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What is smokestack lightnin'?

michaelr 10 Oct 06 - 08:37 PM
The Fooles Troupe 10 Oct 06 - 08:54 PM
GUEST,lox 10 Oct 06 - 09:00 PM
The Fooles Troupe 10 Oct 06 - 09:09 PM
The Fooles Troupe 10 Oct 06 - 09:16 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 10 Oct 06 - 09:51 PM
The Fooles Troupe 10 Oct 06 - 09:56 PM
rich-joy 11 Oct 06 - 01:37 AM
Richard Bridge 11 Oct 06 - 03:02 AM
BanjoRay 11 Oct 06 - 06:54 AM
JennyO 11 Oct 06 - 07:07 AM
GUEST,Bee 11 Oct 06 - 07:53 AM
The Fooles Troupe 11 Oct 06 - 08:19 AM
jonm 11 Oct 06 - 09:09 AM
JennyO 11 Oct 06 - 09:47 AM
Stewie 11 Oct 06 - 10:35 AM
rich-joy 12 Oct 06 - 05:16 AM
JennyO 12 Oct 06 - 05:37 AM
Mr Red 12 Oct 06 - 05:48 AM
Tweed 12 Oct 06 - 08:21 AM
GUEST,lox 12 Oct 06 - 08:49 AM
GUEST,Jim Martin 12 Oct 06 - 10:15 PM
JennyO 12 Oct 06 - 10:41 PM
Azizi 13 Oct 06 - 10:08 PM
Azizi 13 Oct 06 - 11:13 PM
The Fooles Troupe 14 Oct 06 - 08:54 AM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Oct 06 - 03:45 PM
Richard Bridge 15 Oct 06 - 01:47 PM
The Fooles Troupe 15 Oct 06 - 10:27 PM
GUEST,ar 26 Oct 06 - 01:50 PM
GUEST,joe in florida 12 Apr 10 - 03:33 PM
Lonesome EJ 12 Apr 10 - 11:45 PM
Art Thieme 13 Apr 10 - 02:51 AM
Bonzo3legs 13 Apr 10 - 02:57 AM
Dave MacKenzie 13 Apr 10 - 04:03 AM
Bobert 13 Apr 10 - 08:13 AM
Dave MacKenzie 13 Apr 10 - 10:28 AM
reggie miles 13 Apr 10 - 02:39 PM
reggie miles 13 Apr 10 - 04:20 PM
Lonesome EJ 13 Apr 10 - 06:04 PM
reggie miles 13 Apr 10 - 09:55 PM
Amos 13 Apr 10 - 11:11 PM
GUEST,well guess is up to me... again :) 08 May 10 - 01:58 AM
GUEST,hoy the linkalator didnt work 08 May 10 - 02:05 AM
GUEST 21 Nov 11 - 09:40 AM
Tunesmith 21 Nov 11 - 09:42 AM
Max Johnson 21 Nov 11 - 01:03 PM
mayomick 22 Nov 11 - 10:42 AM
GUEST,geric 05 Jun 12 - 05:34 PM
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GUEST 21 Sep 14 - 12:30 AM
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Subject: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: michaelr
Date: 10 Oct 06 - 08:37 PM

Been wondering for years.

Cheers,
Michael


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 10 Oct 06 - 08:54 PM

If you are referring to what I think, then the Physics says that when you have a column of heated air with particles rising, an electric charge can build up.

If you want to see good examples, then watch movies of strong volancoes erupting, they often have much lightning in the smoke column.

Of course "smokestack lightnin'" may refer to some type of moonshine...


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: GUEST,lox
Date: 10 Oct 06 - 09:00 PM

Possibly descriptive?

A big dark cloud could be described as a smokestack perhaps?

could it be that one is meant to feel the wrath of the big dark cloud, which spitting lightning, isn't looking very approachable?

Could the cloud be representative of a woman? in this case not in a very forgiving mood?

Here's the lyrics:

Whoa-oh, smokestack lightning
Shining just like gold
Why can't you hear me cryin'
Ah-ooh
Ah-ooh
Ah-ooh

Whoa-oh, stop your train
Let a hobo ride
Why can't you hear me cryin'
Ah-ooh
Ah-ooh
Ah-ooh

Whoa-oh, fare you well
I never see you no more
Why can't you hear me cryin'
Ah-ooh
Ah-ooh
Ah-ooh

Whoa-oh, who bit your baby sister?
I been gone
A little bitty boy
Turn me on, ooh-ooh
Ah-ooh
Ah-ooh
Ah-ooh

Whoa-oh, stop your train
Let a poor boy ride
Why can't you hear me callin'

Stop your train
Let a poor boy ride
[etc]

Whoa-oh, who bit your baby sister?
I been gone
A little bitty boy
Turn me on, ooh-ooh
Ah-ooh
Ah-ooh
Ah-ooh

Whoa-oh, fare you well
I never see you no more
Why don't you hear me cryin'
Ah-ooh
Ah-ooh
Ah-ooh

Don't you hear me cryin' one time
It hurts, yes it do
Ah-ooh
[etc]

Whoa-oh, fare you well
I never see you no more
Why don't you hear me cryin'
Ah-ooh
Ah-ooh
Ah-ooh
[etc]


I have to say I'm a little concerned about who exactly bit the baby sister and why the little bitty boy turns him on (Ah-oooh ... etc ..)

I'm sure it will all become clear in the fullness of time.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 10 Oct 06 - 09:09 PM

Ah - it's referring to a TRAIN....


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 10 Oct 06 - 09:16 PM

"why the little bitty boy turns him on"

the singer is a female?


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 10 Oct 06 - 09:51 PM

The singer heard the words wrong, learned them wrong, sang and recorded them wrong, and the next singer learned it the wrong way too.

Walter Vinson with the Mississippi Shieks sang it wrong in the 1930s. So did Howling Wolf in the 1950s and '60s.

The line ought to be: "Smokes like lightning, shines like gold."

Art


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 10 Oct 06 - 09:56 PM

... and thus is Urban Obsfuscation continued.

Thanks Art!


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: rich-joy
Date: 11 Oct 06 - 01:37 AM

I recall that this song - when played on the Hit Parade of the early to middle 1960s, amongst The Beatles, Cliff Richard, etc etc (and around the time of the Nashville Teens' version of "Tobacco Road" I think) - had a HUGE effect upon this 13 y.o. white girl from West Aussie!!!    I think it was my introduction to the sound of "The Blues" - great stuff!!    I s'pose it must've been the Howling Wolf version then????


Cheers! R-J


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 11 Oct 06 - 03:02 AM

So, Guest Art, the words not readily appearing from the DT on a search for "Smokestack", what are the "correct" words?


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: BanjoRay
Date: 11 Oct 06 - 06:54 AM

So, Art, where did the Mississippi shakes get their version from, and how do you know it's wrong? (I'm not disagreeing, just curious)
Ray


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: JennyO
Date: 11 Oct 06 - 07:07 AM

Rich-joy, it was more likely Manfred Mann, in 1964 - actually the only version I have heard of that song. It was on their first album, "The Five Faces of Manfred Mann" and was played a lot. I was a big fan of theirs, along with other Rhythm and Blues bands, such as The Animals, Them, The Kinks, and of course, the Rolling Stones.

There were lots of local bands around in Sydney, some of whom became quite famous, such as the Easybeats, and others that I liked that didn't become famous, such as Mike Furber and the Bowery Boys and The Square Circle. Ah, those were the days.....

As for smokestack lightning, I have no idea what it is, or whether the words were right or not, so I'm no help there.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: GUEST,Bee
Date: 11 Oct 06 - 07:53 AM

I didn't have the patience to do too much Google research, as weather references are buried in a gazillion references to the song (and I live with dialup), but I found a few obscure references to 'smokestack lightning', one of which described lightning over mountains adjacent to grasslands, another lightning associated with volcanos, and a third about lightning associated with, er, smokestacks, and an odd one where the term was used to describe lightning from a Tesla generator.

So maybe nobody learned the song wrong, and the verse alludes to leaving a smokestack filled factory town.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 11 Oct 06 - 08:19 AM

Ah - the Poetry of Obfuscation!


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: jonm
Date: 11 Oct 06 - 09:09 AM

In humid conditions, hot soot particles rising from a fire can carry an electrical charge, as can the molecules of moist air around them. Concentrating them together from a locomotive chimney in the presence of steam will increase the effect. There is then the possibility of a discharge if the charge builds up.

It is believed in a couple of cases that a discharge of this sort, earthed into the chimney and setting alight the soot deposits inside it, may well have caused locomotives to explode.

The physics is rusty, someone may be able to do better.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: JennyO
Date: 11 Oct 06 - 09:47 AM

Okay, this is what I've come up with - a discussion of the meaning of "smokestack lightning", where someone said:

This was based on (Howlin') Wolf's "Crying At Daybreak" recorded years earlier and itself modeled on Charley Patton's "Moon Going Down". The inspiration, said Wolf, was watching trains cut through the night:

"We used to sit out in the country and see the trains go by, watch the sparks come out of the smokestack. That was smokestack lightning."


I still need to find where they got that information though. Anyway, I was just talking to John about it. He's a steam train buff, and he just showed me some rather startling pictures of sparks coming out of the stacks of early wood-burning locomotives, and particularly the locomotives in the cane-fields that used a by-product of sugar cane, called bagasse, as fuel. Because it was coming out under pressure, the sparks danced around and looked quite a lot like lightning. I'll see if I can find some pictures - meanwhile I'll post this.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Stewie
Date: 11 Oct 06 - 10:35 AM

There was some discussion on the oldtimey newsgroup some time ago:

CLICK.

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: rich-joy
Date: 12 Oct 06 - 05:16 AM

JennyO :
Ahhh ... Paul Jones - of course!!!!   GREAT voice,eh!!!
Thanks for that!! (and the other memories - but "The Square Circle" are unknown to me ...)

There was SO much good music that I absolutely loved - so WHY, I wonder, with my meagre pocket-money did I save up to buy Cliff Richard, fercrisakes??????!!!!!


Cheers! R-J


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: JennyO
Date: 12 Oct 06 - 05:37 AM

Rich-joy, I'm not surprised that you don't know The Square Circle. They were just a local bunch of guys that I was friends with. They played at a place in town (in Sydney) called Suzie Wongs, downstairs off an arcade in King Street. They were actually very good - very much in the style of the Animals. I even remember most of their names - Brian was the drummer, Arthur played bass (I think), and his brother Phil played rhythm (I think). There was somebody else as well, but I don't remember who it was. That would have been 1966. I remember that year well because it was my one year of freedom before I stupidly went off and got married - not a good choice as it turned out.

I still have a lot of the records I bought around that time - including Manfred Mann (Paul Jones was very cute, wasn't he ;-)) but unfortunately they are in pretty bad condition because I was living in a flat at the time and a lot of people borrowed things, including my records and they were none too careful with them. In spite of that, I remember that period of my life with fondnes. And no, I was NOT into Cliff Richard!


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Mr Red
Date: 12 Oct 06 - 05:48 AM

FWIW

Carribean locomotives carrying (er could be sugar or could be banana) had extra extra wide funnels with pronounced double frustra shape. This was to create a more swirls so that the heavier hot particles were flung to the walls and dropped back rather than flying into the surrounding plantations and creating uncontrolled fires. What I saw of archive footage showed that there was still a quantity of light embers flying skyward.

Wood burning locos would be similar if not as bad. I think they had larger funnels than coal burners.

Of course lightning and lightening may be the connection to consider. In art - even folk art - these referrences are meant to be ambiguous and not mutually exclusive.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Tweed
Date: 12 Oct 06 - 08:21 AM

It was the sparks of the locomotives running late at night through rural Mississippi.

It's pitch black out there in the country. Must've been a sight to see at the time when mules and horses were more common than automobiles.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: GUEST,lox
Date: 12 Oct 06 - 08:49 AM

It's a great image that the song does well to describe musically too. (Woo Hoo)

Another nice thread


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: GUEST,Jim Martin
Date: 12 Oct 06 - 10:15 PM

Wood-burning loco's used to have some kind of wire-mesh arrangement (spark arresters) in the smokestacks (chimneys) to stop most of the sparks from flying out.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: JennyO
Date: 12 Oct 06 - 10:41 PM

Yes, a lot of them did Jim, but their effectiveness was limited. Some sparks flew out anyway. Also, not all of them had the spark arresters.

I've been trying to find pictures on the net similar to the ones I've seen in John's books, but haven't located any yet, which is a shame because they are quite amazing.

John also thought of the possibility of static electricity, as mentioned here earlier by jonm and foolestroupe. I'll ask him some more about it tonight.

By the way, coal burns differently and doesn't make sparks, which is one reason why most steam locos ended up using coal.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Azizi
Date: 13 Oct 06 - 10:08 PM

Smokestack Lightnin'
[Howlin Wolf]


Ah-oh, smokestack lightnin,
Shinin, just like gold,
Why don't ya hear me cryin?
A-whoo-hooo, oooo,
Whooo.

Whoa-oh, tell me, baby,
What's the, matter with you?
Why don't ya hear me cryin?
Whoo-hooo, whoo-hooo,
Whooo.

Whoa-oh, tell me, baby,
Where did ya, stay last night?
A-why don't ya hear me cryin?
Whoo-hooo, whoo-hooo,
Whooo.

Whoa-oh, stop your train,
Let her, go for a ride.
Why don't ya hear me cryin?
Whoo-hooo, whoo-hooo,
Whooo.

Whoa-oh, fare ya well.
Never see, a you no more.
A-why don't ya hear me cryin?
Oooo, whoo-hooo,
Whooo.

Whoa-oh, who been here baby since,
I-I been gone, a little, bity boy?
Girl, be on.
A-whoo-hooo, whoo-hooo,
Whooo.


http://www.theonlineblues.com/howlin-wolf-smokestack-lightnin-lyrics.html


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Azizi
Date: 13 Oct 06 - 11:13 PM

As is the case with many Blues songs, the lyrics to "Smokestack Lightnin" can mean more than one thing.

Part of the beauty of this song is how the composer plays on the motif of the train.

In my opinion, the "train" is more than a train, and "smokestack lightnin" is more the literal meaning given for that phenomenon.

I believe that "smokestack lightnin" refers to the singer's woman.

My view is that the singer is confronting his cheating woman
{a woman he still loves}. "Stacked" is an African American vernacular term which means "well built" {among other definitions}.
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Stacked

The word "stack" also calls to mind the American slang phrase
"blowing one's stack", meaning exploding in anger.

Another colloquial expression for exploding with anger is "seeing sparks fly" or "settin off sparks".   

In that "Smokestack Lightnin" song the woman might be throwin off sparks [of anger] at the man's nerve to confront her {Where did ya, stay last night?...who been here baby since,I-I been gone

The man's cryin during that song {yes, real men do cry} is another play on the train motif since it mimics the way trains sound
{A-whoo-hooo, whoo-hooo, Whooo}.

Furthermore, imo, the words "What's the matter with you" is shorthand for what's the matter with you messin up our good thing by cheatin on me".

I believe that the train in this song is a sexual euphemism for the woman's body. Perhaps the line "Let her, go for a ride" may have been written wrong. If the woman lets her "train" go for a ride, I suppose the singer wants to be the only one riding. since "running a train" on someone is a slang term for a woman being raped by multiple men.

In the version of the song that GUEST,lox posted
[10 Oct 06 - 09:00 PM] the singer also uses the train as a euphemism for the woman's body. "Stop your train/ Let a poor boy ride"

But in the Howlin Wolf version, I think that the phrase "stop your train" is equivalent to the contemporary urban hip-hop phrase
"slow your roll". "Slow your roll" means "slow down"; stop moving and think about what you are doing or saying {or planning to do or say}.

Continuing the analysis of this song, the singer asks his woman the question "who been here baby since,I-I been gone [?]. He then answers his own question with the put-down, dissin description
"a little bitty boy".

And the words "Girl, be on" at the end of the song remind me of the African American contemporary vernacular expression "Girl, get out of here" or "Girl, be real" [The person is trying to act strong and let the person addressed know that he or she isn't fooled by the crap {lies; story"} the other person is sayin {or planned to say}.

****

Of course, I may be wrong about all or some of what I wrote. But the again, I may be right about some or all of what I wrote.

What do you think?


Azizi Powell


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 14 Oct 06 - 08:54 AM

I lived for many years in Bundaberg, which was surrounded by cane fields - by the time I arrived, the cane trains had mostly been replaced by diesels, and the steamers retired to parks or museums/enthusiasts. I never heard any reference to fires started by sparks, and I think from the few I can remember clambering over as a kid, that they were coal fired.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Oct 06 - 03:45 PM

If Art is right and itwas a mondegreen, it was an inspired one. That's the way the folk process works - mistakes that work get retained.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 15 Oct 06 - 01:47 PM

I am reminded of the "Bo Dudley" spoof.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 15 Oct 06 - 10:27 PM

Please share...


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: GUEST,ar
Date: 26 Oct 06 - 01:50 PM

Who cares??


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: GUEST,joe in florida
Date: 12 Apr 10 - 03:33 PM

Hey Azizi, I think you're pretty close. I say the smokestack is the black man's penis and the lightning is his ejaculation.

Have a good day all


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 12 Apr 10 - 11:45 PM

A black coal-fired locomotive roaring down a grade with a chain of cars in tow would get back pressure to the firebox, and that pressure would burst out of the stack in a cloud of embers and smoke. At night, this belch of black cloud illuminated from inside by a burst of embers would have been an awesome sight, an embodiment of dark power.
That's smokestack lightning.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 13 Apr 10 - 02:51 AM

Well, folks what I was saying was what Walter Vinson of the Mississippi Sheiks told me, in Chicago, in 1964, at Bill Pierson's apartment, Sixty-First St. and Michigan Avenue that it was "Shines like lightnin' and it rings like gold" and had something to do with a spike driver swinging a sledge to punch the spike into the tie.

That made a shiny spark like lightning ---and it also rang out like gold being hit.

But Mr. Vinson was drunk. Probably wrong. ;-)

Art


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Bonzo3legs
Date: 13 Apr 10 - 02:57 AM

The Yardbirds with Eric Clapton did a superb version!


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Dave MacKenzie
Date: 13 Apr 10 - 04:03 AM

Charley Patton sang "The smokestack's black and the bell it shine like gold" in "Moon Goin' Down"


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Bobert
Date: 13 Apr 10 - 08:13 AM

I'm going with the train aspect, too... The old bluesmen had a fascination with trains... Train's were the poor man's mode of transportation... The were his friend and sometimes his enemy as in Son House's "Empire State Express"...

"Lemme tell ya' all
what a low down train can do
Take yer woman away
And chunk black smoke at you

I kinda think of the few steam train's I have seen my day and they are very smokey and when they accelerate froma dead stop (as in pulling out of the station, you get not only the smoke but you get the sparks as well... At night I'm sure it was quite a sight to behold, especially if you had just put a loved one on the train...

Now I'm not saying definatively this is what Wolf was talkin' about but, hey, it's the blues and it doesn't much matter as long as the lyrics leave alot to one's imagination...

That's why I am a blues player... I like it that everything isn't neat and tidy... Life isn't all that neat and tidy either...

B~


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Dave MacKenzie
Date: 13 Apr 10 - 10:28 AM

You got it in one, Bobert.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: reggie miles
Date: 13 Apr 10 - 02:39 PM

Here I was thinkin' that the lyrics were talkin' about shine. You know... lightnin. I've never been a moonshiner but I've seen some stills. Didn't they used to fire these up with wood and wasn't it also necessary to have a smokestack?

Depending upon what you used to make your shine, I imagine that it could both "look" just like gold and of course, perhaps be as valuable as gold or at least a prime source of revenue, liquid gold for the maker. Drinkers of the illegal stuff could have troubles that might extend to beyond the unlawful act of making it, to troubles at home. The act was something that had to be done away from prying eyes, often in rural wooded locations and the process would necessitate the maker being away from home and away from loved ones for long periods of time in order to complete the work. Part of the process was also taste testing the finished product, no doubt for quality control. That act might make for long nights of howling and singin' the blues about being lonely and expressing one's suspicions about what might be going on at home while away.

These are just my musings about this subject and have no basis in any verifiable facts.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: reggie miles
Date: 13 Apr 10 - 04:20 PM

This image of a moonshine still operation seems to indicate the smokestack adequately. By the number of barrels lying about in this photo, I'd say that this camp probably produced a large supply.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 13 Apr 10 - 06:04 PM

Thanks for posting the picture, reggie. From left in the photo, my Uncle Bron, Uncle Jake, Cousin Pigeye, Grampa, Melvin Taylor, and Jarvis Hamm.
Actually, my guess is these guys are revenuers. Who else would have their picture taken with such an elaborate works?


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: reggie miles
Date: 13 Apr 10 - 09:55 PM

REVENUERS! Run for the hills!


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Amos
Date: 13 Apr 10 - 11:11 PM

Lights flashing from sparks in a black smokestack on a train. Embers, and such. No big mystery there.


A


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Subject: RE: What is Smokestack Lightnin'?
From: GUEST,well guess is up to me... again :)
Date: 08 May 10 - 01:58 AM

Who's been here
since I been gone?
A little bitty boy!
Girl... be on!

(his girl had someone's baby) but his song speaks to the deeper loss of his (anything resembling a caring, to put it mildly) family until, at least the time he reunited with his father at 13.

I was Wolf's music student, chosen photographer and friend.

Howlin' Wolf - THE iconic images of Wolf at home, in concert and rare portraits

Smokestack Lightnin' ,,, guess ya had to see it for yourself if ya gots to ask

ah ooooooooo wee oooo wah oooooo


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: GUEST,hoy the linkalator didnt work
Date: 08 May 10 - 02:05 AM

sandy schoenfeld   www.howlingwolfphotos.com

after tediously plowing through all posts I see someone already clarified it.. hobo a ride? lol


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: GUEST
Date: 21 Nov 11 - 09:40 AM

Azizi...I think your breakdown of the song/lyrics are right on the money!! That's exactly what I was thinking :) Now I think its funny that they used that song in the latest Viagra commercial..lol


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Tunesmith
Date: 21 Nov 11 - 09:42 AM

"Smokestack Lightnin'" was the name of a beat combo in my home town back in the 60s.
Does that help?


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: Max Johnson
Date: 21 Nov 11 - 01:03 PM

One of the few Desert Island Discs that stays on my list.


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: mayomick
Date: 22 Nov 11 - 10:42 AM

"We used to sit out in the country and see the trains go by, watch the sparks come out of the smokestack. That was smokestack lightning."

Ewan Macoll's Dirty Old Town used the same imagery ."Saw a train set the night on fire"

"The word "stack" also calls to mind the American slang phrase
"blowing one's stack", meaning exploding in anger."

I like the way Hank Williams combined the image of the train's stack and his own stack in Rambling Man :
I can settle down and be doin' just fine
until I see an old train comin' down the line
I hurry straight on home to pack
And if I didn't go I believe I'd blow my stack


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: GUEST,geric
Date: 05 Jun 12 - 05:34 PM

Blues songs are about sex. Especially Chicago Blues songs, because Chicago Blues was being played in nightclubs in the presence of woman. The sexual references, by and large, are the singer singing to the women present at the performance. Smokestack Lightnin', the song, is chock full of sexual references. For one thing, the "Midnight Train" is all the woman the singer will be having sex with that night. The recurring chorus is huge in this respect, the howl and then "why don't you hear me crying?"--this, I know, because I sing this song regularly, and the women in the room often don't realize the song meaning, and there I am, singing "why don't you hear me crying?" life as big as art. As the verses go on, the statements become more overt, especially, "stop your train, let a poor boy ride" may literally be asking the working girls for sex for free--I had taken a neighborhood young thing to the show, sang the song, and got propositioned on the ride home--videoing it for the purpose of selling XXX sex videos was nearly immediately suggested. The lyric is "Litty itty bitty boy done me wrong" means erectile dysfunction. surprised this is obscure, but for me, hell I've sung the song 200 times or more


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 05 Jun 12 - 06:35 PM

Smokestack lightning is common enough knowledge in elementary physics for the term to have crept into the common vernacular. As indicated above, any time a non-conducting or poorly conducting matter is moved, as when smoke is convected up a stack, the voltage of the moving material increases relative to the starting point, and the material "left behind" generally has a similar but opposite voltage increase. The two voltage changes mean that subsequent material flowing up the stack is "more charged" than the initial flow, and eventually the material may built up sufficient voltage to break down so that a spark (lightning) discharge occurs.

The physical principles involved were the basis for the "Van de Graaf Generator" in which an insulated belt was used to "move the charges," used in early (1930s?) "atomic research," although the voltages obtained were generally limited to a few hundred thousand volts - considered grossly inadequate in most "modern" research.

People with a view "inside a tall smoke stack" see the discharges fairly frequently unless they're deliberately suppressed, and the discharges occur outside a tall stack often enough to be occasionally seen by casual bystanders.

The same phenomena occur in some volcano eruptions, and there have been some very interesting new (very recent) reports on studies of "volcano lightning." It's also possible to kill yourself by jumping out of an airplane and being electrocuted by the static charge that can accumulate in flight by similar effects, and similar "lightning" was a known problem in some early wind tunnels.

Since the term was at least vaguely known among the more general population, the name was logically enough applied to the sparks coming out of coal fired railroad engine stacks, although those stacks have almost never been tall enough to generate electical (lightning) discharges.

In my area, ca late 1940s and a little after, the farmers "knew of" the railroad version, and frequently made reference to the prairie fires (all too common) caused by the railroad "smokestack lightning" - i.e. the sparks emitted from the stacks. (They were apparently not much aware of the "shakeout coals" dumped to make room for more coal in the burner, that probably were the more frequent real cause of the range fires?)

Whether or not these known and documented usages of the term have anything at all to do with a given song is something we can guess about until ... (back then it was 'till our jaws wear out, but I guess now it would be 'till our fingers are numb?). If we can't ask the author/composer what was on his mind (if anything) any good guess is about as accurate as the next one. Lots of perfectly good words are used where the original meaning is lost in new contexts. Sometimes the new usage just "scans better" than something more "accurate."

(When you forget the words, just mouth "watermelon" since it fits all possible lyrics and makes it look like you're singing 'em???)

John


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Subject: RE: What is smokestack lightnin'?
From: GUEST
Date: 21 Sep 14 - 12:30 AM

-"Smokestack lightning" refers to large plume of smoke, ash and spark created from sand being thrown into the engine where combustion occurred in either coal or wood fire steam engines. The practice was used to clean the build up of soot in the stack as hot air pulled the sand through and created a marvelous display for onlookers.


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