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Origins: Turn your lamp down low

Related threads:
Lyr Req: Statesboro Blues (Blind Willie McTell) (35)
Lyr Req: Police Dog Blues -and- Statesboro Blues (18)


GUEST,Walking Eagle 12 Dec 02 - 05:34 PM
InOBU 12 Dec 02 - 07:33 PM
GUEST,Walking Eagle 12 Dec 02 - 07:58 PM
GUEST,Q 12 Dec 02 - 08:20 PM
Richie 12 Dec 02 - 11:02 PM
GUEST,Walking Eagle 12 Dec 02 - 11:13 PM
Richie 12 Dec 02 - 11:25 PM
Rustic Rebel 12 Dec 02 - 11:39 PM
GUEST,Walking Eagle 12 Dec 02 - 11:41 PM
toadfrog 12 Dec 02 - 11:48 PM
GUEST,Q 12 Dec 02 - 11:57 PM
Stilly River Sage 13 Dec 02 - 02:22 PM
GUEST,Q 13 Dec 02 - 03:49 PM
Roger the Skiffler 14 Dec 02 - 05:25 AM
greg stephens 14 Dec 02 - 05:29 AM
GUEST,Q 14 Dec 02 - 02:46 PM
GUEST,me 22 Jan 10 - 03:27 PM
GUEST,leeneia 23 Jan 10 - 09:51 AM
GUEST,leeneia 23 Jan 10 - 09:53 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 23 Jan 10 - 01:05 PM
GUEST,Mrubin 26 Feb 10 - 08:53 AM
GUEST,Easygirl in Memphis 27 Feb 10 - 11:35 PM
GUEST,Jungle 14 Jan 11 - 10:39 PM
GUEST,Deaf Willie 22 Aug 12 - 04:04 AM
GUEST,Ray 07 Dec 12 - 08:05 AM
GUEST,Brennan 30 Apr 14 - 02:33 PM
GUEST,Brennnan 30 Apr 14 - 04:54 PM
GUEST,Brennan 30 Apr 14 - 05:05 PM
Joe Offer 30 Apr 14 - 05:30 PM
BrennanCarley 03 May 14 - 03:43 PM
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Subject: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,Walking Eagle
Date: 12 Dec 02 - 05:34 PM

I've been wondering about the phrase 'turn you lamp down low' that is used quite frequently in blues/folk songs. I heard it just this morning in a song with a lyric that went 'Wake up mama, turn your lamp down low, wake up little mama, turn your lamp down low.' Is the phrase a metaphore or code for something else? Just wondering.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: InOBU
Date: 12 Dec 02 - 07:33 PM

Saves fuel and matches... Larry


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,Walking Eagle
Date: 12 Dec 02 - 07:58 PM

refresh


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 12 Dec 02 - 08:20 PM

You might want to read about the several versions by Poor Joe Williams (1935 and later): Baby please don't go


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: Richie
Date: 12 Dec 02 - 11:02 PM

If you turn you lamp down low, it gets dark but not completely dark. So I reckon it's a kind of proposal to set the mood for love makin'.

Seems logical to me,

Richie


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,Walking Eagle
Date: 12 Dec 02 - 11:13 PM

I'll check the baby please don't go. I'm convinced the phrase is a code or a metaphore.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: Richie
Date: 12 Dec 02 - 11:25 PM

Wake up, mama, turn your lamp down low.
Wake up, mama, now, turn your lamp down low
Have you got the nerve to drive old Willie McTell from your door?

Turn your lamp down low
Turn your lamp down low
Turn your lamp down low
I beg you all night long, baby, please don't go.

Turn your lamp down low
I said turn your lamp down low
Wooo, turn it down
Please turn your lamp down low
Come on baby
Girl I'm in love with you so (Ray Charles)

I need your love so bad, turn your lamp down low
I need every bit of it for the places that I go (Dylan)

Richie


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Subject: Lyr Add: STATESBORO BLUES (Blind Willie McTell)
From: Rustic Rebel
Date: 12 Dec 02 - 11:39 PM

This is willies version, also done by Bromberg, Allmand Bro's many others but the lamp thing, gotta do more research

Blind Willie McTell recorded this classic in 1928.

STATESBORO BLUES
(Blind Willie McTell)

Wake up mama, turn your lamp down low
Wake up mama, turn your lamp down low
Have you got the nerve to drive papa McTell from your door

My mother died and left me reckless, my daddy died and left me wild, wild, wild
Mother died and left me reckless, daddy died and left me wild, wild, wild
No, I'm not good lookin', I'm some sweet woman's angel child

You're a mighty mean woman, to do me this a-way
You're a mighty mean woman, to do me this a-way
Going to leave this town, pretty mama, going away to stay

I once loved a woman, better than I ever seen
I once loved a woman, better than I ever seen
Treat me like I was a king and she was a doggone queen

Sister, tell your Brother, Brother tell your Auntie, Auntie, tell your Uncle,
Uncle tell my Cousin, Cousin tell my friend
Goin' up the country, Mama, don't you want to go?
May take me a fair brown, may take me one or two more

Big Eighty left Savannah, Lord, and did not stop
You ought to saw that colored fireman when he got that boiler hot
Reach over in the corner, hand me my travelin' shoes
You know by that, I got them Statesboro blues

Sister got 'em, daddy got 'em
Brother got 'em, mama got 'em
Woke up this morning, we had them Statesboro blues
I looked over in the corner,
Grandpa and grandma had 'em too.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,Walking Eagle
Date: 12 Dec 02 - 11:41 PM

Thanks for the lyrics, but I'm interested in finding out what the phrase MEANS.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: toadfrog
Date: 12 Dec 02 - 11:48 PM

Well, my first association was,
"Turn your lamp down low,
And listen to the Master's radio,
Get in touch with God!
Turn your radio on!"

What the phrase means, is that you shorten the wick, or do what ever is necessary to make the lamp cast less light, and presumably burn longer. What you do, when you don't need so much light and want to preserve oil. Thus a "lower" light is one that is less bright. All clear now?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 12 Dec 02 - 11:57 PM

If you read the original by Poor Big Joe Williams, the meaning is obvious. He has been jugged in the county farm and wants his woman to keep her lamp turned down low, i. e., not get actively involved with another man.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 13 Dec 02 - 02:22 PM

Walking Eagle, it's an invitation to make love. Sex. Nookie nookie. Pretty darned clear if you don't read it so darned literally!

I heard this song also, contained in a review that ran on Terry Gross' NPR program "Fresh Air." They were reviewing a new 4-CD set being released by RCA, with a title "When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll." I found it at Amazon: [BOX SET] [LIMITED EDITION] Various Artists - Blues. It actually sounded pretty good.

SRS


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Subject: Lyr Add: BABY, PLEASE DON'T GO (Poor Joe Williams)
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 13 Dec 02 - 03:49 PM

The versions recorded by Poor Joe Williams are quite different from the Blind Willie McTell version. This is William's second version, revised and firmed up from the 1935 effort, played with Sonny Boy Williamson (1941).

BABY, PLEASE DON'T GO

Ahh, baby, please don't go,
Baby, please don't go,
Baby please don't go back to New Orleans
You know I love you so.

Turn your lamp down low,
Turn your lamp down low.
Turn your lamp down low, now baby, all night long,
Now baby, please don't go.

I believe a man done gone,
I believe a man done gone an' left for the county farm,
He got his shackles on

Baby, please don't go,
Baby, please don't go.
Baby, please don't go back to New Orleans,
You know I love you so.

Afore I be your dog,
Afore I be your dog,
I git you way down here,
I make you walk the log.

You got me way down here,
You got me way down here.
You got me way down here by a rollin' fog, you treat me like a dog.
Baby, please don't go.

Don't call my name
Don't call my name.
Don't call my name, you got me way down here,
Wearin' a ball and chain.

(Look here-)
Baby, please don't go
Baby, please don't go.
Baby, please don't go back to New Orleans.



BABY, PLEASE DON'T GO
Leonard Caston version, 1940

Gonna walk your log,
Gonna walk your log:
If I ever get you back to rolling fog,
I'm gonna walk your log.

Oh- your bread ain't done.
Oh! your bread ain't done:
Well, I like them ways you cook your cabbage greens,
But your bread ain't done.

You down in Natchez town,
You down in Natchez town:
Well the girl I love she love to run around,
She down in Natchez town.
Gomma cut 'er head,
Gonna cut 'er head:
I mean that man's about to lie down here,
I'm gon' cut 'er head.

Repeat verse 1

Down in New Orleans
Down in New Orleans:
Well the girl I love she take the cold ice cream,
She down in New Orleans.

Repeat verse 1.

Note that Williams took up the log verse from Caston.
Lots more at Early Blues Baby Please Don't Go


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: Roger the Skiffler
Date: 14 Dec 02 - 05:25 AM

My fave version is by Mississippi Fred McDowell. Nothing special about the lyrics, but ooooh, that "slash and burn" slide guitar!!!
RtS
(covered by some English lads called the Rolling Stones in the 60's. Wonder whatever happend to them...!)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: greg stephens
Date: 14 Dec 02 - 05:29 AM

Snooks Eaglin moved from lamps to stoves:
"Creole girl, turn your damper down"


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Subject: Lyr Add: TURN YOUR DAMPER DOWN
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 14 Dec 02 - 02:46 PM

The relationship to "Turn Your Damper Down" is clear. Here are some fragments collected 1915-1916 from Negro singers:

TURN YOUR DAMPER DOWN

An' if you two-time me, daddy,
Turn yo' damper down.
If yo' bread is burnin',
Turn yo' damper down;
If yo' bread is burnin',
Turn yo' damper down.

When yo' smell yo' cabbage burnin'
Turn yo' damper down.

Boil dem cabbage down
An' tu'n 'em roun' an' roun'.
Stop dat foolin', little nigger gal,
An' boil dem cabbage down.

She cooks good cabbage,
But O dem collard greens!
The grease runs down, babe, Just like de col' ice cream.

Above from American Negro Folk Songs, by Newman L. White, 1928 (1965).


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,me
Date: 22 Jan 10 - 03:27 PM

I'm pretty late on this but the phrase in question has nothing to do with making whoopie..at all. I don't care what Terry from NPR says; shes obviously never lived in the south or studied old timey dialect..and judging by the few times I've listened to her and NPR she tags the usual assumptions about the South with not a lot of understanding or research. As a New Orleans native and old timey blues singer, lyric, and study of early French Creole settlement dialect I can completely confirm to "turn your lamp down low" or "turn your damper down" simply means to make someone (especially a female companion for most uses) to stop acting larger than they are. Of course men in those days (and sometimes today) view females as objects of ownership and if they get out of line it's time to turn their damper down..or make their light a bit less bright. It's that simple people.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 23 Jan 10 - 09:51 AM

I've gone back and read the songs that have the phrase in it, and it looks to me like you're exactly right, Me.

I've never heard the expression myself, but if you've lived there and heard it, that's good evidence.

For example:

Turn your lamp down low
Turn your lamp down low
Turn your lamp down low
I beg you all night long, baby,
please don't go.

I am reminded of pop and country songs that take a phrase and use it over and over until it begins to seem more important than it really is. Remember Barry Manilow's "Even Now" ?

(Isn't it irritating how everybody from Anglia to Oz thinks they know all about the south based on movies and TV?)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 23 Jan 10 - 09:53 AM

Wait a minute, I said that wrong. Change it to

(Isn't it irritating how some people anywhere from Anglia to Oz think they know all about the south based on movies and TV?)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 23 Jan 10 - 01:05 PM

Guest, of course, if one reads the lyrics, is correct. Walking Eagle (long gone from mudcat?), initiator of the thread, tried to put prurient imagery into the common phrase that isn't there.

    Note from Joe Offer (30 April 2014): Walking Eagle died in 2004.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,Mrubin
Date: 26 Feb 10 - 08:53 AM

Ok. But what about:
Blind willy mctell

One of em memphis yellow
The other's savannah brown
One of em statesboro dark skin
She'll really turn your damper down


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,Easygirl in Memphis
Date: 27 Feb 10 - 11:35 PM

so when he leaves he's depleted, his lights burning low again.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,Jungle
Date: 14 Jan 11 - 10:39 PM

I think damper and lamp are getting wrongly mixed. One turns a damper down to make a fire burn longer, heat up room more. So it's a sexual reference. The lamp I'm inclined to agree it's a plea for woman not to attract attention when man is gone.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,Deaf Willie
Date: 22 Aug 12 - 04:04 AM

Hmm, fascinating discussion. My original thoughts (due to the line about Mama driving Papa Mctell from her door) were that mama was annoying papa and he was telling her to be aware that she needed to calm down (or he was gone.)
Not so sure now!
Anyway, I don't hear the lyrics as other people tell them. I have only ever heard BW's version and major differences "I" hear are:

My other daddy left me restless,
My Daddy died and left me wild, wild, wild.

and (perhaps more meaningful for this discussion):

You're mighty mean woman, leave me in disarray
You're mighty mean woman, leave me in disarray
Gonna leave 'this time' etc.

Of course, I could be just deaf an' dumb :)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,Ray
Date: 07 Dec 12 - 08:05 AM

"Turn your lamp down low" is an invitation or a plea.


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Subject: ADD: Up the Country Blues (Sippie Wallace)
From: GUEST,Brennan
Date: 30 Apr 14 - 02:33 PM

"Statesboro Blues" is probably best thought of as an "answer song" to Sippie Wallace's "Up the Country Blues," which might shed some light on the meaning of "Turn your lamp down low."

McTell borrows pretty much the entire first and last verse from "Up the Country Blues." In the middle section, Sippie Wallace sings about a man who she threw out (or left). McTell sings from the man's point of view

McTell also used similar lines in his earlier "Mama, Tain't Long Fo' Day", which might provide a hint to the meaning of "wake up, Mama, turn your lamp down low", i.e:
Wake up, Mama, don't you sleep so hard
Wake up, Mama, don't you sleep so hard


Regarding the "daddy left me reckless" lines, these seem to be a mash-up of Bessie Smith's 1925 "Reckless Blues" and "Poor Boy Blues":

"Reckless Blues":
My mama says I'm reckless,
My daddy says I'm wild
I'm ain't good looking,
But I'm somebody's angel child

"Poor Boy Blues":
Now, my Mama's dead, so is my Daddy, too
My Mama's dead, so is my Daddy, too

"Statesboro Blues":
Mother died and left me reckless
Daddy died and left me wild, wild, wild
No, I'm not good lookin'
I'm some sweet woman's Angel child



Sippie Wallace's "Up the Country Blues":

UP THE COUNTRY BLUES

Hey hey mama
Run tell your papa
Go tell your sister
Run tell your auntie
That I'm going up the country
Don't you want to go

I need another half a dozen
To take them on my ragtime show
When I was leaving
I left some folks a grieving
I left my friend a moaning
I left my man a crying
He knew he didn't want me
He had no right to stall

He treated me low down and dirty
He's bound to reap what he done sowed
He knocked me and kicked me
He stomped and abused me
He knocked and cursed me
He treated me dirty
Even asked me would a matchbox
Hold my dirty clothes?
He treated me low down and dirty
He's bound to reap what he done sowed


I told him to gimme that coat I bought him
That shirt I bought him
Those shoes I bought him
Those socks I bought him
Cuz he knew he didn't want me
He had no right to stall

I told him pull of that that hat I bought him
And let his nappy head go bald

My mama got em
My papas got em
My sisters got em
My auntie had em
When I woke up this morning
Had the up the country blues
When I looked over in the corner
My grandma had em too


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,Brennnan
Date: 30 Apr 14 - 04:54 PM

in December 1929, Blind Willie Johnson recorded "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning," which is a reference to Matthew 25:1-13 (the passage about the bridesmaids letting their lamps burn down overnight and thus missing the wedding the next day.) The song appears to be based on an early african american spiritual from pre-civil war times (i.e. under slavery) that uses the bible verse as a metaphor for being prepared for freedom (released from this life by god, or released from slavery.)

This was only two months after Blind Willie McTell recorded "Statesboro Blues" (both musicians had certainly performed these songs before they recorded them.)

McTell and Johnson were good friends and knew each other's music, so McTell was almost certainly familiar with Johnson's "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning" (or the spiritual it was derived from) when he recorded Statesboro Blues.

Later Big Joe Williams recorded "please don't go" including the verse:
Turn your lamp down low
You turn your lamp turn low
Turn your lamp down low
I cried all night long
Now, baby please don't go.


Could the line "wake up mama, turn your lamp down low" (Statesboro Blues), "turn your lamp down low" (Please Don't Go") and "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning" all come from the same origin?

If so, this implies that "turn your lamp down low" has more to do with being prepared to meet your maker (or to escape), which lends an interesting meaning to the line "An' if you two-time me, daddy, Turn yo' damper down." The "be ready to escape" interpretation also sheds an interesting light on the line "Goin' up the country, Mama, don't you want to go?"


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: GUEST,Brennan
Date: 30 Apr 14 - 05:05 PM

Apologies for multiple posts, but this has piqued my interest and I'm on a roll....

As I mentioned in my earlier post, Willie McTell used the following lines in "Mama, Tain't Long Fo' Day":
Wake up, Mama, don't you sleep so hard
Wake up, Mama, don't you sleep so hard

I just put 2 and 2 together.... Going back to Matthew 25:1-13, the bridesmaids fell asleep and those who didn't have enough oil to keep their lamps lit wound up missing the wedding (or missing salvation.) So "sleep so hard" implies oversleeping and missing the wedding, "turn your lamp down low" implies tending your lamp (so it doesn't run out of oil)...

Both basically mean that you aren't ready when the time comes.

Am I reading too much into this?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: Joe Offer
Date: 30 Apr 14 - 05:30 PM

Keep on your roll, Brennan. You're posting good stuff.
-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Origins: Turn your lamp down low
From: BrennanCarley
Date: 03 May 14 - 03:43 PM

I'm going to contradict myself here...

A year before McTell recorded "statesboro blues" (1928) Bobby Grant recorded "Nappy Head Blues" (1927) which includes the lyrics:

When you hear me walkin', turn your lamp down, turn your lamp down, lamp down low
When you hear me walkin', turn your lamp down low
When you hear me walkin', turn your lamp down low
And turn it so your man'll never know

Nobody seems to know much about Grant, or where he was from, but the only other song he recorded was "Lonesome Atlanta Blues" which suggests at least some familiarity with Atlanta, Willie McTell's adult home.

Could McTell have taken the lines from Bobby Grant? "Nappy Head Blues" certainly suggests a more profane interpretation of "turn your lamp down low."


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