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Some people say money is talking, but it won't say a word to me - Robert Hicks, Bad Time Blues

Author Topic: Blind Willie Johnson Lyrics  (Read 25068 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #15 on: September 06, 2006, 07:58:24 AM »
Hi all,
Thanks rpg51 for the suggestion, I think you're right and have made the change.  Also, Tom, after more listening I think your suggestion "had the play to scare almost any man" is right, and have put that in as well.
I would be amazed if anyone has tabbed this song out, but you certainly don't need TAB to figure it out, rpg51.  Get your guitar in Vestapol at open D, capo at the first fret, fine tune to Willie and pick it up.  Everything lives at the open fifth string, second fret fifth string, open fourth string, second fret fourth string and rolled into fourth fret of the fourth string.  The rest is strumming open strings, except for the conclusion of the second verse where he uses the guitar to end the verse.  I reckon you'll find those notes easy enough.  Good luck with this.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #16 on: September 06, 2006, 08:11:16 AM »
Hi Doug,
Your post came in while I was posting.  I definitely think it is "register" in the chorus.  "Ravish" makes no sense and the lyrics to this song are more along the lines of reportage than Willie Johnson's typical religious concerns.  I think in the second verse, the conclusion of that line may be,
   Didn't call the black man, laid by the white
I don't know my history of World War I well enough to know whether conscription of black soldiers was something that occurred concurrent with the first drafting of soldiers, or whether it was a later decision to draft black soldiers as well.  If this was the case, the line would make sense, with President Wilson "laying by" a stockpile of white conscriptees, and only later deciding to draft black soldiers as well.  I will make that change pending a better solution.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: September 06, 2006, 12:47:12 PM by Johnm »

Offline Doug

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #17 on: September 06, 2006, 02:44:30 PM »
"Ravish" makes no sense and the lyrics to this song are more along the lines of reportage than Willie Johnson's typical religious concerns.

Quite right.  The word I was thinking of was "ravaged everybody", not "ravished everybody".  Oops!  ^-^  I was thinking the song had a lot to do with the destructiveness of the war on the general population....  but registered makes sense too...

Doug

Offline dj

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #18 on: September 06, 2006, 03:21:08 PM »
Just a note for those who may be interested:

Willie Johnson recorded "When The War Was On" On December 11, 1929.  William and Versey Smith recorded a version of this song, as "Everybody Help The Boys Come Home" in May of 1927.  The Smith's version had the same melody, the same final line of the chorus, and several of the same verses (including the ones beginning "President Wilson sitting on his throne" and "Price on the lettuce began to rise").  Sorry to not quote more of the lyrics, but they're much more indecipherable than Johnson's.

Offline a2tom

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #19 on: September 06, 2006, 05:57:54 PM »
Sorry to not quote more of the lyrics, but they're much more indecipherable than Johnson's.

not words you hear very often!

tom

Offline banjochris

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #20 on: September 06, 2006, 11:00:25 PM »
I love this song, not the least for the puzzle it presents. Here are a couple of suggestions:

   Price on the lettuce, began to raise
   Gettin' no better, 'bout the same old thing
   8 cents on the dollar, ride the train
   T'ain't gettin' cheaper, take a ride again

Should be

Price on the letter, begin to raise (although he says 'race')
Gettin' no better but the same old thing
Eight cents on the dollar, ride the train,
Rates gettin' cheaper, take a ride again

There was a postal rate increase from 2 to 3 cents for a letter to help pay for the war beginning 11/2/17.

Half a pound of sugar for a person to eat
Half a pound of sugar for a person a week

Half the boys over across the sea
   Stood in water up to their knees
Help (pronounced he'p) the boys over across the sea
Mud and water up to their knees

In the chorus, I've always heard a "D" in that mystery word, and thought he could be mispronouncing "readied" so it comes out like "readiest" -- and I hear "Everybody, well..."

Here also is my best effort at deciphering William and Versey Smith's "Everybody Help the Boys Come Home" -- I'll rest my ears and try again in a day or so, but what I have I think is pretty accurate. Versey Smith's bleating comes at just the wrong moments.

Everybody help the boys come home
Everybody help the boys come home
Everybody help the boys come home
Do your best everybody when the war was on

Secretary writing just as fast as he can
Trying to get the news all over the land

Three cents on a letter we had to pay
??? on a pork chop ????
Eight cents on the dollar just to ride the train
Helpin' the gov'ment outta mighty strain

Taxes heavy but we must pay
Helpin the boys over 'cross the sea
In the muddy water up to their knee
Facin' the Kaiser for you and me

repeat 2nd verse

Kaiser seen he didn't have no friends
(last word of this very-hard-to-understand verse is "submarine")

President Wilson was on his throne
Makin' laws for everyone
Raisin' the rich and he raisin' the poor
Raisin' every tax on everybody's door

President of England, King of France
Meetin' the Kaiser now face to face
All we wanted was ???
We got to go to Germany just to settle [the game?]

Maybe someone can help fill in these gaps, too
Chris

Offline Johnm

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #21 on: September 07, 2006, 12:30:43 AM »
Thanks so much for the help, Chris, the suggestions you made are excellent.  I've made the changes.  That is really great hearing.  I also thought Willie might be saying "Everybody well", but to sing such a nothing line three times would be very odd, nothing about it justifies the emphasis.  I still feel like I hear "register" pretty clearly, you can hear them rushing to get it in, there's barely enough rhythmic space. 
I also love this song, but I think it is amazing it was recorded even once--it must be one of the unlikeliest candidates for being covered in the history of recorded music, especially so long after the events of which it speaks.  I still have to remind myself sometimes that these were all commercial recordings.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Alexei McDonald

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #22 on: September 07, 2006, 03:29:10 AM »
I can't hear "barley" ; it sounds more like "boiler" to me.   I've always thought that BWJ is singing "Didn't take the black man, leave out the white", and "United States government voted for war", but these things are really not clear to me.

Offline dj

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #23 on: September 07, 2006, 04:39:15 AM »
Great job on the "Everybody Help The Boys Come Home", Chris.

I think the second line of the second verse starts "Two cents on a pork chop".  That seems pretty clear the second time William sings that verse.  Unfortunately, Versey steps all over the second half of the line both times it's sung.

For the fifth verse, I hear:

Kaiser seen he didn't have no friends
 ???
 ??? what I mean
went to sea in his submarine

And for the last verse:

President of England, King of France
Meetin' the Kaiser now face to face
All we wanted was  ??? chance
We got to go to Germany just to settle the game



Offline banjochris

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #24 on: September 07, 2006, 11:39:10 AM »
Thanks dj for your suggestions -- I went back and listened and I think I filled in all but one of the gaps. I'll post the whole thing again:

Everybody help the boys come home
Everybody help the boys come home
Everybody help the boys come home
Do your best everybody when the war was on

Secretary writing just as fast as he can
Trying to get the news all over the land

Three cents on a letter we had to pay
Two cents on a pork chop come to pass
Eight cents on the dollar just to ride the train
Helpin' the gov'ment outta mighty strain

Taxes heavy but we must pay
Helpin the boys over 'cross the sea
In the muddy water up to their knee
Facin' the Kaiser for you and me

repeat 2nd verse

Kaiser seen he didn't have no friends
Come all the world just on the job
Runnin' to England's just what I mean
Went to sea in this submarine

President Wilson was on his throne
Makin' laws for everyone
Raisin' the rich and he raisin' the poor
Raisin' every tax on everybody's door

President of England, King of France
Meetin' the Kaiser now face to face
All we wanted was a ? of a chance
We got to go to Germany just to settle the game

John -- I went back with one of those slowdown programs and I agree that it is "register" in the chorus, which makes the most sense too. Still sounds like "Everybody well" to me, though. Also listening on that he's definitely saying "lay by the white." Also, as Alexei pointed out, it sounds like he's singing "measure your boiler." This would make sense if he's referring to fuel conservation.

Hope somebody can fill in that missing word in the last verse of "Everybody."
Chris

Offline Johnm

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #25 on: September 07, 2006, 02:50:06 PM »
Hi all,
I'm kind of late getting here today.  Thanks Alexei, for your suggestions.  I agree, it is "gov'ment" in the first verse and "boiler" later on.  I always thought it sound like "boiler" but couldn't make any sense of it.  I am going to go with your hearing of "Everybody, well," for the chorus, Chris.  It sounds closer to the sound Willie makes, and I think it also makes sense--three times, "Everybody, well, when the war was on" and the listener is saying "Everybody what?".  The tag line pays off.  Thanks so much to everyone for your help and suggestions.  It's great to see the song go from a place of phonetic plausibility to something that both sounds closer to what is being sung and makes better sense.  You people are just cool.
All best,
Johnm 

Offline Johnm

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #26 on: September 07, 2006, 10:45:31 PM »
Hi Chris,
I am hearing something different in verse 5 of "Everybody"
   Now, Kaiser seen he didn't have no friends
   Come all the way, starts over the side
   Runnin' to England's just what I mean
   Went to sea in this submarine
See what you think.
All best,
Johnm

Offline banjochris

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #27 on: September 07, 2006, 11:26:02 PM »
John --
I still hear "world" instead of "way" -- it could be "the side" at the end. It would make sense if he means that all the world was on one side against the Kaiser.

My ears are tired -- I'll listen again tomorrow and go back and change it -- I'm sure "the side" is right. It would be a lot easier to understand if Versey were actually singing intelligible words as well. I wonder if there's any folksong collections with a version of this song somewhere; the two recorded versions are different enough that Johnson didn't learn it from the recording.
Chris

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #28 on: September 07, 2006, 11:49:23 PM »
Oh well, fwiw, here's my 5 cents worth which is taken from Guido Van Rijn's 1997 book Roosevelt Blues together with the his observations:

Accompanying themselves on guitar and tambourine, William and Versey Smith made four Chicago recordings in 1927. Their songs may derive from printed lyrics, although no source for their song "Everybody Help the Boys Come Home" has been found so far. Black gospel singer William Smith was quite cynical about the white world leaders. To him Woodrow Wilson was a king sitting on a throne and making laws. When a version of this song, called "When the War Was On ' was recorded by Blind Willie Johnson two years later, the same image was used to level harsher, though self-censored, criticism against the president:

chorus: Everybody, well, when the war was on, (3x)
Well, they registered everybody, when the war was on.

Well, it's just about a few years, and some months ago,
 United States come and voted for war.

Sammy called the men from the East and the West:
"Get ready boys, we got to do our best."

Well, President Wilson, sittin' on his throne,
Makin' laws for everyone.
Didn't call the black man, to lay by the white,
[guitar replaces words].

Price on the letter, began to raise,
Gettin' no better, but the same old thing.
Eight cents on the dollar, ride the train,
Freight's gettin' cheaper, take a ride again.

Yes, you measure your boiler, measure your wheat,
Half a pound of sugar per person a week. Folks didn't like it,
they blamed Uncle Sam,
Have got to save the sugar for the boys in France.

Well, boys whupped the Germans, home at last,
Would have brought the kaiser, but he run too fast.
Couldn't blame the kaiser for a-leavin' the land,
Uncle Sammy had the greatest share of muscle and man.

Tax gettin' heavy, have to pay,
Help the boys, over across the sea.
Mud and water up to their knees,
Faced the kaiser for you and me.

"President Wilson, sittin' on his throne, makin' laws for everyone, didn't call the black man to lay by the white" Johnson sang, perhaps not daring to finish his phrase. One could criticize the kaiser without risking a lynching, but not the president of the United States. Black men and white men were sent to Europe, but the segregation Wilson defended in the United States was even more strictly adhered to on the battlefields of Belgium and France. In a secret memorandum General Pershing made it clear to the French army command that the Negro was regarded as an inferior human being whose vices (especially rape) were a constant menace.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #29 on: September 22, 2006, 10:06:02 PM »
I got out one of my Library of Congress LPs tonight to post a Hezekiah Jenkins song, and I'll be damned if there isn't a transcription of "Everybody Help the Boys Come Home" in the same liner notes. It's pretty wildly inaccurate, except for two places, and I'll ask everyone's opinion on these.

They have
"Two cents on a postal card going first class"
I think after seeing this the line is probably "Two cents on a post card come to pass" -- I had "pork chop" but this makes more sense.

and in the second to last line of the song
"All he wanted was a prodigal's chance"
not so sure about this one but it's an intriguing suggestion

Take a listen and let me know what y'all think.
Chris