Wednesday, June 27, 2007
PIONEERS OF FILTH: LUCILLE BOGAN
There used to be an exceptional record store in lower Manhattan called Footlight Records, an establishment that catered predominantly to the showtunes crowd, but it also provided a vast cross section of musical genres on both LP and CD, and I filled in many gaps in my record collection thanks to their incomparable selection. But, in a textbook example of the continuing slow death of NYC, the rent on the place became too much to bear, so the mighty Footlight went the way of the dinosaurs about a year ago.
In the mid-1990's I visited the place in search of any compilation of old music that would offer a counterpoint to the wretched Queensryche that polluted the air of the Marvel Bullpen at the time, and discovered a CD entitled THE COPULATIN' BLUES COMPACT DISC-22 BLUES AND JAZZ CLASSICS. It featured twenty-two tracks of sleazy old 'ho-house tunes, most played on "pee-anny" and accompanied by febrile clarinet, and unless you paid attention to the under-the-influence singers' voices you would never notice that the tunes contained some of the filthiest lyrics imaginable, stuff that was way worse than what people got all bent out of shape about with the advent of rock 'n' roll and "Race" music. Subjects covered include adultery, homosexuality, on-the-couch molestation, prostitution, manual foreplay, nymphomania, and all that good shit, all unabashedly sung by sleazebags who make me proud to be Black; the few examples of similar material that I've heard performed by White country-western artists from roughly the same period pale in comparison (pun intended) next to the more earthy, raunchier mindset held by a people that the rest of the nation already hated anyway, so I guess Black artists felt they had nothing to lose, and such records were unlikely to be heard by most audiences comprised of Mister Charlie.
The whole collection merrily lets it all hang out, especially Jelly Roll Morton's rendition of "Winin' Boy," (sic) a sung he used to perform in houses of ill repute and self-admittedly didn't consider very smutty, despite lyrics such as "I fucked that bitch right there in the grass/then a snake ran up her big ass," and the stunning "I fucked her 'til her pussy stunk." If that shit isn't smutty, then what in God's name did this guy consider dirty?
But the track that really blew my mind was a "bolde ditty" by the name of "Shave 'Em Dry," written and sung by one Lucille Bogan, an outrageously obscene Chernobyl of filth recorded in 1935. There have been several recordings of the tune, but it's the unexpurgated version that blew my mind because it is not only about as dirty as a song from the period could get, the added bonus for me is that Bogan's vocals sound exactly like my late grandmother, Irene, a churchgoing piano teacher with a major devotion to "the Christ child." In fact, when I first heard "Shave 'Em Dry" I exclaimed, "Nana, no!!!"
Here's a brief bio of Miss Bogan, from redhotjazz.com:
LUCILLE BOGAN (1897-1948)
Hardcore might be the best way to describe the Blues singing of Lucille Bogan. While many of the Classic Blues singers of the 1920s tackled risqué and controversial issues in their songs, Bogan almost exclusively focused on explicit sexual themes, like prostitution, adultery and lesbianism, and social ills such as alcoholism, drug addiction and abusive relationships. She was born in Mississippi but grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1923 she made her first recordings in Atlanta, Georgia. The records apparently didn't sell well because she didn't record again until 1927 for the Paramount and Brunswick labels after moving to Chicago. Between 1933 and 1935 she performed and recorded under the pseudonym Bessie Jackson and worked with pianist Walter Roland. Bogan's recording career came to an end in 1935 and she eventually returned to Birmingham where she reverted to her real name and performed in and managed the group Bogan's Birmingham Busters but did not appear on either of the group's records. In the late 1930s or early l940s, Bogan moved to the West Coast. She died in Los Angeles in 1948 of coronary sclerosis.
That pretty much sums it up, so here are the lyrics to "Shave 'Em Dry," a song that I would love to see performed by Queen Latifah in a sleazy blues setting:
SHAVE 'EM DRY (unexpurgated version)
I got nipples on my titties big as the end of my thumb
I got somethin' between my legs'll make a dead man come
Oh daddy, baby won't you shave 'em dry?
Aside: Now, draw it out!
Want you to grind me baby, grind me until I cry.
(Roland: Uh, huh.)
Say I fucked all night, and all the night before baby
And I feel just like I wanna fuck some more!
Oh great God daddy!
(Roland: Say you gonna get it. You need it.)
Grind me honey and shave me dry!
And when you hear me holler baby, want you to shave it dry.
I got nipples on my titties big as the end of my thumb
Daddy you say that's the kind of 'em you want, and you can make 'em come
Oh, daddy shave me dry!
(Roland: She ain't gonna work for it.)
And I'll give you somethin' baby, swear it'll make you cry
I'm gon' turn back my mattress, and let you oil my springs
I want you to grind me, daddy, 'til the bell do ring
Oh daddy, want you to shave 'em dry!
Oh great God daddy, if you can't shave 'em baby won't you try?
Now if fuckin' was the thing that would take me to heaven,
I'd be fuckin' in the studio, till the clock strike eleven!
Oh daddy, daddy shave 'em dry!
I would fuck you baby, honey I'd make you cry!
Now your nuts hang down like a damn bell sapper
And your dick stands up like a steeple
Your goddam ass-hole stands open like a church door
And the crabs walks in like people!
Aside: Ow, shit!
(Roland: Aah, sure enough, shave 'em dry?)
Aside: Ooh! Baby, won't you shave 'em dry
A big sow gets fat from eatin' corn
And a pig gets fat from suckin'
Reason you see this whore, fat like I am
Great God, I got fat from fuckin'!
Aside: Eeeeh! Shave 'em dry
(Roland: Aah, shake it, don't break it)
My back is made of whalebone
And my cunt is made of brass
And my fuckin' is made for workin' men's two dollars
Great God, round to kiss my ass!
Aside: Oh! Whoo, daddy, shave 'em dry!
Eat your hearts out, Lennon and McCartney!