Walter Vinson on Smelling Mules

by

978-0-8223-4700-2_pr

from “Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow,” by Karl Hagstrom Miller:

Many working-class musicians, far from seeing their music as an extension of their labor, described their music as an alternative to it.

“I always felt I could beat plowin’ mules, choppin’ cotton, and drawin’ water,” the black artist Muddy Waters recalled.  “I did all that, and I never did like none of it.  Sometimes they’d want us to work Saturday, but they’d look for me, and I’d be gone, playin’ in some little town or some juke joint.”

Other musicians told similar stories.  The African-American musician Sam Chatmon explained why his brother Lonnie Johnson played music.  “All of ’em farming but one,” he stated.  “Lonnie didn’t like to work.  He always stayed on the road somewhere, him and Walter Johnson.  That’s the reason Walter was playing with us ’cause he didn’t want to work and Lonnie didn’t want to work and they’d stay gone, playing music.”

Bill Broonzy noted that when white listeners discovered his musical skill. “We would be playing and sitting under screen porches while the other Negroes had to work in the hot sun.”

The African-American youngster Deford Bailey was a domestic worker until his wealthy white boss learned that he could play parlor songs on his harmonica.  “From then on, she had me stand in the corner of the room and play my harp for her company,’ he recalled.  “Before she found out I could play, I had to work like the rest of thehelp.  From then on, I just fooled around…I never did no more good work.  My work was playing the harp.”

The black singer and guitarist Walter Vinson [of the Mississippi Sheiks] simply stated that he played music because he “got tired of smellin’ mule farts.”

 

 

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