the middle 1950’s when rock ‘n roll hit the sound waves, Western music, and
particularly the U.K./U.S. scene, have been irrevocably altered. Many titles
have passed into near legendary status, such as “Rock Around The Clock”, by
Bill Haley, “Be-Bop-A-Lula” by Gene Vincent and “Blue Suede Shoes” by
well known, is the original of the latter song by rock-a-billy ace, Carl
Perkins, yet it was still a considerable hit in the U.S.A. Another song reverses
the situation insofar as Perkins did the “cover”, albeit nearly thirty years
later! Perkin’s title was “Matchbox” and uses the lines;
I’m sittin’ here wonderin’ will a matchbox hold my clothes,
Yeah! I’m sittin’ here wonderin’ will a matchbox hold my clothes.
I ain’t got no matches but I got a long way to go.”(1).
Way back in
1927, on the l4th.March, boss Texas Bluesman, Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded the
first version of his justly, famous “Match Box Blues” for Okeh in Chicago.
About a month later he was to have two more versions issued on Paramount
records. All three have the same verse in common:
here wonderin’, will a matchbox hold my clothes,
I’m sittin’ here wonderin’ will a matchbox hold my clothes.
I ain’t got so many matches, but I got so far to go.”(2).
years earlier, the great ‘classic blues’ singer Ma Rainey, had cut her
“Lost Wandering Blues” which included a variation of these lines. She could
of course got the verse from Jefferson, as Paul Oliver has pointed out, since
Blind Lemon was an itinerant rambler all over the southern states, at that time
(1924). It is significant that Rainey used a guitar and banjo, played by the
Pruitt twins, Miles and Milas, probably acknowledging the verse’s rural
origins. In any event, ”Lost Wandering Blues” marked Ma Rainey’s first
departure, on record, from the ‘standard’ classic Blues accompaniment of a
small jazz outfit, Jefferson’s verse (if it is his) obviously caught the
imagination of other blues singers. On 11th March, 1929, Georgia twelve-string
guitarist, Willie Baker opened his excellent “Weak-Minded Blues” with a
slight elaboration, which gave his words a tinge of bitter irony:
will a matchbox hold my dirty clothes,
I wonder will a matchbox hold my dirty clothes.
I haven’t got so many, but I got so fur to go.”(3).
Ma Rainey was from Columbus, Ga. and Jefferson travelled through the state, even
recording in Atlanta for his Okeh sessions; indicating Georgia as a possible
source? Oliver also allowed that as far as the matchbox image is concerned,
Rainey and Jefferson “...may have absorbed it from traditional usage.”(4).
Of course the
term ‘rock ‘n roll’ itself came originally from black parlance in the
first two decades of this century; and originally meant sexual intercourse. In
much the same way that the widely used phrase, ‘in the groove’, which was
considered ‘hip’ in the late 1950’s, actually started out as an allusion
to the act of making love! The phrase is still used by the younger generation
today in its corrupted form ‘groovy’. One of the most famous sexual blues
lines was the title of a Tampa Red Hokum Jug Band number in 1929, “My Daddy
Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)”, with Frankie ‘Half-Pint’ Jaxon
delivering a superb, raunchy imitation female vocal. Tampa’s beautiful
bottleneck guitar and the band, moaning behind “her”.
By the time
Bill Haley and the Comets recorded “Shake, Rattle And Roll” in 1954, the
meaning had shifted to refer to dancing, in a white ‘clean-up’ job of the
original black version by erstwhile Kansas City blues shouter, Big Joe Turner,
recorded earlier the same year. But the first appearance of the phrase on
record, would seem to go back to 1931 in a blues by the then man-and-wife team
of Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie:
shake Mattie, shake, rattle and roll,
I can’t get enough love, (to) satisfy my soul.”(5).
some lovely bottleneck/slide guitar, from Minnie this time, with Joe supplying a
Elvis Presley recorded “Teddy Bear” for R.C.A. and included the words:
me be, your lovin’ teddy bear.
Put a chain around my neck and lead me anywhere.”(6).
back with Blind Lemon and “Match Box Blues”, take 2, on Paramount this time:
‘cross town, wanna be my teddy bear,
Girl ‘cross town, will be my teddy bear.
(She said) ‘Put a chain ‘round me an’ I’ll foller you everywhere.”
years later, Peetie Wheatstraw’s buddy, based in St. Louis, Charlie Jordan,
sister was a teddy, your daddy was a great big bear,
Sister was a teddy, daddy was a great big bear.
Put a rope around my neck, you can lead me anywhere.”(8).
rhythms of Charlie’s guitar and Peetie’s piano, sounding almost ‘rocky’
Just goes to
show you, there ain’t nuthin’ new under the sun!
“Matchbox.” Carl Perkins. 1957.
2. “Match Box Blues.” Blind Lemon Jefferson (vo.gtr.).14/3/27.Atlanta,Ga.
3. “Weak-Minded Blues.”
Willie Baker (vo .gtr.). 10/1/29. Richmond, Ind.
5. “Shake Mattie.” Kansas Joe (vo. gtr.) Memphis Minnie (gtr.). 30/1/31.
6. “Teddy Bear.” Elvis Presley. c.l958.
7. “Match Box Blues.” Blind Lemon Jefferson (vo. gtr.). c.-/4/27. Chicago.
8. “You Run And Tell Your Daddy.” Charlie Jordan (vo. gtr.), Peetie Wheatstraw (pno.) c.l7/3/3l.
Oliver Paul. “Screening The Blues.” Cassell, London. 1968.
Pre-war discographical details from “Blues & Gospel Records
1902—1943.” R.M.W. Dixon & J.Godrich. Storyville (3rd.ed.). 1982.
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