Blue(s) Humor

Muddy Waters

As the story goes, a musician at a blues festival gave a smokin’ hot, macho performance of Hoochie Coochie Man, and left to loud applause.  Stepping backstage on that high note, he was surprised to come face-to-face with Muddy Waters, originator of the song.  The blues giant was gracious: “That was very good, son…but you know, that was supposed to be a funny song.” Escaping The Delta, by Elijah Wild, paperback p. 177.

And so it is. Muddy’s also funny in Got My Mojo Working:  “I’m going down to Louisiana to get me a mojo hand…I’ve got a gypsy woman givin’ me advice…

Got my mojo working
Got my mojo working
Got my mojo working

But it – uh uh – just won’t work on you

If you were to think about blues like Al Mohler and Mark Driscoll think about yoga, you would be aghast at lyrics seeking the advice of a gypsy woman, would parse “mojo” back to “magic” and its Haitian voodoo roots and, well, you know how it would go from there.  But listen to Muddy: it’s supposed to be funny It helps to see a live performance to fully appreciate it. (Watch it long enough to see him break out a shaking jowl move when he says “mojo.”)

It’s also possible to do blues humor that lines up nicely with the Westminster Standards on the moral law.  John Lee Hooker, who elsewhere starts a song with “Momma killed a chicken, Thought it was a duck, Put it on the table with its legs stickin’ up…” (Bottle Up and Go) shows us how. Clearly concerned with 9th commandment prohibitions on gossip and slander – or not – he counsels his beloved:

You talk too much, baby
You talk too much
You talk too much, baby
You talk too much
You yak, yak, yak
You yak too much
You talk in the mornin’
You talk all night long
You talk about people that don’t
That even don’t know you

…Yak, yak all the time
You yak your mouth
Your big mouth will ruin you woman
Your big mouth will ruin you woman
Yak, yak, yak all the time

…You talk too much woman

Of course, blues men have had their problems with women. Blind Lemon Jefferson’s problem was possibly not as dire as others: “I got a gal across town who crochets all the time…If you don’t quit crocheting you’re gonna lose your mind.” Matchbox Blues

Charley Patton’s Tom Rushen Blues tell the story of Charley running afoul of the law:

I got up this mornin’ Tom Day was standin’ around
I got up this mornin’ Tom Day was standin’ around
If he lose his office now he’s runnin’ from town to town
Let me tell you folksies just how he treated me
Let me tell you folksies just how he treated me

I suppose we could react by soberly reflecting on economics, race and injustice in the post-bellum South.  But, as it turns out, Patton himself went to Marshall Day and gave him a copy of the record.  I’m guessing they shared a laugh about the whole thing because, you know, sometime blues is just supposed to be funny.


Filed under Blues

19 responses to “Blue(s) Humor

  1. lutherman3821

    Nice live performance of “I’ve got my Mojo Working.”

  2. That reminded me of the time I was selling funeral and cemetery supplies in the Detroit area, back in the late 80’s or early 90’s, and I happened in at a dive bar where a band was playing “Papa was a rolling stone, wherever he laid his hat was his home and when he died all that he left me was a loan.” It was a lively crowd that night and the reaction of the audience was that they could relate. As a kid who grew up in a upper middle class home in the Chicago suburbs and who never remembered worrying about whether he would have food on the table or clothes on his back (my biggest worries were involved with the sporting events I participated in) and attending an evangelical and

  3. I had trouble with your leave a reply box- it would not let me finish my post- and attending an evangelical and charismatic church at the time in the Grand Rapids area, it was one of those coming of age experiences and eye opener. Really believing that you are cut off from the covenant was something I had not really experienced yet but was soon to be in the mix for me. That is one of the reasons I favor the JP’s over the UPers. They make it a point that the justification of the ungodly is the main point of Romans and Galatians. Horton goes into explaining that well in the opening chapters of his COVENANT AND SALVATION book. He compares and contrasts the New Perspective on Paul theologians with the publicans and sinners who knew the experience of being cut off from the covenant and desparing over it yet not knowing how to get out of the difficult circumstances they were in. It is a difficult road to travel once one has taken the plunge.

  4. Sorry, that does’nt quite go with the Blues as humor post. Sometimes humor is used to cover up our blues.

  5. I might add that if I remember correctly the band followed Papa was rolling stone with ball of confusion, that’s what the world is today, hey hey. I can still feel the buzz in the atmosphere at the time. It shook up my evangelical and charismatic world.

    • …and don’t forget “nobody’s interested in learning but the teacher” from Ball of Confusion.
      John, you’ve had enough life experiences for three people. Actually, make that five.
      I’ll look into your reply problem. I’m still trying to find all the pulleys and levers backstage.

  6. I realize I am imposing Motown on the Blues but Papa was a Rolling Stone and Ball of Confusion are The Temptations classics:

  7. I should have said, it is a difficult road to travel once one has taken the plunge or is the victim of someone else who has taken the plunge. We all are victims of the fall of Adam and Eve although victim is really not the right word. We would have done the same thing Adam and Eve did. And Christ remedied the situation for us. However, once we are imputed into Christ’s righteousness we never can look at anything which God has done inside of us as the result of the imputation as a basis for our standing in right relationship to God. It is always Christ and the work he did for us that is this basis. We cannot offord to look down upon the ungodly

  8. It would not let me finish again. It kept popping up when I tried to correct the spelling error of offord (afford).

  9. 3821: still looking into it.
    So, do you have a taste for the blues?

  10. Why, do you have some good suggestions? You always serve up some good music so I will say, yes, I have a taste for the blues.

    • 3821, I tend to like early blues and deep blues but, for those new to the blues there is some more accessible stuff out there. Sonny & Brownie do some enjoyable lighter blues in their live Backwater Blues. John Lee Hooker got together with Canned Heat and did a fun album called Hooker and Heat. If you really like guitars, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King did an album together. The London Muddy Waters Sessions are a good introduction to Muddy. If you like those, you might eventually work your way back to Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Son House, and some other early guys to see if you like them. Enjoy!

  11. lutherman3821

    Why don’t you give us some examples of those you mentioned on this site so we can taste and hear before we buy. Since you are a blues afficianado (sp?) you can give us some backround on the artist too- who he was influenced by, who he has played with, etc., etc. Anything you might think interesting for your audience.

    • Patience, Lutheran grasshopper, patience. Have you seen the Patton post? I supplied some links for him. I’ll do more over time. YouTube has quite a bit, actually, and iTunes has clips as well.

  12. lutherman3821

    I forgot to ask- is that you MM playing the harmonica on the Muddy Waters “Got My Mojo Worken” clip?

  13. You’re too humble Mikel- we all know you are ultra-talented

    • Well I do have my talents, L-man. I can throw an olive ceiling height and catch it in my mouth. I once flicked a plastic bottle cap with so much velocity that it cracked a computer monitor. Then, my left inside-out ap hulyo kick is first rate.

      But that’s about it.

  14. I missed that one- I will let it stand as is because it is almost fall out of your chair funny

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