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We can talk about him like a dog now he's dead - Alice Stuart, on the cantankerous nature of Jesse Fuller, Port Townsend 99

Author Topic: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens  (Read 518 times)

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Offline Prof Scratchy

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SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« on: August 02, 2018, 11:35:49 AM »
SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens

This is my second attempt at a  song of the month for August! The first one I picked had already been covered expertly by banjochris in a previous SOTM posting. Last monthís posting was  a piano blues posted by thomas8, and I promised him thereíd be more piano this month. so here goes:



Now, Iím not one for smutty songs (honest), but the dozens is such an important feature of the tradition we all love that not only does it have itís own Wikipedia page (here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dozens), but it also has devoted to it an excellent and very learned book by Elijah Wald (http://www.elijahwald.com/dozens.html).

Some of the versions I unearthed are not fit for a polite audience (which I know you to be), but knowing also that you can be slightly impolite if pressed, the following performances, in no particular chronological order, may be of interest.

Letís start with Specked Red, who featured this number in his performances throughout his long career:



Memphis Minnie could perform a raunchy song with the best of them. Here is her performance from 1930:



The same year, Lonnie Johnson recorded this version, enhanced by his superb guitar playing and by slightly incongruent vocal harmonisations:



Calvin Frazier had this version in Detroit:



And over in Chicago at round about the same time, Kokomo was playing and singing it like this:



Finally for this initial post, letís hear from Johnny Jones and Billy Boy Arnold.



Sorry for the brevity of this, but itís my second attempt today, and anyway I know youíll have fun exploring the other versions out there!

Offline banjochris

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2018, 11:46:01 AM »
Cool, there are quite a few of these I haven't heard! (And that was quick, Scratchy!)

I won't post them here, but it's worth listening to Speckled Red's unexpurgated versions from the '60s -- I believe titled "The Dirtier Dozens" and "The Dirtiest Dozens."
Chris

Offline Slack

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2018, 01:53:29 PM »
A quick recovery -- and In for the Win!  Great choice.

Offline Lignite

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2018, 03:09:07 PM »
Street singer Eddie "One String" Jones from Tacoma lp "One String Blues" http://picosong.com/w4ci4

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2018, 04:53:52 PM »
Maybe it isn't her slickest track but "New Dirty Dozen" has always been on of my favorite Memphis Minnie numbers. Something about the way she really leans into the main riff just floors me.

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #5 on: August 03, 2018, 04:22:22 AM »
Censorship in art is generally a bad thing, but there's something to be said for it here. A key element in Dozens the game is  the aggressively cruel aim of insulting your opponent and his immediate family until he loses his temper, (The default assumption is that the players are male.)

Part of what makes Speckled Red's song so great is that he edits out the anger, letting us enjoy the humour and just a hint of the obscenity. The other thing he did was to create a great tune.

Prof Scratchy ó or someone of the same name ó has uploaded to YouTube Jelly Roll Morton's uncensored musical impression of the Dozens. It's interesting, but not really appealing. And Morton's basic tune does no more than carry the lyrics. By contrast, Speckled Red's tune stands up as a solo piano piece. Search out for Count Basie's record.

I'm a big fan of three self-censored allusions to the Dozens. They are

Sam Chatmon God Don't Like Ugly

Quote
Say boy, where you from? You's the natural born ugliest man I ever seen. I wish I could play the dozens, but I didn't learn to count to twelve. Else I'd play the dozens with you.

I don't play no dozens
Cause I didn't learn to count to twelve
They tell me God don't like ugly
So boy your home's in Hell

I'd like to see your mammy
Your pappy too
Say how come when you was born
They didn't send you out to some zoo



Little Hat Jones Kentucky Blues

Quote
Well, I don't play the dozen and neither the ten
'Cause you keep on talkin', I leads you in
Well you keep on talkin' till it makes me mad
Well I'll tell you 'bout some mothers  that your father had
'Cause I don't play the dozen, I declare man, and neither the ten



Robert Wilkins Old Jim Canan's
Quote
I'm going uptown : buy me coke and beer
Coming back : and tell you how these women is
They drink their whiskey : drink their coke and gin
When you don't play the dozens : they will ease you in



« Last Edit: August 05, 2018, 09:32:28 AM by DavidCrosbie »

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2018, 07:26:54 AM »


Prof Scratchy ó or someone of the same name ó has uploaded to YouTube Jelly Roll Morton's uncensored musical impression of the Dozens.


No, not me. The uploader of the Jelly Roll Morton track is called Blucius13. I did save it to a playlist, so maybe you stumbled upon that?


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Offline banjochris

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #7 on: August 03, 2018, 09:23:54 AM »
Part of what makes Speckled Red's song so great is that he edits out the anger, letting us enjoy the humour and just a hint of the obscenity. The other thing he did was to create a great tune.

Even Red's obscene versions are pretty funny.
Chris

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #8 on: August 03, 2018, 01:56:47 PM »
The uploader of the Jelly Roll Morton track is called Blucius13. I did save it to a playlist, so maybe you stumbled upon that?
Yes, I was misled by the way YouTube represents it

dozens
ProfScratchy

Jelly Roll Morton, The Dirty Dozen ・3:19
Dirty Dozens ・3:12

Offline Johnm

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #9 on: August 05, 2018, 04:58:55 AM »
Hi all,
Many thanks to Prof Scratchy for his Song of the Month choice and his initial post, setting the ball rolling, as well as making such a seamless adjustment.  I've been off at Blues Week, which was a good time as always, and have yet to listen to all the posted versions, and I'll look forward to hearing them.  Thanks to all who posted other versions, too.
Here is one from George Mitchell's recordings, by Will Shade, which struck me as a memorable version when I first heard it.



I'd just note that Sam Chatmon's "God Don't Like Ugly" is pretty coy, professing in the refrain not to play the dozens, and then spending the remainder of the song doing precisely that!
All best,
Johnm

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #10 on: August 05, 2018, 11:03:28 AM »
I'd just note that Sam Chatmon's "God Don't Like Ugly" is pretty coy, professing in the refrain not to play the dozens, and then spending the remainder of the song doing precisely that!
It's the coyness of 'I don't play the Dozens but...' that's always appealed to me, John.

Another singer who plays with the idea is Big Bill, heading the State Street Boys. He shares Little Hat Jones's conceit of not playing the Ten. I guess his audience would catch on to 'Put you int the Dozen if you call my name' and 'Now you keep on talking' till you make your daddy mad' with its bowdlerised rhyme 'Talk about the people both good and bad'.
Quote
Me and my baby taking a trip up North
On the way we met the hail and frost
Don't play the Dozen, Mama don't you ease me in

See me comin' out in the rain
Put you in the Dozen if you call my name
Don't play the Dozen, Mama don't you ease me in

Now I don't play the Dozen and I don't play the Ten
Keep on talkin' till I ease you in
Don't play the Dozen, Mama don't you ease me in

Now I can I can a drive a wheel mama and I can change a plough
Been on the levee since I don't know how
Don't play the Dozen, Mama don't you ease me in

Now the men on the levee  hollerin' 'Way! Ho! Gee!'
Women in the bottom hollerin' 'Don't you murder me!'
Don't play the Dozen, Mama don't you ease me in

Now you keep on talking' till you make your daddy mad
Talk about the people both good and bad
Don't play the Dozen, Mama don't you ease me in

(As best I can tell, there's a subtext about an unsophisticate from the South ó where they play the Dozens. Why else 'Now I can I can a drive a wheel mama and I can change a plough' if not to poke fun at someone who's confused?)


« Last Edit: August 05, 2018, 11:07:15 AM by DavidCrosbie »

Offline Johnm

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #11 on: August 07, 2018, 01:00:54 PM »
Hi all,
Here is a version of the Dozens by Tennessee musician Charley Sangster, recorded by Gino Marcucci.  Here goes:



All best,
Johnm

Offline Old Man Ned

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #12 on: August 07, 2018, 01:37:41 PM »
Great choice for SOTM Prof.

I've a feeling I may have a dumb question though, possibly due to the sheltered life I've led. When Little Hat Jones sings "Now I don't play the Dozen and I don't play the Ten" What's 'the Ten' ? A shorter version of the Dozens? And again excuse my ignorance here, but how did it get to be known as 'The Dozens' ?

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #13 on: August 07, 2018, 02:59:26 PM »
The Wikipedia article contains some theories on the origins of the Dozens, but no one seems to know for sure. The Tens? Havenít found any information on that, but assume from the context that it may have been another word game?


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Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #14 on: August 07, 2018, 07:49:12 PM »
I've a feeling I may have a dumb question though, possibly due to the sheltered life I've led. When Little Hat Jones sings "Now I don't play the Dozen and I don't play the Ten" What's 'the Ten' ? A shorter version of the Dozens? And again excuse my ignorance here, but how did it get to be known as 'The Dozens' ?

I always assumed that The Ten was a joke. It has no more obvious meaning than The Dozen(s) does, and it rhymes with ease you in. Perhaps it suggested 'You and I know what play the Dozen means, but don't tell the Man'.

Elijah Ward discusses various theories about the origin of the name The Dozen. Most are guesses by scholars, and some were probably guesses by players who didn't actually know either.

It did come to be associated with dice, and some have used the term shooting the dozen ó in a game where double-six is the worst score. And some New Orleans kids have been heard to speak of playing the doesn'ts ó as in At least my mother doesn't .... Others claimed that the original game consisted of twelve insults by one player against twelve insults by his opponent. Speckled Red told Bob Koester that

Quote from: Koester
the dozens originated when he was a kid, that it was a kid's game: I insult twelve of your relatives, you insult twelve of mine, back and forth. The first guy who throws a punch loses.

Yet another theory claims that it refers to a slave-auction practice of selling less useful individuals in job lots of twelve.

But in each cases, the supposed 'evidence' could be just an inference from the name.

Mack McCormick did a huge amount of research then didn't publish most of it, so there may have been more evidence than we can know of to his theory of the Bible dozen. Still, two scraps of evidence make an attractive combination:

1. A rhyme for remembering the Bible ó of a type which McCormick reckons goes way back

Quote from: scrap 1
Book of Genesis got the first truth
God Almighty took a ball of mud to make this earth

2. A remembered minstrel routine.

Quote from: scrap 2
FIRST PERFORMER: Book of Genesis got the first truth...
SECOND PERFORMER: No you ugly thing, I got the first truth. Somebody kicked a ball of mud to let you loose

Wald sees a possible link between this and Speckled Red's God made an elephant verse and two of Sam Chatmon's verses

Quote from: God Don't Like Ugly
God took a ball of mud when he got ready to make you.
When he went to make you, partner, ugly as you is, I believe it slipped out of his hand

Adam named everything they put out in the zoo
I'd like Adam to be here, see what in the hell he'd name you

There are lots of song lyrics that count up to twelve. Pete Wheatstraw's One To Twelve (Just As Sho') makes the connection

Quote from: Peetie Wheatstraw
Just as sure
As five and five is ten
Baby I don't play no dozen
Ooh-well-well
And please don't ease me in

Just as sure
As six and six is twelve
If you ease me in the dozen
Ooh-well-well
I'm bound to ease you in Hell



Wald adds his own suggestion. Long before any mention of the game or the song, the phrase the dirty dozen was use for notorious army units and disreputable families. So the dirty dozen may have originally referred to the family whose members you were insulting one by one.
« Last Edit: August 08, 2018, 03:34:59 AM by DavidCrosbie »

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #15 on: August 08, 2018, 05:35:45 AM »
I've read a bit more of Elijah Wald's book, and found another reference to The Ten. Again, it rhymes with ease ... in. Skip James told Steve Call about his time on the levee as a mule driver and pianist

Quote from: Skip James
The people were no good. ... You never hear anything worthwhile other than this old vulgar stuff, and it's from 'damn' to 'mother talk.' ... On those jobs, those guys'd sing all them nasty songs.

They might start
Quote from: Skip James
Your mama don't wear no draws
I seen her when she take 'em off
which is what Jelly Roll Morton mostly remembered of the Dozens.

Skip said he would respond
Quote from: Skip James
I don't play the dozen and neither the ten
I don't want nobody to ease me in
Quote from: Wald
Except, he explained,
Quote from: Skip James
i didn't say 'nobody' at that time; I say 'I don't want no ... "mollydodger"
[his biographer clarifies "mother f*cker"]
Quote from: Skip James
... to ease me in'. See, they'd start with that ... stuff in ten verses, and if you take that, then they'd ease you into the dozen,"

Skip's explanation of the ten may be right. But I suspect that he invented it to justify what was a widely-heard couplet. I further suspect that the ten was an invention created to make a rhyme with ease you/me in.


I've long wondered about ease me in, and Wald finally gives an explanation. In various accounts of the Dozens there's a strict rule about starting the contest. A boy/man can issue a challenge, but neither the challenger nor the challenged is allowed to start the actual game. Instead they would issue random insults until one of them was riled into answering with a retort that fitted into the regular pattern. This was known as easing someone into the Dozens. [/quote]

This makes sense of Robert Wilkins
Quote from: Old Jim Canan
When you don't play the dozens they will ease you in

and Big Bill's
Quote from: State Street Boys
Don't play the Dozen, Mama don't you ease me in

and what Little Hat Jones sang was really
Quote from: Kentucky Blues
Well, I don't play the dozen and neither the ten
'Cause you keep on talkin', I'll ease you in

Wald cites a Nigerian novelist describing a rule much like this for a contest game much like the Dozens. So the roots would seem to go way back before Africans in America.
« Last Edit: August 08, 2018, 10:46:45 AM by DavidCrosbie »

Offline waxwing

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #16 on: August 08, 2018, 10:32:55 AM »
An example of trading insults in the Trinidadian Calypso style in a "Classic Pecong Duel" between The Mighty Sparrow and his rival The Lord Melody recorded in a tent in 1957.



We listened to this album, "The Calypso Kings and Pink Gin" repeatedly in the mid '70s. Think I still have a copy buried in a trunk, i imagine.

Lord Melody also seems to have a history of insulting himself for ugliness, as evidenced in the MC's intro to "Creature from the Black Lagoon"



Wax
« Last Edit: August 08, 2018, 10:34:28 AM by waxwing »
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #17 on: August 08, 2018, 11:35:22 AM »
Elijah Wald quotes Picong Duel and transcribes the start of it

Quote from: Picong Duel
SPARROW: Well, Melody, come close to me,
I will tell you quite candidly,
Don't stop in the back and smile,
Because you have a face like crocodile.

MELODY: Sparrow, you shouldn't tell me that at all,
I mind you when you was small,
Many of the nights I used to mash your head,
In crossing to go to your mother['s] ba-da-da, ba-da-da [a scat substitute for the rhyming "bed"].

He also quotes from Sparrow's Reply To Melody a verse that recalls parts of Sam Chatmon's God Don't Like Ugly

Quote from: Reply to Melody
You should really be in the circus,
You ugly hippopotamus.
Never yet in life have I seen
Such a hideous-looking human being.
Sometime your face is just like a gorilla,
Sometime again like an alligator.
If I should open a human zoo,
The first man I coming to hold is you.




Offline Rivers

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #18 on: August 09, 2018, 04:42:07 PM »
As you would expect The Dozens has come up before over the years on the forum. I added The Dozens tag to this thread to tie them all together.

Offline Rivers

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Re: SOTM August 2018 - The Dozens
« Reply #19 on: August 09, 2018, 06:00:39 PM »
Lead Belly's Kansas City Papa from the LoC recordings has a couple of Dozens verses, see https://www.weeniecampbell.com/wiki/index.php?title=Kansas_City_Papa

Tags: SOTM The Dozens