"The Land Where the Blues Began"--Transcription | Folkstreams

The Land Where the Blues Began--Transcription

The Land Where the Blues Began--Transcription

Edited by Daniel W. Patterson, drawing on transcripts prepared for Folkstreams by Will Lewis and for the DVD of The Land Where the Blues Began.

[Chapter 1—Introduction]

Ladies and gentlemen, childrens and chaps
Proud-eyed mosquitoes and bow-legged laps,
Pull up a seat or either sit on the floor.
I’ll tell you a story you’ve never heard before.

WALTER BROWN: See, God is taking care of me because I should have been dead forty years ago.

Killed that old gray mule,
Burnt down a white man’s barn

JACK OWENS: Learned my pieces right out in the cotton fields, plowing. Cotton field. I hadn’t learned nothing in no town. Ain’t been to town hardly.

BUD SPIRES: You didn’t know what town was, did you?

BEATRICE MAXWELL: I worked twelve years—just me and my girls. Farmed twelve years. Didn’t have no men’s help at all. And I made it.

J.T. TUCKER: That band give the team spirit to play, and they singing give you pep to work.

BUD SPIRES (playing harmonica):
Don’t get mad with me, boys,
Buggy don’t drive like mine.
It’s an easy riding buggy,
Raring to go all the time

NARRATOR (ALAN LOMAX): These people witnessed the birth of the blues. They lived them. This haunting music, laughing at life’s ironies, and set to a dancing beat. . . This amazing mix of Europe and Africa is America’s most distinctive song style. It’s also the product of the folk culture of the Mississippi Delta. Today, the blues have gone electric, gone urban, and belong to the whole world. And that’s fine. But I’m worried because the folk culture that produced the blues has almost disappeared. Now, I’ve spent a lifetime studying ethnic folklore and in 1931 recorded songs like this one in the Mississippi Delta.

Oh, Rosie
Oh Lord, gal
Oh, Rosie
Oh Lord, gal

ALAN: Once there were scores of such songs. Now, there are only a few left, and only a handful of the older generation remembers them. The wellspring that has given the world so much is drying up, neglected, misunderstood, and unheard. So today we give a platform to this vital folk culture and its creators. We visit picnics and revivals. We meet the black pioneers who helped to carve Mississippi out of the wilderness with their work on farms, river, railroad, and levee, creating a new music out of their loneliness and their deprivation. Music that, once heard, can never be forgotten.

R. L. BURNSIDE (playing guitar and singing):
Poor boy and I’m a long way from home
Poor boy and I’m a long ways from home
Poor boy and I’m a long way from home
World can’t do me no...

[Opening Credits]
a program by
Alan Lomax
John M. Bishop
Worth W. Long
NARRATOR: This old blues of the wondering laborer leads us deep into the hills east of the Delta. Just as the southern Appalachians preserved the old English ballads, so the Mississippi hill country sheltered a fantastic African music that fed the blues.

[Chapter 2—Lonnie Pitchford]

NARRATOR: This music is from Lexington, Mississippi. A young bluesman Lonnie Pitchford is playing his homemade one-stringed electric guitar. And his music is amazingly close to the sound this West African produces on his typical one-stringed instrument. And his instrument looked like the model of a one-stringer that Lonnie makes.
NARRATOR: The African musical bow, here played by two Bushmen boys, is the oldest of these one stringers. Black Mississippians call this instrument the diddley bow. And they make it by nailing a broom wire on the side of the house.

LONNIE PITCHFORD: So, place the nail like this. You wrap it around. O.K., I nail this in…tight. When you tune it, you pulls it down, like so. I don’t know if you can hear it too plain, but this is actually tuning.

(Pitchford playing the diddley bow)

PITCHFORD: Those actually the songs I would play when I was a kid.
[Chapter 3—Napoleon Strickland]

NAPOLEON STRICKLAND (playing the diddley bow with a drinking glass as slide):
Lord, wake up this morning
Sun shine in my back door
Lord, woke up this morning, baby
Sun a-shine in my back door
Yes yes

(music shifts to guitar)

Wait up baby, don’t you see
Shakin’ that thing, kill poor me
Must I...

I don’t like to play this but once in awhile, you know. Sometimes I get the blues.

Burn my house.  Ain’t no    turn around.
Don’t know ‘bout that. Going to break it on down.
Must I...

NAPOLEON STRICKLAND: (demonstrating how to make a cane fife) Now, when I first started, started to making them fifes--. All right, I’ll show you. The way I start there, I start my fingers like this. Now that’s wet. Then I took my knife and swung it out like this. Swung that out. Then I rest my fingers like that. Then, I took my knife and swung this out. Then, I swung that out. All right. Got up here. Got my tongue like this.

(fife-and-drum music)

NARRATOR: All through the northeast Mississippi hill country the fife-and-drum bands call the folks to summer picnics, looking like The Spirit of ’76, Afro-American style.
NARRATOR: This picnic music was a happy relic of the old time South hidden away in the Mississippi hills just like a reservoir of hot rhythms for the later blues. And it’s a joyous group thing,

[Chapter 4—Work Song]

while the blues tends to be solo and melancholy. It was the song of the individual foreigner caught between poverty and prejudice. And you hear the first notes of the blues in the work songs he sang.

CLYDE MAXWELL (singing a work song while chopping wood and felling a tree):
Take it easy all our days.
Early in the morning coming back home.
Ain’t gonna promise. I’ll be gone
Down in the bottom where the water rise.
Take me, Baby. I’ll be satisfied.
Whoa, Baby.  Whoa, Baby.
Early in the morning. . ..

NARRATOR: Generations of steel-muscled black axe men hacked away at the endless forests of the Delta bringing daylight into the river bottoms and opening up the richest land in the world for cultivation. Land suitable for vast cotton plantations where agriculture became a big, impersonal business that grew richer and richer at the expense of hired black labor.

LUCIUS SMITH (age 92): Well, if you ever come, way back yonder all you’d work for [was] your clothes. Way back yonder.
LOMAX: They didn’t pay you any money at all?
SMITH: They’d pay you fifty cent a day, or forty cent a day. I picked cotton thirty-five cent, a hundred. Chopped cotton from sun [up] to sun [down]—two bits and forty cent. My daddy lived in 1900, chopped cotton on a Saturday evening—started at one o’clock and chopped til sundown for twenty cent. That’s it.
NARRATOR: As one old time bluesman told me, “It take a man that have the blues to sing the blues.”

CLYDE MAXWELL, singing while plowing with a mule]:
Will you please tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, Baby,
Where you stay last night?
Yeah, will you please tell me, tell me, tell me,
Baby, where did you stay last night?

NARRATOR: At the bottom of the system, the debt-laden black farmer somehow recalled the wailing complaints of his ancestors under West African kings and in his free-rhythmed, ornamented field hollers the blues melodies began to grow.

Yeah, Mama told me, Mama told me, Mama told me
Way back when I was born
Well, gonna be a wild child coming,  coming, coming,
Oh, gonna be a rolling stone.

[Chapter 5—Jack Owens and Bud Spires]

JACK OWENS: Learned my pieces right out in the cotton fields, plowing. Cotton field. I hadn’t learned nothing in no town… Ain’t been to town hardly.

SPIRES: You didn’t know what town was, did you? Shuh!

OWENS: No. No, I learned all my blues in the country. Right here out in the country.

SPIRES: In the fields.

OWENS: Fields, picking the cotton, plowing, hoeing, picking peas, all that kind of mess.

SPIRES: Picking cotton or either hoeing, don’t make no difference.

OWENS: That’s where we learned this mess at. That’s the reason we don’t know no other pieces.

SPIRES: We learned something.

LOMAX: Have you been a farmer all your life?

OWENS: All my life . . . been farming out here all my days. Ain’t never had no . . .

SPIRES: Plow a mule in the daytime, pick guitar at night.

OWENS: That’s right, that’s all I do. Nothing but a farmer. Daddies and things was a farmer. That’s all I known. Raise chickens and a few hogs—something to eat around here. Farm out there in the fields. That’s all they ever knowed. That’s all they ever knowed.

JACK OWENS (singing and playing guitar), BUD SPIRES (harmonica):
Oh, hard times here every where I go.
Lord, hard times, Baby Gal, drive me to the door.
Hard times, Baby Gal, drive me to door.
Oh go, drivin’ me to go.
Hard times drivin’ me to the door.

I ain’t gwine no higher, Baby now.
Blow y’all down, Lord.
Stay right here, Baby Gal, till you drag.
Stay right here, Baby Gal, till you drag me down.
Drag me down, till you drag me,
That’s just how you drag.

Lord, hard times here every where I go.
Hard times, Baby Gal, drive me to go.
Hard times, Baby Gal, drive me to the door.
Hard times drive me to go.
Hard times, Baby Gal, drive me to door.

NARRATOR: And so the blues were born. Field hollers floating over solid, syncopated dance rhythms. Songs that voiced unspoken anger. The powerful bitter poetry of a hard pressed people.

BEATRICE MAXWELL: I started the field when I was eight years old. I used to cry to go to make a day. And my mother, she didn’t want me to go. So, there was there’s old white man, weren’t staying too far from us. All of them would be in the fields but me. And he asked what I was crying. I told him I was crying because I wanted to go make a day like the rest of them. They started me off at a dollar a day. I was getting just what they was getting. From then on I come all the way through. I cleaned up new ground. I cut down trees. I cut wood. I can cultivate. I can plow. I can even sweep. And then I can plant. I done did all of that all the way through in my life and days.

I worked twelve years—just me and my girls. Farmed twelve years. Didn’t have no men’s help at all. And I made it.

[Chapter 6—The River]

I run down to that river

NARRATOR: Many men often left home and farm looking for better jobs along the river. And these rootless men became the creators and consumers of the blues.
(under the narration SAM CHATMON continues singing:
Yeah, I took me a rocking chair.
Now if the blues don’t leave me,
I’m going rock on away from here.)
Oh, yes I is, Baby.
That’s right. Come on, boys.
You know I won’t leave you here.

NARRATOR: Life on the big white river boats was hard. But it also meant freedom and money to spend, and wild good times for the roustabout.

Come here, dog, and let’s get your bone.
Tell me what shoulder that you want it on

NARRATOR: These old time roustabouts had such fond memories of river life that they fixed up a rig to show us how the work was done and the songs were sung.
(under the narration WALTER BROWN continues singing:
Everybody talk about heist it high--
Nobody knows about the roustabout.)
Tell me, Gal, what you been waiting on.
I been away from my home too long.

WALTER BROWN: One, me and one man! He had it on one end, and I had it on other, going down the gang planks…going over, over the water. And we’d get out there, and we’d stagger like that, you know, like we gonna fall with it.  And just keep on rocking! I worked on the Tennessee Belle, the Kate Adams. When she used to get ‘long yonder, she would make that blow. And that levee there would be lined with women, meeting us.

LOMAX: What would the blow be?

ARTHUR (no last name given): Three longs and one short.

BROWN: Whoooaa—    whoooa—    whoooaa—    whuh.

LOMAX: What would happen then?

BROWN: You would see women come from everywhere!

LOMAX: What did they come out there for? What were they doing?

BROWN: Meeting the men!

ARTHUR: Meeting payday! Payday.

BROWN: Payday. Women be to take that man’s whole month. They put them out then ‘cause that man off the boat. He ain’t going to be there but two or three days, then they going to take him on. When he, when that boat blowed, they’d put him out. And he would have to stay gone till the boat go back out.

ARTHUR: He was a playboy.

BROWN: Playboy!

Lord, I went to her, to her house.
When I sat down on her steps,
Lord, “Come right in, Pretty Boy, now
Good many days now left, good many days now”
Good many just
Good many just
Good many just
Good many just
Good many days now left, good many days

LOMAX: Did you guys on the boat know about know about those men?


ARTHUR: No, they didn’t know about it.

BROWN: No, they didn’t know about it. I caught one at my house one time.

LOMAX: What happened?

BROWN: I left him right there, him and her. I just got my clothes and left from there.

JACK OWENS (singing and playing guitar) AND BUD SPIRES (playing harmonica):
Well, I came again,
Went and set down ‘fore your door.
Oh now, please don’t leave me out here,
Good man never know. Good man never . . .
Good man never . . .  
Good man never . . .  
Good man never . . .  
Good man never . . .
Good man never . . . .

NARRATOR: In the competition for women and a place to stay, the bluesman with his music had a decisive advantage. As one of them told me, “I’ve got a home everywhere I go.”

[Chapter 7—Eugene Powell]

EUGENE POWELL (“SONNY BOY NELSON”): If I seed a woman that I wanted, and she just absolutely . . . her husband couldn’t carry her home. I pick that guitar hard. I’d play that guitar hard and sing hard. I’ve had women come and kiss me. Didn’t ask could they kiss me, kiss me right then. Just grab me and kiss me.

I said, “Tell me now, Sweet Mama,
Yeah, how you want your loving done?
Tell me, Sweet Mama Gal.
How you want your rolling done?

Come in here, Sweet Mama,
Yeah, how you want your loving done?
You said, “Slow and easy,
Like my old-time rider done.”

Roll my belly, Mama.
Roll it like you roll my dough.
Want you roll my belly,
Yeah, like you roll my dough.
I want you roll me too, Sweet Mama,
Till I tell you I don’t want no more.

NARRATOR: And so the bluesman appealed for feminine sympathy and a place to hang his hat. The favorite subject of the blues, however, was the troubled relationship between men and women in a disturbed society. And years before the rest of the world, the people of the Delta tasted the bittersweet of modern alienation, so that the blues of those days ring true for all of us now.

[Chapter 8—Sam Chatmon]

SAM CHATMON (playing guitar and singing)
I told you you could go
Oh, and don’t come back to Sam no mo’.
Woman, it’s your last time
Shaking it in the bed with me.

Since I told you to your face
I had another good girl to shake it in your place.
Baby, it’s your last time
Shaking it in the bed with me.

Oh, you shake it, you can break it,
Hang it on the wall,
Throw it out the window and run round
And grab it just before it falls.
Shake it, you can break it,
Hang it up on the line.
I don’t want your love
‘Cause it shore ain’t none of mine.

I told you in the spring,
When the birds all began to sing,
Woman, it’s your last time
Shaking it in the bed with me.

Well, you kicked all my cover
Off the bed on the floor.
You better be glad, Sad Foot,
You ain’t gonna get to kick it no more.
Now you wear your miniskirt
Way above your knees,
Now you can shake your jelly
With every man you please.

I told you you could go
And don’t come back this time no more
Woman, it’s your last time—
Shaking it,
I mean twisting it,
Doing that monkey dog,
And that slop in the bed with me.
Oh go, baby!

SAM CHATMON: I suppose the blues is about a, about a woman. If you have the blues about a woman, your wife or anybody, and they misuse you then you go long and make up a song to sing. Instead of telling her in words, you would sing that song. So, when you be singing that song, you have your mind direct on how she done treated you.
I went down to that river,
Oh, thought I’d jump in and drown.
I thought about the woman I was loving,
Boys, I turned around.

[Chapter 9—The Railroad]

I went down to that depot,
Asked the man how long the train been gone.
He said, “It’s been gone long enough
For your woman to be at home.”

NARRATOR: The railroad was another escape from the plantation system. It also brought jobs with a new sense of competence and higher pay, and a new flowering of rhythmic work songs.

WILBUR PUCKETT: It’s a good job. I mean, you can raise a family with your job. It pays pretty good—nowadays, now. I started out here while… Course the rate of things back in then, you didn’t make too much money, but it was enough, you know, to have a job, to support your family off of. And nowadays it’s almost the same thing. I mean you make a little bit more money, but the cost of living at this time and age is a lot larger, though. So, we just about doing about as good as we did in (19)45.

J.T. TUCKER: It was good enough for me to put five kids through high school and college too. Course it was tough, but I made it.

WILBUR PUCKETT: Right. I had seventeen of them--

J.T. TUCKER: You talk about singing on the railroad. It’s just like a band on a football field. That band gives the team spirit to play, and that singing gives you pep to work.

MEN (singing a railroad worksong):
All right, now--
Up on your rail
Up on the tie
On the rail
Where the tie lie.
Up on the rail
Where the tie lie
On the rail
On the tie.
On the rail
Where the tie lie.

WILBUR PUCKETT: A lot of mens have got hurt handling steel. Steel is very dangerous. It’s heavy and if you don’t… . If they hadn’t of devised some method of handling that steel with a big bunch of mens, they’d always be putting out money on hospital bills and injuries. And they had to have some system to protect that, you know. To prevent it from happening all the time. And at its best, we have accidents with it.
When you come to work on Monday morning at seven o’clock and get out there on the job working, singing comes according to what job you’re doing. Now you take lining track. That singing was just a rhythm that the laborer used in keeping in time and getting the track lined like your boss man wanted it. But now, singing—wasn’t no joy in it whatsoever. I mean, that was just a part of the way we men set up to work. To get the job done.

GEORGE JOHNSON (leads a group of men demonstrating track lining)
Well the old lady says, “You calm me down”
She put a hand on her hip and one on the thigh
Good Lord, have mercy
Good Lord, have mercy
Good Lord, have mercy
Alright, quarter back.
GEORGE JOHNSON (leading the same group in another work song):
All right, all right. Just a little bit. Just a hair
Just a little bit. Right there.
Just a little bit. Just a hair.
Just a little bit. Right there.
All righty.
Jack the Rabbit. Jack the Bear.
Just a little bit. Right there.

FOREMAN: (surveys the track, then calls to the group):  Give it to me in the center.

What did the hen done said to the drake?
No more crawfish in this lake.
Just dive. Other side.
Dive. Other side.
Dive. Other side.
Dive. Dive. Side.

FOREMAN: All right, did we get it? Move ahead a little bit.

All right, all right
Jack the Rabbit
Jack the Bear
Just a little bit
Just a hair

FOREMAN: All right, gotta move. Train coming.

RAILROAD GANG: Don’t laugh and don’t cry.  I’m going to work twenty more years.

I’m going down to that railroad
Lay my head on that railroad track
I’m gonna think about the woman I’m loving
Then I’m gonna snatch it back

[Chapter 10—Levee Camp]

You go down in them quarters.
Tell my buddy Will
That long tall gal he’s been loving
She gonna get him killed.
Boys, if I ever get lucky in the world again
Ain’t gonna fool with no more bad women
And mighty few men

NARRATOR: (speaking over all of Joe Savage’s song after the second line) This is the blues that grew up in the shadow of the levee on which we’re riding. This earthwork thrown up against the Mississippi floods higher and longer than the Great Wall of China was piled up by generations of black muleskinners who added a new chapter to the book of the blues. In the days when the levee camps outdid the Wild West with careless violence the men yonder walked the levee living the blues. Walter Brown, Joe Savage, William S. Hart, Bill Gordon. They are meeting us at this old river towboat to swap the stories that, African style, they used to encourage their mule teams.

Lord, my wheel mule crippled,
And my lead mule blind.
Lord, I’m gonna need some ol’ body.
I can’t shake a line.

LOMAX: How many people would be singing at one time? Would everybody be singing?

WALTER BROWN: Aw, everybody and everybody. You couldn’t hear your ears. And some of ‘em could sing so good, till the mules would go to hollerin’. They’d just holler, just holler : “Ahhhh! Ah! Ah!”–like it was twelve o’clock or something. (Laughs)

WILLIAM S. HART (regarding his team of mules): I’d get out there and get on, got my team, man. I’d get way back on the end of my line, you know—two great big ol’ mules. Placed hats all on them. Their head up in the air like that. And with them harness on ‘em. Everywhere tassels hangin’ all down the side of ‘em, just takin their time, walkin’, just walkin’ and walkin’.

I’m gonna be late in the morning,
I’m gonna be late all day,
I’m gonna be late all day,
I’m gonna be late all day,

Hey hey-aye-aye-aye-aye-aye-aye
I’m gonna be late all day
With ol’ Freddie.

HART: Them big sons a guns just steppin’! (laughs) They steppin’ with me. They pullin’ me up the levee! They pullin’ me up the levee! I’m just raring back on the lines.

WALTER BROWN (singing):
Oh, everybody try to call me mean
‘Cause they see me whippin’ on my ol’ mule team.

NARRATOR: (speaking over all of Brown’s words after “everybody): The work season was short. The dirt had to move. Mules died by the hundreds. And as one levee engineer remarked, “You could smell those tent cities a mile away. And there was a buzzard on every fence post.”

WALTER BROWN: You know, people that’s been here a few years, I guess that’s why God didn’t kill ‘em all. He left somebody here to tell the story.

BILL GORDON: It be so cold out there—he wouldn’t let you go to the fire—you’d have to let your lines slip through your hands.

LOMAX: I don’t understand. Tell me how that was.

GORDON: Like your wheeler’d be goin on. You’d have two mules to it, and the mule’d be goin’ along, and you’d walk along and get up to the fire.

LOMAX: What was the fire doing there?

GORDON: The fire that they’d had a fire built for you to warm going by. You couldn’t stop at it. Your wheeler couldn’t stop, but you could let the mules keep a-goin’ and let the lines slide through your hands till it get to the end, then you got to catch ‘em. You could never just, say, stop at the fire and warm.

LOMAX: What would they do to you?

GORDON: Would cut your head! Beat it with a pistol or stick or something.

WALTER BROWN: They’d ride right in the middle of the pit. And Ol’ Man Brown used to take his hat off his, his, his head. He wore a big white Stetson, a great big one—and he’d throw it up and he’d shoot six holes in it before it hit the ground! Then he’d tell somebody down there, “Hand me my hat!” And they would hand it to him and he’d say, “Now listen. I’m gonna whip you if you stand, and I’m gonna kill you if you run. I want you all to do so and so and so. I want you to get me some dirt. I got to finish such and such a station by such and such a time. Is there any question?” When he asked you that, he had his hand on that pistol.

Kill a nigger, hire another one.
Kill a mule, buy another one.

BILL GORDON: Plenty of mornings you had to wait until it get light enough to work.

WALTER BROWN: That’s right!

BILL GORDON: You’d be standing there in the dark.

WALTER BROWN: Standing there in the dark!

BILL GORDON: And when it get light enough, then you go to work. And then you work in the evening, until it get that-a-way. You couldn’t see how to come in.

WALTER BROWN: You weren’t locked up. But other than that it was just like the penitentiary. They paid you what they wanted. They give you what they wanted you to have. If you didn’t do it, somebody’s going to beat you up.

LOMAX: Why did you men go into those places? That’s what we don’t understand.

BILL GORDON: We didn’t know no better.

WALTER BROWN: You couldn’t do no better. You couldn’t do no better. You was trying to leave the farms for fifty and seventy-five cents a day and go someplace where you could earn a little bit more money. But when you get in those places, well then you would earn the money but you didn’t get paid for it.

BILL GORDON: Yeah, you get out there. They’d say they were going to give you fifteen dollars a week. That’s two and a half a day. Payday, he may pay you off and then he may not pay you off. Used to work out there sometimes two and three months and just give you a drag, like ten of fifteen dollars. Something to gamble around in the camp with.
Mister Charlie gave ‘em payday, boys,
Instead he give a drag.
Wasn’t no difference in the-[woah?] money that the two men had.
[Chapter 11—Prison Songs]

BELTON SUTHERLAND (singing with guitar):
Killed that old grey mule, burned down a white man’s barn.
Killed that old grey mule, burned down a white man’s barn.
I didn’t mean no trouble, I didn’t mean no harm.

I want you to love me or leave me girl, anything you want to do.
I want you to love me or leave me girl, anything you want to do.
Well it’s strange things happening, someday might happen to you.

NARRATOR (speaking over the last two lines of this song): Some of the men from the levee have, like many itinerant Delta workers, served time in jail and in the State Pen at Parchman. They brought us out into the Mississippi River bottoms to show us what it was like in the State Penitentiary in the bad old days when they were driven all day in the fields under the gun. And it was only their bluesy songs and the strength of working and singing together that kept their hearts alive under the Mississippi sun.

GROUP OF MEN (reenacting the Parchman field work, singing “Rosie”)]
Oh, Rosie.  Oh Lord, Gal.
Oh, Rosie.  Oh Lord, Gal.
I’ve been callin’ you for twelve long years, Rosie.
You won’t answer—wonder do you hear.

Oh, Rosie.  Oh Lord, Gal.
Oh, Rosie.  Oh Lord, Gal.
Go ahead and marry, don’t you wait on me.
Long row hoeing, and I can’t go free.

Oh, Rosie.  Oh Lord, Gal.
Oh, Rosie.  Oh Lord, Gal
Look on your finger,  Gal, and think of me--
Ring I bought you  when I was free.

Oh, Rosie.  Oh Lord, Gal.
Oh, Rosie.  Oh Lord, Gal

JOE SAVAGE (singing a worksong while felling a tree):
Big-leg Rosie with her big-leg drawers
Got me wearing these striped overalls
Overalls, Lordy, overalls.
Got me wearing striped overalls
Jump in the bushes, they gonna break my leg/
Catch you fooling with my woman, I kill you dead,
Kill you dead,
Kill you dead.

JOE SAVAGE: There was seven of us that broke jail together. We broke out of jail. and they caught me. They caught me five-and-a-half years later.

LOMAX: Did they still use the bat when you were at Parchman?


LOMAX: Did they still whip the prisoners when you were there?

SAVAGE: They whipped us with big, wide straps. They whipped us with big, wide straps.

LOMAX: How often did they—how many blows did they give?

SAVAGE: How many blows they give? Just as many as you could stand. They whip you just….I got two whippings while I was there. They didn’t whip no clothes. Unh-unh. They whipped your naked butt. (laughs). They had two mens to hold you.


SAVAGE: Many as they need.

BROWN: Two on your legs and two on your arms.

LOMAX: Did they ever injury anybody that way?


BROWN: Yeah!

SAVAGE: Kill ‘em! Kill ‘em!

BROWN: They’d kill ‘em like that.
JOE SAVAGE (singing):
Got me accused of thieving--
I can’t see a thing.
They got me accused of forgery,
And I can’t even write my name.
Bad luck! bad luck, you’re killing me.
Well, boys, I just can’t stand no more of this bloody disease.
Now looka here, boy.

I wanna tell you something.
They got me accused of taxes,
And I don’t have another dime.
They got me accused of children,
And nary one of them mine.
Bad luck, bad luck you’re killing me.
Oh, I just can’t stand no more of this bloody disease.
I’m gonna go begging ‘fore long.
[Chapter 12—Religion]

NARRATOR: In the society of the blues it was the church—the only permitted community institution—that offered solace to the wounded individual. It might bring the poor boy a long ways from home back into the human community through the ritual of conversion.

God, have a way with one of ours.
Oh, Lord.
Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord.
Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord.
Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord.
Have your way.

REVEREND CAESAR SMITH (with congregational responses building)
Do you not know tonight one thing I like about God? He’s so just tonight.
God is a just God.
God is so just tonight, that Kennedy’s got to stand before God.
I said, Rockefeller’s got to stand before God,
And that means your money can’t buy you nothing.
No matter how much money you got, that can’t buy it with God.
‘Cause what did God say?
God said—you are just a steward, and He lended it to you for a few days.
You know, it’s not yours.
I remember one Friday morning out there on Calvary,
They me that they hung the S-O-N on the cross.
And tell that the S-U-N peeped up and looked at the S-O-N
And say that the S-U-N told the S-O-N, “Two suns can shine together.”
And the reason that the sun,
And now, the reason that the sun don’t blind His eyes is because He is the sun’s creator tonight.
Talking about God, look at my God tonight
That stepped out that morning and spoke a blooming universe into existence.
God didn’t need no hammer or no nail.
God didn’t need no pliers or no screwdriver,
God didn’t need no cement mixer to pour the foundation.
Oh, my God said, “Let there be!”
Well, when God come back,
He gonna throw away the straw of pity.
He gonna take away the leaves of compassion.
He gonna take away, I say, the feathers of his mercy.
There ain’t gonna be nothing left in the nest
But the briars of indignation.
There ain’t nothing gonna be left in the nest
But the sharp stick of His mighty wrath.
Lord have mercy tonight.
Let me close here, brethren.
I say, God will stir you up tonight.
I say He’ll stir you up.
He stirred me up one day.
He’ll stir you up.
I say, can He stir you up?
Oh yes. If you know it, say “Yes,” children.
Yes, yes, oh yes.
If I was you, I’d come tonight.
I’d say, “I tried Him tonight.”
How many of y’all tried Him?
Have you tried Him? Ain’t He all right?
Ain’t He all right?
Is God all right tonight?
Say, God I’m all right tonight.”
You’re all right
You all right?
Come on, yeah, come on.
(a man responds to the call and the congregation rejoices)
Have you heard about Him?
Have you heard about Him?
Oh, don’t worry

Do what the Spirit say do.
If the Spirit say “Pray,”
You ought’a pray, oh Lord.
Do what the Spirit say do.
Do what the Spirit say do.
If the Spirit say “Do,”
You ought’a do, oh Lord.
Do what the Spirit say do.

Oh, Lord.
Do what the Spirit say do.
You ought’a do what the Spirit say do.
You ought’a do what the Spirit say do.
When the Spirit say, “Do.”
You ought’a do, oh Lord.
Do what the Spirit say do

REVEREND CAESAR SMITH (with Congregation responding): If shouting, if whooping, if moaning, if singing was good enough for my Grandmama, I don’t care what school I finish, I’m going to do the same thing. Amen. Amen. If it were good enough for them, it is good enough for me. It brought ’em a long ways. It brought ’em a long ways.

CONGREGATION: Yes, it did!

NARRATOR (over the conclusion of the sermon): Many black sermons are poems of epic beauty, and their makers are magnificent orators in an African vein. In the secular world, one finds other masters of language and wit among the bluesmen and among the modern street poets, the bards of ballrooms and cafes who make and recite long fanciful poems called “toasts” in the places where the people gather for their good times.
[Chapter 13—Toasts]

JAMES HALL (reciting a toast, with recurrent responses from listeners):
December the seven, forty-one
That’s when the Second World War had just begun.
They tell me Mussolini was holding out his paw
And trying to get the European countries under Hitler’s law.
First, have a little patience. I’m gonna tell it to you
The first thing they done, they got rid of the Jews.
But Great Britain got trouble in mind.
She rushed the poor boys to the firing line.
Better than that, the Germans bombed beautiful Paris late one night.
They had to look to America for to get supplies.
They loaded up the vessel and started across,
But the news reached back that the vessel was lost.
Mr. Roosevelt was in the seat then. He said “I just can’t see
Why Adolph Hitler’s trying to rule the sea.”
He sent him a message right straight from the phone
Say, “Looka here Hitler, leave my vessel alone till I retire.”
But old Tojo looked back in the States.
Him and Mussolini could not communicate.
Old Japan, went to her, she advised
She wouldn’t fight on either side.
She was a nation that wouldn’t argue
But you know what she done, turned around and bombed Pearl Harbor
I don’t know it, but I was told
That’s the report, our base got stole.
And this where we came in at.
Negro soldiers standing at attention
They were the poor boys never to mention.
But I’m gonna to tell you about a colored man
December the seven, forty-one--
That’s when the Yanks taught him how to man the gun
He stepped on deck, and he got dead aim.
He brought a Japanese bomber down in flames
Some got wounded, and some got killed
But naturally we know, God’s Holy Bible got to fulfill.
I found out later there was a ration on rubber, so was gasoline
I had to get my black head in the Philippines.
That’s where I was, so help me God.  (Laughing)

JOHNNY BROOKS (speaking the famous toast “Signifying Monkey”):
Well, back in the jungle of woods deep
The bad lion stepped on the signifying monkey’s feet.
That monkey say, “Look lion, can’t you see?
Why you stand yourself on my God-durn feet?”
So, the lion say, “I don’t hear a God-durn word you said,
But you say two more, I’ll be stepping on your God-durn head.
”Well, every day before the sun go down
The lion was kicking butt all through the jungle town.
But the monkey got wise and started using a little of his wit.
He say, “I’m gonna to put a stop to this old drop-kicking stuff.
So the lion jumped up in a bad rage
Like a young gangsta, full of gage
He lit out with a roar, his tail shot back like a forty-four.
He went off through the jungle, knocking down trees.
Kicking giraffe till he fell down to his knees.
So, he ran up on the elephant talking to the swine.
Said, “All right you big bad joker, be yours or mine.”
So the elephant looked out at the lion with the corner of his eye.
Said, “Go ahead on you little funny bunny mother and pick on somebody your own size.”
So the lion jumped up and made a fancy pass.
The elephant side-stepped and kicked him dead in the grass.
It messed up his neck, messed up his face.
Broke all four legs, snatched his you-know-what out of place.
He picked him up and slammed through the trees
Nothing but that stuff as far as you could see.
So he drug his butt back to the jungle more dead than alive.
Just to run into that monkey with some more of his signifying jive.

(much laugher from his listeners
—the camera drifts to men dancing to the music of a fife-and-drum band.
This continues through the credits.)
[Closing Credits]

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