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Author Topic: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics  (Read 15798 times)

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Offline mr mando

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Re: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics
« Reply #15 on: April 26, 2008, 04:31:14 AM »
Originally posted by Lcwx2 on 08-02-2002 02:16
at http://www.guitarseminars.com/ubb/Forum1/HTML/001898.html


OK, I've decided to help out anyone who needs info on this artist. I've only been able to locate two sources for info on Geechie, alternatively spelled 'Geeshie'. The two sources (well, three if you count the document disc) are Yazoo's cd 'Mississippi Masters' in which there is some info on some songs and some biography, and 'Chasin' That Devil Music' by Gayle Dean Wardlow, in which Ishmon Bracey is quoted as having met her. I will first give the info from the book, then the cd liner notes, and then I will present my own song analyses, including lyrics and chords. I will minimize material that would be redundant:
Book:
Bracey: 'She lived 'round there on John Hart Street for a while. Charlie McCoy got her for his old lady. She could play on the guitar as good as on that record [Eagles On A Half, Pm 13074]. She said she was from Natchez; close by Natchez was her home. She didn't stay here long, couple of months and she done left.'
Bracey said he was not confusing Wiley with Rosie Mae Moore. He said McCoy lived with both of them at different times. He said Wiley played guitar and accompanied herself when she sang. [Her 'Last Kind Words Blues' was prominently used by Terry Zwigoff in his documentary film on Robert Crumb.]
The four tunes (actually six) that Wiley recorded solo and with Elvie Thomas for Paramount in 1930 and 1931 establish her as one of the greatest female blues artists. According to Ishman Bracey, she hailed from the vicinity of Natchez. In the 1920s she spent three months in Jackson as a resident of John Hart Street; while there, she played in a medicine show. 'She could play a guitar, but she had a guitar player with her,' Bracey said. 'She'd play a guitar, and a ukulele too.' While in Jackson, she took up with Charlie McCoy.
A woman matching the description of Elvie Thomas was remembered as living near Palmer's Crossing, a small community outside of Hattiesburg. No other information is available.

CD liner notes:
Other than a report of Robert Wilkins (and Bracey's recollections) seeing her in eastern Mississippi around 1930, her name elicited no further response among her contemporaries.
She represents when black secular music was coalescing into blues. Her repertoire includes raggy pieces like Over To My House and Pick Poor Robin Clean. Last Kind Words probably predates WWI, but is handled with a blues sensibility. Her guitar technique is unusual: her use of an A minor chord is rare.
Wiley apparently came up to record with Elvie Thomas. Motherless Child Blues is in E. It shows traces of a northern Mississippi influence, but the B7th section is without parallel in rural blues. A very similar arrangement is used on Skinny Leg Blues. Wiley's masterpiece, Last Kind Words Blues is played in the key of E. The lyrics date it to WWI, but it's bar structure is probably older. The opening A minor chord that leads directly into the same A riff employed by Texas artists is unique, and the thumb rolls in the B7th part echo Patton Green River Blues.

OK, now for my analyses of her music. First, unless it's already been mentioned, I will give the chords to each song, then the lyrics, then a bit about what the lyrics might mean. Lyrics in parentheses could be mistaken. I've tried to do as good a job as I can. Enjoy.


Last Kind Words Blues
by Geechie Wiley

(Guitar Intro)

The last kind word I heard my daddy say
Lord the last kind word I heard my daddy say

If I die, if I die in the German War
I want you to send my body, send it to my mother-in-law

If I get killed, if I get killed, please donít bury my (soul) (sword)
I (pífer) just leave me out, let the buzzards eat me whole

When you see me cominí, look Ďcross the (rich manís) (Richland) field
If I donít bring you flour, Iíll bring you (?)

(Guitar Solo)

I went to the depot, I looked up at the sign
Cry some train donít come, thereíll be some walkiní done

My momma told me, just before she died
Lord, (since the dawn, I thought youíd be so wise) (I brought you a piece of ?)

The Mississippi River, you know itís deep and wide
I can stand right here, see my (babe) (face) from the other side

What you do to me baby, it never gets out of me
I mean Iíll see you, after I cross the deep blue sea

Obviously, this song is about a guy that went off to war in WWI. It's interesting that he'd want his body sent to his mother-in-law and eaten by buzzards. If anybody knows more than I do about WWI, maybe you could help fill in the blanks, or give corrections?

Skinny Leg Blues
by Geechie Wiley

(Guitar Intro)

And Iím a little bitty Mamma, baby and I ainít built for speed
Cryiní Iím a little bitty Mamma, baby and I ainít built for speed
Ah, and I ainít built for speed
Iíve got everything that a little bitty Mamma need

Iíve got little bitty legs, (he puts his old bull (nobble) Ďtwine)
Iíve got little bitty legs, (he puts his old bull (nobble) Ďtwine)
Ah, (he puts his old bull (nobble) Ďtwine)
Iíve got somethiní that (aíneeds jelly, works like a bull wonít cry)

And when you see me cominí, pull down your window blind
And when you see me cominí, pull down your window blind
You see me cominí, pull down your window blinds
So your next door neighbor, sure can hear you whine

Iím gonna cut your throat baby, goní look down in your face
Iím gonna cut your throat babe, goní look down in your face
Ah, Iíll look down in your face
Iím gonna let some lonesome graveyard, be your restiní place


This song is pretty brutal. Geechie seems to be saying that I'm a cute little girl with whom you can copulate, and then I'm going to kill you. I say that because I think the second verse is very sexual in nature; however, it's possible that I'm missing some metaphors there that could be more threatening than I could hear. Help me out on this one, would ya?

Motherless Child Blues
by Geechie Wiley and Elvie Thomas

My mother told me just before she died
My mother told me just before she died
My mother told me just before she died
My mother told me just before she died

Oh daughter daughter please donít be like me
Oh daughter daughter please donít be like me
Oh daughter daughter please donít be like me
To fall in love with every man you see

But I did not listen what my mother said
But I did not listen what my mother said
But I did not listen what my mother said
Thatís the reason why Iím driftiní here today

Baby now sheís dead, six feet in the ground
Baby now sheís dead, sheís six feet in the ground
Baby now sheís dead, sheís six feet in the ground
And Iím a child, and I am driftiní Ďround

Do you remember the day baby, you drove me from your door?
Do you remember the day baby, you drove me from your door?
Do you remember the day you drove me from your door?
ďGo away from here woman, and donít come here no more.Ē

I walked away and I wring my hands and cryiní
I walked away and I wring my hands and cryiní
I walked away and I wring my hands and cryiní
Didnít have no blues, I couldnít keep tarryiní arouní


This one seems pretty self explanatory. She's saddened by a breakup and many before, and remembers what her mother told her, advice which she never heeded. Dig the beauty of Elvie's voice on this one. Wow.

Over To My House seems to be in Em. I've never heard a raggy piece done this way that I can think of, and everybody should hear this one. From what I get, the chords are: Em-B7-Em-B7-Em-Am-Em-B7-Em-B7-Em. Of course she doesn't just strum these, and she pulls plenty of punches in filler notes, etc. That goes for all of the chords I'll be giving; for instance, in Pick Poor Robin Clean, the D7 is often a D, etc.


Over To My House
Geechie Wiley and Elvie Thomas

(Guitar Intro)

Come Ďround over to my house, ainít nobody here but me
I been listeniní for the last six months, and I could not see
Cause you can shake it, you can break it, you can hang it on the wall
Throw it out the window, run and catch it Ďfore it falls
On over to my house, ainít nobody here but, Iím cryiní, ainít nobody here but me

Come Ďround over to my house, cause there ainít nobody here but me
Iíve been listeniní for the last six months, and I could not see
I said you need not think because youíre little and cute
Iím gonna buy you a (fox-black) suit
Come on over to my house, ainít nobody here but, Iím cryiní, ainít nobody here but me

(Guitar Solo)

Come Ďround over to my house, cause there ainít nobody here but me
Iíve been listeniní for the last six months, and I could not see
When I was sittiní in my parlor, just a strumminí and playiní
I wasnít too drunk to hear the backdoor slam
Come Ďround over to my house, ainít nobody here but, Iím cryiní, ainít nobody here but me

Come Ďround over to my house, cause there ainít nobody here but me
Iíve been listeniní for the last six months, and I could not see
Iím gonna grab me a picket off of my back fence
Gonna whip Ďem at your head until you learn some sense
Come Ďround over to my house, ainít nobody here but, Iím cryiní, ainít nobody here but me

Come Ďround over to my house, cause there ainít nobody here but me
Iíve been listeniní for the last six months, and I could not see
I cried ashes to ashes, and sand to sand
Every married womanís gotta backdoor man
On over baby to my house, ainít nobody here but, Iím cryiní, ainít nobody here but me


I love these lyrics, and they're very cleverly executed. This song gives you the feeling that old Geechie might have been a hard woman to live with: infidelity, assault, murder. The list goes on.

Pick Poor Robin Clean is probably a pretty old piece. Luke Jordan does a beautiful rendition of it on Document's 'The Songster Tradtion', from which one can exptrapolate it's vintage. The chord progression is a fairly standard rag progression: C-A7-D7-G7-C. It's a really fun piece, but I'd recommend switching some lyrics around before playing it in public.


Pick Poor Robin Clean
by Geechie Wiley and Elvie Thomas

Spoken: ďHello there, Geechie!Ē
ďHello there, (Smack)!Ē
ďWhat are you doiní down here?Ē
ďOh Iím just down here tryiní to play these barn blues about Robin!Ē
ďLet me hear it, then!Ē

I picked poor Robin clean, I picked poor Robin clean
I picked his head, I picked his feet, I woulda picked a spider but he wasnít fit to eat
But I picked poor Robin clean, picked poor Robin clean
And Iíll be satisfied, having a family

Lord, in that Jaybird land, where I can pick poor Robin clean
Poor Robin clean, pick poor Robin clean
Lord, in that Jaybird land, where I can pick poor Robin clean
Then Iíll be satisfied, having a family

(Guitar Solo)

Get off my money, and donít get funny
Cause Iím a nigger, donít cut no figure
Gambliní for Sadie, she is my lady
And Iím a hustling coon, thatís just what I am

You better pick poor Robin clean, pick poor Robin clean
Picked his head, picked his feet, I woulda picked a spider but he wasnít fit to eat
But I picked poor Robin clean, picked poor Robin clean
And Iíll be satisfied, having a family

Spoken: ďYeaah! Wonít be long now!Ē

(Guitar Solo)

Scat: Ahh, dah dah-dah-lah di-di-dah, dah dah-dah-lah dah dah
dah dah-dah, dah dah-dah dah
Ahh, dah dah-dah-lah di-di-dah, dah dah-dah-lah di-di-dah
dah dah-dah, dah dah-dah dah

Picked poor Robin clean, picked his head, picked his feet
I woulda picked a spider but he wasnít fit to eat
I picked poor Robin clean, picked poor Robin clean
Said Iíll be satisfied, having a family


This song is about gambling and stealing, possibly to the extent of taking someone else's spouse. As always, it's sung with lots of spirit, giving one the impression that, given the opportunity, Geechie might just take all you've got; and why not? You'd probably be dead by then anyway.

Eagles On A Half is a really great piece in A, in which Geechie employs some licks used by Willie Brown when accompanying Patton on Moon Goin Down, as well as a D riff later used by Robert Johnson. Here's the progression: A-D7-A-E-D7-A. And the lyrics:



Eagles On A Half
by Geechie Wiley

(Guitar Intro)

Itís a low, itís a low, low, low down dirty shame
Itís a low, itís a low, low, low down dirty shame
Iíve got a brownskin man but Iím scared to call his name

Iíve to squat low Pappa, let your Mamma see
Iíve to squat low Pappa, let your Mamma see
I wants to see that whole business, please donít worry me

(Guitar Solo)

I twisted and I tumbled, I roll the whole night long
I twisted and I tumbled, I roll the whole night long
I didnít have no Daddy to, hold me in his arms

(Guitar Solo)

I said get back Rider, donít care how you lay
I said get back Rider, donít care how you lay
I wanna tell you I, canít stay here today

I said eagles on a half dollar, babe ainít gotta be cruel
I said eagles on a half babe, I ainít gotta be cruel
I love you Daddy, whatís your dollar for?


This one gets pretty racy, and if I'm right about the last verse, we've finally stumbled upon something that Geechie wouldn't do: prostitute herself to her own man! My, the awe-inspiring virtue! However, if I screwed up the last verse, it could mean that she's just not willing to settle for a half-dollar, but would do it for a whole dollar, in which case we're right back where we started. In any case, Geechie is undoubtedly one of Mississippi's greatest artists, and definitley (in my opinion) it's greatest female blues singer. If you like acoustic blues, you must get to know her work. It's unparalleled in both skill and beauty. Happy listening and, please, if you've got better ideas as to my parethetical lyrics, let us know. One more treat. Go here, and you can learn to play her masterpiece; every acoustic blues player should know it: http://www.guitarseminars.com/ubb/Forum1/HTML/001041.html


Bye for now.

Jon


Offline Bricktown Bob

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Re: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics
« Reply #16 on: April 27, 2008, 06:52:23 AM »
"I was sittin' in my quarters, just as quiet as a lamb", is what I'm hearing. McTell may have sung the same lyrics in "Come On Around to My House".
I hear "sitting in my parlor".

Thanks, doctorpep; thanks, banjochris.  Yes, I'll go with parlor, but the rest of the line's still got me.  A couple things it's not, I think: mr mando's "just a strumminí and playiní" and doctorpep's "just as quiet as a lamb."  It doesn't sound like a true rhyme (with "slam") at all.  In fact, the rhyme-position word (made-up term) sounds to me like "smell."  Of course, using a smell/slam kinda-rhyme is the sort of thing progressive English poets were doing back then, from Wilfred Owen to Dylan Thomas ...

[Yes, I know 1930 is after Owen and before Thomas.  Also that this sort of thing didn't start with the one and end with the other.  I just happen to really like these two, and they naturally sprang to mind.]

Anyway, except for that one half line, I'm pretty confident about this now.  Except maybe for "listless," as opposed to mr mando's "listenin'." 

Offline Bricktown Bob

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Re: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics
« Reply #17 on: April 27, 2008, 07:02:11 AM »
I'm hearing, "I woulda picked his body but it wasn't fit to eat"
Lord, did that jaybird say(?) when I picked poor Robin clean,
I'm hearing, "Lord, did that jaybird laugh..."

Thanks, Stuart.  That's it.

Offline CF

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Re: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics
« Reply #18 on: April 27, 2008, 10:40:07 AM »
For Skinny Leg I always heard the line as

'I got little bitty legs, keep up these noble thighs'

& then ???
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics
« Reply #19 on: April 27, 2008, 10:50:19 AM »
Re. Skinny Legs, see this thread http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=83&topic=2269.0

Note the similarity with a Texas Alexander verse, which here is

Iíve got little bitty legs, keep up these noble thighs
Iíve got little bitty legs, keep up these noble thighs
Aaaaaah, keep up these noble thighs
Iíve got somethiní underneath them that works like a bo' hog's eye

Offline banjochris

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Re: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics
« Reply #20 on: April 27, 2008, 03:30:25 PM »


Thanks, doctorpep; thanks, banjochris.  Yes, I'll go with parlor, but the rest of the line's still got me.  A couple things it's not, I think: mr mando's "just a strumminí and playiní" and doctorpep's "just as quiet as a lamb."  It doesn't sound like a true rhyme (with "slam") at all.  In fact, the rhyme-position word (made-up term) sounds to me like "smell." 

I still can't make out that last word, but I think before that it's "parlor, just drunk as [a]?"
Chris

Offline LD50

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Re: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics
« Reply #21 on: August 25, 2010, 06:53:58 AM »
Re: 'Over to My House', I'm just about positive the disputed lyrics are as follows:

"When I was sittiní in my quarter, just as dumb as a lamb,
I wasnít too dumb to hear the backdoor slam"

(Remember, the original meaning of 'dumb' used to be 'mute'; I think it's being used in the older sense the first time, and the 'stupid' sense the 2nd time. Also remember that 'quarter' was a term meaning buildings on a plantation where blacks lived, and was a holdover from the phrase 'slave quarters'.)

Offline morning wood

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Re: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics
« Reply #22 on: August 25, 2010, 02:03:36 PM »
Last Kind Word Blues

If I die, if I die in the German War
I want you to send my body, send it to my mother-in-law mother lord

Is what I hear, and it seems to make a bit more sense. Might be wrong though.

Paul.

Offline LD50

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Re: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics
« Reply #23 on: August 25, 2010, 06:05:21 PM »
Dunno, it really sounds like "send it to my mother-in-law". It has too many syllables to be "send it to my mother, lord"


Last Kind Word Blues

If I die, if I die in the German War
I want you to send my body, send it to my mother-in-law mother lord

Is what I hear, and it seems to make a bit more sense. Might be wrong though.

Paul.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics
« Reply #24 on: August 25, 2010, 11:23:23 PM »
Re: 'Over to My House', I'm just about positive the disputed lyrics are as follows:

"When I was sittiní in my quarter, just as dumb as a lamb,
I wasnít too dumb to hear the backdoor slam"


I think you may have the end of the two lines, LD50. Pretty sure she's singing "parlor," not quarter, though. Also, I'm thinking the second line of each verse, instead of "I been listless for the last six months and I could not see," could be "I had religion for the last six months..."
Chris

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics
« Reply #25 on: August 26, 2010, 06:57:02 AM »
I agree, LD50, "dumb as a lamb" works, good ears. However, I too still hear "parlor".

Paul, the "mother-in-law" line in Last Kind Word dates at least to a song collected by Howard W. Odum as "If I Die in Arkansas" and published in his 1911 paper "Folk-Song and Folk-Poetry as Found in the Secular Songs of the Southern Negroes", The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 24, No. 93 (Jul. - Sep., 1911)


If I die in Arkansa',
Oh, if I die in Arkansa',
If I die in Arkansa',
Des ship my body to my mother-in-law.

If my mother refuse me, ship it to my pa...

If my. papa refuse me, ship it to my girl...

If my girl refuse me, shove me into de sea...
Where de fishes an' de whales make a fuss over me.




Offline LD50

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Re: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics
« Reply #26 on: August 26, 2010, 07:17:44 AM »
Right, Ed Bell's Squabblin' Blues clearly has the 'mother-in-law' line.

Well, what can I say, I'm still hearing 'quarter'.

I agree, LD50, "dumb as a lamb" works, good ears. However, I too still hear "parlor".

Paul, the "mother-in-law" line in Last Kind Word dates at least to a song collected by Howard W. Odum as "If I Die in Arkansas" and published in his 1911 paper "Folk-Song and Folk-Poetry as Found in the Secular Songs of the Southern Negroes", The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 24, No. 93 (Jul. - Sep., 1911)


If I die in Arkansa',
Oh, if I die in Arkansa',
If I die in Arkansa',
Des ship my body to my mother-in-law.

If my mother refuse me, ship it to my pa...

If my. papa refuse me, ship it to my girl...

If my girl refuse me, shove me into de sea...
Where de fishes an' de whales make a fuss over me.

Offline Gumbo

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Re: Skinny Leg Blues - Geeshie Wiley
« Reply #27 on: April 14, 2014, 06:18:44 AM »
The notes to an older Yazoo record by Don Kent suggest the lyrics come from Boar Hog Blues - without citing any source recordings. Obviously not the Jazz Gillum version which was recorded much later.
As nobody has answered this, and at the risk of seeming to like the sound of my own voice, Kent was probably thinking of Texas Alexander's 1928 Boe Hog Blues, sung from the male perspective. Song is not exactly identical but the troublesome verse he renders more coyly thus:

She got little bitty legs, gee, but below her thighs
She got something on-a-yonder works like a bo' hog's eye.

It's nice to see this corroborated so dramatically in the NY Times piece :) In fact I wonder if Weeniecampbell played a part in getting Don Kent interviewed for the article!

Offline alyoung

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Re: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics
« Reply #28 on: April 16, 2014, 06:26:47 AM »

Paul, the "mother-in-law" line in Last Kind Word dates at least to a song collected by Howard W. Odum as "If I Die in Arkansas" and published in his 1911 paper "Folk-Song and Folk-Poetry as Found in the Secular Songs of the Southern Negroes", The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 24, No. 93 (Jul. - Sep., 1911)

If my mother refuse me, ship it to my pa...
If my. papa refuse me, ship it to my girl...
If my girl refuse me, shove me into de sea...
Where de fishes an' de whales make a fuss over me.


See also Henry Thomas, Texas Worried Blues, for another version of this lyric set.


Offline Tim Connor

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Re: Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas Lyrics
« Reply #29 on: May 28, 2015, 05:29:12 PM »
Just discovered this site and this thread--for those who may not be in the habit of reading the New York Times, there was a major article on Geeshie and Elvie about a year ago, by a guy who managed to track down people who knew Elvie, who moved to Houston and died in 1979 (Geeshie is more of a mystery--she apparently murdered her husband in 1931 and disappeared).

The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/13/magazine/blues.html