This is Part II of a five part series about "The Forty Fours" Blues songs. This post provides information about the "Forty Four Blues" as well as a sound file & lyrics to Roosevelt Sykes's song "44 Blues".
Part I of that series provides the text to the song entitled "Forty-Four" that is included in African American folklorist & Fisk Univesity professor Thomas W. Talley's 1922 collection Negro Folk Rhymes: Wise & Otherwise. Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/09/forty-four-from-thomas-w-talleys-1922.html for that post.
Part III provides information about Leothus Lee Green's song "Number 44 Blues" as well as a sound file & the lyrics to that song. Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/09/little-brother-montgomery-vicksburg.html for that post.
Part V provides a sound file and lyrics to Howlin Wolf's "Forty Four". Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/09/howlin-wolf-forty-four-sound-file-lyrics_24.html for that post
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INFORMATION ABOUT "THE FORTY FOUR SONGS" & LYRICS TO ROOSEVELT SYKES' VERSION OF THAT SONG
"The Forty-Fours," as its earlier form was sometimes referred to, was a piano-driven "barrelhouse honky-tonk blues" that was performed as an instrumental. Little Brother Montgomery, who is usually credited with the development of the song, taught it to another blues pianist along the way by the name of Lee Green; Green, in turn, taught it to Roosevelt Sykes...
By the time he recorded it in 1929, Roosevelt Sykes supplied the lyrics and called the song "44 Blues":
Well I walked all night long, with my .44 in my hand (2x)
Now I was looking for my woman, found her with another man
Well I wore my .44 so long, Lord it made my shoulder sore (2x)
After I do what I want to, ain't gonna wear my .44 no more
Now I heard my baby say, she heard that 44 whistle blow (2x)
Lord it sounds like, ain't gonna blow that whistle no more
Now I got a little cabin, and it's number 44 (2x)
Lord I wake up every morning, the wolf be scratching on my door
It was not until after Sykes recorded "44 Blues" that Green and Montgomery recorded their versions of "The Forty-Fours." While instrumentally both were similar to Sykes' version, the subject matter and lyrics were different. Lee Green recorded his version, titled "Number 44 Blues," two months after Sykes (August 16, 1929, Vocalion 1401). About one year later, Little Brother Montgomery recorded his version titled "Vicksburg Blues" (September 1930, Paramount 13006-A). Of the three, Roosevelt Sykes' version was the most popular and "was to be far more influential than Green's version." "[Sykes' lyrics] played on the differing interpretations of the phrase 'forty-fours' — the train number 44, the .44 caliber revolver and the 'little cabin' on which was the number 44, presumably a prison cell." "Undoubtedly, these overlays of meaning generally appealed to other singers, accounting for the frequent use of Sykes' lyrics."
Due to the song's popularity, many versions of "Forty-Four" would appear over the following years, including some that bore little resemblance to the original except for the title. Sykes, Green, and Montgomery recorded it themselves ten times between 1929 and 1936. In 1954, when Howlin' Wolf recorded his version, "Forty Four" took on a new outlook. Backing Wolf, who sang and played hamonica, were Hubert Sumlin and Jody Williams (electric guitars), Otis Spann (piano), Willie Dixon (bass), and Earl Phillips (drums). Together they transformed "Forty Four" into a Chicago blues...
[Howlin] Wolf retained Sykes' handgun reference and added "Well I'm so mad this morning, I don't know where in the world to go...
SHOWCASE SOUND FILE
ROOSEVELT SYKES 44 Blues
doctorsamurai, Published on Mar 10, 2012
Here are two comments from that sound file's viewer comment thread http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnia4na291s
"The .44 Magnum was not around, but .44 caliber revolvers and rifles were around in the late 19th century."
"44 caliber revolvers did exist at that time. They used .44 Special cartridges. The .44 Magnum cartridges didn't exist until 1955."
Thanks to Roosevelt Sykes for his life legacy. Thanks also to those who are quoted in this post. And thanks to the publisher of this song file on YouTube.
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