zzze | Animals (1)


In this column: Symbolic meaning of animals in blues lyrics, pig in a sack, cow and milk, bee's, low down dog, salty dog, PART1


The images of animals are commonly used with a symbolic meaning and characterize a person in a negative manner.

For instance in "Ups and Down Blues" by Roosevelt Sykes. Roosevelt uses the proverb "buying a pig in a sack".
Outcomes in life can be uncertain and regardless the intentions the outcome can be very disappointing.

"But women are so tricky, they'll try to tell you white is black
To get a woman nowadays, is just like buying a pig in a sack"

To compare a woman with a pig is not nice and very insulting.

A woman can strike back as Sara Martin did in "Mean Tight Mama".

"Now my hair is nappy and I don't wear clothes of silk
But the cow that's black and ugly, has often got the sweetest milk".

Sara uses the term "cow", because it has been applied to women negatively; meaning ugly and slothful.
The image "cow and milk" is also symbolic for sexual relations between partners. "Milk" refers to the sexual juices or the sexual energies of women.

Roosevelt Sykes
Sara Martin
Sara Martin

Sara Martin with Death Sting Me Blues, 1928 (death sting me and take me out of this misery)


Ida Cox sang:
"When I was Down South I wouldn't take no one's advice
But I won't let that same bee sting me twice".

Animal images appeared also in lyrics which are refered to as "dirty" blues; dealing about the relationships between partners. Previously, you could not sing explicitly about sex and animals were used to conceal the meaning (see the episode that talks about "signifying").
Moreover it was fun to write songs that way.

Ida didn't want be stung no more; in the sense of "being taking advantage off". Compare "don't be bitten by a dog twice". The image of a bee is much better; a bee takes you by surprise and is less threathening.
We know also "Honeybee", "Queen Bee" and "King Bee". Bee's with different meanings.

"Sail on, sail on my little honey bee, sail." Muddy Waters.
"You're lying up there like a queen bee on a throne." Junior Parker.
"Well, I'm a king bee, buzzing around your hive." Slim Harpo.

BUMBLE BEE - Memphis Minnie

"He got the best old stinger, any bumble bee that I ever seen."

Euphemism for a male lover, one with a noteworthy stinger.

Bumble bee

Lightning bug

LIGHTNING BUG - Eb Davis & Greyhound Blues Band


The dog in blues lyrics is an animal, that dependents on humans and that uses begging and stealing or other actions for survival.
Further on a dog is used to describe persons that don't follow socially prescribed norms and behavior and decorum.

Low Down Dog Blues - Leroy Carr/Scrapper Blackwell

"I ain't gonna be your lowdown dog no more
Now I ain't gonna be your lowdown dog no more
You don't want me baby, down the road I'll go"

Salty Dog Blues, Mississippi John Hurt, 1963

"Salty dog, Hey, hey, hey, you salty dog
Oh baby, let me be your salty dog
I don't wanna be your man at all
Baby, I want to be your salty dog

Said, the big fish, little fish swimmin' in the water
Come back here, man, gimme my quarter

Says, God made a woman, he made 'em mighty funny
The lips 'round her mouth, just as sweet as any honey
Hey, hey, hey, you salty dog

Said, the scardest I ever was in my life
Uncle Bud like to caught me kissin' his wife
Hey, hey, you salty dog"

A “salty dog” is an old slang term to refer to a man who spends most of his time at sea (where the salt water permeates his skin, clothes, and hair) and who prioritizes dalliances (girl friends) when he does come to shore.
By singing “let me be your salty dog” and “I don’t want to be your man at all,” the song is asking for a casual sexual relationship in which he’s allowed to spend long periods away and be welcomed with open arms (and legs) when he comes back around.

Note: T-Bone Walker sang "Papa ain't salty no more", meaning of "salty" is here is "pissed" / "upset".

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,