by James Marshall
The year is 1954, and the scene is a small recording studio above
Times Square. Future mega-corporate president Ahmet Ertagun has arranged
a session for Atlantic's hottest R&B group, the Clovers. "Mr. Ahmet,
we've got one of our own numbers we'd like to try," comes the request
from one of the conkheaded stars; "well, sure boys, whatcha got?" replies
the future billionaire. The Clovers, their four gritty voices blending
perfectly into one smooth whole, began their song, a rewrite of "Darktown
Strutters' Ball," singing a capella into one mike with the tape running:
"weeelll-- cocksuckin' Sammy git your mutherfuckin' Annie we're goin'
downtown to the cocksuckers' ball"
And so on. The record was never released (although several bootlegs
appeared), but it was a fine performance, one of the greatest vocal
recordings of all time.
People began singing about sex as soon as they began singing.
Dirty ballads, lewd couplets, poems, limericks, rhymes, drinking songs,
all ripe with sex, have always been an important if shunned part of
western culture, from the first broadside balladeers to the most current
heavy metal acts. Much of this sort of thing made its way onto vinyl,
especially during the early days of "race" and "hillbilly" (pre-WWII)
records and during the golden age of R&B ('46-'56). A definitive
round-up of lascivious recordings would fill several volumes, so as a
sampling, let us examine a few of the Hound's personal favorites in a
historical context, of sorts.
Planting the Seed: Dirty Blues, the early years.
Blues in general is a lyrically limited form-- broads, booze and
sex have a virtual stranglehold on the primitive blues singers' mind,
give or take a cameo appearance by the devil himself, (i.e.-- the works
of Robert Johnson or Peetie Wheatstraw) and filthy blues records make up
a large portion of the recorded body of work. Since that immortal day
when Blind Lemon Jefferson beheld his pecker and decided it had the same
leathery quality as a black snake, getting the biggest hit record of his
career out of it-- "Black Snake Moan" (which he recorded several times),
sex on blues discs sold. The biggest blues hit of the late 20's was a
rockin double entendre entitled "It's Tight Like That," written by Tampa
Red and Georgia Tom (a.k.a. Thomas A. Dorsey who a few years later would
zip up his pants for God and invent modern gospel music). The great Bo
Carter for one, a former member of the Mississippi Sheiks made an entire
career out of single entendre numbers like "Banana in Your Fruitbasket,"
"Mashin That Thing," "Pussycat Blues," etc. Even the old tortured soul
Robert Johnson could take the time out from playing hide'n'seek with
Satan to invite his honey to "squeeze my lemon baby-- 'til the juice runs
down my leg" in "Traveling Riverside Blues." The only time censorship
was employed was usually on the label of the record, for example, on the
old standard "Dirty Mother Fucker," recorded by Roosevelt Sykes, Red
Nelson and many others, the label would read "Dirty Mother Fucha" or
"Dirty Mother For You," etc. Yes, the country blues was a ripe field for
a man with an erection.
Women, especially the "classic" blues singers of the '20's and
'30's were not immune to such crudities. In one of her more memorable
performances, the great Bessie Smith moans the lack of "sugar for my
bowl," inviting local men folk to indulge in the same said bowl of
jelly. Little Laura Dukes recorded "Jelly Sellin' Woman," but for my
money, the pinnacle of the classic blues as a form would have to be an
unreleased (until the mid '70's) version of "Shave 'Em Dry" by Bessie
Jackson (a.k.a. Lucille Bogan) whick included the inspired couplet:
I got something between my legs make a dead man come."
You can even hear the piano player goosing her.
Down on the Farm: Country Style
Lack of space and laziness leads me to refer you to Nick Tosches'
book Country: America's Biggest Music, the chapter called "Stained
Panties and Course Metaphors" covers it all.
Rhythm & Blues: That's What Happens
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