by catherine yronwode

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TITLE: Hoodoo Blues
MATRIX NO.: 81862-4
SINGER: Bessie Brown
COMPOSER(S): Spencer Williams
DATE OF REC.: 3 July 1924
ORIGINAL ISSUE(S): Columbia 14029
REISSUE(S): Document DOCD-5527
by Bessie Brown

I'm on the war path now, I'm mean and evil I vow,
Some woman stole my man, to get even I've a plan.

Gonna sprinkle ding 'em dust all around her door
Gonna sprinkle ding 'em dust all around her door
Put a spider in her dumplin', make her crawl all over the floor

Goin' 'neath her window, gonna lay a black cat bone
Goin' 'neath her window, gonna lay a black cat bone
Burn a candle on her picture, she won't let my good man alone.

Got myself some gris-gris, tote it up in a sack
Got myself some gris-gris, tote it up in a sack
Gonna keep on wearin' it till I get my good man back

I was born 'way down in Algiers, I wear conjure in my shoes
Born 'way down in Algiers, I wear conjure in my shoes
Gonna fix that woman, make her sing them hoodoo blues.
TRANSCRIBED BY: Chris Smith ( 1 Oct 2000

DISCOGRAPHY BY: Gorgen Antonsson (, 13 Sep 1997;
composer credit supplied by R. R. Macleod, via Chris Smith 1 Oct 2000 with this note: 'Bob wrote: "The Columbia book, [ie Dan Mahoney's 14000-D listing - CS] has (Spencer Williams) as the composer."'

COMMENTS BY CHRIS SMITH: "I'm happy with the above [transcription], but if anyone can either improve on 'ding 'em dust' [in V. 2] or corroborate its existence, so much the better! I'm deducing it from 'ding' as a euphemism for 'damn' (Dictionary of American Regional English)."

COMMENTS BY CAT YRONWODE: I have never heard the term "ding 'em dust," but it makes sense, and i have heard the somewhat similar term "git 'em dust" used for goofer dust -- not as a brand name, but in casual conversation.

Also in verse 2, regarding "make her crawl all over the floor":
Two 1930s oral history accounts of hoodoo victims "walking
on all fours" can be found on my page about Aunt Caroline Dye

"She could have you walkin' like a hawg; any kinda which-way,
she could make you walk on two legs again."
-- Will Shade (Son Brimmer) interview

"Ah had a cousin, she lived in Oil Town, Arkansas
{Oil Trough, Arkansas}. She got poison, see. {She was
poisoned by some sort of trick or spell.}. Dis woman had
her howlin' [like a dog -- see No. 775, p. 256]. Now,
Ah know this fo' a pus'nul fac'. She wus howlin' an'
sometimes she jis' crawlin' on her knees, see."
-- Harry M. Hyatt's Informant from Little Rock, Ark.

In verse 3, "burn a candle on her picture" is the earliest reference i have yet found to burning a candle on an enemy's picture or name-paper.

In verse 4, "I wear conjure in my shoes" is a clear-cut reference to one method of deploying charms, powders, or wishing-papers; however, it is important to note that | wearing something in the shoe is done for any number of reasons and need not refer to love-rivalry, as in this song. For instance, i have known women who wear violet leaves in their shoes to draw lovers, street prostitutes who wear a mixture of Money Drawing Powder and Law Stay Away Powder in their shoes to turn tricks without being arrested, and folks who place the name of someone they wish to dominate in their shoe so they can rule and have their way by "stepping on them." The zydeco song "Paper in My Shoe" by Boozoo Chavis refers to this practice as well.

Because this song is both very early for recorded blues and it mentions in accurate detail so many diverse customs associated with hoodoo, i wanted to know more about both the singer and the composer. This is what i found out:

COMMENTS BY JOHN IRVING ( Here's some biographical info on Bessie Brown from the Icast site:

"[Bessie Brown] worked on the TOBA circuit with her husband George W. Williams in an act that at one time included a young Fats Waller. Her career on record seems to have been restricted to a brief period on the Columbia label during 1924."

COMMENTS BY CHRIS SMITH: [The composer Spencer Williams] was not related [to Bessie Brown's husband George Williams] as far as I know. He was a very famous composer. I quote (abbreviating to save space) John Chilton: 'Who's Who of Jazz' (London: Papermac, revised edition 1985):

"Born NO LA, 14 Oct c 1889, died Flushing, NY, 14 Jul 1965. Raised in Birmingham, AL. Worked as pianist at Sans Souci Amusement Park, Chicago c 1907; 9 years as Pullman porter; settled in NY c 1916 to concentrate on composing. Collaborated w/ Fats Waller on Squeeze Me, shared credit w/ Clarence Williams (no relation) on many hits. Some of his biggest inc. I Ain't Got Nobody, Basin Street Blues, Royal Garden Blues, Tishomingo Blues, I Found A New Baby, Everybody Loves My Baby etc. During early 1920s appeared in the 'Put and Take' show. Worked in Europe 1925-8, returned to US. After being acquitted of the murder of Hal Bakay (Baquet) in late 1931, moved to Europe in 1932. Lived near London for many years, then in Stockholm throughout the 1950s."

RELATED LYRICS: Spider in Your Dumpling by Arnold Wiley V.4 ("I'll put a spider in your dumpling if you try to steal my gal") and Sold It to the Devil by Black Spider Dumpling (John D. Twitty), V.1 ("I eat black spider dumplings for my dessert").

FURTHER INFORMATION: The following web pages can be consulted for more details about the topics referenced in this song:
V.2 ding 'em dust (goofer dust)
V.2 spider in food
V.2 crawl all over the floor, live things in you, as cured by Aunt Caroline Dye: The belief that spider eggs introduced via food or drink can grow into live things in you is accepted by many Native Americans, African Americns, and Afro-Amerinds. See also Spider's Nest Blues by Hattie Hart and the Memphis Jug Band and Sold It to the Devil by Black Spider Dumpling (John D. Twitty)
V.3 black cat bone
V.3 burn a candle on her picture
V.4 gris-gris in a sack (mojo bag)
V.5 conjure, fix, hoodoo (hoodoo definitions and history)
V.5 conjure in my shoes (foot track magic)

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Individual acknowledgements for transcriptions and discographical data appear on each song-page, but i want to note that this Blues Lyrics and Hoodoo archive would never have been possible without the contributions of Gorgen Antonsson, who generously shared with me the format and content of his own personal lyrics archive, and Alan Balfour and Chris Smith, who have devoted a great deal of time to supplying me with tapes, transcribed lyrics, and detailed discographical information. Additionally, i wish to thank the kind members of the prewar blues e-list who have aided my research in innumerable ways. If you have missing data to supply, hear a substantially different take on a transcription, or want to let me know about a song that has been overlooked in these pages, please contact me through the prewar blues e-list:

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Due to certain social, economic, and political paradigms in place at the time of their composition, many early blues songs were improperly copyrighted or not copyrighted at all. Many bore no composer credits. Many were ripped off by unethical music publishers who falsely claimed authorship and copyrighted them in their own names. Many that were once copyright-protected are now in the public domain due to publishers' or composers' failures to properly renew the copyrights. Many have since been ripped off by unethical performers or music publishers who have pretended to be the composers for the purpose of securing a belated copyright or who have claimed "arranger's" credits on songs they falsely swore were "traditional" when in fact the songs were composed by the people who originally performed them on record. It is my sincere belief that the song transcribed on this page bears the implied moral copyright of its composer, whoever that may be. If you believe that you control the copyright by virtue of authorship or legal legerdemain, you may contact me in a civil and polite manner and i will attempt in good faith to satisfy your needs in the matter of obtaining formal permission to quote the lyrics in this scholarly publication.

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