"Bully of the Town" is one of my favorite tunes, either as a fiddle tune or as a finger picked guitar piece. Its words, unfortunately, belong to the "coon song" genre so popular around 1900. A famous singer by the name of May Irwin popularized it in a stage show called "The Widow Jones." With careful editing a singable version can be lifted out of the original.
In looking over the original verses I was always puzzled by one of the terms – "coonjined" - as in "..I coonjined in the front door, the coons were prancin' high, for dat levee darky I skinned my foxy eye…" I thought it must be some kind of a dance step, like the "eagle rock" in the song Titanic, but wasn't sure.
Yesterday I stumbled onto a book in a second hand shop that explained that term. The book is "John Henry" by Roark Bradford, printed in 1935. It's a 225-page novel that seems to tell the story of John Henry, written in African-American dialect, and uses lyrics from a lot of folk and blues songs as part of the text. In idly flipping through it, my eye fell on a chapter headed "Coonjine" – and there it was! Coonjine was a step used by levee workers as they rolled (or in John Henry's case carried) 500-pound bales of cotton up the long springy planks from docks onto the boats. From the book – "And so John Henry got a spring in his knees and a weave in his hips, and a buck in his back… 'Jine it, you coon, jine it!' said the mate. 'Grab your cotton and jine that step!'"
Now I know – and thought some of you out in cyberspace might want to know too. Or maybe not.