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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Birmingham Jubilee Singers - Sweet Mama Tree Top Tall (with lyrics)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases the song "Sweet Mama Tree Top Tall" by the Birmingham Jubilee Singers. Information about the Birmingham Jubilee Singers is included in this post.

Lyrics to that version of that song are also included in this post. In addition, I present some explanations in this post of three colloquial expressions that are found in this song: "tree top tall", "turn your damper down" and "don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree".

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

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INFORMATION ABOUT THE BIRMINGHAM JUBILEE SINGERS
From http://www.last.fm/music/Birmingham+Jubilee+Singers
"The Birmingham Jubilee Singers were an American gospel quartet from Birmingham, Alabama.

They were put together in 1926 by Charles Bridges, a native of Birmingham suburb Pratt City, who studied voice at his high school and sang with the Dolomite Jubilee Singers after graduating. Bridges sang lead, accompanied by Leo “Lot” Key, tenor, Dave Ausbrooks, baritone, and Ed Sherrill, who, according to music historian Doug Seroff, was the deepest-voiced of all the bass singers in the Jefferson County movement.

The group became Alabama’s first professional quartet when in 1926 they were discovered by a Columbia Records talent scout, and travelled from Jefferson County to record in Atlanta. They achieved nationwide popularity through their live radio broadcasts over WAPI, WVRC and WJLD.

Becoming one of Columbia’s most prolific black vocal groups, they played vaudeville stages in New York and Chicago with the likes of Ethel Waters. They played a mix of both gospel songs and secular material, performing on gospel and vaudeville stages alike.

The group disbanded in the 1930s when Dave Ausbrooks died. Their complete recorded works were reissued on two compact discs in 1995 by the Document Records label."
-snip-
Italics added to highlight this sentence. "Jubilee songs" was an old term for "Spirituals". Therefore, "Jubilee singers" were usually sang religious music. The song "Sweet Mama Tree Top Tall" is a secular (non-religious) song.

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SHOWCASE EXAMPLE - Sweet Mama, Tree Top Tall - Birmingham Jubilee Singers



CanadianFolkBlues, Published on Jun 6, 2012

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LYRICS - SWEET MAMA TREE TOP TALL
(As sung by the Birmingham Jubilee Singers on "Birmingham Jubilee Singers: Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order: Volume 1: 1926 – 1927" (Document Records, DOCD-5345):

1. Sweet mama, treetop tall, baby, turn your damper down.
I smell your bread cookin', honey. Done got good an' brown.
I'm goin' away sweet mama just worry you off my mind,
'Cause you keep us both worried 'bout the baby all the time.
Sweet mama, treetop tall, baby, turn your damper down.

2. Sweet mama, treetop tall, baby, turn your damper down.
I smell your bread cookin', honey. Done got good an' brown.
I just got a letter from a gal in Rome.
Says she got plenty money, gonna bring it home.
Sweet mama, treetop tall, baby, turn your damper down.

3. Sweet mama, treetop tall, baby, turn your damper down.
I smell your bread cookin', honey. Done got good an' brown.
I've got a gal in Georgia, two in Tennessee.
Got three in Alabama good enough for me.
Sweet mama, treetop tall, baby, turn your damper down.

4. Hey beauty, wake up honey, I know you heard the whistle blow.
You got a few more minutes to get your clothes on; then you have to go.
Your hands are already rough and your feet are long.
... can't see what'n the world you're waitin' on.
Hey beauty, wake up honey, I know you heard the whistle blow.

5. Sweet mama, treetop tall, baby, turn your damper down.
I smell your bread cookin', honey. Done got good an' brown.
I'm standing on the corner with my hat in my han',
... waitin' for the woman ain't got no man.
Sweet mama, treetop tall, baby, turn your damper down.

6. Sweet mama, treetop tall, baby, turn your damper down.
I smell your bread cookin', honey. Done got good an' brown.
If you don't like my peaches, don't you shake my tree.
... let my peaches be.
Sweet mama, treetop tall, baby, turn your damper down.
(I said) Baby, turn your damper down.
-snip-
Hat tip to Jim Dixon and Arkansas Red for this transcription.
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=24332&messages=22 "Lyr Req: Sweet Mama Tree-Top Tall (Lasses White)"

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EXPLANATION OF THE TERM "TREE TOP TALL"
Tree top tall = a very tall woman

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[Update 11/7/2013]

EXPLANATIONS OF THE TERM "TURN YOUR DAMPER DOWN"
"Turn your damper down"
Here's an explanation of "turn your damper down" from
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=24332&messages=22
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Sweet Mama Tree-Top Tall (Lasses White)
From:GUEST,Arkansas Red-Ozark Troubadour
Date: 03 Jun 13 - 01:29 PM

"From what I understand "turning a damper down" in cooking with a wood stove means to reduce the heat. So the double entendre in this song probably refers to "sweet mama" having "the hots" for other men, and spreading it around, so she is advised to keep her damper turned down and "make it hot" for her man only. This I was told by an [sic] black blues singer who probably knew more double entendres in songs than anybody. Blues are filled with double entendres. That's what makes the blues so great."
-snip-
Here's another opinion about what "turn your damper down" from that same discussion thread:

Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Sweet Mama Tree-Top Tall
From:GUEST,Arkie
Date: 22 Jul 05 - 10:23 AM

Having grown up in a farm house heated by a woodstove with a damper in the stovepipe, I've always taken the phrase to mean "calm down" or "don't be so intense". The phrase was sometimes used in conversation when someone had become a little overheated or excited. While I suspect that some may have conjured up sexual imagery from the phrase, in my own experience it was related to a volatile temper.
-snip-
In my opinion, that non-sexual meaning is more accurate for this Blues song. Here's another non-sexual example of "turning your damper down" that I shared on that discussion thread in 21 Jul 05 -11:19 PM

from an article about Bessie Smith*:

"Her relationships with other female singers were often stormy. Bessie did agree to record with rival, Clara Smith (no relation) a few songs of which My Man Blues portrays the two in mock competition over the same man. The following dialogue comes from that 1925 recording.22

(Bessie:) It is my man, sweet papa Charlie Gray.
(Clara:) Your man? How do you git that way?
(Bessie:) Now look here, honey, I been had that man for umpteen year.
(Clara.) Child, didn't I turn your damper down?
(Bessie.) Yes, Clara, and I've cut you every way but loose!"

*A hyperlink was given to this article, but the link is no longer active.

Here's information about wood burning stove dampers:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood-burning_stove
"Keeping the air flowing correctly through a wood-burning stove is essential for safe and efficient operation of the stove. Fresh air needs to enter the wood compartment to provide oxygen fuel for the fire; as the fire burns, the smoke must be allowed to rise through the stove pipes, and exit through the chimney. To regulate air flow, there are damper devices built into the stove, flue, and stove pipes...

By opening or closing the dampers, air flow can be increased or decreased, which can fan the fire in the wood compartment, or "dampen" it by restricting airflow and reducing the flames.”
-snip-
I think that "turn your lamp down low" (in Blues songs) is a closely related expression to "turn your damper down".

Here's information about turning the flame of a kerosene lamp down low from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerosene_lamp
"The kerosene lamp (widely known in Britain as a paraffin lamp) is a type of lighting device that uses kerosene (British "paraffin", as distinct from paraffin wax) as a fuel...

Lighting a flat-wick lamp requires filling the fuel tank (fount) with fuel and allowing time for the wick to absorb the fuel. The wick is trimmed straight across with a pair of sharp scissors before lighting. With the glass chimney lifted off the lamp, the wick is turned up and lighted with a match or other lighter. The wick is turned down if smoke develops, and the lamp chimney lowered. After a few minutes warm-up the lamp can be turned to full brightness. Extinguishing the lamp is done by turning down the wick and blowing out the flame, or by turning the wick down below the top of the wick tube."

So, to conclude, I believe that "turn your damper down" and "turn your lamp down low"] mean "to reduce the heat you are emitting" - to "cool out" and not be "heated", "hot", "hot and bothered" or "enflamed" by someone or about something. Another of saying this is "to cease being or refrain from being irritated or angry at someone or about something."

However, at the same time or separately, both of those expressions may also have the sexual meaning whose explanation s given above.

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[Update 11/7/2013]

EXPLANATIONS OF THE TERM "IF YOU DON'T LIKE MY PEACHES, DON'T SHAKE MY TREE
If you don't like my peaches, don't you shake my tree.
... let my peaches be" is a floating verse that is found in a number of Blues songs & other songs. "Peaches" in those Blues songs had a sexual meaning" and that line means the same thing as "If you don't like me, don't come around me looking for just sex."

This verse is also found as a taunting line in a few contemporary American children's playground rhymes and children's cheer leader cheers where it's usually given as "if you don't like my apples, don't shake my tree". I think that most of these taunting rhymes/cheers originated with African Americans although they were/are also recited by non-African Americans. Here's one example that I cited in this discussion thread on the "don't like my apples don't shake my tree" expression http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=123813

I'll BE

I'll be. be
Walking down the street,
Ten times a week.
Un-gawa. Un-gawa {baby}
This is my power.
What is the story?
What is the strike?
I said it, I meant it.
I really represent it.
Take a cool cool Black to knock me down.
Take a cool cool Black to knock me out.
I'm sweet, I'm kind.
I'm soul sister number nine.
Don't like my apples,
Don't shake my tree.
I'm a Castle Square Black
Don't mess with me.

Source: John Langstaff, Carol Langstaff, Shimmy Shimmy Coke-Ca-Pop!, A Collection of City Children's Street Games & Rhymes {Garden City, New York, Double Day & Co; p. 57; 1973)

That line's inclusion in children's cheerleader cheers is undoubtedly lifted from its use in Blues songs and/or songs from other genres, although few children reciting that line know or care about the source for that line.

The main non-sexual meaning of the "if you don't like my peaches [apples], don't shake my tree" expression is "If you don't like me, leave me alone."

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Thanks to the Birmingham Jubilee Singers for their musical legacy. Thanks also to those quoted in this post and thanks to the publisher of this sound file on YouTube.

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