[The Hound's Guide to Dirty Records]

by James Marshall

The year is 1954, and the scene is a small recording studio above Times Square. Future mega-corporate president Ahmet Ertagun has arranged a session for Atlantic's hottest R&B group, the Clovers. "Mr. Ahmet, we've got one of our own numbers we'd like to try," comes the request from one of the conkheaded stars; "well, sure boys, whatcha got?" replies the future billionaire. The Clovers, their four gritty voices blending perfectly into one smooth whole, began their song, a rewrite of "Darktown Strutters' Ball," singing a capella into one mike with the tape running:

"weeelll-- cocksuckin' Sammy git your mutherfuckin' Annie we're goin' downtown to the cocksuckers' ball"

And so on. The record was never released (although several bootlegs appeared), but it was a fine performance, one of the greatest vocal recordings of all time.

People began singing about sex as soon as they began singing. Dirty ballads, lewd couplets, poems, limericks, rhymes, drinking songs, all ripe with sex, have always been an important if shunned part of western culture, from the first broadside balladeers to the most current heavy metal acts. Much of this sort of thing made its way onto vinyl, especially during the early days of "race" and "hillbilly" (pre-WWII) records and during the golden age of R&B ('46-'56). A definitive round-up of lascivious recordings would fill several volumes, so as a sampling, let us examine a few of the Hound's personal favorites in a historical context, of sorts.

Planting the Seed: Dirty Blues, the early years.

Blues in general is a lyrically limited form-- broads, booze and sex have a virtual stranglehold on the primitive blues singers' mind, give or take a cameo appearance by the devil himself, (i.e.-- the works of Robert Johnson or Peetie Wheatstraw) and filthy blues records make up a large portion of the recorded body of work. Since that immortal day when Blind Lemon Jefferson beheld his pecker and decided it had the same leathery quality as a black snake, getting the biggest hit record of his career out of it-- "Black Snake Moan" (which he recorded several times), sex on blues discs sold. The biggest blues hit of the late 20's was a rockin double entendre entitled "It's Tight Like That," written by Tampa Red and Georgia Tom (a.k.a. Thomas A. Dorsey who a few years later would zip up his pants for God and invent modern gospel music). The great Bo Carter for one, a former member of the Mississippi Sheiks made an entire career out of single entendre numbers like "Banana in Your Fruitbasket," "Mashin That Thing," "Pussycat Blues," etc. Even the old tortured soul Robert Johnson could take the time out from playing hide'n'seek with Satan to invite his honey to "squeeze my lemon baby-- 'til the juice runs down my leg" in "Traveling Riverside Blues." The only time censorship was employed was usually on the label of the record, for example, on the old standard "Dirty Mother Fucker," recorded by Roosevelt Sykes, Red Nelson and many others, the label would read "Dirty Mother Fucha" or "Dirty Mother For You," etc. Yes, the country blues was a ripe field for a man with an erection.

Women, especially the "classic" blues singers of the '20's and '30's were not immune to such crudities. In one of her more memorable performances, the great Bessie Smith moans the lack of "sugar for my bowl," inviting local men folk to indulge in the same said bowl of jelly. Little Laura Dukes recorded "Jelly Sellin' Woman," but for my money, the pinnacle of the classic blues as a form would have to be an unreleased (until the mid '70's) version of "Shave 'Em Dry" by Bessie Jackson (a.k.a. Lucille Bogan) whick included the inspired couplet:

"I got nipples on my titties as big as your thumb
I got something between my legs make a dead man come."

You can even hear the piano player goosing her.

Down on the Farm: Country Style

Lack of space and laziness leads me to refer you to Nick Tosches' book Country: America's Biggest Music, the chapter called "Stained Panties and Course Metaphors" covers it all.

Rhythm & Blues: That's What Happens
When The Gittin' Gits Good!

By the R&B boom of the late '40's, artists could no longer get away with the blatantness of an earlier era. This due in no small part to the fact that the white teenagers were now listening, and their tender ears were to be protected from these boogie-men with a jungle beat. This didn't clean up the music much, just took out the four-letter words. Yes, the R&B boom was the golden age of the double entendre and the crude metaphor. Among great works in the former category would have to be Roy Brown's "Butcher Pete" (he's hackin' and whackin' and smackin'/ just choppin' that meat"), Fluffy Hunter's "Walking Blues" ("I got a man who likes to hucklebuck/ when he gets goin' all he wants to do is-- walk right in, walk right out"), Dinah Washington's "Big Long Slidin' Thing," and the Midnighter's immortal "Annie" songs-- "Work With Me Annie," "Annie Had A Baby," "Annie's Aunt Fannie," and its various answer records such as Etta James' "Roll With Me Henry." In the latter category we find Todd Rhodes' "Rockett 69" and Bullmoose Jackson's "Big Ten Inch" among others. All fine records, a part of your heritage you should be proud of and claim with relish.

The Coming of Rock'n'roll and the End of an Era

As white-fold co-opted rock'n'roll as something to feed their children, the dirty rockin song began to die. The process took hold almost from the beginning (ie-- Bill Haley changing the lyrics to Joe Turner's great "Shake Rattle n' Roll"). Some white rockers were made of, er, firmer stuff. Roy Hall (author of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and other classics) for one, waxed immortal when he walked into a studio and cut "Flood of Love" ("I'm gonna cover you, baby, in a flood of love"). Jerry Lee Lewis cut a truly amazing dirty version of "Big Legged Woman" for Sun in 1958--

"let me tell ya somethin'
what I'm talkin' about
I bet my bottom dollar
there aint a cherry in this house
Oh! big legged mama
keep your dresses down
cause when I start drillin' on you baby
you gonna lose your nightgown
it's a hit!"

a tune which he can be beheld singing to this very day. In 1973 he recorded an homage to his oral talents entitled "Meat Man" in which he brags of having "a maytag tongue with a sensitive taste" and ends by calling the listener "you mutha!" He's performed it at every Jerry Lee Lewis concert I've attended over the last ten years. Still, the pickings were getting slim. Johnny Burnette (doing biz under the name Johnny Faire) added a touch of class to the subject by telling "Bertha Lou" that "I wanna congregate with you" on the 1959 disc of the same name.

To my ears, the last great stand for truly filthy rock'n'roll was taken by the sainted godfather of R&B, Johnny Otis (now a preacher and congressional aide) who, aling with singer Mighty Mouth Evans and guitar slinging son Shuggie Otis cut a dirty party disc for the Kent label in the mid-'60's under the name Snatch & the Poontangs. Here, the Bo Diddley inspired "Willie and the Handjive" becomes "Hey Shine" ("save this ass of mine"), a piece of pimp braggadocio that stands in its own time and place as a masterpiece of American music.

Dirty records still get recorded occasionally, the Stones cut "Cocksucker Blues" in the late '60's and a funny number called "The Rodeo Song" by Gary Lee & Showdown became a surprise jukebox hit in 1983, byt somehow the class and cleverness of an earlier era was gone. Nowadays congressmen's uptight wives rail against something as tame as Wasp's "Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)", but I for one would like to give those wenches a history lesson.

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