An in-depth examination of the music of the 78 era.
30 June, 2010
"Feather Bed" - Cannon's Jug Stompers
Set Three: Songs; Disc Two; Track Two: "Feather Bed" performed by Cannon's Jug Stompers. "Vocal solo with harmonica, banjo, jug, guitar." Recorded in Memphis on September 9, 1928. Original issue Victor V-38515B.
For biographical information on Gus Cannon and the other members of Cannon's Jug Stompers, see the entry on "Minglewood Blues."
"Feather Bed" is bluesy song with a rambling lyric.
I remember the time just before the war, Colored man used to hunt him out chips 'n' straw. But now, bless God, old master's dead. Colored man plumb fool about feather bed. Eee-hee, my gal Nancy. Over the road I'm bound to go.
I went uptown goin' to shriek and howl. Think I heard my baby cry. Eee-wee-mmm, honey. Oh, Lord, I'm bound to go. Wee-eee-eee, baby. Oh, Lord, I'm bound to go.
I went downtown, didn't mean no harm. Police grab me right by my arm. Soon I began to pitch; I began to rear, Feel like strollin' in the air. Ooo-woo-ooo, baby. Over the road I'm bound to go.
I went downtown, doin' my best, Find the boys that stole the vest. Went on around 'bout the Court Square Find the boys that done stole the coat. Hee-hee-eee, baby. Oh Lord, I'm bound to go.
Now I knew Joe Louis was in the stand, Had them law books in his hands. I began to pitch, pull out a writ, began to read to me. Said, "Nigger, you been stealin' in the first degree." Eee-eee-eee, baby. Over the road I'm bound to go.
Ev' old Britt and Moses Brown Said, "I'm going 'cross Cripple Creek, go into town." Ooo-ooo-ooo, baby. Over the road I'm bound to go.
Unlike "Minglewood Blues," which featured Ashley Thompson on vocal, "Feather Bed" features the singing of Cannon himself. Cannon's voice is remarkable both for its richness, but also for the wordless moans sung at the end of each verse. Cannon also performs on banjo and jug. The song also features the remarkable harmonica playing of Noah Lewis. The guitar is played by Elijah Avery, who replaced Thompson in the group.
The lyrics veer quickly from a recollection of life before emancipation (a "Colored man" slept on "chips 'n' straw," while today he sleeps on a feather bed) to a somewhat jumbled account of a trial. In his notes, Smith points out that the lyric "over the road I'm bound to go" is "seldom heard other than in songs dealing with prison." Although it is never explicitly stated in the song that the speaker is found guilty and sent to jail, it may be inferred by the constant refrain "over the road I'm bound to go." It is significant that the next three songs that follow "Feather Bed" all deal with, or make mention of, prisons or jailhouses. For this reason, the first line's comment that "colored man plumb fool about feather bed" may be intended to be ironic, given that the speaker is headed for accommodations that a far from plush.
The song makes mention of a "Joe Louis," although the context of the lyric makes it clear that this Joe Louis is not the boxer. The fighter named Joe Louis does, however, turn up in a song that appears on volume four of the Anthology.
According to Smith's notes, "the melody used in this recording is usually called "Lost John."" There are several songs recorded as "Lost John" and there is some suggestion that this song is related to the song written by W.C. Handy as "Long Gone John From Bowling Green." Here are the lyrics to a version titled "Long John" that was recorded by John and Alan Lomax in 1934: It's a long John He's a long gone Like a turkey through the corn Through the long corn
Well my John said in the ten chap ten If a man die He will live again Well they crucified Jesus And they nailed him to the cross Sister Mary cried My child is lost
Well Long John He's long gone He's long gone Mister John John Oh Big-Eye John O John John It's a long John
Says-uh Come on gal And-uh shut that door Says The dog's is coming And Ive got to go
Its a long John He's long gone Its a long John He's a long gone
WEll-a two three minutes Let me catch my wind In-a two three minutes I'm gone again
He's long John He's long gone He's long gone He's long gone
Well my John said Just before he did Well I'm going home See Mary Lid
He's John John Old John John With his long clothes on Just-a skippin through the corn
Well my John said On the fourth day Well to tell my rider That I'm on my way
Hes long gone He's long gone He's long gone Its a long John
Gonna call this summer Aint gon'call no more If I call next summer Be in Baltimore
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Here's Merle Travis performing a version of "Lost John" that makes the connection with W.C. Handy's song quite explicit.