THE USE OF FOOD AS A SEXUAL METAPHOR IN THE BLUES

 

 

 

            The blues as a musical genre is rife with double entendre, as

         is its subsequent incarnation, rhythm and blues. Cars, machinery,

         housework, and all manner of crawling, slithering, and galloping

         creatures are common fodder for sexual innuendo. By far, however,

         the most prevalent of these metaphors is food and its

         preparation. Even such innocuous-sounding songs as “I Like Bread

         and Butter” (Bryant) and “Shortnin’ Bread” (Johnson, 261) had

         their roots in sexual themes. The meanings implied in most food—

         related metaphors are far too obvious to necessitate elucidation.

         There are, however, related areas which invite scrutiny. One area

         of interest with any linguistic symbol relates to the reasons

         behind its usage. How these metaphors developed over time, and

         the classifications into which they tend to fall are also

         subjects worthy of note.

        

             All forms of popular music, particularly folk music, have some

         degree of sexual double entendre, but it appears to be far more

         prevalant in the blues and R&B. One explanation can be found in

         the very nature of slavery. African-Americans were forced to

         resort to codes and symbolic language in order to avoid

         recriminations from plantation owners (Dundes, 258), particularly

         in relationship to sexual matters. The European-American’s taboos

         and fears relating to African-American male sexuality made it

         extremely dangerous to discuss sex in the their presence

         (Johnson, 259). It is no surprise then, that many of the early

         singers of risque songs were women. They were considered

         provocative, whereas an African-American man singing the same

         lyrics would be far too threatening to the European-Americans

         (Cook, 188 and Walton, 35).

       

            Many writers attribute the penchant for risque lyrics to the

         places where blues first was popularized - juke joints,

         roadhouses and brothels. In Sporting House, a history of New

         Orleans jazz, Stephen Longstreet contends that the blues was

         originally known as “whorehouse music (Longstreet, 218)”.

       

            There is no doubt that there was a demand for risque songs

         which prompted the musicians to satisfy it with an ample

         supply. There is some controversy as to what extent the record

         companies were aware of or encouraged bawdy lyrics. It is

         hypothesized that censorship by the record producers was an

         important element in creating intentional ambiguity:

        

                    In order to meet the demands of the market the record

                    companies appear to have evolved a double standard in

                    which they accepted, and may have invited, sexually

                    suggestive material but suppressed direct speech which

                    might be interpreted as obscene. . .Curtailing the range

                    of expression. . . inevitably. . .provoked the use of double-

                    entendre phrases.

                                      (Oliver, Screening the Blues, 250)

        

            From a historical perspective, the blues has long been linked

         with sexuality ( and sinning in general). Within the African-

         American church-going community of the South, blues has

         traditionally been viewed as the devil’s music, the antithesis of

         gospel. Emma Williams, the mother of singer Mary Johnson,

         typifies this attitude:

        

                  When she was singin’ them blues I told her - she was

                  pavin’ her way to hell.

                                     (Oliver, Screening the Blues, 46)

        

            In an interview for Guitar Player magazine, Johnny Shines is

         quoted as saying:

        

                  When I was a kid, a person heard you singing the

                  blues and recognized your voice, you couldn’t go

                  down their house, around their daughters.

                                                  (Obrecht, 16)

        

            With the large migration from the delta to the cities in the

         early years of the twentieth century (Harrison, 64) caine the

         increased use of bawdy lyrics. The relative freedom of city life

         caused “. . .a higher proportion of stanzas concerned with humor

         and sex (Titon, 55).”

 

            In a system he develops in the book Shining Trumpets, Rudy

         Blesh classifies this early city music as the “sophisticated

         blues.” His opinion of the prevelance of bawdy lyrics is

         decidedly negative:

        

                  we find stilted and coy phrasing in an

                  affectedly harsh voice, pruriently suggestive

                  phrases by which the most un-Victorian listener would

                  not be amused. (Blesh, 142)

        

            In contrast, Paul Garon feels that these “pruriently

         suggestive phrases”, as Blesh calls them, were being used to

         smash the former oppressive morality by openly confronting

         sexuality (Garon, 71). Others feel it was simply cathartic.

         According to Edith Wilson, “ Singing lewd or raunchy blues

         provided a form of release of pent—up feelings which were

         repressed by social norms that prohibited open discussion of sex

         (quoted in Harrison, 109).”

       

            The advent of rhythm and blues in the late forties and early

         fifties introduced the sexual double entendre to the general

         public. The popularity of humorous puns in R&B made it a fertile

         ground for the blossoming of sexual metaphor. These songs had

         been played for years in private parlors and at house rent

         parties, but wide distribution to the general population

         stimulated controversy:

        

                  The liveliness and raw earthiness of R&B had been

                  tolerated until the music was discovered by white

                  teenagers and mom and dad sudden~y noticed that the

                  words were a bit explicit.., a fierce campaign to

                  stamp out “suggestive” records swept the country in

                  1954. R&B records were the only target of the

                  crusade. (Grendyson)

        

            In spite of the aforementioned religious, cultural and social

         opposition, sexual double entendre is still common, as is

         evidenced by Love Lee’s 1994 recording, “ Good Candy,” and the

         1994 release of The Uptown Horns Review with Albert Collins, “

         Sugar Melts When It’s Wet.”

 

             Sugar and sweets are one of the more prevalent sexual

         metaphors in the blues. From the following standard “sugar”

         references to more complex bakery and dessert double entendres,

         the true meanings are indesputable:

        

                   You so sweet you whet my appetite (twice)

                   You make me hungry I just want to get a bite

                   You resist me baby but I’ll get you yet

                  There’s one thing I know: sugar melts when it’s wet

                     Oh, baby, you make my sweet tooth ache

                              (The Uptown Horns Review with Albert Collins

                              “Sugar Melts When it’s Wet”)

        

                  Sugar in the gourd, cain’t get it out

                  Way to get sugar - roll it all about

                              (Peg Leg Howell, “Turkey Buzzard Blues”

                              Oliver, Songsters and Saints, 28)

        

                   She loves me every morning and every evening

                   She got sugar-coated love

                              (Lazy Lester, “Sugar-coated Love”)

        

                   I need a little sugar in my bowl

                   I need a little hot dog between my rolls

                   .Move your fingers, drop something in my bowl

                              (Bessie Smith, “I Need a Little Sugar in my

                                       Bowl”)

        

                Tell me, mama, where’d you get your sugar from?

                              (Blind Boy Fuller, “My Brownskin Sugar Plum”)

        

             Honey is relevant in the context of sweetness:

        

                If you don’t like that honey

                I ain’t gonna buy yo’ dough

                                     (Mississippi Fred McDowell, “Good

                                     Mornin’ Little Schoolgirl”)

        

                   Sweet honey, sweet honey hole (twice)

                   Said it even take honey

                   Satisfy my soul

                   I want my honey every morning

                   Late at night

                   But if I don’t get my honey

                   Don’t believe I’m treated just right

                                     (Blind Boy Fuller, “Sweet Honey Hole”)

        

             Honey is not an exclusively female reference:

        

                   He treats me so mean

        

                  Just comes to me sometimes (twice)

                  But the way he spreads his honey

                  He will make me lose my mind

        

                  Just because I’m down

                  He wants to drive me away (twice)

                  ‘Cause he knows he’s a good honey dripper

                  And I need him every day

                                    (Edith Johnson, “Honey Dripper Blues”

                                     Oliver, Screening the Blues, 218)

        

            Honey is frequently used in tandem with the metaphor of the

         bee or beehive:

        

                  You’ve been stealin’ my honey,

                  Your fingerprints is all over my hive (twice)

                  My honey may be sweet to you buddy,

                  But you know you ain’t treatin’ me right

        

                  You sneak off in a corner,

                  Steal my honey right from my home (twice)

                  And when I get back in the mornin’

                  There ain’t no honey left in the comb

                                 (Peter Clayton, “Honey Stealin’ Blues,

                                 Oliver, Screening the Blues, 218)

        

                  I hear alot of buzzing

                  Sound like my little honeybee (twice)

                  She been all around the world makin’ honey

                 But now she is  coming back home to me

                                 (Muddy Waters, “Honey Bee”)

        

            Similarly, candy is frequently employed:

        

                  Mama, I’ve got some stick candy, I’ve got jelly beans

                  I’ve got the best stick of candy baby

                  that you’ve ever seen

                  Mama if you want this big stick of candy

                  You can have it all by yourself

                  I’ll save it for you baby

                  Won’t give it to nobody else

                                    (Love Lee, “Good Candy”)

        

                  He’s sweeter than chocolate candy,

                  He’ 5 confect ionary

                                    (Billie Holiday, “Sugar”)

        

         Mississippi John Hurt’s “Candy Man” may be referring to Lii

         Johnson, a popular early singer known for her bawdy lyrics:

        

                         All heard what sister Johnson said

                         She always takes a candy stick to bed

                              (Mississippi John Hurt, “Candy Man”)

 

                         Hey, Mr. Bullfrog, I’m gonna tell you all

                         I can’t stand your jelly-rolling here

                         You can go out in the backyard,

                         I’ll make you a pallet there

                                        (Jenny Pope, “Bullfrog Blues” Garon, 147)

        

                         Who’s gonna do your sweet jelly-rollin’

                         Sweet jelly rollin’ when I’m gone?

                         Who’s gonna do your old-fashioned lovin’

                         Old-fashioned lovin’ from now on?

                                        (Whistling Rufus, “Who’s Gonna Do Your

                                        Sweet Jelly Rollin’? Oliver, Screening

                                        the Blues, 195)

        

                   Other baked goods and sweets show up randomly:

        

                         I saw another man eatin’ of my chocolate cake

                                        (Emery Glen, “Backdoor Blues” White, 96)

        

                         Cherry, cherry pie, oh so good...

                         Give me, give me some cherry pie

                                          (Marvin and Johnny, “Cherry Pie”)

        

                         I’m your ice cream man

                         Stop me when I’m passing by

                         Now, I’ll cool you off little girl

                         Guarantee I’ll satisfy

                         I’ve got cream sandwiches, dixie cups,

                         Popsicles, and push-ups

                                          (John Brim, “Ice Cream Man”)

        

                         I like my baby’s puddin’

                         I like it best of all (twice)

        

                         Gonna watch my baby both night and day

                         So she won’t give my puddin’ away

                         Her puddin’ is all my baby owns

                        So there ain’t no meat for Henry Jones

                                 (Wynonie Harris, “I Like My Baby’s Pudding”)

        

                   As with all oral traditions, there are certain phrases and

               even entire songs that are used so often they are difficult to

               trace back to any original source. Many songs with different

               titles and/or different musicians are actually the same song, as

               are “Custard Pie Blues” by Sonny Terry, “Tater Pie” by Sonny

               Terry, “I Want Some of Your Pie” by Blind Boy Fuller and Sonny

               Terry, and You Got to Give Me Some of it” by Buddy Moss. By sheer

               quantity, Sonny Terry seems to be the originator. But much of the

               blues is public domain, with authorship often “traditional.” As

               Lawrence W. Levine explains in Black Culture and Consciousness:

        

                         Black singers felt absolutely free to take blues sung by

                         others-friends, professional. performers, singers on

                         records—and alter them in any way they liked... (blues)

                         remained communal property... no single person “owned”

                         a blues song. (Levine, 229)

        

         So it is not unusual to find:

        

                  I’m gonna tell you somethin’ baby

                  Ain’t gonna tell you no lie

                  I want some of your tater pie

                                      (Sonny Terry, “Tater Pie”)

        

                  Baby, I’m not jokin’

                  Ain’t gonna tell you no lie

                  I want a piece of your custard pie

                             (Blind Boy Fuller, “1 Want Some of Your Pie”)

        

                  I’m gonna tell you true

                  Ain’t gonna tell you no lie

                  I’m crazy about your custard pie

                             (Buddy Moss, “You Got to Give Me Some of it”)

        

            Along the lines of baking, all types of breads show up in

         blues lyrics, as in this Hi Henry Brown tale about a wayward

         preacher:

        

                  If you want to hear a preacher curse,

                  Bake bread, sweet mama and save him the crust

                  Oooh, if you want to hear a preacher curse,

                  Says, bake bread  sweet mama and save him the crust

                                   (Hi Henry Brown, “Preacher Blues”

                                   Oliver, Screening the Blues, 48)

        

            Or in Smokey Babe’s “Biscuit Bakin’ Woman”:

        

                  Well, you bake those biscuit, bake ‘em nice and brown

                  Love that woman, she can really go to town

         

                  Well, now, I can tell by the way she roll her dough

                  She can bake those biscuits once mo’

                                   (Smokey Babe, “Biscuit Bakin’ Woman”

                                   Oster, 357)

         

            J.L. Dillard, in the Lexicon of Black English states:

        

                  As a symbol, the biscuit is almost equally important. At

                  least in the days immediately after slavery, it was more

                  likely to be on the table of the Black than pastry, and

                  it is a good metaphorical reference to sex of a fairly

                  steady and good quality. If it is not up to that caliber

                  it is cornbread. (Dillard, 26)

        

            One example that supports Dillard’s interpretation can be

         found in the John Lee Hooker song, “Catfish”:

               

               Got somethin’ to tell you

               Oh, Lord, baby

               Baby, you know that ain’t right

               You cook cornbread for your husband

               Biscuits for your man

               Biscuits for your man

                                   (John Lee Hooker, “Catfish”)

        

            After “jelly roll”, the second most common sexual reference is

         meat, particularly in regards to pigmeat, butchers, and meat

         cutting. One concept is that of having meat on your bones, reflecting

         the African-American cultural perspective which has more of an

         appreciation for voluptuous figures than the traditional European-

         American values do:

        

               It ain’t the meat it’s the motion

               Makes your daddy want to rock

               It ain’t the meat it’s the motion

               It’s the movement that gives it the sock

        

               You find some girls who are big and fat

               Some fellahs don’t like to see ‘em like that

               But I like to see ‘em big and tall

               The bigger they come the harder they fall

                                  (“It Ain’t the Meat” Risque rhythm)

        

            “Big Fat Mama With Meat Shakin’ off Her Bones” is one of the

         “traditional” songs recorded in various styles by Roosevelt

         Halts, Houston Stackhouse, Arzo Youngblood (Evans, 237), Ida Cox

         (Melnich, 271), Leadbelly, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Tommy

         Johnson, whose version is excerpted here:

        

               Cryin’ big fat mama

               Meat shakin’ off her bones

               Every time the meat shake

                          It’s a skinny woman lose a home

                            (“Big Fat Mama” Evans, 237)

        

            Men, too, take pride in fat meat:

        

               Fat meat

               Is really very fine

               ‘Cause you don’t see nobody

               Runnin’ away from mine

               Fat meat is soft

               Fat meat is nice

               If you try it once

               You bound to try it twice

               Fat meat

               Is all that you will crave

               You’ll follow me around baby,

               Beggin’ me just like a slave

                                   (Big Jim Wynn, “Fat Meat”)

 

   Juba to Jive defines pigmeat as, “. . .female whore; young

  girl.” (Clarence, 349). Bo Carter’s song, “Pigmeat is What I

  Crave” typifies such usage. Likewise, Blind Lemon Jefferson

   sings:

        

                I’m crazy ‘bout my light bread

                And my pigmeat on the side

                                    (Blind Lemon Jefferson, “Bakershop

                                    Blues” Charters, 183)

        

     Ardella Bragg chides:

        

               Look heah, papa, you don’t treat pigmeat the way you

                      should

               Ooh, don’t treat pigmeat the way you should

               If you don’t believe it’s pigmeat ask in the neighborhood

         

               I ain’t so good-lookin’, I ain’t got no great long hair

               Ooh, I ain’t got no great long hair

               But I don’t have     to worry, I know it’s pigmeat anywhere

                                 (Ardella Bragg, “Pigmeat Blues” Oliver,

                                 Blues Fell This Morning, 126)

        

         Pigmeat is another term that can be used for either gender. In

         Leadbelly’s “Pigmeat Papa”, which is lyrically similar to Ardella

         Bragg’s “Pigmeat Blues”, he calls himself “pure pigmeat.” Other

         classic examples of the masculine usage are:

        

                His fine feathers are rolled so sweet

                How I love his young pigmeat

                                 (Bessie Smith, “Kitchen Man” Oliver, 178)

        

                Girls they call me Big Bad Pete

                But they’s crazy ‘bout this little pigmeat so

                Freeze to me, mama, before I go home

                              (Barbeque Bob, “Freeze to Me, Mama” Oliver,

                              Blues off the Record, 78)

        

            In regards to women, references to ham hocks, pork chops, and

         hams abound:

        

                When it comes to good lovin’

                Don’t forget to buy me some pork chops

                aaahaaah every day of my life

                I got to have me some...

                Every day I need some of them

                Sweet-smellin’ pork chops

                                    (The Dorsets, “Pork Chops”)

        

                She got a fine T-bone

                Oh, what a lovely roast

                Her hams are delicious

                And the chops I love the most

        

                  As I sat down to dinner

                  Just the other day

                  The butcher came in and caught his wife

                  Givin’ his chops away

        

                  Well, he swung with his cleaver,

                  He grabbed a butcher knife

                  Got outta that shop in one big hop

                  And ran for my life

        

                  When I got up from the table

                  Through the wall I made a door

                  Grabbed my hat and I ain’t been back

                  To get those chops no more

                                     (Mr. Sad Head “Butcher Boy”)

        

            The term, “hambone” ( not to be confused with its usage in a

         popular “patting Juba” song) is used in an exclusively male

         context:

        

                  I’m going to Tishamingo

                  To have my hambone boiled

                  These Atlanta women

                  Done let my hambone spoil

                           (Peg Leg Howell, “Tishamingo Blues” Dillard, 26)

        

           Ed Bell has a similar complaint, although different locales:

        

                  I got to go to Cincinnatti

                  Just to have my hambone boiled

                  Womens in Alabama

                  Gonna let my hambone spoil

                           (Ed Bell, “Hambone Blues” Sackheim, 294)

        

            The vivid image of the man as a butcher cutting the

         woman’s meat has been seen by some as being sadistic

         objectification (Foib, 151). The more practical interpretation is

         that meat was an uncommon delicacy, as was pastry. Regardless of

         its basis, the metaphor is common:

        

              

                Mama, I got a hot dog and it ain’t cold

                It’s just right to fit your roll

                    . . .I don’t mean a weenie!

                                            (Roosevelt Sykes, “Dirty Mother for You’1

                                           Oliver, Screening the Blues, 234)                 

  

  

                  Now I ain’t no butcher

                  No butcher’s son

                  I can do your cutting

                  Till the butcher man comes

                           (Ba Carter, “All Around Men,” Sackheim, 170)

        

                  Hey, everybody! did the news get around

                  About a guy named Butcher Pete

                  01’ Pete just flew into this town

                  And he’s choppin’ up all the women’s meat

        

                  He’s hackin’ and whackin’ and smackin’ (3 times)

                  He whacks, smacks, choppin’ that meat

        

 

                          Sam’s got the best hot dog here in town

                          I like the way he serves it

                          He goes round and round

                          Baby, with his hot dog

                                           (Lii Johnson, “Sam-the hot Dog Man”)

        

        

                     Chicken and fish also appear in songs, although these

                   references are not as numerous and far more obscure. The word

                   “chick” is assumed to come from “chicken dinner,” a euphemism for

                   a woman:

        

                          Little girl, little girl, you sure can cook

                          Little girl, little girl, you got me hooked

                           Cook that chicken - save me the head

                                          (Mighty Joe Young, “Chicken Heads)

        

                     Minstralry used songs with titles such as, “Chicken, You Can’t

                   Roost Too High for Me” to perpetuate the racist stereotype of

                   African-Americans as chicken thieves (Russell, 16). Subsequently,

                   blues singers adapted these same songs, and with a slight change

                   of vocal tone and attitude added a provocative ambiguity (Oliver,

                   Sinners and Saints, 100). Audiences were left to make their own

                   inferences about the nature of the much sought-after chickens:

        

                           Oh chicken, oh chicken, you can fry them nice and brown

                           Oh chicken, oh chicken, you can waltz the gravy around

                           Oh chicken, oh chicken, I don’t mean no fault in that

                           Fine chickens grow in this town

                           And the wings can’t get too fat

                           Oh, when I come to this neighborhood

                           Chickens know just what I mean

                                           (Stovepipe no. 1, “ A Chicken Can Waltz

                                           The Gravy Around” Oliver, Sinners and

                                           Saints, 100)

        

        

                     References to fishing as an allusion to catching a mate are

                   quite common:

        

                           If you go fishin’

                           I’m a-goin’ a-fishin’ too

                           You bet yo’ life

                           Yo’ sweet little wife

                           Can catch as many fish as you

                                             (trad. Levine, 280)

        

                          If you don’t like my ocean

                          Don’t fish in my sea

                                    (trad. Cook, 188)

        

            The use of fish as food in any context less innocent than a

         fish fry is extremely uncommon in the blues and R&B. Seafood is

         traditionally seen as symbolic of cunnilingus, not a popular

         subject in the blues. One rare exception is Peetie Wheatstraw’s

         “I Want Some Seafood:”

        

                   I want some fish, ooh, well, well,

                  And you know just what I mean

        

                  I want fish, fish, mama

                  I wants it all the time

                  The peoples call it seafood, ooh

                  Well, well, up and down the line

                                    (Peetie Wheatstraw, “I Want Some

                                     Seafood” Garon, 70)

        

            One example of shellfish is found in “Kitchen Man”:

        

                  Oh how that boy does open clams

                                     (Bessie Smith, Oliver, Screening the

                                     Blues, 178)

        

         Fruits and vegetables are not ignored the blues by any means:

        

                  Don’t your plums look mellow

                  Hangin’ up on your tree (twice)

                  Don’t your house seem lonesome

                  When your baby pack up and leave

        

                  Lord, I ain’t got nobody

                  Talk baby talk to me (twice)

                  Lord, your peaches look so mellow dear

                  Climb up in your peach tree

                            (Joe Williams, “Don’t Your Plums Look Mellow

                            Hanging on Your Tree”)

        

                  Wish I Was an Apple

                  Hangin’ from a tree

                  Baby, pluck me off

                  Take a bite of me

                            (trad. Longstreet, 204)

        

                  And I’m telling you baby

                  I sure ain’t gonna deny

                  Let me put my banana in your fruit basket

                  And I’ll be satisfied

                             (Bo Carter, “Banana in Your Fruit Basket”)

        

                  I likes your little peaches

                  They so mellow and fine

        

                  I’m so crazy about your orchard

                  Mama keeps me beggin’ all the time

                             (Sonny Boy Williamson, “Peach Tree”)

        

            Most references to peaches and plums are probably based on

         the fruit’s resemblance to women’s breasts. With many songs there

         is no ambiguity whatsoever:

        

                  Fruit’s in your basket

                  the lemon’s on the shelf

                  Let me squeeze ‘em baby

                  Can’t squeeze them yourself

        

                  I’m a lemon squeezin’ daddy

                  And I just got back in town (twice)

                  Way out in California

                  Where they grow so big and round

                                  (The Sultans, “Lemon Squeezing Daddy”)

        

                  Please let me squeeze your lemons

                  While I’m in your lonesome town

                  Now, let me squeeze your lemons, baby

                  Until my love come down

                                  (Charlie Picket, “Let Me Squeeze Your

                                  Lemons” Dillard, 33)

        

            Again we find traditional phrases, which Paul Oliver calls

         “floating verses.” (Oliver, Screening the Blues, 18). Either

         drawn from the common pool, or simply borrowed from an original

         source (possibly Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Until My Love Comes

         Down”), both of the previous songs can be found verbatim in Otis

         Webster’s “Fruit’s on Your Tree” (Oliver, Songsters and Saints

         358).

            From the feminine perspective, There is flexibility within the

         terms for songs such as:

         

                  I’ll squeeze your lemon

                  Until the juice runs down your leg

                                  (Bessie Smith, Dillard, 33)

        

            The blues by its nature has certain formulas into which any

         number of words can be inserted. The lyric quoted above, “ If you

         don’t like my ocean. . .“ is characteristic of these formulas, with

         other versions related to produce. The most common word used

         being peaches:

        

                  Well, if you don’t like my peaches

                  Don’t shake my tree

                  Just stay out of my orchard

                  And let my peaches be

                                  (William Harris, “Hot Time Blues” Oliver,

                                  Songsters and Saints, 72)

        

                  If you don’t like my peaches

        

                  Don’t shake my tree

                  Don’t like my fruits

                  Let my orchards be

                                  (Frank Stokes, “Mr. Crump Don’t Like It”

                                    Oliver, Songsters and Saints, 72)

        

                  You’re playing in my orchard

                  Now don’t you see

                  If you don’t like my peaches

                  Stop shakin’ my tree

                                    (Longstreet, 114)

        

            But peaches are not the only subject:

        

                  If you don’t like my sweet potato

                  What made you dig so deep (twice)

                  Dig my potato field

                  Three, four times a week

                                    (Lil Johnson, “You’ll never Miss Your

                                    Jelly” Sackheim, 44)

        

            Potatoes were not an uncommon metaphor:

        

                  Ain’t no more potatoes

                  Frost done killed the vine

                  Ain’t no more good times

                  With that girl of mine

                                    (King David’s Jug Band, “Sweet Potato

                                    Blues” Garon, 70)

        

                  I’d love to dig your potatoes

                  I’d like to get tangled in your yellow yams

                                    (F~arnmie Nixon, McKee, 156)

        

                  I’m travelin’ baby

                  You know I’m a stranger in your land

                  You know I’m a tater diggin’ man

                  Woman, I want to tangle up in your potato vine

                  I know your tater’s need diggin’

                                    (Yank Rachell, “Let Me Tangle in Your

                                       Vine”)

        

            Sonny Terry uses this imagery effectively to express the

         territorial violation felt when his woman is unfaithful:

        

                  When I went downtown this mornin’

                  Left my gate unlatched

                  When I came back home

                  That fool was in my ‘tater patch

        

                  You know he’s diggin’ my potatoes

                  Trampin’ on my vine

                                  (Sonny Terry, “Diggin’ my Potatoes”)

        

           According to Guy B. Johnson, cabbage is another common term

       for “female organs” (Johnson, 261). There is ample proof in the

       lyrics of popular musicians:

        

                          I got a sweet woman

                          She lives right in back of the jail

                          She’s got a sign in her window

                          Good cabbages for sale

                                           (Jelly Roll Morton, “Low Down Blues”

                                           Dillard, 25)

        

                          He boiled my first cabbage

                          And he made it awful hot

                          When he put in the bacon

                          It overflowed the pot

                                           (Bessie Smith, “Empty bed Blues”)

        

          Snack foods, too, have a role in blues imagery:

        

                          Call me the popcorn man

                          Sell it just as cheap as I can (twice)

                          I don’t need your credit

                          Only sell it for ten cents a can

        

                          Well I popped it every night

                          To keep my popcorn right

                          They say, here come your man

                          Here come your popcorn man

                                        (Otis Spann, “Popcorn Man”)

        

                          Sellin’ nuts, hot nuts

                          Anybody here want to buy my nuts?

                          Sellin’ nuts, hot nuts

                          I’ve got nuts for sale

        

                          Sellin’ one for five, two for ten

                          If you buy them once, you’ll buy ‘em again

                          Sellin’ nuts, hot nuts

                          Buy ‘em from the peanut man

                                        (Lil Johnson, “Hot Nuts”)

        

                     Otis Spann and Lil Johnson appear to be mimicking street

                  cries, used to call attention to goods for sale. The street cry

                  is rich in tradition, reaching back to the New Orleans market

                  shouters (Epstein, Dena 181). The similarity cannot be ignored:

        

                          So come on down and gather around

                          I’ve got the best fish that’s in this town

                                        (fish peddler quoted in Levine, 198)

        

                          Ah’m a natural born cook

                          And dat ain’t no lie

                          Ah can fry po’k chops

                          And have a lowdown pie

                                       (street chef, quoted in Roach, 23)

        

            Unfortunately, the same source cannot be used to explain songs

         such as “Stew Meat Blues”:

        

                  A man say I had something look like new

                  He wanted me to credit him for some of my stew

                  Say he’s goin’ up the river, try to sell his sack

                  He would pay me for my stuff when the boat get back

        

                  I’ve got good stew and it’s got to be sold

                  The price ain’t high I want to get you told

                  Go on up the river and sell your sack

                 There’ll be stew meat here baby, when the boat get back

                                (Bessie Jackson, “Stew Meat Blues”

                                  Sackheim, 46)

        

            Viewing prostitution as a result of economic hardships and

         institutionalized racism, many references to selling are

         considered to be literal:

        

                  One of the most characteristic degradations of the lower

                  class black woman is her frequent necessity to resort to

                  prostitution, either as a means of economic sustenance

                  or as a method of fulfilling the expectations (and

                  exploitations) of her male partner or pimp.

                                  (Garon, 108)

         

            Songs such as “Matchbox Blues” illustrate this point with a

         pimp complaining about an unsuccessful prostitute:

        

                  And a peg-leg woman can’t hardly get her dough

                  I say a peg-leg woman just can’t hardly get her dough

                  I left one in Lakeport last night I been

                  And I’m servin’ jelly-roll

                                    (Titon, 39)

        

            In “Kitchen Mechanic” Clara Smith defends the prostitute:

        

                  Women talks about me, and lies on me,

                  And calls me outta my name

                  All their men come to see me just the same

        

                  I’m just a working girl, po’ working gal,

                  Kitchen mechanic is what they say (twice)

                  But I’ll have a honest dollar on that rainy day

                                 (Clara Smith, “Kitchen Mechanic” Harrison, 109)

        

            References to price are not always overt prostitution, but

         were related to “upkeep”. It was simply characteristic of the era

         that men were expected to take care of women - buying them gifts,

         and looking after them in the manner to which they had become

         accustomed (Dorham). In Wild Child Butter’s “Gravy Child” he is

        

         apparantly unable to meet the market price:

        

                  I got to lick gravy baby

                  ‘Cause your meat too high to buy (twice)

                  Say, I never had a piece of your meat, darlin’

                  And I think you know the reason why

        

                  The tax is high and so is rent

                  You got my tax, baby

                  Higher than the president

                                    (Wild Child Butler, “Gravy Child”)

        

            When drinking figures into the blues it is usually in

         reference to alcohol in a literal sense. A few exceptions are

         milk, tea and coffee. Bo Carter’s “All Around Man” uses the milk

         metaphor to its maximum potential:

        

                  Now I ain’t no milkman, no milkman’s son,

                 I can pull  your titties till the milkman comes

                             (30 Carter, “All Around Man” Sackheim, 170)

        

         Just as honey is intrinsically linked to the bee, milk is often

         used in conjunction with bovine symbolism:

        

                  Now my hair is nappy

                  And I don’t wear no clothes of silk (twice)

                  But the cow that’s black and ugly

                  Has often got the sweetest milk

                                    (Sara Martin, “Mean Tight Mama” Oliver,

                                    Screening the Blues, 179)

        

                  I’ll milk you cow ‘til my pail is full

                  Watch out hefer! Here comes your bull

                                   (Wynonie Harris, “Keep on Churnin’”)

        

                  Well, if you see my milk cow

                  Tell her to hurry home

                  I ain’t had no milk

                  Since that cow been gone

                                   (Son House, “My Black Mama, part 1”)

        

            This last quote is another of the “floating lyrics” mentioned

         by Paul Oliver. Similar songs are “Milk Cow” (Lomax, 445), “Milk

         Cow Blues Boogie” (Cook, 176) and “MiLk Cow Blues” (trad.)

        

            Lightning Hopkins has his own preferences:

        

                  You know, I could ask her for a glass of sweet milk

                  And I swear she will give me cream

                  You know, everybody’s appetite ain’t alike

                  In the morning I drinks sweet milk

                  And in the evening I don’t drink none.

                                   (Lightning Hopkins “Hear My Black Dog

                                       Bark”)

        

 

            Often references to non—alcoholic drinks and women have a

         double metaphor of poisoning functioning to express mistreatment

         or being short-changed:

        

                  Well, asked her for water, but she brought me gasoline

                  Just the troublest woman that I ever seen

                                    (Howling Wolf, “I Asked for Water (She

                                    Gave Me Gasoline)”)

        

                  You used to put iodine in my coffee

                  Rat poison in my bed

                                    (Muddy Waters “Iodine in My Coffee”)

        

            The balance of songs about coffee and tea, however, are purely

         sexual:

        

                  I like my coffee sweet early in the morning

                  I’m crazy ‘bout my tea at night

                                      (trad.)

        

                  Mama got mad at papa

                  ‘Cause he didn’t bring no coffee home

                  She said, ol’ man, don’t you know

                  Don’t you know you doin’ me wrong

        

                  You know, mama, she was mad

                  But how sweet it seemed

                  She drank black coffee

                  Without a drop of cream

        

                  You know she was crazy about that coffee house

                  That’s the reason him and mama

                  They began to get along

                 ‘Cause she know  what this coffee mess all about

                                  (Lightning Hopkins “Coffee House Blues”)

        

                  Wild about coffee but I’m crazy ‘bout China tea (twice)

                  But this sugar daddy is sweet enough for me

                                  (Nellie Florence, “Jacksonville Blues”

                                     Titon, 73)

        

            Bessie Smith combines coffee and the grinder, a typical use of

         food preparation as metaphor:

        

                  Got me a coffee grinder

                  Got the best one I could find

                  So he could grind my coffee

                 ‘Cause he got a brand new grind

                                  (Bessie Smith, “Empty Bed Blues”)

        

            All manner of cooking implements and methods of preparation

         are popular among singers:

        

                  They call me oven, say that I’m red hot

                  They say I’ve got somethin’ the other gals ain’t got

                  I can strut my pudding, spread my grease with ease

                 ‘Cause I know my  onions, that’s why I always please

                                   (Nellie Florence, “Jacksonville Blues”

                                   Titon, 105)

        

                  I got a range in my kitchen

                  Sure bakes nice and brown

                  All I need is some good daddy

                  To turn my damper down

        

                  My stove is automatic

                  You don’t have to burn wood or coal

                  I just drag your match, baby

                  Stick it right in the hole

                          (Lii Johnson, “My Stove’s In Good Condition”)

        

                  I got a brand new skillet and a brand new lid

                  All I need is a woman that’ll burn my bread

                  Now I got the dasher My baby got the churn

                  We gonna churn churn churn ‘til the butter comes

                          (Bo Carter “Banana in Your Fruit Basket)

        

            Bo Carter’s song segues into what I will refer to as

         a “process” song, where it is the action which is sexually

         suggestive, rather than the implement itself.

        

                  Keep on churnin’ till the butter comes (twice)

                  Keep on pumpin’, make the butter flow

                 Wipe off  the paddle and churn some mo’

                           (Wynonie Harris, “Keep On Churnin’”)

        

                  My baby owns an ice cream freezer

                  She lets me put my milk in her can (twice)

                  You know her freezer ain’t to be turned

                  By no other man

        

                  She turns her freezer so slow an easy

                  She say, daddy, can you just hold back and stick around

                  I said I believe you spoke a little too late mama,

                  I got to  let that flavor run down

                           (Roosevelt Sykes, “Ice Cream Freezer”)

        

                  I woke up this mornin’ with my pork-grinder in my hand

                  If you can’t send me no woman, send me a sissy man

                          (Kokomo Arnold, “Sissy Man Blues” Oliver,

                           Screening the Blues, 187)

        

            Kokomo Arnold’s song, and many of the preceding songs may seem

         raw and offensive, but we must remember, “ The desires of the

         blues singers are the desires of us all-those who find the blues

         vulgar or repulsive find that same desire in themselves create

         creates feelings of disgust or revulsion” (Garon, 7). Blues

         singers may seem preoccupied with sexuality, but all of humanity

         is preoccupied with sexuality (Garon, 66). The double entendres

         with which musicians have expressed this preoccupation has a rich

         and complex history. The codes which were necessitated by

         oppression, societal mores and censorship have become their own

         form of poetry. Of all these poetic metaphors, food is the most

         common. People sing about their experiences and needs. In the

         impoverished African-American communities of the South, food was

         not always available, and so it was as much of an obsession as is

         sex for many people who do without it. Food was a luxury, so the

         best thing you could compare something to was pastry or fancy

         meats. Only later, as economic opportunities improved did songs

         comparing sex to a shiny new car appear (Thompson).

 

 

 

 

                                     REFERENCES

         

         Songs

        

           Brim, John. “Ice Cream Man.” Whose Muddy Shoes. Chess, CH1537,

                 1953.

        

           Brown, Roy and his Mighty, Mighty Men. “Butcher Pete.” Risque

                 Rhythm. Rhino, R270570, 1991.

        

           Butler, Wild Child. “Gravy Child.” Keep On Doin’ What You’re

                 Doin’. Mercury, SR61293.

        

           Carter, Bo. “Banana in Your Fruit Basket.” Banana in Your

                 Fruit Basket. Yazoo, 1064, 1991.

         

           Carter, Bo. “Pigmeat is What I Crave.” Banana in Your Fruit

                 Basket. Yazoo, 1064, 1991.

        

           Crudup, Arthur. “That’s All Right.” Delmark 40th Anniversary

                 Blues. Deirnark, DX-2, 1993.

         

           Dorsets, The. “Pork Chops.” Talkin’ Trash. Greasy Records,

                 R&B5463A.

        

           Edwards, Bernice. “Butcher Shop Blues.” Raunchy Business: Hot

                 Nuts and Lollypops. Columbia, 46783 AAD, 1991.

         

           Frost, Frank. “Jelly Roll King.” Hey Boss Man. Charlie

                 Records, CRN2O11.

        

           Fuller, Blind Boy. “My Brownskin Sugar Plum.” East Coast

                 Piedmont Style. Columbia/Legacy, CK46777.

        

           Fuller, Blind Boy. “Sweet Honey Hole.” East Coast Piedmont

                 Style. Columbia/Legacy, CK46777.

        

           Harris, Wynonie. “I Like My Baby’s Pudding.” Bloodshot Eyes:

        

                 The Best of Wynonie Harris. Rhino, R271544, 1994.

        

           Harris, Wynonie. “Keep On Churnin’.” Bloodshot Eyes: The Best

                 of Wynonie Harris. Rhino, R271544, 1994.

        

           Holiday, Billie. “Sugar.” The Billie Holiday Story,

                 Vol. III. Columbia, KG32127, 1973.

        

           Hooker, John Lee. “Catfish.” The Rare Recordings. Collectible

                 Records, COL-5l51.

        

           Hopkins, Lightning. “Coffee House Blues.” Coffee House

                 Blues. Vee-Jay Records, VJLP-1138.

        

           Hopkins, Lightning. “Hear My Black Dog Bark.” Country

                 Blues. Tradition Records, TLB1O35, ~959.

        

           House, Son. “My Black Mama Pt. 1.” Son House - Blind Lemon

              Jefferson. Biograph Records, BI~P—l2O4Q, 1972.

        

           Hunter and Jenkins. “Lollypop.” Raunchy Business: Hot Nuts and

              Lollypops. Columbia, 46783 AAD, 1991.

        

            Hunter and Jenkins. “Meat Cuttin’ Blues.” Raunchy Business:

                Hot Nuts and Lollypops. Coiumbj..a, 46783 AAD, 1991.

        

            Hunter, Alberta. “My Handy Man Ain’t Handy No More.” Amtrak

              Blues. Columbia, PC 36430, 1980.

        

            Hurt, Mississippi John. “Candy Man.” The Blues Masters

              Sampler. R27l40l, 1983.

        

           Johnson, Lii. “Get ‘Em From the Peanut Man (Hot Nuts).”

              Raunchy Business: Hot Nuts and Lollypops. Columbia, 46783

              AAD, 1991.

        

           Johnson, Lii. “My Stove’s in Good Condition.” Raunchy

              Business: Hot Nuts and Lollypops. Columbia, 46783 AAD,

              1991.

          

           Johnson, Lii. “Sam the Hot Dog Man.” Raunchy Business: Hot

              Nuts and Lollypops. Columbia, 46783 AAD, 1991.

        

           Leadbelly. “Big Fat Woman.” Noted Rider. Time Wind, MF 950013.

        

           Leadbelly. “Pigmeat Papa.” The Story of the Blues. Columbia,

              CGT 30008.

        

           Lee, Love. “Good Candy.” Good Candy. Earwig Music Co. CD4928,

              1994.

        

           Lester, Lazy. “Sugar Coated Love.” True Blues. Excello,

              LP8006.

        

           Mahal, Taj. “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Steal My Jelly Roll.” Natch’i

              Blues. Columbia, Stereo C59698, 1968.

        

           Marvin and Johnny. “Cherry Pie.” Cherry Pie. Kent Records, KLP

              2025, 1984.

        

           McDowell, Mississippi Fred. “Big Fat Mama.” Ain’t Gonna

              Worry. Drive, DEZ-41040, 1994.

        

           Moss, Buddy. “You Got to Give Me Some of ~t.” Raunchy

              Business: Hot Nuts and Lollypops, Columbia, 46783 AAD,

              1991.

        

           McDowell, Mississippi Fred. “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.”

              I Do Not Play No Rock n’ Roll. Capitol, SM-409.

        

           Rachell, Yank. “Let Me Tangle in Your Vine.” Delmark 40th

                           Anniversary Blues. Delmark, DX-2, 1993.

        

           Sad Head, Mr. “Butcher Boy.” RCA Victor Blues and Rhythm

                           Revue, 6279—1--R, 1987.

        

           Smith, Bessie. “Empty Bed Blues.” Empty Bed Blues. Columbia,

                           630450, 1928.

        

           Smith, Bessie. “Nobody in Town Can Bake a Sweet Jelly Roll

                           Like Mine.” Bessie Smith: The Complete Recordings,

                           Vol. 1, disc 1. Columbia, 47307 AAD, 1991.

        

           Smith, Bessie. “I Need A Little Sugar in My Bowl.” Bessie

                         Smith:   The World’s Greatest Blues Singer. Columbia, GP33.

        

           Spann, Otis. “Popcorn Man.” The Blues Is Where It’s

                           At. ABC/Bluesway, BLS-6003, 1966.

        

           Sultans, The. “Lemon Squeezing Daddy.” Risque Rhythm. Rhino,

                           R270570, 1991.

        

           Swallows, The. “It Ain’t the Meat.” Risque Rhythm. Rhino,

                           R270570, 1991.

        

           Sykes, Roosevelt. “Ice Cream Freezer.” New Orleans Jazz &

                           Heritage Festival. Flying Fish Records, FF099, 1979.

        

           Terry, Sonny. “Diggin’ My Potatoes.” Sonny is King. Prestige,

                           OBCCD--521—2, 1990.

         

           Terry, Sonny. “Tater Pie.” Sonny is King. Prestige, OBCCD-

                           5212, 1990.

        

            Waters, Muddy. “Honey Bee.” The best of Muddy Waters. Chess,

                           CH1427LP.

        

            Waters, Muddy. “Iodine in My Coffee.” Rare and Unissued. Chess

                           Records, CH9180, 1984.

        

            Williams, Big Joe. “Don’t Your Plums Look Mellow Hanging on

                           Your Tree.” Don’t Your Plums Look Me’low Hanging on Your

                           Tree. ABC Records, BLS—6080, 1974.

        

            Williamson, Sonny Boy. “Peach Tree.” The Real Folk Blues. CH-

                           9272, 1987.

        

            Wolf, Howlin’. I Asked for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline).”

                           Moanin’ in the Moonlight. Chess, CH-1434-LP.

        

            Wynn, Big Jim. “Fat Meat. Specialty Records Box Set: The

                           Specialty Story. SSPCD—4412-2.

        

             Young, Mighty Joe. “Chicken Heads.” Chicken Heads. Ovation,

                            OVQD1437.

 

 

 

                                    REFERENCES

        

         BOOKS

        

           Blesh, Rudy. Shining Trumpets: A History of Jazz. London:

        

                 Cassell & Company, 1949.

        

            Charters, Samuel.. The Bluesmen. New York: Oak Publications,

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           Cook, Bruce. Listen to the Blues. New York: Charles

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           Courlander, Harold. Negro Folk Music U.S.A. New York: Columbia

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           Dillard, J.L. Lexicon of Black English. New York: Seabury

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           Epstein, Dena J. Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music

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                 1977.

        

            Evans, David. Big Road Blues. New York: Da Capo Press: 1982.

            Farb, Peter. Word Play. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.

        

           Foib, Edith A. Runnin’ Down Some Lines. Cambridge: Harvard

                 University Press, 1980.

        

           Garon, Paul. Blues and the Poetic Spirit. New York: Da Capo

                 Press, 1975.

        

           Gold, Robert S. A Jazz Lexicon. New York: Alfred A. Knopf,

                 1964.

        

           Harrison, Daphne Duval. Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the

                 1920s. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1988.

        

           Hurston, Zora Neale. “Story in Harlem Slang.” Mother Wit From

                 the Laughing Barrel. Ed. Alan Dundes. Englewood Cliffs:

                 Prentice Hall, 1973. 222—229.

        

           Johnson, Guy B. “Double Meaning in the Popular Negro ~lues.”

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                 Dundes. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1973. 258—266.

        

           Levine, Lawrence W. Black Culture and Black Consciousness. New

                York:  Oxford University Press, 1977.

        

           Lomax, Alan. The Land Where Blues Began. New York: Pantheon

                 Books, 1993.

        

           Longstreet, Stephen. Sportin’ House. Los Angeles; Sherbourne

        

 

              Press, Inc., 1965.

        

        Major, Clarence, Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-

              American Slang. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.

        

        McKee, Margaret and Fred Chisenhall. Beale Black and

              Blue. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press,

              1981.

        

        Melnick, Mimi Clar. I Can Peep Through Muddy Water and Spy

              Dry Land: Boasts in the Blues.” Mother Wit From the

              Laughing Barrel. Ed. Alan Dundes, Eriglewood Cliffs:

              Prentice Hall, 1973. 267—276.

        

        Obrecht, Jas. Blues Guitar: The Men Who Made the Music. San

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        Oliver, Paul. Blues Of f the Record. New York: Da Capo Press,

              1984.

        

        Oliver, Paul. Songsters and Saints: Vocal Traditions on Race

              Records. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

        

        Oliver, Paul. Screening the Blues. London: Cassell & Company,

              Ltd., 1968.

        

        Oster, Harry. Living Country Blues. Detroit: Folklore

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        Roberts, John Storm. Black Music of Two Worlds. New York:

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        Roach, Hildred. American Music: Past and Present. Boston:

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        Russell, Tony. Blacks, Whites, and Blues. New York: Stein and

              Day, 1970.

        

        Sackheim, Eric. The Blues Line: A Collection of Blues

              Lyrics. New York: Grossman Publishers,1969.

        

        Titon, Early Downhome Blues. Urbana: University of Illinois

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        Walton, Ortiz M. Music: Black White and Blue. New York: Morrow

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