An in-depth examination of the music of the 78 era.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
"Drunkard's Special" - Coley Jones
Set One: Ballads; Disc One; Track Four: "Drunkard's Special" performed by Coley Jones. "Vocal solo with guitar." Recorded in Dallas on December 6, 1929. Original issue Columbia 14489D (W149558).
Who was Coley Jones? Very little is known. No birth or death date has surfaced. Yet he made seventeen recordings for Columbia Records between 1927 and 1929, both as a solo act and as a member of the Dallas String Band. We do know, however, that Jones, like the other members of the Dallas String Band, was African American and that he got his start in minstrel shows. Jones has the distinction of being the first African American musician to appear on the Anthology, although Smith makes no mention of this anywhere in his notes (indeed, Smith was careful to never identify any artist on the Anthology by race). Jones and the Dallas String Band can be heard on the Old Hat collection Good For What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows, 1926-1937 performing "The Hokum Blues," including a spoken introduction in which Jones tells a joke about losing his voice in jail ("I was always behind a few bars and couldn't get a key.")
By the sound of his voice, we can infer that Jones was fairly advanced in years when he made this recording. Still, his performance is buoyant and full of good humor, likely an echo of his performing style in the minstrel and medicine shows.
"Drunkard's Special" is a version of Child 274, "Our Goodman," a bawdy tale of cuckoldry.
First night when I went home Drunk as I could be, There's another mule in the stable Where my mule oughta be.
Come here, honey.
Explain yourself to me. How come another mule in the stable Where my mule oughta be.
"O crazy, O silly Can't you plainly see? That's nothing but a milk cow Where your mule oughta be."
I've traveled this world over Million times or more. Saddle on a milk cow's back I've never seen before.
Second night when I got home Drunk as I could be, There's another coat on the coat rack Where my coat oughta be.
Come here, honey.
Explain this thing to me. How come another coat on the coat rack where my coat oughta be?
"O crazy, O silly, Can't you plainly see? Nothing but a bed quilt Where your coat oughta be."
I've traveled this world over Million times or more. Pockets in a bed quilt I've never seen before.
Third night when I went home Drunk as I could be, There's another head on the pillow Where my head oughta be.
Come here, honey. C'mere.
Explain this thing to me. How come another head on the pillow Where my head oughta be?
"O crazy, O silly, Can't you plainly see? That's nothing but a cabbage head That your grandma sent to me."
I've traveled this world over, Million times or more. Hair on a cabbage head I've never seen before.
"Our Goodman" is sometimes known as "The Merry Cuckold and His Kind Wife" and "Three Nights Drunk." (See volume one of Art Rosenbaum's The Art of Field Recording for a version sung by Rosenbaum's father, learned on the streets of Paterson, New Jersey.) In his notes, Smith says that "the song is also found in other parts of Europe, the Gaelic, Flemish, French and German forms probably deriving from the English and the Scandinavian and Magyar from the German." Unlike the first three selections in the "Ballads" set, "Drunkard's Special" is a comic piece. It acts as a form of comic relief after the rather heavy subject matter of "Henry Lee,""Fatal Flower Garden," and "The House Carpenter." Smith pairs "Drunkard's Special" with "Old Lady and the Devil," another comic piece that bears a punchline.
Here's a funny performance of "Drunkard's Special" featuring some very hot steel guitar by Brooklyn's the Wiyos. Check out the Monty Python overtones in the string bassist's performance as the unfaithful wife...