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blues lexicon

ddw 01 Oct 01 - 11:01 PM
Amos 01 Oct 01 - 11:45 PM
ddw 01 Oct 01 - 11:53 PM
Stewie 02 Oct 01 - 12:15 AM
ddw 02 Oct 01 - 12:32 AM
dr soul 02 Oct 01 - 04:23 AM
ddw 02 Oct 01 - 08:17 PM
Mountain Dog 02 Oct 01 - 10:10 PM
Steve Latimer 02 Oct 01 - 10:29 PM
ddw 02 Oct 01 - 11:15 PM
dwditty 02 Oct 01 - 11:26 PM
ddw 02 Oct 01 - 11:33 PM
Mountain Dog 02 Oct 01 - 11:39 PM
dwditty 02 Oct 01 - 11:49 PM
ddw 03 Oct 01 - 12:14 AM
LR Mole 03 Oct 01 - 11:40 AM
ddw 03 Oct 01 - 06:12 PM
GUEST,R.S. 16 Oct 14 - 05:02 AM
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Subject: blues lexicon
From: ddw
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 11:01 PM

Recently I've run into a couple of phrases in blues lyrics that I'm not sure I understand. Would appreciate any thoughts...

One, in Sonny Boy Williamson II's "Don't Start Me Talkin'," if "I'm gonna break up this signifyin'"

I've also run into the term "signifyin'" in connection with a series of songs about animals — most notably the "signifyin' monkey."

The other term that's proving pretty elusive for meaning is "shave 'em dry." Paul Geramia uses the term in a song about a 'signifyin' monkey' in what he lists as a traditional blues called "The Monkey and the Baboon."

The meaning in the song seems to alternate between "do as I please" and "make 'em hurt" —— which a dry shave does, to my recollection.

Anybody got a better handle on these meanings?

david


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: Amos
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 11:45 PM

"Signifyin'" is gate slang for jiving or just blowing smoke or talking the talk without knowing how to walk the walk, or PR and hype.

Shaving dry sure does hurt, but I haven't heard the expression before.


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: ddw
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 11:53 PM

thanks, amos...

That fits right in with the monkey's boast about his skills at pool...

Cause I'm a shootin' mutha foyer
An' I'm really gonna shave 'em dry.

It's probably just jiving, sounding tough.

Anybody else?

ddw


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: Stewie
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 12:15 AM

Harry's blues site has the following definition of 'Signifying':

1 - a good-natured needling or teasing especially among urban blacks by means of indirect teasing with taunting words and clever, often preposterous "put-downs" (humiliating remarks); 2 - In signifying, speakers spontaneously compose rhythmic and rhyming phrases in improvised counterpoint to the signified phrases of other speakers. Within this word play structure, signifying is an indirect speech act form that allows the speaker to express bold ideas, opinions, beliefs, or feelings without repercussions as the stated convictions become diffused through the playful nature of the act. This improvisational verbal device arose as a component of the call and response form and became incorporated into blues lyrics.

'Shave 'em dry' seems to stem from an old bawdy song, primarily favoured by women blues singers and first recorded by Ma Rainey. The best-known version is by Lil Johnson wherein she 'signifies' by making slanderous accusations of a sexual nature. Lucille Bogan (recording as Bessie Jackson) had an extremely raunchy version with lyrics such as the following:

I got nipples on my titties big as the end of my thumb
I got somethin''tween my legs'll make a dead man come
Oooh daddy - baby, won't you shave 'em dry, oooh!
Won't you grind me baby, grind me till I cry

The full text of the Johnson and Bogan versions may be found in Paul Oliver's 'Screening the Blues'. Two versions by Bogan may be found on 'Raunchy Business: Hot Nuts & Lolly Pops' Sony Roots N'Blues Series Columbia CK 46783.

Oliver notes that the term has several layers of meaning in that, at one level it refers to mean and aggressive action but, as a sexual theme, it refers to intercourse without preliminary lovemaking. Big Bill Broonzy: 'Shave 'em dry is what you call makin' it with a woman; you ain't doin' nothin', just makin' it'. Because the implications of the term were of pubic contact, it could be applicable to either sex. [Info from Paul Oliver 'Screening the Blues'Da Capo Press p225]

Hope the above is of some use.

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: ddw
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 12:32 AM

Stewie,

thanks! I had lost my link to the "blues language" section in Harry's Blues site and couldn't remember where I had seen it.

Once again I tip my hat to you and your knowledge of all things blue.

david


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: dr soul
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 04:23 AM

Signifyin' is the roots of rap - hangin on the corner with your buddies, giving each other a hard time; "I heard about yo mama . . .".

It has another name in blues - the Dozens. "Your mama and your cousins are dirty by the dozens . . .". A typical example was quoted somewhere above - with the line "dirty mother for ya don't ya know" [which is, in plain text, motherf****r]. Jimmy Johnson, Elmore James' piano player, recorded several great versions of this, but it dates back to the 20's and 30's as well.

Both of the quotations you asked about are from the blues tradition of explicit - but thinly veiled - sexual references.


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: ddw
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 08:17 PM

DrS — thanks to you too. Roosevelt Sykes also recorded (and I heard him do live) a song called "Dirty Mutha Foyer" (his spelling). I've got it on a reel-to-reel tape somewhere, but haven't heard Jimmy Johnson's, so I don't know if they're the same.

cheers,

david


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: Mountain Dog
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 10:10 PM

DDW,

There's another great resource for a wide variety of African-American slang, including blues terms and allusions. It's Clarence Major's "Juba to Jive", Penguin Books, 1994. Check it out if you get the chance; it's amazing!


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: Steve Latimer
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 10:29 PM

Going to bed, but I'll sure follow up on this in the morning.


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: ddw
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 11:15 PM

MDog — Thanks. Somebody else mentioned that book, but I've never seen it. I'll have to go on a serious forage sometime soon.

If you're into that kind of thing, I'm reading a great book right now called "Nothing But The Blues," edited by Lawrence Cohn. Published in 1993 by Abbeville Press. The writing is good, it has great illustrations (LOTS of old photos) and follows blues from field hollers to today's urban scene. Only drawback is price — $40 US for a paperback.

cheers,

david


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: dwditty
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 11:26 PM

Check out Oscar Brown, Jr. sometime. He does a version of Signifyn' Monkey that you can actually sing in public - I have sung it at church coffee houses! If you ever get a chance to hear his "Man Earnest Boy" on his "tells It Like It Is" album, you will here the original rap song (circa 1961) - AND you will LIKE it!

dwditty (who is often confused, or should I say complexified, with ddw)


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: ddw
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 11:33 PM

Yeah, dwditty — I've fielded quite a few things meant for you. Can't understand how anybody could confuse us —— you seem to be a pretty nice guy.....

Thanks for the OBjr tip. I don't think I've ever heard him, but I love those signifyin' monkey songs. And some of the ones that showed up in the R&R/blues crossover era from Chuck Berry and The Coasters.

cheers,

david


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: Mountain Dog
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 11:39 PM

ddw,

Thanks for the tip on "Nothing but the Blues"; I'll look for it!

And, yes, I am into that sort of thing! Matter of fact, here are a few other books I've found fascinating and useful in delving into the blues:

"Conversation with the Blues", Paul Oliver, Horizon, NY, NY, 1965. Transcripts of conversations with luminaries ranging from Mance Lipscomb to Roosevelt Sikes and Will Shade to Muddy Waters, it's a 'must-read' classic. Well illustrated with photos by the author.

"The Blues Line: A Collection of Blues Lyrics from Leadbelly to Muddy Waters" edited by Eric Sackheim, Schirmer Books, NY, NY 1969. Just what it says, a compilation of the familiar and the obscure with superb line and wash drawings by Jonathan Shahn.

"The Devil's Music: A History of the Blues", Giles Oakley, NY, NY 1976 A fine narrative of the men and women who played the blues and the land that birthed them. Wonderful photos, too.

Finally, David Guralnick's "Feel Like Going Home" (copy not at my fingertips, so publication data isn't handy) has some excellent interviews with blues men and women (as well as some seminal rock'n'rollers). The piece on Robert Pete Williams is a great one, for instance.

I look forward to seeing recommendations from other blues-oriented Mudcatters, too!


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: dwditty
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 11:49 PM

btw, get Oscar Brown's Sin & Soul album on CD. Tell It Like It Is - ebay vinyl.


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: ddw
Date: 03 Oct 01 - 12:14 AM

Mdog & DittyWa — all duely noted. I've got a number of other books at home you guys might be interested in, but I'll have to check particulars and let you know later.

BTW, check out a link I just posted in the BLUES PHOTOGRAPHY thread. Bill Steber is great and VERY knowledgable about blues.

The slide show he gave was wonderful — most of these pictures and lots more, plus a live diddly-bo demonstration and lots of really obscure blues to illustrate his lecture.

david


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: LR Mole
Date: 03 Oct 01 - 11:40 AM

On the "Avalon" tribute to Mississippi John Hurt album,John Hiatt does "Satisfied an'Tickled Too", which contains the lines,"First in the country, then in the town/I'm a total ol' (todalo?) shaker from my navel on down" and , "I wear my dress to my knees/I gives my todalo to who I please".The one lyric sheet I've seen has a notation about,"...obviously this 'courting song' is sung by a woman..." Well, omitting the censorious tole adopted by the collectors of the times, what's the deal, and why is MJH singing it like this?


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Subject: RE: blues lexicon
From: ddw
Date: 03 Oct 01 - 06:12 PM

Huh?

If you're asking "Why is a man singing a 'woman's' song, why not? A lot of performers do that, tho' I don't think as often as women sing 'men's' songs. MJH certainly did it on "Richlands Woman" and with a little while to think about it I'm sure I could come up with lots of others — especially some of the old murder ballads.


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Subject: RE: the term signifyn
From: GUEST,R.S.
Date: 16 Oct 14 - 05:02 AM

The slang word "signifyn" is a term used to describe the usually silent body language of someone who is easdropping on a conversation that is not any of thier business to begin with. An example would be someone who rolls thier eyes after something someone else said and was not a part of the conversation.


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