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Bedbug's big as a jackass, he will bite you and stand and grin. Drink up all the bedbug poison, come back and bite you again - Furry Lewis, Mean Old Bedbug Blues

Author Topic: Blind Willie Johnson Lyrics  (Read 25065 times)

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Offline LeftyStrat

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #30 on: February 14, 2007, 05:39:18 PM »
Hello Everyone,

I had just stopped through looking for lyrics and noticed this thread. If you don't mind, I'd like to give my take on how I hear this tune.



   Well, umm, President Wilson, sitting on the throne
   Looked kinda lost 'fore everyone
   Didn't call the black man, maybe that's why
   GUITAR FINISHES VERSE

Everything else is pretty much as I see it written here to my ears. Quite honestly, the changes I have may not seem anywhere close to right, but its what I've always heard.

   
Stop by and give a listen! :)

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Offline Doug

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #31 on: January 04, 2009, 04:31:40 PM »
I know I'm resurrecting an old topic. but I just got back my copy of Paul Oliver's Songsters & Saints and noticed that he transcribed the Smith Version of "Everybody Help the Boys Come Home" on p. 226, and he gives the same info that banjochris mentioned in his last post...

"Two cents on a postal card going first class"

and in the second to last line of the song
"All he wanted was a prodigal's chance"

Oliver also gives talks about the Johnson version, and gives "Didn't call the black men, called their wives, .... " for the line that we talked about earlier in this thread.  (I don't hear this, especially the "called", but I thought it was an interesting suggestion.)

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #32 on: January 05, 2009, 10:39:40 AM »
A link to historical postal card rates: http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/museum/1e1_postcard.html

Note the note that explains the different between a postcard and a postal card:

Quote
As working definitions, a "postcard" is considered to be a privately prepared card, generally with a picture or image on one side and sold by a stationer, while a "postal card" is one issued by, and sold over the counter of a post office.

Not something I'd known, thinking it was just a linguistic variation.

tpalaima

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Re: Lyrics Blind Willie Johnson "When the War Was On"
« Reply #33 on: April 28, 2009, 10:16:06 PM »
I am teaching an honors course at University of Texas at Austin on "The History of Song (and Poetry) As Social Criticism." We are now on the general theme of war, so the lyrics to Blind Wilie Johnson's World War I classic were important.  This discussion here was really informative. As a token of gratitude I offer a few small corrections or additional support for ideas already floated.

First and foremost, I really do think the main part still in question is to be taken as follows:

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

His pattern, first of all, is to break each stanza into two two-line parts with a common theme. In the preceding stanza, the second two-line part has the 'travel' theme of 'train, freight, ride'.  This one opens with the theme of basic edibles: 'barley, wheat, sugar'.  Barley and wheat are the prime cereal crops and are found in common as ration grains going all the way back to Sumerian, Akkadian and Mycenaean Greek texts, where the working women (virtual slaves) get barley, while gods and elites get wheat.

His pronunciation is 'distinctive', but if you listen to the way he pronounces the 'a' in the 'ar' of 'sugar', you will perhaps be convinced that he is rounding his mouth a bit in anticipation of the 'r', which gives it a sound closer to the rounded 'o', as in 'boat' than to the open 'ah' of 'father' as WE mostly pronounce 'shu-gahr'.  Likewise, the '-ley' he distinguishes, i.e., pronounces differently, from the simple 'y' of 'Sammy',  pronouncing it rapidly as 'eh-ya'. So the whole word comes out sounding more like 'bore-lie' than our common pronunciations of 'bahr-lee'.

There are some other changes I propose. I think this now is as close to right as anything I know. But I stand to be corrected.

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."

CHORUS

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].

CHORUS

Price on the letter, gettin' 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.

CHORUS

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

CHORUS

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.

CHORUS

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.

CHORUS

MANY SINCERE THANKS. 

FOR SOME WRITINGS PERHAPS OF INTEREST, SEE:

http://www.utexas.edu/research/pasp/publications/dylan/dylana.html
« Last Edit: April 28, 2009, 10:20:48 PM by tpalaima »

Offline Slack

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #34 on: April 29, 2009, 08:07:32 AM »
Welcome to WeenieCampbell Tom and thanks for the lyrics input.

dingwall

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #35 on: April 29, 2009, 10:52:05 AM »
A few suggestions, tpalaima, in capitals, using your version.   My WOULD HELP in the chorus is a tentative try, while I think your BARLEY is wrong, even though it would make sense.   I've put BOILER, but think it is something like 'measure your B??? AND measure your wheat' (that is, a one syllable word).    'Didn't call the black man, LEAVE OUT the white', I take to mean both were called.         
   

CHORUS: Everybody, WOULD HELP, 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 CONGRESS voted for war.
SAM, HE called the men from the East and the West:
"Get ready boys, WE'VE got to do our best."

CHORUS

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

CHORUS

Price on A letter, BEGIN to raise,
Gettin' no better, but the same old thing.
Eight cents on the dollar, JUST TO ride the train,
RATES gettin' cheaper, take a ride again.

CHORUS

FIRST, you measure your BOILER???, measure your wheat,
Half a pound of sugar for a person a week.
Folks didn't like it, they blamed Uncle Sam,
"I'VE got to save the sugar for the boys in France."

CHORUS

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 SAM, HE HAD TO SAVE THE SKIN OF A MOST EVIL MAN.

CHORUS

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

CHORUS

tpalaima

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Thanks, Dingwall
« Reply #36 on: April 29, 2009, 09:09:00 PM »
THANKS!!!

We are going to listen to this list of war songs next Tuesday and I'll set the class to try to figure out the remaining parts that are still open to interpretation between my variants of what I took to be the consensus and yours here given.

I still think barley and wheat and sugar go together so naturally and all are measured that 'boiler', while what in classical texts we call the lectio difficilior, i.e., the harder interpretation and therefore the one to be preferred, is too hard for me to accept. 


Offline banjochris

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Re: Lyrics Wanted for Blind Willie Johnson song...
« Reply #37 on: April 29, 2009, 11:32:18 PM »
I figure I'll add a version of this, too, since I'm hearing some important lines differently from dingwall. Couple of notes -- I think John's eloquent explanation of why "Everybody, well" makes sense further back in this thread is plenty said about that. I'm sure "boiler" is right, and there was coal rationing going on -- I believe "boiler" refers to people being unable to heat their homes, something we don't think about much today. (And of course, according to the story, Johnson's death was later brought about by not having proper heat in his home.) I hear "United States COME AND voted for war" very clearly in the first verse; I accept that it could be "Sam, he" instead of "Sammy" in the first verse, but it sounds like "Sammy" to me, and a more derogatory reference to Uncle Sam is completely in keeping with the character of the song. Uncle Sam certainly has a negative aspect in the verse about the Kaiser. The "to lay by the white" line I think was well explained in the quote Bunker Hill posted farther back.
Chris

Everybody well, when the war was on (3x)
Well, they register 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 West,
"Get ready boys, we've got to do our best."

CHORUS

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

CHORUS

Price on the letter, (be)gin to raise,
Gettin' no better but the same old thing,
Eight cents on the dollar, ride the train,
Rates gettin' cheaper take a ride again.

CHORUS

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

CHORUS

Well, boys whupped the Germans, home at last,
Woulda brought the Kaiser but he run too fast,
Couldn't blame the Kaiser for leavin' the land,
Uncle Sam he had the face to scare most any man.

CHORUS

Tax gettin' heavy, have to pay,
Help the boys over 'cross the sea,
Mud and water up to their knee,
Face the Kaiser for you and me.

CHORUS


Offline Stuart

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Re: Thanks, Dingwall
« Reply #38 on: April 29, 2009, 11:34:25 PM »
...while what in classical texts we call the lectio difficilior, i.e., the harder interpretation and therefore the one to be preferred...

The reasoning being that later editors or commentators, who did not clearly understand the original meaning which to them had become obscure, "corrected" the text (or glossed the word or phrase in question) with something that was easier to understand. Another reason given for correcting the text is that the text had become corrupt in the process of transmission.

In this case, however, we have access to the original text in the form of a recording. It sure sounds like "boiler" to me, but is "boiler" the word that BWJ had in mind when he sang it? And if it was, what did it mean in this context?

It is possible that there was a local usage that we just do not know about (yet). Language is always in a process of change, both in its lexicon and syntax. Words and their usages sometimes drop out of the vernacular. I think that we should leave this one open. Let us know what your students think.

Argumentation is ultimately reason giving, and thus the easiest person to convince (or fool) is oneself, so it is wise not to believe everything that we think--at least not with 100% certainty.

Edited to add: Chris posted while I was writing this. Coal or fuel rationing is a possible explanation--good thinking, Chris. My great aunts in N.E. Pennsylvania were using coal for heat and for the cookstove into the late sixties. They had a small propane kitchen stove, but never used it.
« Last Edit: April 29, 2009, 11:43:52 PM by Stuart »

Offline Bricktown Bob

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Re: Thanks, Dingwall
« Reply #39 on: May 19, 2009, 08:26:26 PM »
It sure sounds like "boiler" to me, but is "boiler" the word that BWJ had in mind when he sang it? And if it was, what did it mean in this context?

Potato?  Just a thought.  In keeping with the food theme of the rest of the verse.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Thanks, Dingwall
« Reply #40 on: May 19, 2009, 11:10:55 PM »
It sure sounds like "boiler" to me, but is "boiler" the word that BWJ had in mind when he sang it? And if it was, what did it mean in this context?
Potato?  Just a thought.  In keeping with the food theme of the rest of the verse.

It might also refer to "boiler" onions, which I hadn't thought of until you mentioned potatoes as a possibility. Good thinking, Bob!

LoneWolf

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BWJ "If It Had Not Been For Jesus"
« Reply #41 on: June 22, 2009, 11:52:55 PM »
The closing line of the 1st verse is a little obscure to my ears... Sounds like "And I found that sacred doubt" but it doesn't seem to make much sense so I'm not sure... Any suggestions? (May I also add that Willie B. Harris sang solo on this number and she had the voice of an angel IMO)


last night I went to the meeting
Just to hear them sing and shout
But there I got salvation
???? ???? ??? ??? ??? ????
« Last Edit: June 22, 2009, 11:54:25 PM by LoneWolf »

Offline banjochris

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Re: BWJ "If It Had Not Been For Jesus"
« Reply #42 on: June 23, 2009, 02:31:20 PM »
I believe it's "And I found their secrets out."
Chris

Offline Johnm

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Re: BWJ "If It Had Not Been For Jesus"
« Reply #43 on: June 23, 2009, 03:03:20 PM »
Hi Roi,
I agree with you--this is a really beautiful song and rendition of the song.  It's interesting to hear Blind Willie Johnson accompanying out of C in standard tuning, too, not at all his normal sound.  Some of his choices for harmonizing the melody are surprising.  I'll listen to this one some more.
all best,
Johnm

LoneWolf

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Re: BWJ "If It Had Not Been For Jesus"
« Reply #44 on: June 23, 2009, 07:36:13 PM »
Thank you!! Are you guys familiar with any other versions of this song?
Here's the rest the way I hear it:

If it had not been for Jesus
I would not have been here tonight
But he has fully saved me
And he washed my black heart white

Once I was a deep down sinner
Just as wild as I could be
I was on my way to destruction
and a deep down misery

Oh listen to me old sinner
I'll tell you just what to do
Surrender all to Jesus
And he will save you too