A New Salty Dog


(From http://www.newworldrecords.org/, liner notes to “Going Down the Valley,” CD 80236)

Even the folks back in the hills could not escape the lure of the jazz age. The Allen Brothers, of Franklin County, Tennessee, were so successful at assimilating the jazz and blues styles from the other side of the color barrier that Columbia decided to release two of their songs in its Race Records series. Some artists would have taken that as a compliment; the Allen Brothers, however, threatened to sue, and stopped recording for that label.

When they switched to Victor they rerecorded several of the numbers they had done for Columbia, including “Salty Dog Blues” which they renamed “A New Salty Dog.” Lexicographers have not provided a satisfactory account of the meaning and evolution of the phrase “salty dog.” As early as 1785, “salty” meant lecherous (or, literally, salacious); “salt bitch” was a dog in heat. In black slang of the twentieth century the phrase has been used with various implied meanings: sometimes, in the general sense of a sexually active person; other times, in connection with specific kinds of sexual behavior.

To Lee Allen a salty dog was a “common person…who had a good time and did it in the wrong way.” The earliest use in a musical context was in blues singer Clara Smith’s 1926 recording “Salty Dog,” a considerably more outspoken piece of bawdry than the Allen Brothers’ relatively tame lyrics. Two other locutions in the text deserve comment: in the penultimate stanza, “bum” may be used in the same sense that we use it today, but there was a more specific meaning in the 1920s- a cheap prostitute.

Quite likely there was a conscious attempt in the second recording to eliminate what some regarded as an offensive term. It should be noted, however, that these terms have not carried the same connotation at all times and in all areas. Many white mountain folk had used these terms without any intention of slurring, slighting, or offending. It is instructive to recall, in this connection, how much the connotative meaning of the word “colored” has changed in the past decade.

In lyrics, tune and instrumentation, “A New Salty Dog” is a good example of how much jazz and blues influences could alter string-band music. The partial circle of fifths chord pattern (I-VI7- II7- V7- I) has been used since the Baroque era, but to modern listeners it is perhaps more closely identified with ragtime music than any other style. In country music, almost every tune that uses a circle of fifths is labeled a “rag.”

Come here, mama, what’s on your mind?

Daddy wants to love you but you won’t give him time,

You ain’t nothin’ but a salty dog.

Oh, salty dog, ha ha ha, ha ha ha, hey hey hey.



Available here.

The Allen Bros. play “A New Salty Dog”:



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