A Spoonful of Water

In 1960, ‘Spoonful’ was written by Mississippi-born Willie Dixon (1915-92), who was a key architect in sculpting the trajectory of post-war Chicago electric blues.  Dixon was working for Chicago-based Chess Records and this song was released on their label.  The single was sung by Chester Burnett aka Howlin’ Wolf (1910-76) and it became one of the most influential and much-covered recordings in its catalogue.  Howlin’ Wolf grew up in a poor family where people often came over to borrow food or a spoonful of this, and spoonful of that.  The idea of ‘Spoonful’ is that it doesn’t take a large quantity of anything to be adequate.  It shows how men search to satisfy their cravings, whether that be for something of sustenance or love.  It uses a spoonful of various pleasures, and it says that men will lie, cry and die to get what they desire.

‘Spoonful’ has been listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”, and Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it #221 on their list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.  Howlin’ Wolf was six feet three inches tall, and weighed in at 300lbs, making him an imposing figure of a man.  Howlin’ Wolf made this song sexual when he played it at his shows.  He’d grab a big cooking spoon that drummer Sam Lay bought him at a flea market and brandish it at crotch-level, engaging in blatantly phallic monkeyshines.  Howlin’ Wolf was backed by a top-notch studio band comprising the guitarists Hubert Sumlin and Freddie Robinson, pianist Otis Spann, Fred Below on drums, and Dixon on the double-bass when he recorded this song.  Wolf described desire as an incurable addiction that can drive people to murder and madness.  Boasting great power and intensity, it was unequivocally a record that made an indelible mark on many of its listeners, particularly for its memorable line, “One spoon of love from my 45 will save you from another man.”

Willie Dixon made many records and he wrote or co-wrote over 500 songs, he was a Grammy-winning inductee into the Blues Hall Of Fame and he is best remembered for authoring a raft of classic blues tunes that were recorded by a number of significant artists at Chess Records in the 50s and early 60s.  His greatest songs include Hoochie Coochie Man (Muddy Waters), ‘You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover’ (Bo Diddley), ‘My Babe’ (Little Walter), ‘The Red Rooster’ (Howlin’ Wolf), ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ (Koko Taylor), ‘Bring It On Home’ (Sonny Williamson II) and ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ (Etta James).  Dixon was a brilliant songwriter whose tunes helped power the postwar Chicago electric blues surge spearheaded by the Wolf and Muddy Waters.  Dixon established the Hoochie Coochie Music publishing company after his first hit ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, to protect his songs.

Dixon was a postwar 20th century black man claiming his due and protecting it according to the rules of the white-run economic and legal systems he lived under.  When you copyright a song, you own the rights to it and you are protected from anyone using and profiting from your work, without your permission, but Led Zeppelin seemed to operate on the principle that it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission, as they took a lot of the Willie Dixon song ‘You Need Love’ to create their ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and only seven years separate these songs from each other.  In 1985, Dixon sued Led Zeppelin for plagiarizing his songs and this was settled out of court.  Dixon drew his materials from his deep knowledge of blues traditions, snatching pieces from here and there and revamping them into new forms.  Then he claimed authorship of the results via copyright.

Many of the old blues artists did not copyright their work, so they didn’t own the rights to their recordings or publishing and it is possible that Dixon borrowed inspiration and more from these old songs.  ‘Spoonful’ wasn’t the first blues song to reference addiction, and it could be considered a later descendent of early blues man Charley Patton who recorded ‘A Spoonful Blues’ in 1929, which in turn was influenced by Papa Charlie Jackson’s 1925 recording of ‘All I Want Is A Spoonful’, who used spoonful to mean a small amount of (sexual) love from his woman.  Papa Charlie Jackson was born in New Orleans around 1890.  Jackson asks his love object for just a bit of loving, a spoonful from his sweet mama.  He tells her that it is not necessary to call or write, she can brown some gravy, or fry him a steak, but his goal is love.  He wants his woman to give him a spoonful, a minimal dose of satisfying love which he pleads for.  Piedmont blues player Luke Jordan started his professional career when he was 35, and he recorded a mere handful of tunes before his voice gave out.  Many people say that his 1927 ‘Cocaine Blues’ provided Charley Patton and later on Dixon with raw materials for their work.

Mississippi John Hurt, born in Mississippi in 1892, was rediscovered during the postwar folk revival.  After failed tries at a music career, he worked as a farm hand while perfecting his complex fingerpicking.  Except for a couple of recordings, no one knew anything about him, till a folk musicologist found him by following clues in his lyrics.  Hurt toured widely for the first time, wowing young white audiences at venues like the 1963 Newport Folk Festival.  In ‘Coffee Blues’, Hurt describes his need to see his girlfriend about “a lovin’ spoonful, my lovin’ spoonful.”  Mississippi John Hurt used a Maxwell House advertising phrase in his ‘Coffee Blues’, saying “good to the last drop” which had been introduced in 1917.  Charley Jordan was born in rural Arkansas in 1890, and he recorded ‘Just A Spoonful’ in 1930.  His signature tune ‘Keep It Clean’, provided inspiration for Willie Dixon to write ‘The Signifying Monkey’ and for Chuck Berry to compose ‘Reelin’ and Rockin’’.

The 1960s pop group The Lovin’ Spoonful took their name from this metaphor for ejaculate.  Normal semen volume produced by the average human male  during orgasm ranges from 1.5 ml to 5 ml and there are 4.92892 milliliters (mL) in a teaspoon, so this would make be at least 7 spoonful’s.  Although Wolf’s version of ‘Spoonful’ didn’t chart when it was released in 1960, the Willie Dixon song became a Top 20 US R&B duet for Etta James and Harvey Fuqua, who were billed together as Etta & Harvey.  Theirs had a similar swagger to Wolf’s version but, with its softer, more sophisticated arrangement featuring horns, a new bridge section, and key changes, it lacked the visceral intensity of the original.

It could be a spoonful of coffee
It could be a spoonful of tea
But one little spoon of your precious love
Is good enough for me

Men lie about that spoonful
Some cry about that spoonful
Some die about that spoonful
Everybody fight about a spoonful
That spoon, that spoon, that spoonful

It could be a spoonful of water
To save you from the desert sand
But one spoon of love from my forty-five
Will save you from another man
Men lie about that spoonful
Some cry about that spoonful
Some die about that spoonful
Everybody fight about a spoonful
That spoon, that spoon, that spoonful
That spoon, that spoon, that spoonful

It could be a spoonful of sugar
It could be a spoonful of tea
But one little spoon of your precious love
Is good enough for me
Men lie about that spoonful
Some cry about that spoonful
Some die about that spoonful
Everybody fight about a spoonful
That spoon, that spoon, that spoonful
That spoon, that spoon, that spoonful
That spoon, that spoon, that spoonful
That spoon, that spoon, that spoonful

It could be a spoonful of sugar
It could be a spoonful of tea
But one little spoon of your precious love
Is good enough for me

Written for Song Lyric Sunday where the prompt is Air/Earth/Fire/Water.

36 thoughts on “A Spoonful of Water

  1. AAA+++ Excellent write-up. First time seeing Willie Dixon singing his original. That Cream is from their Live at Albert Hall concert which is the ultimate. So glad they had a reunion. Ginger died not long after this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Albert Hall was a fitting place for this reunion concert, as they played their Farewell concert there in 1968. I should have written more about Cream, but this post got a bit long and I will write about them again as I am planning to write about Badge in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You are not authorized to take all the words from my post and use them on your blog. You can only use 10% of my post by the Fair Use Act. Please take down your post. If you want to re-blog my post, I am OK with that. The reblog button is next to the like button on the bottom of my post.

      Like

    1. Thanks Max. I did a lot of research and I found a lot of good information on this song. I also found some conflicting information like this being a drug song and I ignored that. Cream is not a bad thing.

      Like

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