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A skilled trade would mean more to me than a guitar. Some of these guys think they're pretty cute because they can play a guitar, but singing blues and playing a guitar is like molding in a factory except that it's less dependable - Guitar Pete Franklin, from liner notes of "The Blues of Guitar Pete Franklin" Bluesville 1068, Indianapolis 1961

Author Topic: Blind Willie McTell lyrics  (Read 52322 times)

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Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #90 on: January 25, 2009, 08:39:22 AM »
I've been working on this one lately. Here's my mostly minor comments (except for "cut out" - ain't buyin' that):

..ok, so I have these in a word doc so I'll just cut/paste here for others to dissect or comment

Scary Day Blues  -- Blind Willie McTell

I want to wait around here baby, until your fried pie?ll get done
I want to wait around here baby, until your fried pie?ll get done
Because I think I got a nickel, I wants to buy me one

I want to cut out find a woman, to do like my last rider done
I want to cut out find a woman, to do just like my last rider done
She kept it all for her daddy, she didn?t give nobody none

2.1 I WONDER COULD I find a woman (no comma) to do like my last rider done
2.2 WONDER COULD I find a woman (no comma) to do just like my last rider done
She kept it all for her daddy, she didn?t give nobody none

McTell sings I WONDER COULD quite clearly, IMO. He wants a woman who won't fool around. (In 2.2 he flubs the line slightly, and seems to start singing something that sounds like it begins with R -- RIDER, perhaps -- before carrying on with WOMAN, but this isn't worth transcribing that way.)

Quote
Then my baby got a bed, it shines like a morning star
My good mama got a bed, it shines like a morning star
And when I crawls in the middle, it ride me like a Cadillac car

3.1 SAID my baby got a bed, it shines like a morning star
My good mama got a bed, it shines like a morning star
3.3 And when I crawls in the middle, it RIDES me like a Cadillac car

Quote
My good gal got a mojo, she tryin? to keep it hid
My good woman got a mojo, she tryin? to keep it hid
But Georgia Bill got something, to find that mojo with

I said she got that mojo and she won?t let me see
I said she got that mojo and she won?t let me see
And every time I start to lovin?, she try to put them jinx on me

   ?Play it a little bit for me Mr. So n So for I know you like it?

Well she shake it like the Central, she wobble like the L&N
I say she shake it like the Central, she wobble like the L&N
Well she?s a hot shot mama, and I?m scared to tell her where I been

6.1 Well she SHAKES it like the Central, she wobble like the L&N
I say she shake it like the Central, she wobble like the L&N
Well she?s a hot shot mama, and I?m scared to tell her where I been

Quote
Then my baby got something, she won?t tell her daddy what it is
My good mama got something, she won?t tell her papa what it is
And when I crawls in my bed, I just can?t keep my black self still

7.1 SAID my baby got something, she won?t tell her daddy what it is
My good mama got something, she won?t tell her papa what it is
And when I crawls in my bed, I just can?t keep my black self still

Quote
Well I done got reckless and I broke my mama?s rule  Lord Lord
Well I done got reckless and I broke my baby?s rule 
I?m here wanderin? round in Georgia with these doggone scary day blues

Well I done got reckless and I broke my mama?s rule  Lord Lord
Well I done got reckless and I broke my baby?s rule 
8.3 I?m here wanderin? round (no IN) Georgia with these doggone SCAREY day blues (to match the variant spelling in the song title?)

I don't think "can't keep my black self still" is self-censoring for black snake, BTW. I just think it's like saying "my own self", plus it scans better in the line.
« Last Edit: January 25, 2009, 01:36:18 PM by uncle bud »

Offline Rivers

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #91 on: January 25, 2009, 09:36:38 AM »
We'll never know, re. the snake.

Disagree re "I want to cut out..." versus "I wonder can I...?"

It's very close either way. "I want to cut out..." is more assertive and sure, fits the general tone of the song. Or in other words I don't imagine him wondering or questioning his abilities in that respect, way too wimpy and introspective for a 20's blues singer. I mean "I wonder can I..." is a little bit too 'Hamlet-esque' don't you think?  ;)

I found a Cab Calloway slang page (excellent resource btw!) that has:
Cut out (v.) -- to leave, to depart. Ex., "It's time to cut out"; "I cut out from the joint in early bright."

We can always agree to differ and put a note to that effect in the 'pedia.
« Last Edit: January 25, 2009, 09:46:16 AM by Rivers »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #92 on: January 25, 2009, 10:27:31 AM »
History of the FDA here: http://www.fda.gov/oc/history/historyoffda/default.htm
This book caused a stir in 1933: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100,000,000_Guinea_Pigs

I'm getting 'tap it flat', as in the hair to the head (after applying lemon oil tonic), or maybe a hat.
Oh I see, no, the last bit I think is 'tip light', as in to go lightly, maybe a contraction of 'tiptoe'.
Or maybe 'trip light', as in 'tripping the light fantastic'. That fits actually, sets up a real comic scene and all makes sense.

The phrase was current in the Twenties:

"The phrase is used in the second line of a 1927 song by Billy Murray and Aileen Stanley - 'I'm Gonna Dance Wit da Guy Wot Brung Me' - a comical duet between two New York types using one slang phrase after another in a vaudeville-like routine. The manner in which the phrase is used, suggests that 'tripping the light fantasic' was a not unusual bit of Roaring 20's slang" - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trip_the_light_fantastic

So the current theory in play is this:
Can I get arsenic, lemon and tap it flat, and trip light' across your flo'?

Going to disagree again ;) over two things.

First, the line is almost certainly "tip light 'cross your floor". Aside from it sounding like that, this is a standard blues image. Not quite "woke up this morning" but pretty common. A few examples that are worth looking at, since they predate McTell's line and use a similar formula:

Sam Collins - My Road Is Rough and Rocky:

"I got up in my stockings, tippin' 'cross the floor"

Blind Lemon Jefferson - Stocking Feet Blues:

"She got up this mornin' come a-tippin 'cross the floor, said mama, in her lovin' stockin' feet"

Hambone Willie Newbern - Way Down in Arkansas:

"I can hear the darky moanin' at the old barn door, can see the ladies tippin' 'cross the kitchen floor"

Peg Leg Howell - Rolling Mill Blues:


It was late last night when my honey come home
I heard a rapping on her door

She got up in her stocking feet
Went tipping across the floor

Papa Charlie Jackson - Coffee Pot Blues:


It was early one morning, just at the close of four
When Charlie Smith knocked on Evelyn's door

She jumped up, sweet babe, tipped on across the floor
Hollering, "Long tall daddy, don't you knock no more."


Wiley Barner - My Gal Treats Me Mean (But I Can't Leave Her Alone):


Treat my slippers with some hog-eye lard
Hear me tipping 'cross my good gal's yard
Hear me tipping 'cross my good gal's yard
You can't hear me tippin' 'cross my good gal's yard (hard to say whether it's CAN'T or CAN, since the T is not quite pronounced, but I hear it more as CAN'T)

It's interesting that most of the above singers are from an older generation who often have traditional verses or lines, use old songs and lyric formulas. The Newbern lyric especially to me suggests a pre-blues origin for the line that started it all, whatever that is and wherever it might be found. It would possibly be worth looking for the lyric, however, in either older folk texts, or black popular song from the end of the century or 1900s. Other than that, perhaps classic blues or vaudeville singers from the early 20s, of which I know not enough. The fact that the line occurs in the songs of singers from Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas or Tennessee, Georgia, New Orleans/Chicago and Alabama would seem to argue for either a pretty common folk origin or a line from a popular recording.

The lyric from Wiley Barner, an obscure Alabama singer who recorded two songs in 1927, is probably the most interesting lead, and points to another possible trail for a source lyric here http://books.google.ca/books?id=Q6jijQ4hMq8C&pg=PA191&lpg=PA191&dq=hogeye+lard&source=web&ots=8m6WRxwe2O&sig=lvxprfJcC7B31iRjESUv93V2iZU&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result

If you wanta go to heaven, tell you what you better do
Grease your feet with hog-eye lard
You can slip right over in the promised land
Going to heaven now, shall be free
Having a good time, you shall be free
When the good Lord sets you free.
 
This is from a fellow named J.D. Suggs, interviewed by folklore scholar Richard Dorson in 1956. Dorson describes the lyric as one of the "ubiquitous" parodies "revolving around the refrain, 'When the Good Lord Sets You Free'". Another example of this can be found in the preacher-mocking song by Frank Stokes, "You Shall", which uses the "good Lord set you free" refrain (but unfortunately gives us diddley-squat with regards to the line in Broke Down Engine). Anyway, I'll check Howard Odum and some other folklore texts I have to set if any further leads develop.

All this is not to say that McTell is singing something in the first half of the line that had been sung before. Just that looking back at earlier occurrences may offer a clue.  

Right now, I would say it's possible he is singing about treating his shoes, not his hair, with something, in order to "tip light 'cross the floor."

Which brings me to my second, shorter point. I don't think he sings the word "lemon". I hear an -it or -ent ending to the word.

One other thing about tippin'. It is mostly used in the above examples to indeed mean "tiptoe" as Rivers notes earlier. There are numerous other usages of the word though that seem to have a different meaning. This is in the whole "tippin' out" gang of songs: Simmie Dooley and Pink Anderson's "Gonna Tip Out Tonight", Beans Hambone "Tippin' Out" (a version of the same song), "Tippin' In Boogie" Booker White (a postwar recording, mislabeled Tip and Eight Boogie" but surely related?), Robert Pete Williams' "Tippin' In", not to mention other lyrical occurrences - Frankie Jaxon "I'm tippin' like a Maltese kitten..." in Boot It. I'm sure there's more. Anyway, I wonder if these usages of "tippin'" are related to tripping the light fantastic, since the meaning is certainly in the same ballpark.
« Last Edit: January 25, 2009, 10:43:43 AM by uncle bud »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #93 on: January 25, 2009, 10:32:11 AM »
We'll never know, re. the snake.

Disagree re "I want to cut out..." versus "I wonder can I...?"

It's very close either way. "I want to cut out..." is more assertive and sure, fits the general tone of the song. Or in other words I don't imagine him wondering or questioning his abilities in that respect, way too wimpy and introspective for a 20's blues singer. I mean "I wonder can I..." is a little bit too 'Hamlet-esque' don't you think?  ;)

Nope. It's clear.  ;D Besides, he's not so assertive. He's scared, after all, of the jinx, of his hotshot mama, of breaking his mama's rule etc.


Offline Rivers

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #94 on: January 25, 2009, 10:44:19 AM »
More Tippin' for the collection,

Tippin' Tom, Sylvester Weaver, "My name's Tippin' Tom, turn your damper down. Got a good reputation known all over town" - there's a good one for the quote machine.

Just Tippin' In, Robert Pete Williams, "I'm tippin' in, I'm just tippin' in, yeah baby don't walk too hard"

None of the examples are followed by 'light', though Robert Pete comes close. Context being everything though, if you agree with the theory the first part is about extremes of dressing up for a gal, him ending up "tripping the light fantastic" across her floor does fit and is really very funny.

As to whether he actually sang trip or tip, maybe he misquoted the colloquial phrase, examples of that are legion, even though I can't think of any right at this red hot minute. Plus the whole line is designed to be a big tongue twister. Another good forum topic, tongue twisters in country blues.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #95 on: January 25, 2009, 10:45:27 AM »
Well we must agree to disagree on that one I'm afraid. I clearly hear "cut out", it's clear. ish. ;)
« Last Edit: January 25, 2009, 10:47:07 AM by Rivers »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #96 on: January 25, 2009, 10:47:12 AM »
More Tippin' for the collection,

Tippin' Tom, Sylvester Weaver, "My name's Tippin' Tom, turn your damper down. Got a good reputation known all over town" - there's a good one for the quote machine.

Just Tippin' In, Robert Pete Williams, "I'm tippin' in, I'm just tippin' in, yeah baby don't walk too hard"

None of the examples are followed by 'light', though Robert Pete comes close. Context being everything though, if you agree with the theory the first part is about extremes of dressing up for a gal, him ending up "tripping the light fantastic" across her floor does fit and is really very funny.

As to whether he actually sang trip or tip, maybe he misquoted the colloquial phrase, examples of that are legion, even though I can't think of any right at this red hot minute. Plus the whole line is designed to be a big tongue twister. Another good forum topic, tongue twisters in country blues.

Uh, strong disagreement here. See above examples. Perhaps they all screwed up the use of tippin'?

Offline Rivers

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #97 on: January 25, 2009, 10:52:45 AM »
UB, I'm not saying they all screwed up the lyric, that's a false dichotomy. There is no argument here against that usage of 'tip'. Just that we've established the phrase "trip the light fantastic" was in play at the time, and what he said and what he meant can easily be two different things. How can you be certain that 'tip light' wasn't slang for "trip the light fantastic" at that time?

I believe I'm playing with the stronger hand here, context is everything...  :)

There are more 'tips' on Michael Taft's Blues Concordance Index site:

Sleepy John Estes, Special Agent Blues, "Now I could(n't) hear the special agent when he come tipping over the top (or 'soft')". See I'm helping your argument here, I'm not disputing that usage of 'tip'. That doesn't mean McTell's usage was not a variation on that. Could well be "Trip the light fantastic" evolved out of the idea of 'to tip light', even. Whatever, it's a bit of a mouthful to say the whole phrase, so shorten it up and what do you get?

I wish the lyrics were more accurate on Taft's site, it's a great resource otherwise.

« Last Edit: January 25, 2009, 11:45:54 AM by Rivers »

Offline waxwing

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #98 on: January 25, 2009, 12:43:00 PM »
So, CD release gig being over, I gave some listens to the phrase. I can't hear "arsenic". I hear a very strong OW sound after the "get" or "git" as he pronounces it. So I think it is either "git out" or "git down". Very hard to go one way or the other between "down" or "out", but clearly no AR sound.

Quote
Which brings me to my second, shorter point. I don't think he sings the word "lemon". I hear an -it or -ent ending to the word.

I agree with UB. and it occurs to me that maybe he's saying "snake liniment" but contracting a bit to "snake lin'ment" or maybe even reversing the n and m to "snake lim'nent". Googling I don't find any usages without the word "oil" in the middle, as "snake oil liniment", but again, could be a contraction to scan correctly or could have been local usage.

Actually the more I listen at 70% it sounds like "limit" which I think is what I said long ago in this thread (now that they are combined). Slowing to 50%, which I always think can me misleading, the M sound seems to have a fricative quality almost sounds like a V, and the T sound loses its plosive quality so it starts to sound like "snake livin'. Could be heading back toward "lemon" there or to "level" tho' I can't make any L sound at the end.

I assume we are all in agreement after that: "and tap it flat and tip light 'cross your floor"? To me, "tripping the light fantastic" means to dance lightly with a partner with whom one has a blissful emotional connection, whereas to "tip light cross your floor" means something closer to tip toe, making as little noise and with the least amount of intrusiveness possible.

Altho' I suppose "snake lin'ment" leaves open the door for some sort of far fetched cosmetic use, I just don't buy that he's talking about winning her back with a little hair cream. The mood of the rest of the song is just too abject, praying to God, relating to being used up and tossed aside like a rusted out steam engine, even the plaintive first line of this verse: "Don't you hear me baby, rappin' on your door" just doesn't exude the confidence that all it's gonna take is a little pomade. I think he is talking about groveling for her forgiveness.

I don't think we are ever going to figure out what that word after "snake" is. Possibly he mispronounced something. I think Buddy Moss sings some thing like "can I get down here snake legged and tap it flat..." in take 1 and in take 2 sounds kinda like "can I get down at (or maybe get on it) snake limit (or lemon, or lim'nent)" and then fluffs, as Riv said, sounding a little drunk. So really, no help there, except no AR sound for "arsenic" and that he does seem to clearly say the phrase "tap it flat", which I think must have some idiomatic meaning that we are not aware of and would be the best direction for deeper investigation (not speculation) if anyone has the time.

I sing it "Can I get down snake like and tap it flat and tip light 'cross your floor." I think that conveys a sense of crawling to her for forgiveness that audiences get, and it's only the rare blues nut who has already been puzzling the McTell version that ever asks me about it. But I often get questions, for instance, about the meaning of "mamlish".

All for now.
John C


« Last Edit: January 25, 2009, 12:49:25 PM by waxwing »
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
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“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
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Offline waxwing

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #99 on: January 25, 2009, 01:00:23 PM »
I want to cut out find a woman, to do like my last rider done
I want to cut out find a woman, to do just like my last rider done
She kept it all for her daddy, she didn?t give nobody none

2.1 I WONDER COULD I find a woman (no comma) to do like my last rider done
2.2 WONDER COULD I find a woman (no comma) to do like my last rider done
She kept it all for her daddy, she didn?t give nobody none

Andrew, you seem to have left "just" out of the second line with out your usual indication: (no JUST). Don't have time to give this a listen for the "wonder could a"/"wanna cut out" issue.

All for now,
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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Offline Rivers

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #100 on: January 25, 2009, 01:25:56 PM »
Quote
So, CD release gig being over, I gave some listens to the phrase. I can't hear "arsenic". I hear a very strong OW sound after the "get" or "git" as he pronounces it. So I think it is either "git out" or "git down". Very hard to go one way or the other between "down" or "out", but clearly no AR sound.

I'm surprised you don't hear the AR- sound, but then again I hear no '-T' after lemon either!

I had another theory (groan). Tap it flat. I remember an old movie where they had these collapsible top hats that you could flatten when you took them off, they squished down into a flat shape so you didn't have to mess with the thing too much. Then when you wanted to put it on you smacked the brim against your other hand and it popped out. Could this be what he's talking about? http://www.millerhats.com/top_index/top.htm

Willie McTell as Fred Astaire, too much!

« Last Edit: January 25, 2009, 01:34:45 PM by Rivers »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #101 on: January 25, 2009, 01:32:19 PM »
UB, I'm not saying they all screwed up the lyric, that's a false dichotomy. There is no argument here against that usage of 'tip'. Just that we've established the phrase "trip the light fantastic" was in play at the time, and what he said and what he meant can easily be two different things. How can you be certain that 'tip light' wasn't slang for "trip the light fantastic" at that time?

I can't without researching it, but I can be pretty certain that "tip light" more likely refers to walking lightly or tiptoeing, and that McTell's lyric strongly resembles the other examples from the tradition in which that is the image being drawn. Setting aside auditory evidence, in which there is no R sound in 'tip', his lyric has the rapping/tapping on the door language, the "'cross your floor/yard" image, the suggestion of sneaking around in tippin', tippin' light, tippin' around in stocking feet, or greased shoes (!).

Quote
context is everything...  :)

Perhaps if we're analyzing personal lyric poetry -- though I really don't believe context is everything even then. I'd say the historical context of traditional verses and lyric formulas certainly carries a lot of weight when examining these lyrics. To look at the lyrics of what is at least in part a folk tradition without the context of that tradition and typical examples from it seems odd.

But even so, the context you're trying to place the lyric in with "trip the light fantastic" so far only ties it to a white New York vaudeville singer, if one accepts that "tip light" and "trip the light fantastic" mean the same thing.


Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #102 on: January 25, 2009, 01:35:17 PM »
I want to cut out find a woman, to do like my last rider done
I want to cut out find a woman, to do just like my last rider done
She kept it all for her daddy, she didn?t give nobody none

2.1 I WONDER COULD I find a woman (no comma) to do like my last rider done
2.2 WONDER COULD I find a woman (no comma) to do like my last rider done
She kept it all for her daddy, she didn?t give nobody none

Andrew, you seem to have left "just" out of the second line with out your usual indication: (no JUST). Don't have time to give this a listen for the "wonder could a"/"wanna cut out" issue.

All for now,
John C.

Thanks Wax. The "just" is there in the 2nd line, I just mistyped. Good eye. Will edit earlier post.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #103 on: January 25, 2009, 01:37:42 PM »
Sorry, I was editing when you posted. Did you see my 'collapsible top hat' theory? Kinda ties in. Also are you sure it was a 'white' vaudevillian? I can't find any info as yet.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blind Willie McTell lyrics
« Reply #104 on: January 25, 2009, 01:41:04 PM »
Tippin' Tom, Sylvester Weaver, "My name's Tippin' Tom, turn your damper down. Got a good reputation known all over town" - there's a good one for the quote machine.

Riv, am guessing you mean Curley Weaver here? I don't have Sylvester Weaver doing this, and those are the lyrics Curley sings.

 


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