APPENDIX II - A Mule called Jerry
Williams number referring to a mule named ‘Jerry’ is one of three I have come
across in recordings of the early blues. The second one is Lord, I Can Ride
by the Hall Johnson Choir in 1941. The third one is included in a Lawrence
Gellert field recording by an unidentified black prisoner from a south-eastern
state in the 1930s.
Why ‘Jerry’? An
educated guess would be it was inspired by the immensely popular US cartoon
series Tom & Jerry, where the mouse (Jerry) is the underdog but nearly
always outwits Tom the cat, in his attempts to catch him.
It transpires that
Tom & Jerry in its earliest manifestation started life as “pictorial
[human] characters in a series of early sound cartoons produced by the
Van Beuren Studios, and distributed by RKO Pictures. The series lasted from
1931 to 1933”. (1)
The more well-known (at least internationally) MGM cartoon did not appear until
1940 with probably the best-known cat and mouse in the business.
‘human’ cartoon featured “a Mutt and Jeff-like pair, one short (Jerry) and
one tall (Tom) [Footnote 1: Indeed blues singer Teddy Moss
adopted the soubriquet of ‘Tall Tom’ on his Easy Papa on the Varsity
label (Vs 6030) in his solitary and brief session in 1929.] Each
cartoon featured a different adventure, and the plot varied from film to film.”
This duo, sometimes cast as hunters or hobos amongst other roles, had adventures
that “were generally absurdist comedies, featuring bizarre images, racist
themes, and more than a few (minor) sexual references.” (3)
This series of cartoons included surrealism on a scale rarely - if ever -
equalled in the 21st Century, with far less technology at the
disposal of its creators. It is quite likely that although this Tom & Jerry
only ran until 1933, lots of small-time picture houses in the South would
have done re-runs and so would have been accessible to the public for the
remainder of the decade.
The two earlier
recordings, in the mid to late 1930s would have been inspired (?) by Van
Beuran’s Tom & Jerry. Maybe Willie Williams and the unknown black
convict featured the name ‘Jerry’ for a mule as a protest, if only a veiled
protest, with regard to the “racist themes’ referred to above. The Hall Johnson
Choir on the other hand, probably pounced (no pun intended!) on MGM’s famous
animal duo, which had only been around some months when they made their
recording in 1941. Their mule was still called ‘Jerry’ but from a more
up-to-date source! The Lawrence Gellert field recording ran in part:
Oh Captain hit
my woman this morning,
Lord, the Captain [sic] hit
my woman this mornin’;
And he walked away, Lord. He walked away.
Lord, if I
had my, had my big gun loaded,
I’d shoot him down, lord, lord;
I’d shoot him down, lord, lord, I’d shoot him down.
mulie on the mountain call him Jerry, [See
Footnote 2 below]
I got a mulie, mulie on the
mountain call him Jerry;
[I’d] Bring him down, lord, lord, bring him down.
I can ride
him, ride ‘im, till his feets go to rollin’,
Oh I can ride him, ride ‘im, till his feets go to rollin’;
Like wagon wheel[s], lord, lord, like wagon wheel. (4)
[Footnote 2: An explanation of ‘mulie
on the mountain’ is offered by the collective who produced the Rounder LP 4004
Negro Songs Of
Protest in 1973: “got a
mule and can ride him any time I want to, pure fantasy about freedom for a guy
in the clink”(5)]
Label shot of
the excellent Rounder LP release in 1973.
Track 8 is the title
under discussion here.
Wikipedia 9th July, 2012
‘Cap’n Got A Pistol’ (L.G.
male vo. unacc. Unk. location: North Carolina,
or South Carolina,
or Georgia. 1933-1937
Ken. Marion Leighton. Bill Nowlin
Songs Of Protest 1933-1937
Transcriptions by Max Haymes.
Website conversion of original transcript by Alan White.
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