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Well I wanna know girl, what in the world you eat makes your breath smell like your feet. - Ralph Willis, "Going To Virginia"

Author Topic: The Boll Weevil  (Read 15495 times)

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Offline Johnm

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The Boll Weevil
« on: January 07, 2007, 10:45:44 PM »
Hi all,
One of the song topics that, like the Titanic, has generated many versions in both the African American and White Folk Song traditions is the boll weevil.  According to the notes accompanying the Arhoolie CD, "Country Negro Jam Session", by Harry Oster,

   "Coming from Mexico in 1862, the boll weevil crossed the Rio Grande at Brownsville, Texas.  By 1903, leaving a grim trail of ruined cotton farmers in its wake, it had reached west Louisiana.  Some time around the turn of the century, probably in Texas, the most durable boll weevil song made its appearance.  "The Ballad of the Boll Wevil, the entral plot of which has the weevil moving onto a farm, looking for a home; no matter what the poor farmer does to destroy the insect, the weevil cheerfully makes himself at home and ruins everything."

Here are some of the versions of "The Boll Weevil" I have found so far.  They all have different melodies, but for the most part share a grudging admiration for the boll weevil's ability to survive all the attempts to exterminate it, and a sort of sour humor at the farmers' helplessness in the face of the boll weevil's depradations.

On "Country Negro Jam Session", Otis Webster performs "Boll Wevil Blues", accompanying himself on guitar played out of E in standard tuning.  Webster was an inmate at Angola Penitentiary at the time Dr. Oster recorded him, and he is both a strong singer and player.  In his version, at least, the song doesn't have the jolly melody you find in some treatments.

Probably the most famous version of the song, at least to Country Blues fans, is Charlie Patton's "Mississippi Boweavil Blues".  Charlie plays the song in high-tuned Spanish with a slide, very probably played lap style, and the power of his rhythm and huge sound have never been surpassed.  He sings the lyric in couplets, each line of which is followed by an instrumental response line.  His slide playing is very exciting; on this song and on "When Your Way Gets Dark", the notes he plays with his slide seem constantly on the verge of going into harmonics.

Rivaling Patton's version for excitement is Jaybird Coleman's "Boll Weevil", recently re-issued on the Yazoo release "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of".  The integration of Coleman's vocal with his solo harmonica is tremendous, and achieves the unusual effect of being simultaneously very "on the edge" sounding and very controlled.  He is just singing and playing his guts out.  Coleman's lyrics are hard to hear, for the surviving copy of the record is pretty darn whupped, but in one very strange verse, he sings
  Boll weevil's got moustache, boll weevil's got hands
  Sometimes he's walkin' in the tall canes, just like a natch'l man
This is one of the most exciting country Blues cuts you are likely to hear.

Pink Anderson's "Boweevil", from his "The Blues of Pink Anderson--Ballad and Folksinger, vol. 3" CD, sounds urbane after Jaybird Coleman's version.  As with many of the songs Pink performs on this CD, "Boweevil" is sung at length, three minutes and fifty-eight seconds long, and has lot of verses you are unlikely to encounter elsewhere.  Pink accompanies himself very snappily out of C in standard tuning, and sings the song to the melody of "Blues In The Bottle"

Mance Lipscomb's version, from his recently reissued "Trouble In Mind" CD, a Rhino special release, is likewise played out of C in standard tuning, though with a different, and exceptionally pretty melody.  Mance's version seems to treat the farmer's plight with a bit more sympathy than do most versions of the song.

I know there is a version of "The Boll Weevil" by Willie McTell, recorded at his Library of Congress sessions, but I have never heard it.  Does anyone know of other versions of "The Boll Weevil" that have been recorded?
All best,
Johnm   
   
[edit, removed the quotes out of the title so it sorts better in the tag results]
« Last Edit: January 07, 2012, 10:10:46 AM by Rivers »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: "The Boll Weevil"
« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2007, 11:47:50 PM »
I know there is a version of "The Boll Weevil" by Willie McTell, recorded at his Library of Congress sessions, but I have never heard it.  Does anyone know of other versions of "The Boll Weevil" that have been recorded?

Here are those listed in B&GR4's song title index (with page numbers)

Boll Weevil [The] Richard Amerson, 15; Black Bottom McPhail, 588; Jaybird Coleman, 170; Buster "Buz" Ezell, 251,252; Vera Hall, 338; Blind Jesse Harris, 356; Sid Hemphill, 377; Willie George Albertine King, 510; Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly), 518,522,525,527, 530,532; Irvin (Gar Mouth) Lowry, 555; Blind Willie McTell And Kate McTell, 593; Finious (Flat Foot) Rockmore, 766; Asa Ware, 982

And variations:

Boll Weevil Been Here Willie Williams, 1043
Boll Weevil Blues Vera Hall, 339; Oscar Woods, 1061
Boll Weevil Rag Charles Griffin, 329
Boll Weevil Song Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly), 524, Alf (Dad)Valentine, 971

Interesting to note that the majority are Lomax recordings and, as we know, the song was one of those he especially wanted to document the occurence of and hence asked them if them to sing so he could record their versions.

Offline Stefan Wirz

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Re: "The Boll Weevil"
« Reply #2 on: January 08, 2007, 02:44:30 AM »
American expatriates Gordon Heath & Lee Payant did a version of "The Ballad of the Boll Weevil" on their 10 inch LP "Chants Traditionnels Des ?tats-Unis" (Boite A Musique BAM LD 313) (Fr), that my father brought with him from a trip to Paris, France in the mid fifties (1900 that is/was;-); that was the first record I ever heard this strange 'American Music' played ...

... more at http://www.wirz.de/music/heathpay.htm

click picture to read liner notes (in english!)

They later also recorded an EP containing that song:
click picture to read liner notes


« Last Edit: January 08, 2007, 08:37:00 AM by Stefan Wirz »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: "The Boll Weevil"
« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2007, 08:54:30 AM »
Bessie Smith recorded Boweavil Blues in 1924.

Also, Joe Callicott recorded "Old Bo Weevil" for the George Mitchell sessions in 1967. This isn't on the Fat Possum release I Ain't Gonna Lie to You, but is available on the deleted Arhoolie disc, Mississippi Delta Blues in the 1960s: Blow My Blues Away Vol 2, if you can find a copy. It's also on the Juke. According to Stefan Wirz's discography, Joe recorded "Mississippi Boll Weevil Blues" on Sept 25, 1929 for Brunswick but it is unissued.

Also, Gus Cannon recorded a toe-tapping "Boll-Weevil" for the 1963 Stax album Walk Right In.
« Last Edit: January 08, 2007, 09:25:52 AM by uncle bud »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: "The Boll Weevil"
« Reply #4 on: January 08, 2007, 10:04:02 AM »
Bessie Smith recorded Boweavil Blues in 1924.
Ah mistitlings I'd overlooked.  :)

Bessie's I seem to recall was a rework of the Ma Rainey version from December 1923 which goes:

Hey, hey, bo-weevil, don't sing them blues no more, (x2)
Bo-weevil here, bo-weevils everywhere you go.

I'm a lone bo-weevil, been out a great long time, (x2)
I'm gonna sing these blues to ease a bo-weevil lonesome mind.

I don't want no man to put no sugar in my tea, (x2)
Some of them's so evil, I'm afraid they might poison me.

I went downtown and bought me a hat,
I brought it back home, I laid it on the shelf,
And looked at my bed,
I'm getting tired of sleeping by myself.

Bizarre thought processes going on there....  ;D

Offline natterjack

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Re: "The Boll Weevil"
« Reply #5 on: January 08, 2007, 10:31:58 AM »
Post-war, but still fairly "Country" blues

Baby Face Leroy Foster and Little Walter - "Boll Weevil", recorded for Parkway in January 1950

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: "The Boll Weevil"
« Reply #6 on: January 08, 2007, 10:50:28 AM »
Post-war, but still fairly "Country" blues

Baby Face Leroy Foster and Little Walter - "Boll Weevil", recorded for Parkway in January 1950
An absolutely magic performance. If it ain't on the Juke it oughta be! As "downhome" as anyone could wish...

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: "The Boll Weevil"
« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2007, 11:19:52 AM »
Check out Stefan's Oster discography but another couple are Otis Webster and Roosevelt Charles. There are probably others that I've failed to notice.

And of course Fat's Domino had a major hit with it in 1956 (as Bo Weevil) which reached no.6 in Billboard's R&B chart on 1st Feb that year. It remained in the top 20 for 13 week. I suspect this could've been the "inspiration" for those versions recorded in late 50s.

Offline banjochris

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Re: "The Boll Weevil"
« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2007, 01:21:31 PM »
Blind Willie McTell's version is not far off of the Mance Lipscomb one in melody and feel.

I think Bo Weavil Jackson's "Devil and My Brown" qualifies as at least related.

Tommy Jarrell and Fiddlin' John Carson both recorded versions with vocal and fiddle. Jarrell's is close to the "Blues in the Bottle" melody, IIRC. Carson's version -- "Dixie Boll Weevil" -- has a funny ending verse with a new euphemism for hell, it goes:
Boll weevil says to the farmer, I certainly wish you well,
Farmer says to the boll weevil, I wish you was in Griffin, Georgia.

Chris

bobo

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Re: "The Boll Weevil"
« Reply #9 on: January 15, 2007, 06:29:04 PM »
Oscar Woods recorded Bol Weevil for Lomax too.

Offline zoner

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Re: "The Boll Weevil"
« Reply #10 on: January 22, 2007, 10:21:12 AM »
John-The Mctell version is awesome...you need to hear it...I'll happily burn you a copy...email me...phil_sottile@hotmail.com



Best,

phil

Offline natterjack

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Re: "The Boll Weevil"
« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2007, 02:02:34 PM »
Old topic, but I just found this one in the "library"

Cotton Field Blues by Charlie "Dad" Nelson...

Boll weevil, boll weevil, where did you come from?
Boll weevil, boll weevil, where did you come from?
From Beaumont Texas, I'm just over here on the farm (?)

Farmer said to the boll weevil, don't you know you doin' me wrong?
Farmer said to the boll weevil, don't you know you doin' me wrong?
Eat up all my cotton and eat up all my corn

Says I'm going to town to buy a little gasoline
Says I'm going to town to buy a little gasoline
He's the worst boll weevil I believe I ever seen

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: "The Boll Weevil"
« Reply #12 on: February 24, 2007, 11:08:24 AM »
What follows looks pretty odd (and bleak) in print but it's Roosevelt Charles's "The Boll Weevil And The Bale Weevil" from the Vanguard LP Blues, Prayer, Work And Trouble Songs (VRS 9136, 1964). If nothing else it is certainly a departure from the norm. He's accompanied on guitar by Otis Webster

SPOKEN: Man, let me tell you about farmin',
There's too many ifs about farmin',
You got to harrow it off,
Then you got to build it up,
Then you go an' get this cotton seed,
An' you plant them in the ground;
It got to come up, Then you got to raise it,
You got to chop your cotton.
Then 'long come the boll weevil,
He gone knock your square.
Then come the bale weevil, he gone take the bale,
You hear that ole bale weevil hollerin' to that boll weevil
SUNG: "Woh, Mr. Boll Weevil, please don't take it all from me,"
Then you hear the farmer cry,
"Yeah, Mr. Bale Weevil, please don' knock me in the head with the pea."
SPOKEN: Then here come the poor farmer comin' up to settle.
Here come the bossman with his pencil,
"You raise so many bales o' cotton this year,
But you still owe me a little bit.
Try to raise a little bit more next year."
Then you hear that poor farmer holler,
SUNG: "Woh?oh, Mr. Bale Weevil, I done broke up your land,
I done planted your cotton seed, I done raised up your cotton
I done poisoned the bolls, killed the bale weevil,
Now here you come takin' all from me."
SPOKEN: Oh, too many ifs in raisin' that cotton,
I ain't shuckin' man.
Looka here, I want to tell you, Christmas time hear that ol'
boss man holler, "Woh, Bossman, please what you gonna do 'bout me?"
He say, Well, I got an ole suit in the house, I'm gonna give you,
Say the rats done cut a hole in the rear end, An' I had it patched."
Hear that ol? farmer holler, Woh?oh, that ain't no way to treat me."

Offline tenderfoot84

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Re: "The Boll Weevil"
« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2007, 02:52:09 AM »
ma favourite version of this tune is phineas 'flatfoot' rockmore's, mentioned in this topic but with a different spelling.

it's on the deep river of song black texicans disc and is really amazing. he puts a lot of humour into it and there are a lot of fun folk verses that i recognise from other songs such as

'i ain't gonna tell no story, i ain't gonna tell you no lies,
farmer you can't kill the boll weavil, there ain't no need in trying,
he's got him a home. a boll weavil home.'

the first part of which i associate with frankie and albert.

i really recommend people seek it out. he also does a superlative version of 'travelling coon' which happens to be ma favourite version of that song too. he just has such an easy, chilled out voice, and his guitar playing is understated but complements it perfectly.
Cheerybye,
David C

Offline uncle bud

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Re: "The Boll Weevil"
« Reply #14 on: March 02, 2007, 05:22:27 PM »
Thanks Tenderfoot. Another CD to buy.  :P  How's the rest of the disc?

 


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