Riverbank Blues

- 1901-1989

A man git his feet set in a sticky mudbank,
A man git dis yellow water in his blood,
No need for hopin', no need for doin',
Muddy streams keep him fixed for good.

Little Muddy, Big Muddy, Moreau and Osage,
Little Mary's, Big Mary's, Cedar Creek,
Flood deir muddy water roundabout a man's roots,
Keep him soaked and stranded and git him weak.

Lazy sun shinin' on a little cabin,
Lazy moon glistenin' over river trees;
Ole river whisperin', lappin' 'gainst de long roots:
"Plenty of rest and peace in these . . ."

Big mules, black loam, apple and peach trees,
But seems lak de river washes us down
Past de rich farms, away from de fat lands,
Dumps us in some ornery riverbank town.

Went down to the river, sot me down an' listened,
Heard de water talkin' quiet, quiet lak an' slow:
"Ain' no need fo' hurry, take yo' time, take yo'
time . . ." Heard it sayin'—"Baby, hyeahs de way life go . . ."

Dat is what it tole me as I watched it slowly rollin',
But somp'n way inside me rared up an' say,
"Better be movin' . . . better be travelin' . . .
Riverbank'll git you ef you stay . . ."

Towns are sinkin' deeper, deeper in de riverbank,
Takin' on de ways of deir sulky Ole Man—
Takin' on his creepy ways, takin' on his evil ways,
"Bes' git way, a long way . . . whiles you can. Man got his
sea too lak de Mississippi Ain't got so long for a whole lot longer way,
Man better move some, better not git rooted Muddy water fool you, ef you stay . . ."

Slim Greer in Hell


Slim Greer went to heaven;
  St. Peter said, “Slim,
You been a right good boy.”
  An’ he winked at him.

    “You been travelin’ rascal
      In yo’day.
    You kin roam once mo’;
      Den you come to stay.

“Put dese wings on yo’ shoulders,
  An’ save yo’ feet.”
Slim grin, and he speak up,
  “Thankye, Pete.”

    Den Peter say, “Go
      To Hell an’ see,
    All dat is doing, and
      Report to me.

“Be sure to remember
  How everything go.”
Slim say, “I be seein’ yuh
  On de late watch, bo.”

    Slim got to cavortin’
      Swell as you choose,
    Like Lindy in de Spirit
      Of St. Louis Blues.

He flew an’ he flew,
  Till at last he hit
A hangar wid de sign readin’

    Den he parked his wings,
      An’ strolled aroun’,
    Gittin’ used to his feet
      On de solid ground.



Big bloodhound came aroarin’
  Like Niagry Falls,
Sicked on by white devils
  In overhalls.

Now Slim warn’t scared
  Cross my heart, it’s a fac’,
An de dog went on a bayin’
  Some po’ devil’s track.

    Den Slim saw a mansion
      An’ walked right in;
    De Devil looked up
      Wid a sickly grin.

“Suttingly didn’t look
  Fo’ you, Mr. Greer,
How it happens you comes
  To visit here?”

    Slim say—“Oh, jes’ thought
      I’d drop by a spell.”
    “Feel at home, seh, an’ here’s
      De keys to hell.”

Den he took Slim around
  An’ showed him people
Rasin’ hell as high as
  De first Church Steeple.

    Lots of folks fightin’
      At de roulette wheel,
    Like old Rampart Street,
      Or leastwise Beale.

Showed him bawdy houses
  An’ cabarets,
Slim thought of New Orleans
  An’ Memphis days.

    Each devil was busy
      Wid a devlish broad,
    An’ Slim cried, “Lawdy,
      Lawd, Lawd, Lawd.”

Took him in a room
  Where Slim see
De preacher wid a brownskin
  On each knee.

    Showed him giant stills,
      Going everywhere,

    Wid a passel of devils
      Stretched dead drunk there.

Den he took him to de furnace
  Dat some devils was firing,
Hot as Hell, an’ Slim start
  A mean presspirin’.

    White devils with pitchforks
      Threw black devils on,
    Slim thought he’d better
      Be gittin’ along.

An' he says—“Dis makes
  Me think of home—
Vicksburg, Little Rock, Jackson,
  Waco and Rome.”

    Den de devil gave Slim
      De big Ha-Ha;
    An’ turned into a cracker,
      Wid a sheriff's star.

Slim ran fo’ his wings,
  Lit out from de groun’
Hauled it back to St. Peter,
  Safety boun’.



    St. Peter said, “Well,
      You got back quick.
    How’s de devil?  An’ what’s
      His latest trick?”

An’ Slim Say, “Peter,
  I really cain’t tell,
The place was Dixie
  That I took for hell.”

    Then Peter say, “you must
      Be crazy, I vow,
    Where’n hell dja think Hell was,

“Git on back to de yearth,
  Cause I got de fear,
You’se a leetle too dumb,
  Fo’ to stay up here. . .”

Odyssey of Big Boy

Lemme be wid Casey Jones,
    Lemme be wid Stagolee,
Lemme be wid such like men
    When Death takes hol’ on me,
        When Death takes hol’ on me. . . .

Done skinned as a boy in Kentucky hills,
    Druv steel dere as a man,
Done stripped tobacco in Virginia fiel’s
    Alongst de River Dan,
        Alongst de River Dan;

Done mined de coal in West Virginia
    Liked dat job jes’ fine
Till a load o’ slate curved roun’ my head
    Won’t work in no mo’ mine,
        Won’t work in no mo’ mine;

Done shocked de corn in Marylan’,
    In Georgia done cut cane,
Done planted rice in South Caline,
    But won’t do dat again
        Do dat no mo’ again.

Been roustabout in Memphis,
    Dockhand in Baltimore,
Done smashed up freight on Norfolk wharves
    A fust class stevedore,
        A fust class stevedore. . . . 

Done slung hash yonder in de North
    On de ole Fall River Line
Done busted suds in li’l New Yawk
    Which ain’t no work o’ mine—
        Lawd, ain’t no work o’ mine.

Done worked and loafed on such like jobs
    Seen what dey is to see
Done had my time with a pint on my hip
    An’ a sweet gal on my knee
        Sweet mommer on my knee:

Had stovepipe blonde in Macon
    Yaller gal in Marylan’
In Richmond had a choklit brown
    Called me huh monkey man—
        Huh big fool monkey man.

Had two fair browns in Arkansaw
    And three in Tennessee
Had Creole gal in New Orleans
    Sho Gawd did two time me—
        Lawd two time, fo’ time me—

But best gal what I evah had
    Done put it over dem
A gal in Southwest Washington
    At Four’n half and M—
        Four’n half and M. . . .

Done took my livin’ as it came
    Done grabbed my joy, done risked my life
Train done caught me on de trestle
    Man done caught me wid his wife
        His doggone purty wife. . . .

I done had my women,
    I done had my fun
Cain’t do much complainin’
    When my jag is done,
        Lawd, Lawd, my jag is done.

An’ all dat Big Boy axes
    When time comes fo’ to go
Lemme be wid John Henry, steel drivin’ man
        Lemme be wid ole Jazzbo;
            Lemme be wid ole Jazzbo. . . .

Southern Road

Swing dat hammer—hunh—
Steady, bo’;
Swing dat hammer—hunh—
Steady, bo’;
Ain’t no rush, bebby,
Long ways to go.

Burner tore his—hunh—
Black heart away;
Burner tore his—hunh—
Black heart away;
Got me life, bebby,
An’ a day.

Gal’s on Fifth Street—hunh—
Son done gone;
Gal’s on Fifth Street—hunh—
Son done gone;
Wife’s in de ward, bebby,
Babe’s not bo’n.

My ole man died—hunh—
Cussin’ me;
My ole man died—hunh—
Cussin’ me;
Ole lady rocks, bebby,
Huh misery.

Guard behin’;
Guard behin’;
Ball an’ chain, bebby,
On my min’.

White man tells me—hunh—
Damn yo’ soul;
White man tells me—hunh—
Damn yo’ soul;
Got no need, bebby,
To be tole.

Chain gang nevah—hunh—
Let me go;
Chain gang nevah—hunh—
Let me go;
Po’ los’ boy, bebby,
Evahmo’ . . .