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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lead Belly - "Gonna Dig A Hole Put The Devil In" (comments & lyrics)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides a sound file of a portion of a 1940 recorded interview that singer, musician Lead Belly had with folklorist/collector Alan Lomax. Lead Belly sang "Gonna Dig A Hole Put The Devil In" & "It's Tight Like That" during that recorded interview.

A transcript of that specific portion of that interview is included in this post. Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/12/leadellys-comments-about-shoo-fly-other.html for the complete transcription of that interview.

This post also includes a link to a Mudcat folk discussion thread that includes several transcription attempts for Lead Belly's version of "It's Tight Like That".

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

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FEATURED SOUND FILE: Lead Belly - Dig a Hole & Tight Like That



sherpa285, Uploaded on Dec 10, 2011

From an old vinyl 3 LP set that I bought years ago in a used record store. I've never heard either of these versions elsewhere. I believe that this is from a session with either Alan or John Lomax. Both songs are amazing. If anyone know any of the words, please post. I've been trying to figure some of them out for years.

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TRANSCRIPTION OF THAT INTERVIEW
From http://anthrocivitas.net/forum/showthread.php?t=1737&page=3 "American Folk Songs Of Black Origin"
Magneto, 12-15-2010, 03:55 PM Post #28

"In the following conversation, recorded by Library of Congress folklorist Alan Lomax in Washington in 1940, Huddie gives us some idea of all the dancing going on at a sukey jump, circa 1900. The conversation is being recorded onto discs which contain perhaps three or four minutes each, and are spinning around at 78 revolutions per minute. There is no time for long pauses or considered answers. While the interview sounds a bit like a word association game, it does gives an impression of what the dances were like...

Lomax: Huddie, did they have any real fast numbers at these dances? Do you remember any of those?

Ledbetter: They'd pick 'em up.

Lomax: When they'd do the hoedown and. . .

Ledbetter: They'd pick 'em up, you know, they'd have some fast ones when they'd just go, like, "Green Corn, Come Along Charlie," "Gonna Dig a Hole to Put the Devil In," and, "Tight Like That," sometimes they'd holler, say, "Tight like this!"
[They are both talking at once through here.]

Lomax: What did they mean by that Huddie, really? I mean, tell us confidentially what they mean by "tight like that."

[Lomax may have been fishing for some sexual innuendo, but Huddie wasnt playing along, perhaps realizing there was nothing confidential about this interview.]

Ledbetter: "Tight like that" means when you got your partner, grab and hug her tight, and keep her going, but when it comes time the boy grab his partner, he grab her and giving her a hug, he says, "Tight like this, it was tight like this, but now it's tight like this." And the boys'd be jumping on "Tight like that."

Lomax: What were some of the dance steps, Huddie, when they were playing some of these fast tunes?

Ledbetter: Well, ain't no dance steps you could do but "breakdown," and that's a fast number. You can't dance no tap dance, I don't think, a fast breakdown number, course you might, but that's where all the tap dances [Huddie is talking very fast, as though he's afraid of being interrupted] . . . all the tap dances come from the old "buck and wing" what they used to do. Well, the breakdown dance, nobody do 'em now, but I don't guess nobody know nothing about it very much, but me, and I do the breakdown. When you do it you got to do it real fast, and when you breakdown you ain't tapping, you just working your legs. Now, a long time ago my grandfather, great-grandfather, say, "you ain't dancing til you cross your legs." So I guess now, nobody dancing because they don't cross their legs hardly ever. But when you do that old breakdown, and wing down, and green corn and that old ground shovel and, uh . . .

Lomax: What about "knocking the pigeon wing?"

Ledbetter: . . . pigeon wing and . . .

Lomax: . . . cutting the back step?

Ledbetter: . . . cutting the short dog, well, you got to cross your legs.

Lomax: Huddie, play us one of those tunes, something like "Gonna Dig a Hole to Put the Devil In," and tell us what it means, too, you know.

Ledbetter: "Gonna Dig a Hole to Put the Devil In" - long years ago, that was when they see the boss coming, you know? And the boys would see the boss coming, well, they didn't like him, you know, but they'd be together, nothing but negroes all piled up there together. When they'd see him coming, they'd say, "Well, we're gonna dig a hole to put the devil in," boy they'd start a-jumping. [plays "Gonna dig a hole. . ." with very fast accompaniment on guitar.]"...
-snip-
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/12/leadellys-comments-about-shoo-fly-other.html for the full transcript Library of Congress transcript of that interview.

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LYRICS: GWINE DIG A HOLE PUT THE DEVIL IN
(as sung by Lead Belly in the 1940 interview with Alan Lomax) This recording occurs at 2:07- 3:37 of the video given above.

Yeeee! They go down a hollerin to one another.

Yeee hoo!

Gwine* dig a hole put the devil in
Gwine dig a hole put the devil in
Gwine dig a hole
Gwine dig a hole
Letta dig a hole**
Letta dig a hole**

Yee ha! They all clappin and shoutin. The devil comin now. He don't know what it's all about, but they do.

Gwine dig a hole
Gwine dig a hole
Let me dig a hole to put the devil in
Let me dig a hole
Let the devil in
Let the devil in

Then they start

Gimme little bit of dram***
Little bit of dram
Little bit of dram
Little bit of dram

When the boss is gone they startin

I don't give a damn
Don't give a damn
Don't give a damn
Don't give a damn
Don't give a damn
I don't give a damn.

Yee Hoo!

I dig a hole put the devil in
I dig a hole
I dig a hole
I dig a hole
I dig a hole and put the devil in

Wake Jake days a breakin
Peas in the pot
and the hoe cakes' bakin
Gwine dig a hole
Gwine dig a hole
I dig a hole
I dig a hole

I don't give a damn
Don't give a damn
Don't give a damn
Don't give a damn
Don't give a damn
I don't give a damn.
-snip-
Transcription by Azizi Powell. Additions and corrections are welcome.

*Gwine is a no longer used Southern regional (USA) dialectic word which means "gonna".

**This word sounds like "pole" but I think that Lead Belly meant "hole".

***dram - a portion of an alcoholic drink

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EDITORIAL COMMENTS ABOUT THIS VERSION OF THIS SONG [revised on December 12, 2013]

In that 1940 recorded interview Lead Belly shared how "Gonna Dig A Hole Put The Devil In" was sung by "negroes" who saw their "boss" coming. ("Negroes" is no longer used as a referent for Black Americans and even before that referent was retired, many Black people and other people considered it offensive to spell that word with a small "n". Lead Belly said that this song was sung this way "a long time ago". I'm not sure if "the boss" here means the slave master or the person who was in charge of men who were working post-slavery.)

In my opinion, Lead Belly's recollection of how "Gonna Dig A Hole" was sung demonstrates how Black people masked their true feelings about their life situations in front of White people while they insulted them in coded form right in front of White people's faces. Combining the religious song "Dig A Hole Put The Devil In" with a familiar fiddler song "Give The Fiddler A Dram" masked the fact that the workers considered "the boss" to be "the devil". Notice that after the boss leaves, the song changes to the defiant verse "I don't give a damn". Also, notice how Lead Belly says that the boss didn't understand that the "dig a hole" song was sung as an insult. "They all clappin and shoutin. The devil comin now. He don't know what it's all about, but they do."

It's interesting that the White folklorist Alan Lomax doesn't appear to have caught the hidden purpose of those lyrics as sung by those men, and the defiant nature of their "don't give a damn" lines.

That said, it's important to clarify that, in contrast to some Black militants in the late 1960s and 1970s's use of "the devil" as a referent for a White person, it appears to me that in Lead Belly's recollections of that song, the boss was equated with the devil, not because of his race, but because of his role as a boss (or a owner of slaves).
-snip-
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/12/lead-bellys-and-several-other-versions.html for another pancocojams posts that includes this Lead Belly version of "Gonna Dig A Hole".

Click http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=126852
for a Mudcat folk discussion thread that includes several transcription attempts for Lead Belly's version of "It's Tight Like That".

Also, click http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=137600 "Origins: Dig a hole to put the devil in" for a Mudcat discussion thread that documents that the "dig a hole, put the devil in" line was known in England. That discussion thread includes other songs that contain that "dig a hole" line.

"Stomping the devil on his head" is a related saying that is closely associated with the Pentecostal denomination. People who are "shouting" (doing the holy dance) are said to be "stomping
the devil in his head".

Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2012/06/its-tight-like-that-videos-lyrics-part.html for a pancocojams post on "It's Tight Like That" (Videos & Lyrics) Part I: Georgia Tom & Tampa Red (1928)

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Thanks to Lead Belly for his musical legacy. Thanks also
to Alan Lomax for his role in collecting and disseminating these
songs, and thanks to Magneto for posting that Library of Congress transcript. Thanks also to the publisher of this sound file on YouTube.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

2 comments:

  1. Ms. Powell, thanks again for using my video upload to shed some light on the lyrics. I've been wondering about some of these lines for 15 years now! I heard Huddie Ledbetter for the first time when I was 23 and just out of the service. The hair stood up on the back of my neck, and I listened to very little else for about a year.

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    Replies
    1. Your welcome. sherpa285.

      I was came upon these lyrics after learning about the saying "stomp on the devil's head" and then the saying "dig a hole put the devil in". I was thrilled to first find via "my friend" Google Search that Library of Congress transcript that Magneto had posted in 2010 on that amthrocivitas forum, and then the sound file that you had uploaded to YouTube in 2011. That sound file was a real gift. I was hoping to find one on YouTube but didn't think I would.

      I believe that much more attention should be given to Lead Belly's comments about the songs "Dig a Hole" with its "give the fiddler a dram/don't give a damn" lines. That recording should be studied and appreciated not just for aesthetic and entertainment reasons, but also because of what those songs sung the way Lead Belly shared reveals about African Americans in that place and time.

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