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I'm Thinkin' about the year of 19 and 29 - Happy New Year Blues, Lemon Jefferson

Author Topic: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"  (Read 7739 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« on: November 28, 2008, 10:05:15 AM »
Hi all,
I was listening to Lemon's recording of "Jack of Diamonds" the other day and realized that I do not know what card game the lyrics are referring to.  It's not any variety of poker that I've encountered.  Does anyone know what card game is being spoken of in the lyrics to "Jack of Diamonds"?
All best,
Johnm

Offline Rivers

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #1 on: November 28, 2008, 04:41:58 PM »
I have no idea but will take a guess. 5 card stud, since in the first round you're betting on a face-up card, and the jack of diamonds only beats one other court card, the jack of clubs.

There's a verse in The Cuckoo (various titles) that also mentions the jack o'diamonds.

Another question I have is how did gamblers Lemon and Blind Blake play cards in the first place? Did Lemon play cards or just lift the ideas from an old song like the Cuckoo? We know (or think we know, since it was one of Big Bill's mixed-up accounts) that Blake played a lot of poker.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2008, 12:13:32 AM »
I think it's likely that it's referring to Georgia Skin, since it's possible for any card to lose against any other card, depending what order they're drawn in. A Google search came up with a couple of people reporting rules, which make it sound like it's a variation of Faro. Rivers, I would think in stud that any ace, king or queen would beat a jack, and the suits wouldn't matter (they wouldn't in Faro, either). If there's a variation where that does happen, let me know.
Chris

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2008, 12:55:29 AM »
FWIW coincidently Chris Smith asked this of the PWBG on 18 October

"If anyone can tell me what game Blind Lemon Jeffferson was playing in
'Jack O Diamonds Blues', in which the jack of diamonds is apparently a
master card (since it beats the queen and the four), but not always (since
it's a hard card to play) I'll be obliged."

He only received one response from Paul Garon thus:

"I have no idea of this is relevant, but in one take of Minnie's
GEORGIA SKIN (but not in the other take), she sings something about
playing the jack of diamonds on out to the end, perhaps suggesting it
had a special meaning or function in the Skin game."

Offline Rivers

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2008, 04:12:00 PM »
Chris, suit hierarchy does apply in a stud poker face value tie. I see on wikipedia there is an alternative to the usual clubs diamonds hearts spades which goes diamonds clubs hearts spades, which would put the jack o'diamonds as the lowest ranking court card.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_card_by_suit
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five-card_stud

The j o'd is not a one-eyed jack (wild in some games) so no connection there.

I like the Georgia Skin theory but have no idea how it's played.

[edit] suit ranking applies in stud only to determine low-card to ante-up in the event of tie. So it doesn't fit.

[edit 2] I've now read 3 googled explanations of the Georgia Skin Game, all are different...
« Last Edit: November 29, 2008, 04:33:06 PM by Rivers »

JugStruggler

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2008, 05:00:34 PM »
Quote
Another question I have is how did gamblers Lemon and Blind Blake play cards in the first place?

It's most likely either lifted from other songs, or it could be original words based on stories they heard. 

Another options is that they were not completely blind and/or were not blind there whole lives.  I know the picture of Lemon shows him wearing glasses, and there is story he worked as a wrestler before taking to music (I'm sure others can correct my "facts").  If he was nearly completely blind he may have been able to distinguish cards by holding them up very close to his eye.

Offline daddystovepipe

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2008, 11:51:02 PM »
Mack McCormick explains in the liner notes of Mance Lipscomb 'Texas Songster' album (Arhoolie lp1001 or cd306) : "The many different versions  which are still circulated give a sequence of advice on how to bet the JackO'Diamonds in the popular game Monte in which the players bet for or against "layouts" of various cards.  After the bets the dealer turns up a card form the stack - called the Monte or Mountain - which determins the winning and losing bets".

This does not explain the game in detail but maybe the cardsharks under you can shed a further light on this... ;)

Offline banjochris

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2008, 02:23:01 AM »
Monte and Faro were pretty similar, according to the rules on this website:

http://www.shasta.com/suesgoodco/respite/

I'm sure there were lots of variations lost to history. Nowadays Monte is mostly thought of as the "find the lady" scam with three cards and a queen -- the variation on the old shell game.


Offline Chezztone

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2008, 12:46:57 AM »
I don't know what game Lemon is singing about. But I do know that blind people can play cards. There is a funny episode in Ray Charles' biography about a game where he was beating his opponent for a lot of money -- and then the landlady walked in and scolded the opponent, "Shame on you for taking advantage of a blind boy like that!" and broke up the game, leaving Ray laughing as he counted his winnings.
Also at last year's World Series of Poker there was a blind player who got pretty far.

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #9 on: December 02, 2008, 09:10:49 AM »
You might shoot an e-mail to Steve James. He covers that tune (and quite well I'd say). Steve is quite the student of the genre and frequently knows the stories behind his material, or can make one up that will pass for true...
-C

Offline Rivers

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #10 on: December 02, 2008, 04:32:05 PM »
Steve's rendition is pretty much the Mance Lipscomb version, and he does credit Mance on the album. Same tune but it's got a lot more verses than Lemon's (or John Lee Hooker's). A lot more playing cards get rhymed. I've listened to it, and all the others, for more clues as to the game, no dice.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #11 on: December 02, 2008, 04:56:10 PM »
Ramblin' Jack Eliot's Cuckoo version contains a Jack o' Diamonds verse. He puts it over like only a doctor's son with a cowboy hat from Queens can (in other words fucking great!)
Eric Von Schmidt's early white person attempting bottleneck guitar version is a charming artifact of a bygone era.
Its on the Real Folk Blues of Eric Von Schmidt album, featured on the cover of Mr.Dylan's Bringin' it all Back Home.

The Mississippi Shieks have a Jack o' Diamonds/payday version I do believe.
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Offline frankie

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #12 on: December 02, 2008, 05:08:48 PM »
The Mississippi Shieks have a Jack o' Diamonds/payday version I do believe.

The only song the Sheiks do that comes close to this is Bootlegger's Blues, which is a theme that was also rendered by Uncle Dave Macon as Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy, and Henry Thomas as Shanty Blues.  None of these share verses with Jack o' Diamonds or The Cuckoo that I recall, though...  which makes me think...  seems like most versions of The Cuckoo include a 'Jack o' Diamonds' verse, but I can't think of a single version of Jack o' Diamonds that includes a verse about a cuckoo....  what's up with that?

Offline Rivers

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #13 on: December 02, 2008, 05:32:13 PM »
Yeah, what is the connection between the two songs, I've always wondered about that myself. I assume The Cuckoo is older but have no idea really.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #14 on: December 02, 2008, 06:16:30 PM »
The Cuckoo, I believe, dates back to Elizabethan England. If it doesn't it should. In fact it should start back there tomorrow or the day before yesterday I don't care which. ;)

The Jack o' Diamonds verse was added by one Maurice Swainsbottom in 1837 as a way of advertising an illegal gambling casino on the Bowery in NYC. While this is a complete fabrication it is true that........awwww fuck it!
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Offline LeftyStrat

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Question about Lemon's Jack O' Diamonds
« Reply #15 on: February 02, 2009, 04:27:11 PM »
Hello all,

As I've recently attempted to begin listening to Blind Lemon Jefferson again, I've come across a question that has left me rather curious, and I thought I'd ask for some assistance from the great folks here.

Lemon refers to the Jack of Diamonds as "a hard card to beat" in the tracks of the same title, but I'm wondering is, what card game is he referring to?

On the same note, is he referring to the same in "Bad Luck Blues" when he says (according to what I read just now in another thread) "I'll never bet on that deuce-trey-queen no more"?

Anyone out there have the faintest idea?

BTW, if this thread is misplaced, feel free to move it to the appropriate area.
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Offline Rivers

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #16 on: February 02, 2009, 06:07:02 PM »
Lefty, consensus on the marathon Lemon lyrics thread is that Lemon sings "hard card to play". Your post is in exactly the right place, join the rest of us who are wondering what it all means.

Jack is a hard card to play, as in 'lead with, or put down', in a lot of games, since it oftentimes feels like a high card but is beat by several others.

But what is the game in this case, is the question. Logic says it's a game where you lead and play a single card out of your hand each time round. "Bet the jack against the queen..."...why would you do that? Unless you thought your jack was high, but a player on your left was holding a queen.

I know... it was "Screw Your Neighbor"! Now there's a great game!  ;)
« Last Edit: February 02, 2009, 06:18:15 PM by Rivers »

Offline Rivers

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #17 on: February 02, 2009, 06:40:42 PM »
Now you got me researching it again... check this out: http://www.msoworld.com/mindzine/news/card/tips/andrewstiph1.html

I have often thought it could be Hearts but then thought "nah". Read about this variation of Hearts and the Jack O'Diamonds plays on that page that will get you a nice 10 point reduction. They state that this variation on standard Hearts is 'over 70 years old'. I just never considered Hearts to be a hard core gambling game, maybe it's just the people I hang out with.

Just a theory mind you, I'm not saying it's the answer, just that it fits. For more on how hard the jack of diamonds is to play in that variation of Hearts, and also the snippet it was introduced in the late Twenties, see http://zone.msn.com/en/hearts/article/hrtztipsjoeandrews0400.htm

[edited because it's been a while since I played Hearts and had to look up stuff]
« Last Edit: February 02, 2009, 07:43:39 PM by Rivers »

Offline Pan

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #18 on: February 03, 2009, 05:00:49 AM »
Coincidentally (?), the same subject is being discussed on the Blind Man's Blues forum as we speak. Blues musician Hawkeye Herman posted this, which I found interesting:

Quote
... for what it's worth ... the Old West's famous gunman/lawman/gambler Wild Bill Hickok had a very hard time playing the Jack O' Diamonds:

Wild Bill Hickok
James Butler Hickok was born in 1837. The first time he was officially referred to as "William" was at Rock Creek Station in Nebraska Territory where he worked for a freight company. He fought in the Civil War and was a lawman in many places in Nebraska and Kansas. Hickok came to Deadwood, South Dakota to take part in the gold rush of 1876. On August 2 1876. Hickok was playing cards with group of friends in Deadwood's "Number 10" Saloon. He was unable to sit with his back against the wall as he usually did, and when Jack McCall came in he shot Hickok in the back of the head, killing him instantly. At the time of his death Hickok was holding black aces and eights with the fifth card, the Jack of Diamonds. For ever after this hand would be known as "The Dead Man's Hand".



Isn't "the dead man's hand" also referred to, in some blues songs' lyrics? I seem to have a faint recollection of this, but can't remember what the exact song might be.


Offline uncle bud

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #19 on: February 03, 2009, 08:38:06 AM »
The Bill Hickok story is tantalizing, though ultimately I don't think it relates to the song and is probably just coincidence. Many of the versions are more about gambling losses and bad luck associated with the Jack of Diamonds, rather than an omen of death, no? I wonder whether the blues song has UK folksong origins, as others have suggested earlier in the thread, and as the quote below suggests.

Quote
Jack O' Diamonds Blues

Old-Time, Texas Style; Breakdown. USA; Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, West Virginia. SEE ALSO: ?Rye Whiskey? "Drunken Hiccups," "The Cuckoo," "Way Up On Clinch Mountain."

ARTIST: Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded two takes of this song in 1926, this is the first take.

CATEGORY: Fiddle and Instrumental Tunes. DATE: Appears in JOAFL as "Drunkard?s Song" 1905 Perrow; Lyrics originated in the mid 1800's as "The Rebel Soldier." First printed version as "The Rebel Prisoner" in the 1874 songbook "Allan's Lone Star Ballads." The Scottish melody ["Robi Donadh Gorrach" set by Nathaniel Gow (1763-1831) as an "An Old Highland Song"] is associated with "The Wagoner's Lad," "The Drunken Hiccups," "Rye Whiskey" "Jack of Diamonds," "Clinch Mountain," "The Cuckoo." .

There is a substantial amount of information on Jack of Diamonds at this page: http://www.bluegrassmessengers.com/master/jackodiamonds3.html from which the above is taken. Nothing about the card game played...

Dorothy Scarborough collected another version published in a 1923 essay:

JACK O' DIAMONDS

Jack o' Diamonds, Jack o' Diamonds,
Jack o' Diamonds is a hard card to roll.

Says, Whenever I get in jail,
Jack o' Diamonds goes my bail;
And I never, Lord, I never,
Lord, I never was so hard up before.

You may work me in the winter,
You may work me in the fall;
I'll get even, I'll get even,
I'll get even through that long summer's day.

Jack o' Diamonds took my money,
And the piker got my clothes;
And I ne-ever, and I ne-ever,
Lord, I never was so hard-run before!

Says, whe'ever I gets in jail,
I'se got a Cap'n goes my bail;
And a Lu-ula, and a Lu-ula,
And a Lula that's a hard-working chile!

from Dorothy Scarborough, "The Blues as Folk Songs" 1923
http://www.sacred-texts.com/ame/cig/cig12.htm


Offline BlueRob

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #20 on: February 03, 2009, 03:26:37 PM »
Hello Lefty, Pan, and all fellow "Lemonistas"--

Indeed, perhaps this is Lemon's own version of an old local (Texas?) folk ballad. A Dallas street crowd ca. 1915-1925 would probably have made the connection easily. I wonder if Lemon wasn't a bit naive about card games, due to inexperience, as his references seem second-hand. It doesn't seem that Lemon is referring to any easily-recognizable card game; perhaps he was just playing to the crowd, in order to solicit more approval and more tips.
"Crossin' over Jordan, don't have no fear--Jesus gonna be my engineer"

Offline Johnm

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #21 on: February 03, 2009, 04:12:37 PM »
Hi BlueRob,
The lyrics are not exclusive to Lemon, though.  They're sung by virtually everyone else who did "Jack of Diamonds"--Mance Lipscomb, Pete Harris, et al, so I don't see Lemon's naivete about card games being a crucial factor.  Perhaps it was a game like Pitty Pat or Pokeno that we see referenced in blues lyrics but that almost no one knows how to play anymore, at least in these parts.
All best,
Johnm

Offline waxwing

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #22 on: February 03, 2009, 05:38:22 PM »
I think there's a possibility none of them knew what the song meant, either, taking it for an old expression just as those of us who sing it do. It was just an old song handed down that everyone liked so you sang it.

But, if you want to take it literally, I think Hearts is a very common game in prison, along with Gin Rummy. You could keep track of points from day to day, maybe cashing in when the need arises for contraband. And the Jack o' D's is hard to play 'cause you want to be sure it goes to the right person, i.e whoever is currently high man, at least, if you play cutthroat strategy like we used to when we couldn't get a 4th for bridge. You could take serious shit from the other players if it was seen that you didn't deliver when you could have. And laying it on the low man clearly indicated a grudge, unless no other play was possible. Of course, the opposite applies to the Queen of Spades, i.e. don't let it go to the high man, fine to give it to the low man, but with the Queen you mostly want to take it yourself. So, in a way, the Jack is the harder card to play, 'cause you also don't want to end up eating it yourself.

All for now.
John C.
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Offline Rivers

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #23 on: February 03, 2009, 06:54:48 PM »
Quote
But, if you want to take it literally

Aye, there's the rub... It had occurred to me Lemon was just throwing out card jargon, not knowing anything about of which he spoke. That's got to be the last resort in these lyric transcriptions IMHO. I can count on the fingers of no hands the lines we've nailed on this board that were basically meaningless. Just because we haven't figured it out yet is no reason to assume it's gibberish.

There is always a meaning if you dig deep enough. The meaning might be obscured by pronunciation, archaic idioms, surface noise and history but it's there. I'm just glad to be associated with people with such good ears, knowledge, innovation and imagination.

Also based on past experience I still maintain 'context is everything'. I can't think of a tricky case where it wasn't in play somehow.

Waxy, how come you know so much about card games in the slammer? ;)
« Last Edit: February 03, 2009, 06:56:36 PM by Rivers »

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #24 on: February 03, 2009, 07:08:13 PM »
Quote
Perhaps it was a game like Pitty Pat or Pokeno that we see referenced in blues lyrics but that almost no one knows how to play anymore, at least in these parts.

When I worked in a Senior Citizens center in the South Bronx in the mid seventies, Pokeno was THE game amongst the oldsters. Don't know how to play it though.
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Offline banjochris

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #25 on: February 03, 2009, 11:43:34 PM »
And the Jack o' D's is hard to play 'cause you want to be sure it goes to the right person, i.e whoever is currently high man, at least, if you play cutthroat strategy like we used to when we couldn't get a 4th for bridge. You could take serious shit from the other players if it was seen that you didn't deliver when you could have. And laying it on the low man clearly indicated a grudge, unless no other play was possible. Of course, the opposite applies to the Queen of Spades, i.e. don't let it go to the high man, fine to give it to the low man, but with the Queen you mostly want to take it yourself. So, in a way, the Jack is the harder card to play, 'cause you also don't want to end up eating it yourself.

I'm confused, although this has nothing to do with the song. Every game of Hearts I've ever played the Queen of Spades was the bad card you didn't want to take (usually worth 13 points) and I've played a few times where usually the 10 of diamonds was worth negative points. Just curious, and maybe it's played differently in different parts of the country.
Chris

Offline waxwing

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #26 on: February 04, 2009, 01:48:25 AM »
As I remember it Chris (it's been since college, which is like prison, Riv) you try to get points by taking tricks. At the end of each hand each player counts how many hearts they have captured for a point each and whoever captured the queen of spades gets a bonus of 13 points. The jack of diamonds, as you say, was negative points, minus 10. We would set some goal, like 200 and the first person with 100 points was the winner. But, writing this out, I'm starting to doubt my memory. Doesn't quite seem right now?

Google is my friend - you're right, the object is to avoid collecting hearts or the queen o' spades, the jack is good. Low score wins when someone reaches 100. Well, I plead my main interest was bridge, where the object is to take tricks, and I only played hearts under duress. But the same things apply only in reverse, laying the queen on low man, i.e. the leader,  jack to the high man if you can't take it yourself, etc. Sorry for the confusion. I probably couldn't play bridge now either. I was also doing a lot of hallucinogenics in those days, too.

And I'd forgotten totally about "shooting the moon", i.e. taking all the hearts and the queen which reverses the tables and gives every one else 26 points. Ha! 

It also occurs to me that the jack of diamonds represents a cut off point when betting in poker, at least as I learned the finer points of 7 card stud (in grad school). For those I knew who played with some semblance of a system, the minimum holding after the first three cards were dealt was a jack. No face card and you fold without betting in the first round. (In fact, this is about the most important decision you make in any betting game, whether to get out on the first round without betting. Most will pay to see a few cards and then get out, spending a few dollars on every hand, or get strung out all the way chasing what might have been. Those types are the meat and potatoes of any decent player.) Anyway, some I knew would only bet with a jack in a major suit. Either way, the jack of diamonds is sorta on the cusp if you see what I mean, it's the dividing line where you have to make a decision one way or the other. Anything else is cut and dried. No doubt it occupies this position in other card games as well.

But I still think Lemon and the others were singing an old song. Sure, maybe they tried to put a little sense into it by giving it some jargon from a game they knew, but whether the jack had any special value in those games is not necessarily a certainty.

All for now.
John C.
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Offline uncle bud

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #27 on: February 04, 2009, 06:57:09 AM »
Quote
But, if you want to take it literally

Aye, there's the rub... It had occurred to me Lemon was just throwing out card jargon, not knowing anything about of which he spoke. That's got to be the last resort in these lyric transcriptions IMHO. I can count on the fingers of no hands the lines we've nailed on this board that were basically meaningless. Just because we haven't figured it out yet is no reason to assume it's gibberish.

There is always a meaning if you dig deep enough. The meaning might be obscured by pronunciation, archaic idioms, surface noise and history but it's there.

While I'd agree that it should perhaps be the last resort, or close to it, there are surely examples where meaning is elusive at best, gone AWOL at worst. These situations would occur mostly (exclusively? hate to be absolute  :P) when a singer is repeating or reusing lyrics from another song or from the tradition. What does "smokestack lightning" mean? Surely it's a mis-hearing of an earlier lyric, regardless of whether it has become de facto blues poetry. When Lemon sings "I'm sittin' here wonderin' will a match box hold my clothes, I ain't got so many matches, but I got so far to go" is he creating a new, poetically odd verse or is he screwing up a line that should mean "I ain't got so many clothes", hence the cartoonish matchbox-as-suitcase image? Which is the meaning of a similar verse in Ma Rainey's Lost Wandering Blues, recorded three years before Lemon's song, or the meaning of many other versions of the verse. One could I suppose offer interpretations of 'smokestack lightning' or 'I ain't got so many matches', but there comes a point where one is shoehorning size 10 meaning into a size 8 loafer.



Offline dj

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #28 on: February 04, 2009, 07:10:00 AM »
Quote
What does "smokestack lightning" mean?

When I was a young child, in the 1950s, we used to stay overnight at my Grandmother's house in Hopewell Junction NY so we could get up before dawn to watch the circus train come in to town.  My earliest recollection of doing this is also my only recollection of seeing a steam engined train, and I remember how cool it was seeing cinders fly out the smokestack in the dark.  I've always thought that that sight of red hot cinders flying around in the dark, lighting up the smoke, was what "smokestack lightning" referred to.  Maybe, maybe not, but if it is, it's part of a class of lyrics whose meaning has been lost due to changing technology.   

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #29 on: February 04, 2009, 04:40:43 PM »
While we're digressing into meaning and intentions, I thought I'd add this quote from Bumble Bee Slim, which I coincidentally just came across as I make my way through Paul Oliver's Blues Off the Record. It's regarding the composition of B & O Blues.

"Oddly enough, Slim explains, 'I didn't know there was a B & O Railroad. I just imagined there was. So I wrote the B & O Blues...my baby's gone, she won't come back no more; she left this morning, she caught the B & O... well, I didn't know there was the B & O, really I didn't. A couple o' years later a box car was goin' along. I say to my manager, 'I noticed B & O just like the B & O on the record.' He said, 'yeah, that's the B & O Railroad.'"

Very strange! You'd think he would have just "played smart".  :P Not sure what to believe here, but take it for what you will.

Offline oddenda

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #30 on: February 04, 2009, 05:24:56 PM »
dj -

          I always thought that it was a garbling/mis-hearing of "smokes like lightning", which makes a bit more sense.

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Offline Rivers

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #31 on: February 04, 2009, 06:17:15 PM »
There's a supposed quote, provenance unknown,  on this page, scan for 'smokestack'. dj's flying sparks.

http://www.smoe.org/lists/joni/v2004.n494

When I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about this I wonder whether it was even a train, since factory chimneys always have a lightning conductor rod on them on account of being struck regularly. There is nothing in Wolf's lyric that even hints at it being a train, but it sure do sound like one.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #32 on: February 04, 2009, 07:17:20 PM »
Perhaps I should have quoted the whole Wolf verse, which has obvious connections to the Mississippi Sheiks' "Stop and Listen", and Charley Patton's "Moon Going Down", as well as Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues".

Oh, smokestack lightning, shining just like gold
Oh, don't you hear me crying?
Whoo-hoo, whoo-hoo

Compare to the Sheiks' Stop and Listen:

Crying, smokestack?s black, baby, and the bell it shine like gold
Now don?t you-a-hear me talking, pretty mama, oh
Smokestack?s black, bell it shining like gold
Crying, I found my baby laying on the cooling board

Or Patton's Moon Going Down:

Lord, the smokestack is black and the bell it shine like
Bell it shine like, bell it shine like gold

Wolf apparently later offered an explanation of the phrase that's very similar to what dj describes, but in light of the lyrical similarities to prior recordings, I can't help but think that was more likely a rationalization after the fact for a mishearing of the lyrics. Or perhaps his verse was coming from an original source and it's the others that are variations! I'm sure there's no way to prove either definitively. But it was certainly great to listen to Crying at Daybreak before making this post. Holy smoke.

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #33 on: February 04, 2009, 09:36:18 PM »
Good points there UB

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #34 on: February 05, 2009, 04:05:32 AM »
Thanks to the link to the Wolf quote, Rivers.  I guess Smokestack Lightnin' points out what's probably a major reason for lyric variation: one mishears a lyric, but mishears it in a way that makes perfect sense to the mishearer, so the lyric gets passed on in its new form.  Kind of like DNA mutating in beneficial ways.

But my original point is that, if I'd never seen that train, the phrase "smokestack lightnin'" would never have made any sense to me.  Since I did, I made the same connection Wolf did.  But as steam engines have disappeared from the landscape, the meaning that Howlin' Wolf and I both independently arrived at has increasingly, as uncle bud so aptly put it, "gone AWOL".  One of the things I think of when a lyric makes no sense is that it probably made sense to the original performer, and if we could only revisit the historical circumstances and immerse ourselves in the culture present at the creation of the lyric, it would make sense to us.  Had the posters on this forum been gambling on the streets of Texas cities in the 1920s, we wouldn't now be puzzling over why the Jack of Diamonds was such a hard card to play, the meaning would be obvious.

Into the wayback machine, Sherman!         

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #35 on: February 05, 2009, 05:26:20 AM »
Wolf apparently later offered an explanation of the phrase that's very similar to what dj describes, but in light of the lyrical similarities to prior recordings, I can't help but think that was more likely a rationalization after the fact for a mishearing of the lyrics. Or perhaps his verse was coming from an original source and it's the others that are variations! I'm sure there's no way to prove either definitively. But it was certainly great to listen to Crying at Daybreak before making this post. Holy smoke.
Apropos of absolutely nothing, in 1993 I was given a book entitled ?Smokestack Lightning;Teenage Memoirs? by Lawrence Staig. I?ve never bothered to read it but the cover collage contains the Chess photo of Howlin? Wolf with guitar. It was for this reason alone that the giver thought it might be about blues and of interest to me.  ::)

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #36 on: February 08, 2009, 01:28:04 PM »
Dingwall over in the Lemon lyrics thread offers a Jack o' Diamonds line transcribed from the Paramount Book of the Blues which has it as "Put the jack against the four, you will walk right in the door." This seems to be a Paramount error, as I think Lemon says "Bet" each time. However, other versions of the song vary the word used. Mance says "Play the Jack against...". And I am trying to remember where I have heard/seen the line delivered as "Set the Jack against the four..." "Set the Jack against the Queen, you will turn your money green" etc. "Setting" suggests laying it next to/on top of the four, rather than cards that are used to beat each other/bet against each other. Like in Black Jack. Don't know if that sets off any bells. Perhaps this too is how "Put" might have snuck into that Paramount version?

I can barely work the Solitaire game on my computer, so I bring all this up knowing full well I can't answer it.
« Last Edit: February 08, 2009, 01:30:53 PM by uncle bud »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #37 on: February 08, 2009, 01:35:29 PM »
It's hard to hear whether Smith Casey, in his version of Jack of Diamonds, sings "Played the Jack and the four" or "Played the Jack 'gin the four". I think the former but perhaps someone else can have a listen.

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #38 on: February 08, 2009, 03:08:01 PM »
In Bob Campbell's "Dices Blues" he has the line:

"My buddy played the Jack when he give me that hard-luck queen"

and in the following stanza:

"Jack o'diamonds, jack o'diamonds will turn your money green"

This would seem to refer to the same game with the jack beating the queen.

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #39 on: February 08, 2009, 06:15:28 PM »
"My buddy played the Jack when he give me that hard-luck queen"

This line would seem to indicate some kind of passing game if his buddy "give" him the queen, and there is a version of Hearts, IIRC, where everyone passes three cards, first left, then right, then across. But there are many games with passing cards involved.

I don't see how this line indicates that the jack beats the queen, tho'?

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #40 on: February 08, 2009, 10:51:31 PM »
My parents loved playing card games, and Hearts (in several variations) was one of them. This thread twigged a memory about a Jack of Diamonds variation, and sure enough, when I went looking:
http://www.ehow.com/video_4413272_the-jack-diamonds-variation-hearts.html
The "authority" indicates that this variation came into use in the early 20th century. My guess would be that the "power" assigned to JOD derives from similar "powers" borrowed from or inspired by an earlier game. Listening to the explanation certainly gives some perspective regarding why it is "a hard card to play!"

Does anyone know the siginifance of the JOD looking the opposite direction to all the other Jacks in the deck?
Cheers,
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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #41 on: February 09, 2009, 03:33:31 AM »
"Jack Of Diamonds", written by Hersal Thomas and Matthew Wallace and recorded by Sippie Wallace might shed some light on the matter.  All three were from Houston.  Hersal Thomas was Sippie's younger brother and Matthew Wallace was her husband and manager.  In the song, the Jack of Diamonds serves double duty, signifying both Sippie's lover and the card itself.  The relevant verse for this discussion is:

I love Jack of Diamonds but he was a cruel man
I love jack of Diamonds but he was a cruel man
He would play dice and cards and his game was old coon can

Which suggests that the card may have had some particular significance in coon can.



   

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #42 on: August 22, 2010, 01:27:40 PM »
I noticed another connection with Jack of Diamonds and coon can, apologies if it's already been mentioned. I was listening to the JSP Blind Boy Fuller set hunting lyrics for Red River Blues, he sings this:

My girl give me money, money to play coon can
Well Jack o' Diamonds [? sounds like "T-roll"] my hand

Mystery word could be "throw" I guess.



Offline banjochris

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #43 on: August 22, 2010, 02:46:35 PM »
Rivers, which song is that?
Chris

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #44 on: August 25, 2010, 04:53:13 PM »
Good question Chris. I checked the JSP Fuller (& friends) volume 2, and was surprised to see it's actually Virgil Childers doing Red River Blues.

I thought it was BBF having an off day, it doesn't have his drive. It's quite enjoyable though and "is what it is", I guess.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Query re "Jack of Diamonds"
« Reply #45 on: August 25, 2010, 06:07:40 PM »
Thanks, not sure I have that one, I'll have to take a look on my iTunes.

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