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blues lyrics meanings

02 Apr 98 - 04:04 PM (#24982)
Subject: blues lyrics

I'm looking to find the meaning of certain words in country blues songs like "dust my broom" or "jellyroll" "mojo" "ride the blinds" etc. if anyone knows any books or web sites that could help me I'd appreciate it

02 Apr 98 - 05:43 PM (#24986)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics

Try these two sources - "The Land Where the Blues Began" by Alan Lomax Jr. This is a wonderful history of the roots of the blues. It explains much of the jargon used in old blues. Sorry I don't have the publisher's info handy right now.

- "Robert Johnson - At the Crossroads- The Authoritative Guitar Transcriptions" Transcribed by Scott Ainslie and Dave Whitehill, Published by Hal Leonard Publishing Co. , 1992,ISBN 0-7935-1093-7 This is mainly guitar tab and lyrics, but defines a lot of the terms.

02 Apr 98 - 06:57 PM (#24994)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: Jon W.

I remember seeing a book - I believe it was called "The Meaning of the Blues" - at my local library. It went into quite a bit of depth about the society, folklore, superstition, and other areas of life that made a lot of these phrases clear, although it didn't necessarily define specific phrases. Sorry, I don't remember the author. Meanwhile, there is a wealth of information in the heads of Mudcat forum participants and we like to show off. I for one never hesitate to state my opinion and my dimly recalled memories as fact:-) Therefore:

dust my broom - seems to be a euphemism for leaving - I could be wrong on that.

jelly roll - literally a type of pastry which is apparently rolled up like a log when baked - therefore a phallic symbol. "Jelly" sounds like the word for semen in some African language which lends to the symbolism.

mojo - a fetish or "love charm" meant to bring or keep a lover under the control of the one who owns it. Sometimes called a "mojo hand" - I wonder if this referred to something like a "lucky monkey's paw" or (in areas where there aren't monkeys) rabbit's foot. Other similar objects referred to in the blues are a black cat bone (a certain bone from a black cat which has been killed in a ritualistic manner), various roots and dusts, and "John the Conqueror" which was apparently a mass-produced novelty item. My feeling is that the word "mojo" is related to mumbo jumbo, an English corruption of the name of an African deity (M'amba D'jama ?) who's function, if memory serves me, was to ensure marital fidelity.
My observation is that "mojos" in pre-war blues were used by women trying to control their men ("My baby's got a mojo, she's trying to keep it hid/McTell's got something to find that mojo with") but in post-war blues, they are used by men trying to control their women ("I'm going down to Louisiana, get me a mojo hand/I'm gonna get all you women under my command"). This reflects the increased sexual liberation of women precipitated by the social upheaval of World War II.

ride the blinds - the practice of riding a train or bus without paying as in hoboing. I think it refers to getting on in a "blind" spot - an area beyond the view of the conductor, engineer, or bus driver.

Anyone else care to take a shot (or a potshot)?

02 Apr 98 - 08:31 PM (#25005)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics

No potshots from here Jon. That agrees with how I understand them. There is "Rider" which seems to be a lover/sex-partner, and "conjur man"--a which doctor. Usually he is used to get rid of spells (or just the blues) in the songs.

In "Nobody's Dirty Business" Mississippi John Hurt says he is going down to Pensacola to get his love what sounds like a "money mola" I can't figure out what that is.

There is a discussion of the meaning of some of these terms in LeRoi Jones' "Blues People".


02 Apr 98 - 10:59 PM (#25013)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: Barry Finn

"I ain't been to Memphis, but I've been told
Women in Memphis got a sweet jelly roll".

03 Apr 98 - 06:36 AM (#25031)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: Frank in the swamps

Watch out for them Jelly roll songs, they'll get your red beans cookin'.

There was a recent thread about Leadbelly's "when I was a cowboy" that referred to throwing your jelly out the window if your house is burning down. I think it's wise to assume a certain looseness in the meaning of metaphors, it's in their nature after all to be left-handed (heh, heh). "Easy rider" is a good example, it's been used to refer to a part time lover man, and I've also heard that it was a sarcastic reference to "riding the rods" a hobo trick of riding the freight trains by placing a board across supports beneath a freight train, lying on it and holding on for dear life. It was a good way to ride without being caught, but terribly dangerous. Hence an "easy ride". This might also be "riding the blinds" I dunno.


03 Apr 98 - 09:04 AM (#25039)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: Earl

Here's a Mojo page which explains a lot of the voodoo (or hoodoo, is there a difference?) terms from blues songs. And an on on-line catalog for all your voodoo needs.

03 Apr 98 - 11:06 PM (#25079)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: Axe

Mojo is usually a charm or spell to give the owner of the "mojo" power over others. This is used especially to become sexually irresistible; less often to harm others.

Ride the blinds as far as I know means to hop a train or to hobo a ride.

Jellyroll is usually a sexual refence as mentioned earlier.

04 Apr 98 - 07:10 AM (#25091)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics

The mojo page is very interesting Earl. Thanks for mentioning it.


04 Apr 98 - 11:05 AM (#25103)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: dick greenhaus

I've always heard "Jelly" and "Jellyroll" as female sexual references. And blinds, as I understand it, were empty boxcars.

04 Apr 98 - 07:34 PM (#25156)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: Gene E

I'm sure Dick Greenhaus is correct about the "blinds" meaning riding in a closed car. First I think it ment a platform car with slat-like sides where there was a small gap between the slats. Animals were shipped that way, I think. Later riding the blinds would have been a box car. Riding the blinds was a good ride because it ment that you couldn't be seen by people in stations and on the ground as you passed and you were protected from all the soot, dust and flying gravel from the train and tracks.

04 Apr 98 - 08:35 PM (#25157)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: Brad Sondahl

Concerning easy rider-- sometimes it's See See Rider, or C.C. Rider, short for Country Circuit Rider, a preacher that travelled to various rural parishes (and perhaps succumbing to some dalliance in popular parlance). As to riding the rails, I tried it a few times--learned a few terms, such as a hogger is an engineer. Never did figure out what the blinds were. Best ride in the summer was on a piggyback (truck trailer toter), where you were exposed to the wind, but the ride was very smooth. Empty boxcars bounce rhythmically and severely. Needed to pile cardboard to cushion the ride.

05 Apr 98 - 08:53 AM (#25174)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics

Dick, there is a song called "Mr. Jelly Roll Baker". Some of the lyrics are

I was lying in the Hospital shot all full a' holes
The nurse let another man die just to get my jelly roll

That sounds like it might be the male sex organ, unless I am not remembering the words correctly. I haven't heard it for years.


21 Sep 98 - 05:15 AM (#38797)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics

I'm looking for the lyrics of:"the blues in the night" Thank you very much!

22 Sep 98 - 03:30 AM (#38940)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: Brian Hoskin

Jon W., 'Meaning in the Blues' (actually titled 'Blues Fell This Morning') is by Paul Oliver, is still in print, and, like all of Oliver's work, is worth a look. Get a copy via the link to!

To 'ride the blinds' specifically means to ride on the baggage cars nearest to the engine which, having no end door next to the engine, were blind.

'Riding the rods' meant to ride on the iron bars that were located about eighteen inches below the boxcar as braces for the boxcar frame. Some hoboes would carry a piece of board with them to make this slightly more comfortable.

If you want a book that goes into all that hoodoo stuff then take a look at the fascinating 'Africanisms in American Culture' (1990) edited by Joseph E. Holloway.


22 Sep 98 - 04:06 AM (#38946)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: Frank in the swamps

Back in '76 a friend and I rode the "Pintos": A freight car carrying Ford Pintos, all unlocked and with the keys in the ignition (who the heck was gonna steal one). The ride was smooth, but the radio reception was awful, and the bathroom facilities...well, gave new meaning to golden showers.

Frank i.t.s.

10 Nov 98 - 05:57 AM (#44793)
Subject: blues lyrics :help on "Black cat bone"
From: Gennaro Carrillo

I'm looking for the lyrics of "Black cat bone". Thanks in advance .

15 May 01 - 05:34 PM (#463085)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: GUEST,Gene

RE: C. C. Rider
While searching for a song, I accidently ran across
sheet music for C. C. Rider in an old song book I
picked up at a Flea Market some months ago...
Never had noticed it before, but today it STOOD OUT
and I recalled this discussion.

C. C. Rider

C. C. Rider, Oh what am I to do?
You went ahead and broke my heart in two
Altho' I know you never can be true
Oh Charlie Clarence Rider, I love you.

C. C. Rider, you see, see, see me blue
You said your love would stay forever new
And now I'm in the middle of a stew
Oh Charlie Clarence Rider, I love you.

15 May 01 - 05:50 PM (#463096)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: Chicken Charlie

Brian's right on riding the blinds vs. riding the rods. The blind is the front end of the formost car behind the engine. The fireman can't see you over the back of the tender and the brakeman never comes up there because the handbrakes are on the back end of the car.

On the blind was Hobo John;
He's a good old hobo, but he's dead and gone.

--Any railroad song you want.

And yes, the rods are underneath the cars, where you're one short slip from death.

Jay Gould's daughter, just before she died,
Said, "Daddy, fix the blind so the bums can't ride.
If ride they must, let'em ride the rods,
And put their trust in the hands of God.

--Jay Gould's Daughter, also adapted for Casey Jones and "Charley Snyder Was a Brave Engineer."

There have been two fairly recent threads on C.C. Rider, formerly "Easy Rider." Look at Charley Noble's posts and you'll get the straight skinny on that one.


15 May 01 - 06:14 PM (#463120)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: Sorcha

If you click here it will take you to a page in Harry's Blues Lyrics that has a table of clickie links that explain a lot of the words.

I think we had a thread on this a while back but I can't find it right now....

15 May 01 - 11:18 PM (#463340)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: Sorcha

I finally found it----Click here!

16 May 01 - 03:35 AM (#463534)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: dr soul

One of the better web sites I've found on the meaning of hoodoo blues terms is

16 May 01 - 03:46 AM (#463538)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: dr soul

Let me try out my rusty HTML skills: try the the Lucky Mojo site

16 May 01 - 07:40 AM (#463599)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: Brian Hoskin

Well this is a blast from the past! Sorcha, if you check the original postings on both threads you'll find that this one is actually the older one! Both interesting threads.


17 May 01 - 07:35 AM (#464534)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: GUEST,Dancing Mom

very interesting and informative. Thanks you guys

18 May 01 - 04:31 PM (#465822)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: GUEST,joe

good thread. i just thought the blues was what ya sang when loose enough t invent yr own lyrics on the spot, but this is downright intellectual. what ever it is, this thread goes t the top again. carry on.

18 May 01 - 05:40 PM (#465870)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics
From: mousethief

Basically, anything that you don't understand in a blues song means "having sex" -- or "have sex" or "has sex" or however it grammatically fits into the context. Unless it's a noun for a body part, in which case it means one of the body parts you have sex with.

I went down to the crossroads, just to dust my broom (2x)
Baby your biscuits are so hot, I b'lieve you'll melt my spoon


13 Nov 08 - 08:20 AM (#2492669)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics meanings
From: GUEST,SkipChurch

Blind in this sense does not mean not knowing where it is going, the hobo knows that. It does not mean empty either. The "blind" that you ride is a baggage car which has one exit to the next car in one direction, but no exit in the other. It is often the mail car next to the engine. It is blind in the same sense a cul de sac is blind, you cannot get out that way. So for instance a blind is used for a mail car to give extra security, it cannot be entered from the train driver's end. This also appeals to the hobo who need only watch one entrance for railway police or worse. The term is well established by the 1890s. A definition appears in Scribner's Magazine XXIX 429/1 1901, "The train's got a blind baggage car on... that's a car that ain't got no door in the end that's next the engine."

"riding blind" = riding [a] blind [baggage car]

The earliest phrase is "beating the blinds", meaning to steal a ride on such a car. Later one sees "jumping the blinds" and "riding the blinds". He is not asking to ride on the outside but on the inside in a car which usually would not be empty. The implications if the engineer is caught letting hobos ride in the blind baggage car are considerable, it is a free ride where there are things which could be stolen, often mail. - Craig Jamieson

13 Nov 08 - 08:41 AM (#2492685)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics meanings
From: Azizi

The first hyperlink given in this thread is no longer workable, but as of this date, the other two links that were posted still work.

I agree with the Sorcha that the link to Harry's Blues Lyrics, is a particularly good informative site for the meanings of blues language. Here's one example: {with formating spaces added by me and with hyperlinks given in the entry not added}


1 - a magic spell, hex, or charm used against someone else, either as a love spell, hex or charm or a bad luck spell, hex or charm. It's blues function as a sexual euphemism seems to have arisen with Blind Lemon Jefferson's 1928 song "Low-down Mojo". For the record, "Mr. Mojo Risin'" in the song L.A. Woman from The Doors album "L.A. Woman" is nothing more than an anagram for "Jim Morrison"!;

2 - charm; amulet; conjuring object; a good-luck charm used by gamblers and lovers

3 - magical power;

4 - the staple amulet of African-American hoodoo practice, a flannel bag containing one or more magical items. They were made with great care and contained personal fragments and natural objects: hair from the armpits or pubic region, fingernail pairings, pieces of skin were considered especially effective in love charms, as were fragments of underclothing, of a menstrual cloth and other closely personal effects. Combined with parts of night creatures, bats or toads, and with ashes and feathers from sources selected for a symbolic significance relative to the purpose for which they had been prepared. They were all tied up into small conjure bags or put into an innocuous-looking receptacle and either carried to exert their power upon the victim when contact was made with him or buried beneath his doorstep, hidden in his bed or hearth. The word is thought to be a corruption of the English word "magic". Other names for it include conjure bag, hand, lucky hand, mojo bag, mojo hand, root bag, toby, juju and gris-gris bag. In the Memphis region, a special kind of mojo, worn only by women, is called a nation sack. The word "conjure", as in "conjure work" (casting spells) and "conjure woman" (a female herbalist-magician), is an old alternative to "hoodoo". The word "hand" in this context may derive from the use of a rare orchid root called Lucky Hand root as an ingredient in mojo bags for gamblers, or from the use of finger and hand bones of the dead in mojo bags made for various purposes;

5 - Steven Drahozal wrote: "To make a gris-gris bag, one uses different colors of bags for different affects. I know red is for love. One also uses different roots for different affects. To really make the mojo work, you need a personal item from the person and no one else can touch your bag. I got my mojo for love in New Orleans (way way way behind the sun)." Thanks to Steven Drahozal for this contribution to the list;

For more info on mojo see this page [This link to ididn't work for me]oesn't appear to be working
This word can be found in:
Blind Boy Fuller, Stingy Mama, Jimmy Reed, I Ain't Got You (1) & version 2
Blind Willie McTell, Scarey Day Blues & Talkin' To Myself
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Don't Throw That Mojo On Me
Muddy Waters, Got My Mojo Working & Hoochie Coochie Man & Louisiana Blues
Omar & The Howlers, Mail Order Mojo
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, I Got My Mojo Working
Robert Johnson, Little Queen Of Spades (Take 1)
Hans Theessink, Hunted Man & Set Me Free, Willie Dixon, (I'm your) Hoochie Coochie Man
New! John Campbell, Written In Stone"

29 Sep 09 - 12:32 AM (#2733783)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics meanings


Just doing my research paper on the meaning of the blues lyrics. Still researching at present but there are a few good resources around. The Lomax book mentioned in one of the other posts would be good, also try "Blues Fell This Morning" by Paul Oliver and "The Devil's Music" by Giles Oakley. These authors are all Blues researchers and should point you in the right direction.

29 Sep 09 - 02:46 AM (#2733816)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics meanings

Try Lighter, Random House Dictionary of American Slang

He will point you to the Original Sources found in print.

Be dubious of anything on the web, especially coming "" sources or the woman Azizi above who, from previous web postings, appears to moralize and opinionate a "hidden agenda."

29 Sep 09 - 11:17 AM (#2734137)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics meanings
From: meself

Does it need to be pointed out how unfair and misleading the latter remarks are? There are many, many posters who "moralize" on here - and why shouldn't they? - and as for a "hidden agenda", it must be very well and cleverly hidden indeed, because I've always found Azizi to be clear and open about what she's up to and not up to. Most of us appreciate her contributions to this forum; the idea that anyone would need to be warned about her is laughable.

Btw, if you have been following the goings-on of this forum so closely as to be an authority on its members, why haven't you become a member yourself, "GUEST"?

31 May 11 - 11:45 AM (#3163131)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics meanings
From: GUEST,w

What does the phrase "shake 'em on down" mean?

01 Jun 11 - 08:32 AM (#3163663)
Subject: RE: blues lyrics meanings
From: Azizi

Guest w, your query prompted me to search online for definitions of the phrase "shake em on down". And that search resulted in my finding wonderful sound files and videos of Bluesmen Fred McDowell's, Bukka White's, and Furry Lewis' performances of "Shake Em On Down".

Also as a result of that search I added those videos to a new page on my website:

The purpose of that page is to share my opinion about the meaning of the phrase "shake em on down" and other [I believe] related phrases. But much more importantly, the purpose of that Cocojams page is to heighten awareness about those Blues vocalists/musicians and their performances of "Shake Em On Down".

Here's an excerpt from that page:

"Although there doesn't appear to be any definition of this phrase online, there seems to be no doubt in my mind that in traditional Blues songs, the phrase "shake em on down" means having sexual intercourse with another person. That meaning of "shake em on down" is used in several Blues songs that have different lyrics overall...

I believe the phrase "shake em on down" is closely related to the phrase "shake that thing". That phrase "shake that thing" is often given as "shake that thang". Here's a defintiion of "shakin that thing" from Harry's Blues Lyrics Online, Blues Language Page

a blues euphemism for engaging in sex, popularized by Papa Charlie Jackson's 1925 hit "Shake That Thing"


While "Shake that thing" may have started out as a euphemism of engagin in sex, it now has a more socially acceptable meaning of "getting down" on the dance floor. And "getting down on the dance floor" just means "to dance very well".

I also believe thaT "Shake em on down" is related to "shake your money maker" and "shake your tailfeather" and "shake your tambourine" all mean to "shake your butt" [usually referring to women's dance movements]. Two contemporary forms of "shake your moneymaker" are "shake what your mama gave you" and "shake what you have in your skirt".

"Shake em on down" is probably also closely related to the exhortations "Get [on] down to the [real] nitty gritty. "Get down to the nitty gritty" means getting to the essence of something-which is after all the core meaning of the phrase "nitty gritty".


Also, here's an excerpt from :

"The phrase [nitty gritty] is usually used with the prefix 'getting down to' and there is a sense that, whatever the nitty-gritty is, it is at the bottom of something...

The first reference that I can find of the phrase in print is from the New York Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 3 - Musical Compositions, 1937. That lists a song entitled 'That Nitty Gritty Dance' which was copyrighted by Arthur Harrington Gibbs.".


I recall reading somewhere that the phrase "get down to the nitty gritty" originated or was popularized by African Americans in juke joints and other dance halls in the early 20th century. The phrase derived referred to reaching nits at the bottom of a barrell but referred to the custom of women -and men- shaking their bodies down close to the floor. That form of "funky" sweat inducing dancing can certainly be said to be a public imitation of the sex act.

The more contemporary exhortations "Get on down!" and "Get down!" are derived from "get down to the nitty gritty". Those phrases can be loosely defined to mean "do something very well", particularly to excell in some creative performance such as dancing, singing, or playing a musical instrument. It may be impossible to really excell creatively if you don't put your heart into your performance and get down to the real nitty gritty.

All of this may seem far removed from sexual expression, but there's more than one connection between creativity and sex.


Btw, I just saw meself's 29 Sep 09 post yesterday and want to belatedly say I sincerely thank you for your support.