, 04:14:18 PM »
Hi David,
I know that consumption and TB in this context are one and the same, and thus thought that the contrasting of the possibility of TB versus consumption was bizarre.  Maybe we are on the wrong track with Sleepy John's lyric.  Maybe he meant consumption, not as a synonym for tuberculosis, but as simple food intake, i.e., eating, saying that whether you eat one bean or many beans, if you eat them too slowly, say, one every seven or eight days, it will have the effect of killing you by degrees.  The key to avoiding this fate is upping the rate of consumption.  I'll figure this out yet!  On second thought, I'm satisfied with my understanding of it as is.
All best,
Johnm

Online Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #52 on: November 09, 2005, 10:19:54 PM »
Hi all,
"New Someday Baby" was recorded by Sleepy John in a duet with a very under-recorded second guitarist, probably either Charlie Pickett or Brownsville Son Bonds.  The guitars are pretty much operating exclusively in a rhythmic capacity on this song, though they do it quite well.  Focus here is on Sleepy John's vocal, and it deserves every bit of attention it gets, for it is perfectly amazing singing.  His renditions of the choruses throughout the song are unbelievably nuanced and varied, and his singing shows masterful control, for he often performs his most expressive or gymnastic bits at the very end of his air.  To say that very few people have ever been able to sing blues like this would be an extreme understatement.  If you have never heard this before, I envy you your first hearing of it.
Form of this song, as discussed previously on this thread is an unusual 16-bar archetype that is of Sleepy John's invention, I believe, and he adheres to it regularly throughout this rendition.

   When trouble first started, down in my front door
   Seem like I had more trouble, than my life before
   CHORUS:  Someday, baby, you ain't gonna trouble my mind anymore

   Now, trouble in the mornin', trouble late at night
   Seem like I'm treated every way but right
   CHORUS

   Now, you got a little woman, she won't treat you right
   Feed her in the day, whup her some at night
   CHORUS
   
   I wonder what's the matter, can't get no mail
   I dreamed last night black cat crossed my trail
   CHORUS:  Someday, you ain't gonna trouble my mind anymore

   I know my baby, tell you howr I know
   By the great long hair, same little dress she wore
   CHORUS:  Someday, babe, you ain't gonna trouble my mind anymore

   Now, look-a-here, baby, see what you done done
   You done made me love you, now your man done come
   CHORUS:  As in previous verse

All best,
Johnm

Online Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #53 on: November 09, 2005, 10:56:04 PM »
Hi all,
Sleepy John recorded "Stop That Thing" in 1935 with Hammie Nixon, and, I believe a second guitarist.? The song is a great sort of hot, country ragtime number, somewhat akin in its feel to such Sam Collins numbers as "New Salty Dog" or "Do That Thing".? It must have been a great hit as a dance number when performed in person.? Though not particularly featured on the recording, Hammie Nixon's playing on this tune is really excellent, and he ends the song with a wailing 9 note--pretty far out!? Sleepy John's vocal is smoking, and the way he nudges his phrasing around relative to the very fast pulse is a treat.? This song has a lot of words, some of which are commonly found in other songs.? One of the cool things about the song structurally is the way the very simple chord progression, which has a I chord vamp under the verse and the V chord arriving with the tag line to the verses, can accommodate verses of different lengths easily.? Any help with the lyrics in bent brackets is appreciated.? For the most part, I feel pretty clear on them, but the "Aunt Dinah" verse is a bit tough to decipher.? For any of you out there who have jug bands, this would be a prime song to do.

? ?CHORUS:? Oh, she big fat mama, won't you stop that thing?
? ?Skinny woman won't you do that thing?
? ?Kind mama, won't you stop that thing?
? ?Papa got mad because mama won't stop that thing

? ?Now, mama killed a chicken and thought it was a duck
? ?___ 'im on the table with his legs straight up
? ?Here John, come with a cup and glass
? ?Catch the liquor just to make you laugh
? ?Papa got mad because mama won't stop that thing

? ?CHORUS:? Oh, she big fat mama, won't you stop that thing?
? ?Skinny mama, won't you do that thing?
? ?Kind mama, won't you stop that thing?
? ?Papa got mad because mama won't stop that thing

? ?Now I went upstairs to sleep a little bit
? ?Went back to sleep a little more
? ?The old bed fell down I had to sleep in the floor
? ?Now Papa got mad, mama won't stop that thing

? ?CHORUS:? As after verse 1

? ?Now stop and let me tell you what Aunt Dinah done
? ?Old Aunt Dinah walkin' down the street
? ?And when she walked she began to creep
? ?Skin over her head, just tight as a drum
? ?A little song about beedley-bum
? ?One could beat it, and one could sing
? ?One to tell you, "Why don't you do that thing?"
? ?Papa got mad because mama won't stop that thing

? ?CHORUS:? Oh, she big fat mama, won't you stop that thing?
? ?Skinny mama, won't you do that thing?
? ?Kind mama, won't you stop that thing?
? ?Papa got mad because mama won't do that thing

? ?Now a bow-legged rooster and the knock-kneed hen
? ?They both run together but they ain't no kin
? ?Papa got mad because mama won't stop that thing

? ?CHORUS:? as after verse 1

? ?Now the monkey and the baboon sittin' on the fence
? ?The monkey told the baboon, "You got no sense
? ?Look here, fool.", [he just commenced]
? ?Papa got mad because mama won't do that thing

? ?CHORUS:? Oh, she big fat mama, won't you stop that thing?
? ?Skinny mama, won't you do that thing"
? ?Kind mama, won't you stop that thing?
? ?Now, papa got mad because mama won't do I mean, I mean, I mean that thing

Corrected 11/10, as per Bunker Hill's suggestions

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: November 11, 2005, 08:49:48 AM by Johnm »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #54 on: November 10, 2005, 10:16:21 AM »
Any help with the lyrics in bent brackets is appreciated.? For the most part, I feel pretty clear on them, but the "Aunt Dinah" verse is a bit tough to decipher.?
FWIW, I think that's spot on. I couldn't resist using your transcription in conjunction with listening to the version he cut in 1962 which I have on a 1964 Delmark LP (Legend of SJE, with Nixon and former western swing pianist, Knocky Parker). The lyrics are almost identical. Some memory that guy had, his only major variants in 1962 were :

legs sticking up

here John with your cup and and glass

she begin to creep

and he quite clearly sings "skin on her head" in 1962.

Online Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #55 on: November 10, 2005, 12:47:28 PM »
Hi all,
Thanks very much, Bunker Hill, for your suggestions re "Stop That Thing".  "Here John" is a clear improvement, as is "creep" in the verse about Aunt Dinah.  I'm learning that I need to pick up some of Sleepy John's post-rediscovery recordings.  They are a major gap in my collection, and it sounds like you've got a number of them. 
On a different topic, I hope nobody thought I was having fun at Sleepy John Estes's or Sonny Boy Williamson's expense in my last post regarding interpretation of the "slow consumption" verse in "Milk Cow Blues".  My intention was to make fun of myself, mostly, and other nutty, hyper-rational beings afflicted with the Western disease--the need to understand and analyze everything to death.  I strived to come up with an interpretation of the lyrics that was simultaneously theoretically possible, while still being wrong-headed, implausible and showing no understanding of the blues.  I was shooting for what Mark Twain accused Henry James of:  "chewing more than he bit off."  I don't know if any humor is left after an explanation like that, but there you go, it's what I was shooting for.  Sorry for any confusion I may have caused.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #56 on: November 10, 2005, 12:56:36 PM »
Thanks very much, Bunker Hill, for your suggestions re "Stop That Thing".? "Here John" is a clear improvement, as is "creep" in the verse about Aunt Dinah.? I'm learning that I need to pick up some of Sleepy John's post-rediscovery recordings.? They are a major gap in my collection, and it sounds like you've got a number of them.?
After meeting and shaking hands (boy what a grip he had) backstage at Fairfield Hall in 1964, I vowed to buy everything he ever recorded or would record...and that I've done. (Well I was only 18 and impressionable!)

Offline Stuart

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #57 on: November 10, 2005, 01:22:52 PM »
My intention was to make fun of myself, mostly, and other nutty, hyper-rational beings afflicted with the Western disease--the need to understand and analyze everything to death.? I strived to come up with an interpretation of the lyrics that was simultaneously theoretically possible, while still being wrong-headed, implausible and showing no understanding of the blues.? I was shooting for what Mark Twain accused Henry James of:? "chewing more than he bit off."? I don't know if any humor is left after an explanation like that, but there you go, it's what I was shooting for.? Sorry for any confusion I may have caused.

Come on, John, cut yourself a break. While it is certainly true that one can overthink any problem and overwrite any topic, that is not the problem here. Most of us are just after "what lyrics were really was sung, and what did the singer really have in mind when s/he sung them." If we seem to overanalyze at times or think out loud in the process of arriving at the answer, then so be it. It goes along with being human--and it just isn't a Western phenomenon, believe me.

Stu

Offline Stuart

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #58 on: November 10, 2005, 01:26:28 PM »
Please excuse my grammar /typo--I'm my own worst proofreader. ;D

Online Johnm

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Re: Sleepy John Estes Lyrics
« Reply #59 on: November 10, 2005, 10:44:56 PM »
Well thanks, Stu, I take that kindly.
All best,
Johnm

 


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