Thursday, November 29, 2012

Three Sound Files Of The Blues Song "The Little Red Rooster"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases sound files of Howlin Wolf, Big Mama Thornton, and Sam Cooke singing the classic Blues song "The Little Red Rooster".

Information about & lyrics of this song are also included in this post.

The content of this post is presented for historical, folkloric, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All rights remain with their owners.
"Little Red Rooster" (or "The Red Rooster" as it was first titled) is a song that is a classic of the blues. Howlin' Wolf recorded "The Red Rooster" in 1961, a song credited to blues arranger and songwriter Willie Dixon, although earlier songs have been cited as inspiration. A variety of performers have interpreted it, including Sam Cooke, Willie Mabon, The Doors, and The Rolling Stones, who had important record chart successes with the song.

Earlier songs

The rooster is a theme in several blues songs from the 1920s and 1930s, with Charlie Patton's "Banty Rooster Blues" (1929 Paramount 12792) being identified as "obviously inspiring" "Little Red Rooster". Although musically the songs are different, there are some similarities in the lyrics. Patton's song includes "What you want with a rooster, he won't crow 'fore day" and "I know my dog anywhere I hear him bark", analogous to Dixon's "I have a little red rooster, too lazy to crow 'fore day" and "Oh the dogs begin to bark..." Memphis Minnie's "If You See My Rooster (Please Run Him Home)" (1936 Vocalion 03285) contain the lyrics "If you see my rooster, please run 'im on back home", similar to Dixon's "If you see my little red rooster, please drive 'im home".

In 1950, Margie Day with the Griffin Brothers recorded an uptempo jump blues titled "Little Red Rooster" (Dot 1019). The song was described as "pack[ing] a load of oomph into this tangy up blues, with okay combo boogie in back". The song was a hit, reaching number five in the Billboard R&B chart in 1951. Day's lyrics include "Got a little red rooster, and man how he can crow...He's a boss of the barnyard, any ol' place he goes". The song is credited to Edward and James Griffin and, although it is titled "Little Red Rooster", it is not the same musically or lyrically as the Dixon song...


Example #1: Howlin' Wolf - Little Red Rooster ( Chess )

cojwat, Uploaded on Apr 23, 2010
Recorded on Chess label. There is [sic] also other versions in YouTube, but I think they are all worth of listening and many times.

Howlin' really is one of the greatest artists the blues ever produced, he was a musical giant in every way.

I hope owners of the rights want to see this as an honor to this artist, which it really is. And same goes to these random photos and paintings, which I have found from net.
The iconic photos of Wolf howling with guitar at 1:03 and 1:10 are used with kindly permission by Sandy Guy Schoenfeld , please visit
(written by Willie Dixon)

I have a little red rooster, too lazy to crow for days.
I have a little red rooster, too lazy to crow for days.
Keep everything in the barnyard, upset in every way.

Oh the dog begin to bark,
and the hound begin to howl
Oh the dog begin to bark, hound begin to howl.
Ooh watch out strange kin people,
Cause the little red rooster is on the prowl.

If you see my little red rooster, please drag him home.
If you see my little red rooster, please drag him home/
There ain't been no peace in the barnyard,
Since the little red rooster been gone

[transcribed by AP from the sound file].

Attention: On a number of online lyric sites, the lyrics for this song's first line are usually given as "I am a little red rooster". That is the way that the British rock group The Rolling Stones sung that line and not the way that it was sung by Howlin Wolf.

Also, those same websites give the line "watch out strange kind people" instead of "strange kind people".

Americans usually say "kin folk" instead of "kin people". Willie Dixon may have been playing with that phrase by making it hyper-correct.
Here's an interesting comment from that video's viewer comment thread:

Posted by Heronmist, September 2012
"The thing about this song is that it really should be sung by a woman - it complains about her 'rooster' going astray. Originally by Memphis Minnie in the 1930's and later by Big Mama Thornton, women did sing it but it seems to have become a man's song via this spine-chillin version by Howlin and the (faithfully derivative) Stones cover.

Example #2: Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton-Little Red Rooster (Live)

TravelerIntoTheBlue, Published on Oct 10, 2013
(as performed by Big Mama Thornton in the sound file above)

Got ah little red rooster, and that rooster is too lazy to crow for day.
Got ah little red rooster. You know that rooster too lazy to crow for day.
Keeps everything in the barnyard, Wooh! Oh Lord! upset in every way.
He keeps all the hens, keeps them fightin among themselves [makes sound of rooster]
He keeps all the hens, keeps them fightin among themselves. [Makes rooster sound]
Because he don’t want his hens, Wooh! a’layin eggs for no one else.

Oh* the dog next door begin to bark,
Wooh! And the hound begin to howl [make howing sound]
Oh! the dog next door begin bark, hound begin to howl
Said you better watch out all you girls
because Big mama’s red rooster
He’s on the, on the prowl, oh yeah!

Ah! Play your solo!

I said he keeps all the hen j
Keeps all the hens, wooh lord! fightin among themselves
Said because he don’t want those Keeps all the hens
You know I’m talking about that red rooster
If you see Wooh! my red rooster, just send him on home
If you see that little ole red rooster
Please, please send ‘em home.
Because we haven’t had no peace in the barnyard
Since that little red rooster
I’m talkin bout that little red rooster,
I mean that ole little bitty rooster
Wooh! Cock e doodle doodle
Child! Child! Since that little red rooster, ah rooster ah rooster been gone.

[transcribed by AP from that sound file]
* This might be the word "heard".

Example #3: Sam Cooke Little Red Rooster

Jazzysclassicjazz, Uploaded on Dec 12, 2010
1963 album Night Beat

[This sound file features] Billy Preston [playing the] Hammond B3
The lyrics to this version are very much like those sung by Howlin Wolf, except that Sam Cooke can be clearly heard singing "Watch out all you kin folks". Also, Sam Cooke sings the "keeps all the hens fighting" lyrics as the third verse of this song.

Click for a sound file of Charley Patton's 1929 song "Banty Rooster Blues" that was mentioned in the Wikipedia excerpt above.

Unfortunately, I didn't find a rendition of Memphis Minnie singing a Red Rooster song, but click for another song sung by Memphis Minnie.

Click for a video of the Rolling Stones performing "Red Rooster".

My thanks to the composers, vocalists, and musicians featured in these sound files and video. Thanks also to the uploaders of these sound files & video, and to those whose comments are quoted in this post.

Finally, thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. This song/rhyme in Thomas W. Talley's 1922 book Negro Folk Rhymes, Wise And Otherwise might be one of the prototypes for "The Little Red Rooster" Blues song:


    I HAD a liddle rooster,
    He crowed befo' day.
    'Long come a big owl,
    'An toted him away.

    But de rooster fight hard,
    An' de owl let him go.
    Now all de pretty hens
    Wants dat rooster fer deir
    beau.", page 28