My Dream Was Back Downstream

The song ‘Big River’ was written and originally recorded by Johnny Cash. It was released as a single by Sun Records in 1958, it went as high as #4 on the Billboard country music charts and stayed on the charts for 14 weeks.  It was on the album Johnny Cash Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous.  The catalyst for Johnny Cash writing of the song came when he was on a touring break and he picked up a magazine which had an article about him in it titled Johnny Cash Has the Big River Blues in His Voice.  Soon after, he wrote a lovelorn country tune about a man who is so smitten by a woman and her irresistible Southern drawl, that he pursues her down the Mississippi River and misses her at every turn.

The Mississippi River was a central part of the young Johnny Cash’s life, and when he was a small child in 1936, his family was one of the six hundred selected to participate in the New Deal program known as the Dyess Colony Scheme to give land in northeastern Arkansas bordering the Mississippi to struggling farm families.  They moved to Dyess County and worked together to clear twenty acres of fertile land for cotton.  His family farmed the area’s soil, and their livelihood was subject to the whims of the river.  In 1937, the Cash family had to endure a flood of the big river.

Cash said that he wrote Big River in the back seat of a car in White Plains, New York, as a slow twelve-bar blues, but when he played it for Sam Phillips, the producer immediately told him that he needed to put a beat to this song.  Phillips had Jack Clement pick up his J200 Gibson guitar and play a bottleneck power chord all the way through the number.  Cash thought it was fabulous, and Peter Guralnick an American music critic said, “Big River incorporated all the elements that had distinguished his songwriting from the start—wit, conviction, and striking lyrical originality” rooted in the folk tradition.  It “possessed as well the kind of illimitable impact that few other artists could suggest.”

The song was unfortunately paired with the corny Clement-penned number ‘Ballad of a Teenage Queen’, which became a Top Twenty pop hit, giving ‘Big River’ all of its action on country radio.  ‘Big River’ had a verse missing which was cut out during the original recording due to the fact that it made the song too long.  For his 1985 collaboration with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson, The Highwaymen an American country music supergroup, the verse that was left off the original recording was reintroduced, and the newly revised song became a # 1 country hit.

Jack Clement played guitar and bass drum at the same time on this song, with the Tennessee Two of Luther Perkins on guitar, delivering an electrifying solo, and Marshall Grant playing bass.  By the end of the day, there was no question in anyone’s mind that they had created another great Johnny Cash record.  The single peaked at #4 on the country chart.  ‘Big River’ is a great example of Cash’s rockabilly sound that allowed him favor with both country and rock audiences which is something that lasted throughout his career.

Weeping willow trees get their common name because rain looks like tears when it’s dripping off the curved branches. Within the bark and the milky sap of willows is a substance called salicylic acid.  Edward Stone, a British minister, did experiments in 1763 on willow bark and leaves and identified and isolated salicylic acid.  The acid caused too much stomach upset to be widely used until 1897 when a chemist named Felix Hoffman created a synthetic version which was gentle on the stomach.  Hoffman called his invention “aspirin” and he produced it for his company, Bayer.

Like lots of other magical things, not many humans will be able to hear the Weeping Willow’s cry, but the Weeping Willow tree can actually get quite sad sometimes and it is said that children can sometimes hear if they listen very carefully.  There is a story about Zeus who one day fell in love with a dryad (nymph inhabiting a forest or a tree).  Her name was Xylia which means from the woods in Greek, and she was the spirit of the Willow tree.  Zeus took on a human form and tried to woo her, but she was not interested in him.  The jealous Hera found out about her lascivious husband, so she sent her messenger Hermes to Xylia with a message that was supposed to be from Zeus.  Xylia received the message, and she became distraught upon reading it.  The message explained how Zeus never really loved her.  Zeus still wanted Xylia, so he revealed his true godly glory, and this transformed Xylia permanently into her tree form.  Zeus went away in sadness and Xylia wept after he departed.  Her salty tears penetrated the ground, corrupted the soil, and caused her branches to droop.  Her leaves stretched towards the ground, falling like her tears to the earth.  She became the Weeping Willow.  Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, decided to leave a memory of Xylia behind by allowing weeping willow trees to grow all around the world, as a careful reminder that love cannot exist without tears.

Johnny Cash suffered multiple serious health problems in the years leading up to his demise.  His beloved wife, June Carter went into hospital for a heart operation in May 2003 and died suddenly never came out again.  June insisted that Johnny should keep working in the event of her death, so that is what he did.  The week after June died, he went into the studio and recorded 5 new songs.  Johnny Cash died from complications resulting from his diabetes on September 12, 2003, less than four months after June died.  When Johnny Cash was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, he played ‘Big River’.

Now I taught the weeping willow how to cry,
And I showed the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky.
And the tears that I cried for that woman are gonna flood you Big River.
Then I’m gonna sit right here until I die.

I met her accidentally in St. Paul (Minnesota).
And it tore me up every time I heard her drawl, Southern drawl.
Then I heard my dream was back Downstream cavortin’ in Davenport,
And I followed you, Big River, when you called.

Then you took me to St. Louis later on (down the river).
A freighter said she’s been here but she’s gone, boy, she’s gone.
I found her trail in Memphis, but she just walked up the block.
She raised a few eyebrows and then she went on down alone.

Now, won’t you batter down by Baton Rouge, River Queen, roll it on.
Take that woman on down to New Orleans, New Orleans.
Go on, I’ve had enough, dump my blues down in the gulf.
She loves you, Big River, more than me.

Now I taught the weeping willow how to cry, cry, cry
And I showed the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky.
And the tears that I cried for that woman are gonna flood you Big River.
Then I’m gonna sit right here until I die.

Written for 2/10/19 Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “River/Stream/Creek/Brook”.

Water Under The Bridge

Time marches forward, it does not go backwards, thus water that flows under the bridge concerns events that are in the past, they need to be forgiven, as only then can they be forgotten, rendering them irrelevant.  Water that is contained in a river flows constantly towards the sea and it will never flow under the same bridge again.  We are back for another episode of SLS Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday.  The prompt for this week is “River/Stream/Creek/Brook” and these are all pathways for water.  Generally, the difference between these flowing bodies of water is their size, as you can step over a brook, jump over a creek, wade across a stream, but you would need to swim or row across a river.  I want to thank everyone so much that is taking part in this music challenge and sharing the music that you love with everyone.

Johnny Cash said, “Of emotions, of love, of breakup, of love and hate and death and dying, mama, apple pie, and the whole thing. It covers a lot of territory, country music does.”  Johnny Cash only won one Grammy award and his win was posthumous.  The 61st GRAMMY Awards are on Sunday night, but I am so out of touch with the newer stuff that none of the songs and most of the artists are unknown to me.  This awards show is deemed to be “music’s biggest night”, but I don’t know anything about Brandi Carlile, the 37 year old singer who is nominated for six awards.  I have heard of the host Alicia Keys, but I am not able to recall any of her songs.  I understand that the big four categories are Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist, but since I don’t listen to any of this new stuff, it doesn’t really matter to me who wins.  Did rap and hip hop destroy music, or was it Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars and Nicki Minaj that eradicated all the good stuff and if not, then when was the day that the music died?  It is almost unfathomable to me to know that both the Kinks and the Talking Heads never even got a nomination for a Grammy and I feel that they each recorded much better songs than anything that is up for an award this year, but that us just water under the bridge.  I am so happy to be involved in the challenge, as it has unearthed so much new music to me that I have never heard before.  I urge your patience again and I will do my best to approve your pingbacks ASAP.

Here are the “rules”:

  • Post the lyrics to the song of your choice, whether it fits the theme or not.
  • Please try to include the songwriter(s) – it’s a good idea to give credit where credit is due.
  • Make sure you also credit the singer/band and if you desire you can provide a link to where you found the lyrics.
  • Link to the YouTube video, or pull it into your post so others can listen to the song.
  • Ping back to this post will eventually work, as long as you are being patient.
  • Read at least one other person’s blog, so we can all share new and fantastic music and create amazing new blogging friends in the process.
  • Feel free to suggest future prompts.
  • Have fun and enjoy the music.

I am writing about the Johnny Cash song ‘Big River’ this week.  The upcoming prompts will be:

February 17, 2019 – Hill/Mountain
February 24, 2019 – Harmony/Melody/Music
March 3, 2019 – Occupation
March 10, 2019 – Animal

Has The Ocean Lost Its Way

‘The Ocean’ is a song by the English rock band Led Zeppelin, from their 1973 album Houses of the Holy.  The ocean is a metaphor for the “sea of heads” that lead singer Robert Plant faced in the auditoriums where he played.  According to George Case’s book Led Zeppelin FAQ, “Robert Plant would introduce ‘The Ocean’ in concert by telling fans, “This is about you.” Rolling Stone Magazine named ‘The Ocean’ number fourteen in their list of the 40 Greatest Led Zeppelin Songs of All Time.

The song starts with the lyrics, “We’ve done four already” and Houses of the Holy is their fifth studio album, so this may be why Robert Plant is counting.  The song continues with “Singing in the sunshine, laughing in the rain”, as a way of letting all the fans know that the group is always having a good time while they are rockin’ it on stage.  Led Zeppelin had a reputation as one of the hardest-partying rock bands in the world, unprecedented debauchery due to their excessive drinking which led to destroying hotel rooms and throwing TV sets out the windows taking rock and roll to a new level of decadence and this results in the next line being, “Hitting on the moonshine, rocking in the grain”.

Peter Grant the tour manager for the group refused to let the band release singles, so their fans had to buy the albums, and he wouldn’t let them make television appearances, so if people wanted to see Led Zeppelin they had to pay to go to their concerts.  This resulted in them being on the road a lot and them saying, “Got no time to pack my bags, my foots outside the door I got a date, I can’t be late”.  This exemplified the fast paced lifestyle that Led Zeppelin had to endure.  For what it’s worth, “heilla” is an old Icelandic word that means to enchant or bewitch.

I always liked Led Zeppelin for being true to the spirit of rock and roll and this next line, “Play for free, I play for me and play a whole lot more, more!”, kind of sums up their attitude.  I am the same way as the blogs that I write are for my own enjoyment.  Plant continues, “Singing about the good things and the sun that lights the day I used to sing on the mountains, has the ocean lost its way”.  Singing on a mountain could refer to being up on a stage where the group is above the ocean of fans and it is possible that Led Zeppelin thought that many of their loyal fans didn’t actually understand them as they were not simply a hard rock group.

Plant ends this song saying, “Sitting round singing songs ‘til the night turns into day Used to sing about the mountains but the mountains washed away”.  He is changing his prospective and although he still enjoys performing, the emotion that he is putting into his music is now for his daughter.  “Now I’m singing all my songs to the girl who won my heart She is only three years old and it’s a real fine way to start”.  Plant is stating that he loves his daughter more than being up on any mountain or seeing an ocean of fans.  Robert Plant’s daughter Carmen, who was born on November 21,1968 was three years old at the time of recording.

“We’ve done four already but now we’re steady
And then they went: One, two, three, four”

Singing in the sunshine, laughing in the rain
Hitting on the moonshine, rocking in the grain
Got no time to pack my bags, my foots outside the door
I got a date, I can’t be late, for the high hopes hailla ball, uh uh, uh uh, yeah

Singing to an ocean, I can hear the ocean’s roar
Play for free, I play for me and play a whole lot more, more!
Singing about the good things and the sun that lights the day
I used to sing on the mountains, has the ocean lost its way

I don’t know, oh oh, yeah’

Ooh, yeah

Sitting round singing songs ‘til the night turns into day
Used to sing about the mountains but the mountains washed away
Now I’m singing all my songs to the girl who won my heart
She is only three years old and it’s a real fine way to start

Oh yeah!

It sure is fine!
Ah blow my mind!
When the tears are goin’ down!
Yeah! Yeah, yeah

Oh so, oh so, oh so good!
Oh so good!

Written for 2/3/19 Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “Ocean/Sea/Lake/Bay”.

Water Cohesion

We gather here today for another episode of SLS Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday.  The prompt this week is “Ocean/Sea/Lake/Bay”, which should make for some interesting posts.  Cohesion in water is the property that makes water molecules attracted to one another and Hydrogen bonds cause water to be exceptionally attracted to each other.  A body of water is any significant accumulation of water, and it most often refers to oceans, seas, and lakes, but it includes smaller pools of water such as ponds, wetlands, and even puddles.  Oceans are the ultimate bodies of water on Earth and a sea is a large expanse of saline water connected with an ocean.  A lake is an enclosed body usually made up of freshwater, however there are landlocked bodies of water that have concentrations of salts.  A bay is a recessed, coastal body of water that directly connects to a larger main body of water and it is larger than a cove.

Orsino is asking for more music because he is frustrated in his courtship of Countess Olivia.  He muses that an excess of music might cure his obsession with love, in the way that eating too much can removes one’s appetite for food.  The famous line comes from Shakespeare’s play the Twelfth Night, “If music be the food of love, play on” and with that thought in mind, lets savor the songs submitted for this challenge today.  The Song Lyric Sunday challenge is the highlight of my week and I look forward to reading everyone’s contributions, but the Super bowl is on today and as long as it is not a blowout, I will be watching the game.  There will be plenty of commercials that will allow me to check on your pingbacks, but sometimes even the Super bowl commercials are fun to watch.  Again, I urge patience and I will do my best to approve your pingbacks ASAP.

Here are the “rules”:

  • Post the lyrics to the song of your choice, whether it fits the theme or not.
  • Please try to include the songwriter(s) – it’s a good idea to give credit where credit is due.
  • Make sure you also credit the singer/band and if you desire you can provide a link to where you found the lyrics.
  • Link to the YouTube video, or pull it into your post so others can listen to the song.
  • Ping back to this post will eventually work, as long as you are being patient.
  • Read at least one other person’s blog, so we can all share new and fantastic music and create amazing new blogging friends in the process.
  • Feel free to suggest future prompts.
  • Have fun and enjoy the music.

I am writing about the Led Zeppelin song ‘The Ocean’ this week. The upcoming prompts will be:

February 10, 2019 – River/Stream/Brook
February 17, 2019 – Hill/Mountain
February 24, 2019 – Harmony/Melody/Music
March 3, 2019 – Occupation

Cast A Blind Eye Toward Death

The personification known as Death never takes a vacation, he will not wait for an invitation as he will come to your house any time he wants.  He may arrive riding on a pale horse or wearing a black cloak and carrying a scythe, but when he takes the pennies from your eyes, it is too late for you to pray for forgiveness.  Death is one of life’s great uncertainties and as far as I know, nobody is immortal.  Life is a terminal condition, nobody ever comes out of it alive and we all die alone.  Death is not just an event that has not yet occurred, it is an inevitable circumstance that is relates to our very existence.  When death comes, you will finally see the meaning of life and find out what really matters.

Some people claim that death can lead to a reduction of suffering, but death is not always painless, especially if it is untimely, and what if there is no afterlife or return to life, and all you get is a posthumous non‐existence.  James Cagney flips out in the movie White Heat when he learns that his mother died and he smashes through the prison cafeteria crying.  This song has a line that says, “Look in the bed & your mother will be gone” and when something like this happens, it leaves a huge hole in your gut, which will never, ever go away.

The Reverend Gary Davis (April 30, 1896 – May 5, 1972) was born in Laurens County a rural part of South Carolina, to John and Evelina Davis, although his grandmother was his primary caregiver.  He was almost totally blind from infancy and his blindness resulted from a misapplication of chemicals to his eyes after birth, that caused ulcers to grow over his eyes.  By the age of only three weeks he had almost completely lost the ability to see.  However, he was able to distinguish light from darkness and discern shapes to a degree, but not to recognize people with his eyes alone.  He was one of eight children, and he developed a particular style of blues playing called “Piedmont”.

Davis was a master guitarist, as well as a blues and gospel singer.  He was a true virtuoso in the Piedmont blues fingerpicking style, which stresses syncopation &, with its alternating bass & index finger, actually hearkens back to some early banjo playing styles.  Reverend Gary Davis, also known as Blind Gary Davis, and his playing influenced several of the rock and roll legends of the 1960s.  Gary became interested in music while he was still a small boy.  At the age of seven, he reportedly built a guitar out of a pie pan and taught himself to play. He claims that he worked it all out by himself.  In his teenage years, Davis played at local dances and picnics, both for white and black audiences, and he also sang in church.  In 1916, he attended the Cedar Springs School for Blind People in Spartanburg, South Carolina and learned to read Braille, but he left after six months, because he didn’t like the food.  He also played in a local string band of some six or eight pieces, which included another guitarist Willie Walker similarly blind from birth, in the 1910s and ‘20s, busking the Piedmont blues style.

In 1919, Davis married married a woman named Mary, but they separated in 1924 after he learned of her alleged promiscuity.  In the mid 1920s he traveled throughout the Carolinas and Tennessee playing and teaching guitar to make his living.  By 1927, he had settled in Durham, North Carolina and he was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1933.  Davis founded three churches in the Durham area during this time, and while there, Davis collaborated with a number of other artists in the Piedmont blues scene, including Blind Boy Fuller and Bull City Red.  Gary Davis was discovered in 1935 by talent scout J. B. Long, who managed Blind Boy Fuller.  He first recorded for the American Record Company (ARC) in 1935.

In 1937, Davis married Annie Bell Wright of Wake County, NC and they moved to New York in 1940, where he continued teaching guitar, singing, working as a minister, and beginning in 1945, he was recording on a fairly regular basis.  His career reached new levels of success during the folk revival of the 1960s, and when Peter, Paul, and Mary did ‘Samson & Delilah’ a cover version of his song ‘If I Had My Way’, that was featured on their chart-topping debut album.  ‘Samson and Delilah’ was originally recorded in 1927 by Blind Willie Johnson, and it was called ‘If I Had My Way, I’d Tear the Building Down’.

Davis’ location in New York City placed him in a unique position to teach a number of young musicians who went on to make a major mark in the folk and rock music scenes.  His virtuoso finger-picking style was influential on many subsequent artists, and his students included Jorma Kaukonen, Stefan Grossman, Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, Dave Van Ronk, Dave Bromberg and Bob Weir.  He also had a significant impact on such artists as the Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna, Bob Dylan, Keb Mo, and Resurrection Band.  Few of his students claim to have mastered his style, which is highly complex, creative, and difficult to duplicate.  As a singer and preacher, Davis left a legacy of hundreds of spiritual and gospel songs, while his reputation as a guitar genius served to introduce millions of young folk music fans to gospel music.

Reverend Gary Davis brought his unique brand of ragtime gospel music to the streets of Harlem and for a time he stopped playing the blues altogether in favor of gospel and old time songs, considering the blues to be the ‘Devil’s music’, only making an exception for certain gospel blues songs such as ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy’, which he first recorded in 1960.  An earlier version of this song exists from a 1926 collection “The Second Book Of Negro Spirituals” under the title ‘Death Come To My House He Didn’t Stay Long’.  ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy’ was recorded on Blind Gary Davis’ Harlem Street Singer album and released on the Bluesville label.  Davis first played this song in Concert on July 12, 1959 at Newport Folk Festival which featured Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Tom Makem, Odetta, New Lost City Ramblers, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Earl Scruggs and others.  ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy’ was also played by the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna and Bob Dylan among others.

Death don’t have no mercy in this land
Death don’t have no mercy in this land
He’ll come to your house & he won’t stay long
You look in the bed, & somebody will be gone
Death don’t have no mercy in this land

Death will go in any family in this land
Death will go in every family in this land
Well he’ll come to your house & he won’t stay long
Look in the bed & one of the family will be gone
Death will go in any family in this land

Well he never takes no vacation in this land
Old Death don’t take no vacation in this land
Come to your house, & he won stay long
Look in the bed & your mother will be gone
Death don’t take no vacation in this land

Well he’ll leave you standing and crying in this land
Death will leave you standing and crying in this land
He comes into your house and he won’t stay long
You look in the bed, & somebody will be gone
Death will leave you standing and crying in this land

Death is always in a hurry in this land
Death is always in a hurry in this land
Come to your house, & he won’t stay long
Look in the bed & your mother will be gone
Death is always in a hurry in this land

Well, he won’t give you time to get ready in this land
Well, he won’t give you time to get ready in this land
Come to your house, & he won’t stay long
You look in the bed, & somebody will be gone
Death won’t give you time to get ready in this land

Written for 1/27/19 Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “No”.

Getting Better All The Time

Like Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “I am back.” I am still filling in as the guest host for SLS Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday.  Di at pensitivity101 suggested the prompt of “No”, and even though “no” stands for nitric oxide which I think would be hard to find songs about, we are using this two letter tiny one syllable word “no” that means something negative.  I did bother to look up songs and I found that there are enough songs that can work with this prompt, and the ones that I found all seemed to be fun.  Feel free to suggest future prompts.

Plato said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything” and that sounds like a good reason for us to be here today.  This SLS challenge went much better last week after everyone got used to my pingback problems.  My post title contains lyrics from the Beatles song ‘Getting Better’, and when McCartney said, “It’s getting better all the time”, Lennon replied, “Can’t get no worse!”  Does anyone have an update on Helen?  I have not heard anything from Helen, but I am hoping that she is getting better.  We will keep this Song Lyric Sunday challenge going as long as all of you special blogger contestants keep showing up, because of your love for music.  Again, I urge patience on your part, as I will be continuously checking for pingback requests which I will approve immediately.

Here are the “rules”:

  • Post the lyrics to the song of your choice, whether it fits the theme or not.
  • Please try to include the songwriter(s) – it’s a good idea to give credit where credit is due.
  • Make sure you also credit the singer/band and if you desire you can provide a link to where you found the lyrics.
  • Link to the YouTube video, or pull it into your post so others can listen to the song.
  • Ping back to this post will eventually work, as long as you are being patient.
  • Read at least one other person’s blog, so we can all share new and fantastic music and create amazing new blogging friends in the process.
  • Have fun and enjoy the music.

I am writing about the song ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy’ this week and yes it is a bit morbid. The upcoming prompts will be:

February 3, 2019 – Ocean/Sea/Lake/Bay
February 10, 2019 – River/Stream/Brook
February 17, 2019 – Hill/Mountain
February 24, 2019 – Harmony/Melody/Music

Ancient Blues Lines And Train References

Smokestack Lightnin’ was written by Chester Arthur Burnett who is better known as Howlin’ Wolf.  This song is timeless and evocative, it enthralls anyone who listen to it, as it is a distillation of the essence of the blues.  Wolf said the song was inspired by watching trains in the night, sitting out in the country and seeing the trains go by that ran on coal in those days, watching the sparks come out of the smokestack and that was the smokestack lightning.  Howlin’ Wolf recorded ‘Smokestack Lightning’ in Chicago in January 1956.  Longtime Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin is credited with the distinctive guitar line.  Howlin’ Wolf sang and played harmonica, backed by pianist Hosea Lee Kennard, guitarists Willie Johnson and Hubert Sumlin, bassist Willie Dixon, and drummer Earl Phillips.  Guitarist Hubert Sumlin played with Howlin’ Wolf for over twenty years, from the time he joined the blues legend’s band in 1954 until Wolf’s death in 1976.

In 1956, ‘Smokestack Lightning’ reached number 11 in the Billboard R&B chart and it was Wolf’s single greatest recording in a career full of amazing recordings.  It had been a part of Wolf’s repertoire as far back as the early 1930s.  Its lyrics were inspired, in part, by Charlie Patton’s ‘Moon Going Down’ and the Mississippi Sheik’s ‘Stop and Listen Blues’.  Wolf had already recorded a version of it for RPM in 1951 as ‘Crying at Daybreak’.  Lyrically the song is a collection of short, clipped verses around the general themes of romantic betrayal and the need to catch a train and leave his mistreatment behind and thus it often has different lyrics when other groups cover it.

Over the years, “Smokestack Lightning” has been covered by numerous artists both in live performance and on recordings. Among these are artists as diverse as Muddy Waters, the Yardbirds, the Animals, George Thorogood, Van Morrison, Etta James, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Grateful Dead, John Lee Hooker, Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers Band, The Who, The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Manfred Mann, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith, Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones to name but a few.

‘Smokestack Lightning’ has also received numerous awards over the years.  In 1985, the song was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame in its ‘Classics of Blues Recordings Singles or Album Tracks’ category.  It was further honored by the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 as a recording of lasting historical musical importance.  In 2004, it was ranked number 29 in Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”  And in 2009, ‘Smokestack Lightning’ received the highest recognition that any recording can receive from the United States government when it was selected for permanent preservation into the Library of Congress for the National Recording Registry.

This song starts out with a lone guitar setting the beat and feel of the song.  The rest sounds like there are two guitars playing, but Hubert Sumlin manages to play both the rhythm and lead guitar with this one classic riff that repeats all throughout the song with some tiny variations.  Charley Patton recorded the song, ‘Moon Going Down’ on May 28, 1930 and some of the lyrics are, “Lord, the smokestack is black and the bell it shine like, bell it shine like, bell it shine like gold. Aw the smokestack is black and the bell it shine like gold.”  The second verse of ‘Stop and Listen Blues’ by Mississippi Sheiks which was recorded in 1930 and it says, “Cryin’, smokestack lightning That bell that shine like gold”.  Howlin’ Wolf took some of this as he starts his song out with simular lyrics, “Ah oh, smokestack lightnin’ Shinin’, just like gold.”  Wolf howls at the end of each verse which works perfectly for this song.

Howlin’ Wolf is up on a hill one night and his attention is drawn to the gold embers coming out of an approaching train’s smokestack and he says, “Why don’t ya hear me cryin’?”, because he is sad that his woman is not with him.  He goes on to say, “Whoa oh, tell me, baby Where did ya, stay last night?”, as he has been hurt by her not coming back to him last night.  Now he is angry and confused and he is thinking about putting her on the next train outta here, so he says, “Whoa-oh, stop your train Let her, go for a ride.”  I imagine that it is also possible that he hopped on the train and hightailed it out of there as some alternate lyrics say, “Stop your train Let a poor boy ride.”  I guess that he sent her away or he left on this train, because he next says, “Whoa-oh, fare ya well Never see, a you no more.”  Wolf concludes by singing, “Whoa-oh, who been here baby since, I-I been gone, a little, bitty boy Girl, be on Whoo hoo”, which I think that this concerns him boasting about his male prowess like he is some kind of sex machine, making a statement that he is more of a man than the others that his girl has been with.

Ah oh, smokestack lightnin’
Shinin’, just like gold
Why don’t ya hear me cryin’?

Whoo hoo
Whoo hoo
Whoo

Whoa oh, tell me, baby
What’s the, matter with you?
Why don’t ya hear me cryin’?

Whoo hoo
Whoo hoo
Whoo

Whoa oh, tell me, baby
Where did ya, stay last night?
A-why don’t ya hear me cryin’?

Whoo hoo
Whoo hoo
Whoo

Whoa-oh, stop your train
Let her, go for a ride
Why don’t ya hear me cryin’?

Whoo hoo
Whoo hoo
Whoo

Whoa-oh, fare ya well
Never see, a you no more
A-why don’t ya hear me cryin’?

Whoo hoo
Whoo hoo
Whoo

Whoa-oh, who been here baby since,
I-I been gone, a little, bitty boy
Girl, be on

Whoo hoo
Whoo hoo
Whoo

Written for 1/20/19 Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “Crying/Sadness”.