In this column: Symbolic meaning of animals in blues lyrics, fattening frogs for snakes, monkey, dog, cat, kingsnake, catfish, PART3|
This column is about sayings and words in blues lyrics. For a Dutchman it is sometimes hard to understand, what a singer is singing. In earlier days, we copied lyrics from vinyl records. If we didn't understand, we used "an English sounding word". Now with internet one can find out what was said and what the meaning is.
FATTENING FROGS FOR SNAKES
Fattening frogs for snake, Sonny Boy Williamson
"It took me a long time, to find out my mistakes
Took me a long time, to find out my mistakes
(It sho' did man)
But I bet you my bottom dollar, I'm not fattenin' no more frogs for snakes"
The title ‘Fattening Frogs for Snakes’ refers to an old American proverb about putting loads of energy into something and not reaping the benefits. you spend ages fattening up a frog with lots of delicacies and then a big snake slips into his cage and eats him.
In Sonny Boy's song the frog is a woman and the snake an other man.
Sonny Boy with The Animals
Virginia Liston sang in 1925 "I'm sick of fattening frogs for snakes":
"I dressed him all up, though he was no good,
he played with all the girl's in the neighborhood.
So now I'm tired of fattening frogs for snakes."
Bumble Bee Slim's "Fattenin' frogs for snakes" (1935):
"You got your breakfast in the morning, your dinner on time.
I let you spend my dollar, just like you spend my dime.
I'm gettin' tired, baby, fattening frogs for snakes.
All these many years, baby, I'm just now seen my mistake."
"Fattening frogs for Snakes" was also the title of a book about the old blues musicians by John Sinclair. He compares the years of musical craftsmanship of the Delta blues musicians to fattening frogs for snakes. According to his take on things, these (mostly African American) blues men and women spent years honing their craft, and then suddenly all these white musicians swooped in in the 60s and had huge success by appropriating blues music.
Sell My Monkey, Tampa Red (1942)
Monkey is "Female genitalia".
"It used to be hers, but she gave it to me
Why she wanna sell him, I just can't see
She wanna sell my monkey, but that'll never do
I have to hang around, Every day and night
I can't trust the girl, Out of my sight
She wanna sell my monkey, but that'll never do"
BB performing Tampa's "Sell My Monkey"
In an earlier episode I talked about a monkey man. One can say: "It's all about monkey business."
When a man or woman is a "dog", he or she is an unattractive and dull person. On the other hand when he is a "cat", he is cool and interesting to be with. "So you better be a pussycat than a monkey man".
CRAWLING KING SNAKE / CATFISH
The kingsnake is so named because even though it is non-venomous, it can eat poisonous snakes such as rattlesnakes, copperheads, and coral snakes with no ill effect. The kingsnake shows up in blues songs like “Crawling Kingsnake Blues” by John Lee Hooker as a metaphor for virility and domination. Blues musicians like Hooker often bragged about their sexual ability.
"You know I’m a crawling kingsnake, baby, and I rules my den
Well, I’m a crawling kingsnake, baby, and I rules my den
Don’t want you ’round my mate
Gonna use her for myself"
John Lee Hooker with Ry Cooder in 1992
Robert Petway's Catfish Blues
"What if I were a catfish, mama
I said swimmin’ deep down in, deep blue sea
Have these gals now, sweet mama, settin’ out,
Settin’ out hooks for me, settin’ out hook for me
Settin’ out hook for me, settin’ out hook for me
Settin’ out hook for me, settin’ out hook for me"
Robert Petway (possibly October 18, 1907 – ?) recorded only 16 songs, but it has been said that he was an influence on many notable blues and rock musicians, including John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Jimi Hendrix.
There is only one known picture of Petway, a publicity photo from 1941.
Sources: pancocojams.blogspot.nl, americanbluesscene.com, YouTube, Wikipedia, Hudson Motors Compagny, Archive Minneapolis, The Cruel Plains, M.H.Price a.o., truewestmagazine.com, The Austin Chronicle, Cambridge Free English Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, TheSaurus.com, dragonjazz.com/grablue/blues_travel, Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture, Blues by Paul Breman, Blues by David Harrison, Quora.com, urbandictionary.com, Blogs.loc.gov, The Ballad Hunter by Alan Lomax, Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920th by Daphne Duval Harrison, jopiepopie.blogspot.nl, redhotjazz.com, The Blues Lyrics Formula by Michael Taft, American Ballads and Folk Songs by Alan Lomax and John Avery Lomax, The Past Is Not Dead: Essays from the Southern Quarterly by Douglas B. Chambers, EarlyBlues.com, railroad-line.com, Jason Lee Davis' RailFan Pages , centertruthjustice.org, genius.com, Africa-American Proverbs In Context by Sw Anand Prahlad, Görgen Antonsson, Songfacts.com,