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Mule, Get Up In The Alley
(a Tribute to the Mule in the Blues)
Max Haymes

APPENDIX III  -  Sukey Jump/Soo Cow

By way of introduction, this third Appendix opens with some definitions/origins of ‘Soo Cow’.  This phrase deriving from a word of possible Texas beginnings: ‘sukey’. 

From the pen of one of the world’s leading lexicographers, New Zealander Eric Partridge, we get what must appear at first glance, an unlikely source.  But, as they say, all will shortly be revealed.  I  reproduce the entry for ‘sukey’ from Partridge’s Encyclopedia of Historical Slang in its entirety:

[1.] “sukey. A kettle: low (--1823; ob. ?origin. cf Welsh Gypsy ‘suker’, to hum, to whisper. ? hence 2; a general servant or SLAVEY: from ca 1820; ob. Ex ‘Sukey’, a lower-class diminutive of Susan, a name frequent among servants.” (1

This term ‘sukey’ may well have been carried to the US by white indentured servants from the UK, in the first half of the 19th. Century.  On the infrequent occasions these indentured servants on gaining their freedom and obtaining their own plot of land/farm further down the Eastern seaboard, the expression could easily had transferred to any black slaves they may have eventually ‘owned'.  From a personal perspective I can recall back in c.1959 that my then future wife and her mother both used the term ‘sukey’ referring to a kettle used on a gas stove. So it did not become obsolete so early as Partridge estimates.  Sukey became immortalized in a children’s rhyme from the mid-late 1940s - in my recollection in part it ran:

  Polly put the kettle on,
Polly put the kettle on;
Polly put the kettle on.
We’ll all have tea.
  Sukey take it off again,
Sukey take it off again;
Sukey take it off again.
(2) [Footnote 1: I suspect the last line ran “They’ve all gone home”. Anybody with any other suggestions are very welcome to contact me.]

Interestingly, in almost the same historic period I first heard this rhyme, way across the Atlantic Ocean, one of the most popular blues singers in Chicago, Illinois, recorded Polly Put Your Kettle On[Victor 20-2521]  This was the innovative blues harp player John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson, from Jackson, Tennessee, who recorded this song on 28th. March, 1947.  He refers to ‘Susie’ but omits the ‘Sukey verse’ entirely. Sukey or ‘Sukie’ most likely referred to a domestic servant.  In passing, a 1944 recording Polly Wolly (Polly) Wee [ASCH-331-3] performed by Leadbelly, is a different song. 

This leads neatly to Wolfe and Lornell and their definitive book The Life & Legend Of Leadbelly.  They noted that “ ‘Sukey’ or ‘sookie’, was apparently a Deep South slang term dating from the 1820s and referring to a servant or slave.  A sukey jump therefore was once a dance or party in slave quarters.” (3)  They continued “Huddie himself once explained the term by saying ‘Because they dance so fast, the music was so fast, and the people had to jump, so they called these sooky jumps.” (4)  They added “ ‘Sookie’, Huddie Ledbetter thought, was derived from the filed term for cow and used to call a cow, too.’” .(5)  Margaret Coleman “a childhood friend and later sweetheart” (6) of Leadbelly, recalled “Most of the parties and dances … were held in rural houses miles from the nearest town and often miles from the nearest white homestead” (7)  And “They called them suky jumps, Huddie recollected many years later”. (8

Another US author, the late Stephen Calt, included a definition supporting Leadbelly.  “ ‘soo cow!’... A shouted farm phrase used to summon cows.” (9).  He apparently got his information from Mississippi blues singer Sam Chatmon.  “That’s the way we’d call a cow, and they’d come just a-runnin’…When he say: ‘Soo’ that means ‘Come on’.” (10)  

The slavery dance term and the ‘shouted farm’ phrase come together to describe a rural scene which more correctly would read a ‘sue-cow jump’.  In 1936, using another diminutive of Susan which links it to Partridge’s ‘lower-class Sukey’; Sam Chatmon’s elder brother, Bo Carter demonstrates on Sue Cow [Bluebird B6695] the fast dance referred to by Leadbelly in his up-tempo guitar accompaniment.  Some 5 years earlier, Memphis Minnie maintains a similarly-paced rhythm on her Soo Cow Soo [Vocalion 1658] with Kansas Joe McCoy on second guitar.  Both Minnie and Bo, together with Wolfe and Lornell’s example hark back to Partridge’s definitions, which even he is not totally sure of. 

As the Garons suggest (11) Memphis Minnie is singing about a cow.  I read her title as ‘Come [Home] Cow, Come [Home]’.  Presumably in order to milk the animal and of course milk can be seen as a part of the “food and cooking” (12) related songs Minnie made during her recording career  Part of the refrain runs: “I had no sweet milk since my cow been gone” and after a spoken comment “You better soo” she ends with these lines:

  I give ‘er corn. I give ‘er wheat;
I give everything that a poor cow need.(13)

In light of the foregoing, and for what it’s worth, I’ll throw another possible ‘origin’ for ‘sukey jump’ into the ring. 

Before the age of the automobile, Americans courted a variety of wagons and carts deemed ‘buggies’.  As one ex-slave who lived at Grimball’s Point near Savannah, Georgia “lying at the northwestern end of the Isle of Hope on the marshes and creeks that run down from the wide Skidway River”(14) told his interviewers: “Yes, I dohn git away from dis place much now an uh jis sit roan an tink ub a long time ago.  Deah wuzn no automobiles an duh only way tuh  Savannah wuz by duh mule an caht an git in duh road wid yuh foots.” (15)   Described as “One of the oldest of the residents…white-haired F.T. Jackson … remembers his childhood days on the ‘Massuh George Wiley plantation’.” (16)  This would have been  c.1850s.  This ‘mule an caht’ could well have been a sulky or something similar.  To cross country for any reason - at least for short distances - one type of vehicle was a two-wheeler named a ‘Sulky’. (see pic. main essay)  This was a light jump seat wagon for two people.  A social event involving a 2 or 3 mile trip in one of these vehicles could easily acquire a slang name, and if this event included a dance as was usual, would soon become known as  a ‘sulky jump’.  Such an event could be a picnic which featured black string bands on most occasions. 

Regarding the meaning of ‘sookie’ calling a cow, according to both Leadbelly and Sam Chatmon; this puts the sukey jump (Footnote 2: See also p.p. 199,204-205. for some links with Milk Cow Blues by Kokomo Arnold. {Woman With Guitar: Paul & Beth Garon] into a more recent rural scenario in the southern states happening in peoples’ houses or shacks in the woods in the early 20th Century.

Ó Max Haymes


Appendix I
- Plow Hand Blues & Big Bill
Appendix II
- A Mule called Jerry
Appendix III
- Sukey jump/Soo cow
Appendix IV
- Bango



1. Partridge E. p.927. (“Historical”)
2. Haymes M. personal recollection from mid-late 1940s.
3. Wolfe C. & K. Lornell p.18.
4. Ibid.  
5. Ibid.  
6. Ibid. p.9.
7. Ibid. p.18.
8. Ibid.  
9. Calt S. p.225.
10. Ibid.  
11. Garon P. & B. Garon


12. Ibid. p.197.
13. ‘Soo Cow Soo’

Memphis Minnie vo. gtr. speech; Kansas Joe gtr.

14. Granger M. p.112.
15. Ibid. p.114
16. Ibid.  

Additions/Corrections & Transcriptions by Max Haymes.
Website conversion of original transcript by Alan White.


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