Remembering The Old Songs:


by Lyle Lofgren
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, September, 2010)

Long ago, in high school English, I was taught that there were only two kinds of poetry: Narrative, which tells a story; and Lyric, which expresses the poet's emotions. The classification made it easy for answering tests, but I realized even at the time that poetry was wider than that. And, when it comes to traditional songs, if you insist on a dichotomy, about the only sensible distinction you can come up with is Narrative vs. Non-narrative.

This month's song is non-narrative, but it's hard to make out what emotions are being expressed. This is the kind of song that usually has floating verses, but as far as I know, they appear nowhere else, so it's hard to imagine where they floated in from. In spite of the "pretty mama" commonplace, the narrator is a gender-shifter: a woman in the first two verses (dead vine = impotence?), but a man in the 3rd and 5th verse. The unisex 4th verse comes out strongly against tobacco use by underage poultry. I could find no Chattanoody on a Texas map, so I think it refers to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The only source for this song is Prince Albert Hunt's Texas Ramblers, who recorded it in 1928 (OK 45230, re-released on Yazoo CD 2028, Times Ain't Like They Used To Be, Vol. 1). This group recorded a handful of other pieces, mostly fiddle tunes without singing. Blues in a Bottle features Hunt fiddling and singing, accompanied by one (or maybe two) guitars. But the timing is completely unpredictable, even on repeated listening to the record. The guitar is able to follow along by essentially playing in 1/4 time. I long ago concluded I could never notate the song, until I heard a recent recording of it by Goeff Muldaur and the Texas Sheiks (Tradition & Moderne 045), and found they'd regularized it into a standard blues piece. I compromised between the two versions by standardizing the rests and the phrasing, but still ended up with a 17-bar blues.

Prince Albert Hunt's real name was Archie Albert Hunt (1896 - 1931). He played rural medicine shows for awhile, but mostly busked in the infamous Deep Ellum section of Dallas, and that's where he met his fatal doom, shot to death outside Confederate Hall at 421 North Harwood Street. According to the Dallas Morning News, he was attending a dance with a companion who happened to be married to his assailant, William M. Douglas:

Douglas told police, "Hunt broke up my home. He took my wife clear away from me. He had her at the dance with him and I followed them downstairs," where he shot Hunt in the chest with a .25 caliber pistol. Hunt was rushed to Parkland Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. He left behind his wife, Mary Cook, their four children, and his parents.


Complete Lyrics:
Blues in a bottle, blues in a bottle,
Stopper in my hand, pretty mama.
Blues in a bottle, stopper in my hand.
I'm going back to Fort Worth, find me another man.

Dig your 'taters, go dig your 'taters,
It's 'tater digging time, pretty mama.
Go dig your 'taters, it's 'tater digging time.
Old man Jack Frost done and killed your vine.

Asked my baby, asked my baby,
Could she stand to see me cry, pretty mama.
Asked my baby, could she stand to see me cry.
Says, "Old black daddy, I can stand to see you die."

Rooster chews tobacco, rooster chews tobacco,
The hen uses snuff, pretty mama.
The rooster chews tobacco, and the hen uses snuff.
The little chickens don't use nothing, but they strut their stuff.

Going to Chattanoody, Going to Chattanoody,
See my pony run, pretty mama.
Going to Chattanoody, see my pony run.
If I win some money, going to give my baby some.

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