One of the facets of the blues which adds appeal for many people (and certainly did to me as an adolescent when the blues first caught my ear) is the fact that they are riddled with double entendres. With a little bit of further research, you find that, in fact, many of these entendres are single. (i.e. plain filth)
Part of the appeal was that these sexual references are just innocently tucked away in the body of a song and they were hidden partly by the scratches on the record and the indistinctness of the deep Southern accent of the singer. If a white singer sings these lyrics clearly and in perfect stereo, a lot of the appeal can be lost.
Them Dirty Blues Done Got Me.... (Some Blues are Bluer Than Others)
In fact, it is ironic that the digital "cleaning up" process that has given us back perfect tracks without scratches or hiss has actually revealed more dirt than some people bargained for!
Robert Johnson had quite a lot of these little references in lines such as " A woman is like a dresser, some man always going through her drawers" (From Four 'til Late)
The most famous one of his was " Squeeze my lemon until the juice runs down my leg" which was hijacked by Led Zeppelin in the "Lemon Song" but actually first appeared in Johnson's Travelling Riverside Blues:
Squeeze my lemon
'Til the juice runs down my leg
Squeeze it so hard
I'll fall right out of bed
Will you squeeze my lemon
'Til the juice runs down my leg
I wonder if you know what I'm talkin' about
Oh, but the way that you squeeze it girl
I swear I'm gonna fall right out of bed
Indeed I wonder if you do know what he is talking about. No,it's just your dirty mind - you must have imagined it.
In the 1920s and the 1030s, them dirty blues were very popular and one or two artists had more than a smattering of dodgy songs in their repertoires.
Probably the one who was best known for innuendo in his lyrics was Bo Carter who was an active member of the Mississippi Sheiks, best remembered for their hit, "Sitting on Top of the World.
(Isn't innuendo a wonderful word? almost an innuendo in itself)
To quote the Yazoo web site: "Bo Carter's great lyrics, musical range and conspicuously inventive accompaniments made him one of the most commercially successful bluesmen to come out of Mississippi. His repertoire extended from pre-blues dance and song to poignant and rowdy blues to inspired double-entendre."
How inspired his double entendres were can be gained from a quick study of some of the titles of his songs:
Banana in Your Fruit Basket (1931):
Please Warm my Wiener
My Pencil Won't Write No More (1931) (It carried on writing for at least another 5 years)
Don't Mash My Digger So Deep (1936)
Let Me Roll Your Lemon (1935)
Pussy Cat Blues (1936)
Pig Meat Is What I Crave (1931)
What Kind Of Scent Is This? (1931)
It's Too Wet
The Ins and Outs of my Girl
Mashing That Thing (1935)
Pin In Your Cushion (1931)
Ram Rod Daddy (1931)
Twist it Babe 1931:
(Tracks include: Twist It Baby, Some Day, Doubled Up In A Knot, Shake 'Em On Down, Let Me Roll Your Lemon, My Baby, Rolling Blues, Policy Blues, Honey, The Law Gonna Step On You, I Get The Blues, Howling Tom Cat Blues, Pussy Cat Blues, Bo Carter Special.)
All Around Man (1936) (What the title doesn't reveal is the nature of his all-roundness he can do the screwing until the plumber comes; your grinding until the miller comes; he can blow your hole until the auger man comes, and he can bounce your springs until the spring man comes make no mistake Bo Carter was versatile!
Ants In My Pants (1931)
And last but not least "Beans". Yes you've guessed it its all about flatulence resulting from overindulgence in beans.
There is so much of a good thing here that it would become tiresome were it not for the quality of his singing and his guitar playing which is easily on a par with Blind Blake for its virtuosity and the melodic riffs which give his records considerable variety.
Strangely, for a bluesman seemingly reflecting the seamier side of life, Carter was not a womaniser and was also a teetotaller unlike many bluesmen, like Blind Blake, whose careers were cut short by alcohol and fast living.
His style is also highly reminiscent of Blind Boy Fuller, another musician who was not averse to double entendre in his songs which included " What's that smells like fish", and "Rattlesnakin' Daddy" which can be heard on "Untrue Blues"
The full play list for Untrue Blues" is:
* Catman Blues
* Rag Mama Rag
* Lost Lover Blues
* Precious Lord
* Shake it Baby
* When You Are Gone
* Boots and Shoes
* Homesick and Lonesome
* I Want Some of Your Pie
* Get Your Yas Yas Out
* Step it up and go
* Weeping Willow
* Trucking My Blues Away
* Funny Feeling Blues
* Pistol Slapper Blues
* Heart Ease Blues
* Jivin' Woman Blues
* Sweet Honey Hole
* Jitterbug Rag
* Untrue Blues
* Big Leg Woman Gets My Pay
* Rattlesnakin' Daddy
The women singers were if anything even raunchier than the men. In fact, the "credit" for the filthiest blues ever recorded is unanimously awarded to Lucille Bogan whose song "Shave 'em Dry Part II" was probably only equalled for its forthrightness by Derek and Clive in the Seventies. Her record company issued a cleaned-up version of the song but even this was too much for many listeners and her career came to an end shortly after its release.
There was no shortage of raunchy material from other female artists, however.
Typical were: Memphis Minnie ("I've got Ford engine movements in my hips") Victoria Spivey ("Black Snake moan") and the great Bessie Smith who was famous for her crudeness and vitality and whose records were a daily inspiration for later singers like George Melly, himself a great exponent of them dirty blues.
Careful listening to the lyrics of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Truckin' My Blues Away" and "What's that Smells Like Gravy" (that's Sonny Boy "Lee" Williamson not Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2) and other numbers like Robert Johnson's "Hot Tamales" reveals a form where the singer sings the chorus of the song with a number of three phrase funnies interspersed. These are typical:
- I had a duck, I named him Jim, I stuck him in a pond just to see him swim.
- I've got a girl, she lives up on the hill, she won't let me do it but her sister always will.
- You can blow your whistle, you can ring your bell, I can tell you want it by the way you smell
- I give you all my attention, all of my money, I love you so much that you're walking funny.
- I had a girl, she was little and low, she used to shake that thing but she won't no mo'
- I bought my girl a V8 Ford, she likes to do it on the running board.
- Two old maids lyin' in the bed, one rolled over and the other one said....(chorus) "What's that smells like gravy?"
- I waited on the corner by the candy shop, I want to try your lollipop
- The old folk do it, the young ones too, ain't no-one can do it just the way I do.
- I can swing it to the left, I can swing it to the right, I'm a Rattlesnakin' Daddy, I can do it all night
- I'm not the best, the best in town, but I'll be the best til the best comes around.