Edited by Azizi Powell
This post is Part I of a two part pancocojams series that focuses on two (1926 and 1927) comedic Blues songs about Black people and chicken. This post showcases the song "Chicken You Can Roost Behind The Moon", recorded by Frank Stokes & The Beale Street Sheiks. Information about Frank Stokes is included in this post.
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2014/07/sweet-papa-stovepipe-all-birds-look.html for Part I of this post. Part I showcases the song "All Birds Look Like Chicken To Me" by Sweet Papa Stovepipe (McKinley Peebles). Some information about Sweet Papa Stovepipe and a brief note about the composition of this song are also included in that post.
The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.
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Thank to Frank Stokes for his musical legacy. Thanks also to those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publisher of this sound file on YouTube.
INFORMATION ABOUT FRANK STOKES
"Frank Stokes (January 1, 1888 – September 12, 1955) was an American blues musician, songster, and blackface minstrel, who is considered by many musicologists to be the father of the Memphis blues guitar style.
...In the mid 1910s, Stokes joined forces with fellow Mississippian Garfield Akers as a blackface songster, comedian, and buck dancer in the Doc Watts Medicine Show, a tent show that toured the South. During this period of touring, Stokes developed a sense of show business professionalism that set him apart from many of the more rural, less polished blues musicians of that time and place. It is said that his performances on the southern minstrel and vaudeville circuit around this time influenced Jimmie Rodgers, who played the same circuit. Rodgers borrowed songs and song fragments from Stokes and was influenced stylistically as well.
Around 1920, Stokes settled in Oakville, Tennessee, where he went back to work as a blacksmith. Stokes teamed up again with Sane and went to work playing dances, picnics, fish fries, saloons, and parties in his free time. Stokes and Sane joined Jack Kelly's Jug Busters to play white country clubs, parties and dances, and to play Beale Street together as the Beale Street Sheiks, first recording under that name for Paramount Records in August 1927. All told, Stokes was to cut 38 sides for Paramount and Victor Records."
"Chicken You Can Roost Behind The Moon" is an African American medicine show song. Here's an excerpt from http://www.folkstreams.net/context,124, an article about Black performers in "black-faced minstrel shows" and Black performers in "medicine shows":
"As long as medicine shows have toured this country, blacks have played in them. Medical entrepreneurs, quick to exploit the increasing fascination of whites whith [sic] African-American culture, employed blacks as novelty entertainers in otherwise white shows. Jug bands, buck and eccentric dancers, harmonica players, even jubilee quartets, became standard features on the med circuit...
Playing to African-American audiences, black med troupers adapted the racial stereotypes of minstrelsy to their own ends and expanded their repertoires. Their medicine shows became an amalgam which included brass bands, tap dancers, ragtime guitarists, comedy teams, and classic blues shouters. Folk and vernacular elements alternated with Tin Pan Alley, burnt-cork minstrelsy with vaudeville. “Foreign” traditions were tempered by the black aesthetic to reflect the African-American experience...
At the pinnacle of the black med [medicine] show business were full-fledged minstrel troupes mounting elaborate spectacles in vast tents that seated 2000 people. Most of these were headed by white pitchmen like Doc Robinson of the Silver Minstrels, Doc Byar of the World’s Minstrels, and Doc Bartok of Bardex. The closing of The Bardex Minstrel Show in 1960 marked the end of a proud tradition of black artistry in med minstrelsy."
Frank Stokes - Chicken You Can Roost Behind the Moon
HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol Uploaded on Mar 29, 2009
Here's a comment from this sound file's discussion thread:
Joshua Eden, 2010
This song was recorded in 1927. The singer died in 1955.
From http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=7709 Frank Stokes Song- "Chicken You Can Roost Behind the Moon".
Subject: Lyr Add: CHICKEN YOU CAN ROOST BEHIND THE MOON
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 25 Jul 10 - 11:54 PM
I have listened to the recording several times, and read the previous comments, and this is my best attempt at a transcription. There are still several questionable words—see my notes at the end. In the chorus, the words in brackets are the ones he inserts sometimes, and omits sometimes.
CHICKEN YOU CAN ROOST BEHIND THE MOON
(Frank Stokes/Beale Street Sheiks)
Boy, d'you ever do anything like stealin' chickens?
CHORUS: Now [it's] chicken, chicken, oh, chicken,
You may go up in a balloon. [Doggone ya!]
Chicken, [chicken,] you may hide behind the moon. [Doggone ya!/Confound ya!]
[Now] chicken, I never let a fowl be.
Ten thousand dollar 'ward for the [or "furthest"?] fowl on earth,
He don't roost too high for me.
1. I got to thinkin' 'bout chicken late the other night.
Man, I couldn't hardly rest.
I jumped out o' bed, grabbed up my own shoes,
Thought o' where some chicken was at.
I grabbed big -------, stuck 'im under my arm,
Some'n' I never let fall.
I don't think I robbed your hen house
Till I get the roost', poor chicken an' all. CHORUS
2. Oh, that chicken made me awful mad the other night, man.
That's some'n' I didn't like to take.
I grabbed my little haversack down 'cross my back,
Grabbed the chicken right by the neck.
Said, I turned around, quick as I could,
A chicken all way up there.
I won't steal meat right out of confinement(?)
I'll steal a chicken from anywhere. CHORUS
3. That police 'rest me last Friday night.
You couldn't think of what 'twas about.
I'm goin' down the alley where I lived at,
A lot o' chicken tied in my house.
Say, you may carr' me to pen'tent'ry wall.
I'd go to work out my time.
Just as quick as you put me on the L&N track,
I'll have chickens on my mind. CHORUS
* * *
Chorus line 5: I think the word is "'ward" meaning "reward"
Verse 1 line 5: I think he's referring to some kind of equipment he uses for stealing chickens, maybe something he would personify by giving it a nickname, as a man might call his gun "Old Bertha." But he wouldn't take a gun, would he?
Verse 2 line 7: "Confinement" is just a guess; I still don't think it's right.
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