Sayings and blues related words (7-9)


In this column: Signifying, Match box hold my clothes, Baby bought a ticket |
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 the meaning.


Signifying in the blues refers to the use of doubletalk that is understood by members of one’s community.

Blues lyrics use metaphor to allow the singer to brag about physical attributes and sexual ability. Bessie Smith sang “I need a little hot dog on my roll” or “I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl” (1931). She meant something different.

Signifying allowed African Americans to express bold opinions or feelings without fear of repercussion. How does one speak to one’s “master” and retain any shred of dignity? By insulting or manipulating “the man” to his face without him realizing it.
Blues songs about murdering a “no-good woman” who is keeping the singer “in chains” couched rage against plantation owners in seemingly innocent love songs.

In “Don’t Start Me to Talkin’,” Sonny Boy Williamson (a.k.a. Aleck “Rice” Miller) expresses his distaste for some shit-stirring going on in his neighborhood:
Don’t start me to talkin’, I’ll tell everything I know
 I’m gonna break up this signifying
’cause somebody’s got to go


A line composed long before cardboard matchbooks were used. Early on stick matches came in small thin-walled wooden boxes that fit in the palm of the hand.
When you wonder if your clothes fit into a little box, you not only are very poor, you don’t even have a bag for your stuff - and you had nowhere to go. You'd have to make up your destination as you went along.
Blind Lemon Jefferson was the first to record the matchbox verse, in the late 1920s. In the early Forties a variation showed up in a Billie Holiday song about a man who had the nerve to put a matchbox on my clothes. That was his way of throwing her out.

Carl Perkins sang the matchbox verse in 1957. I ain't got no matches but I got a long way to go. A long way to go and a lot of heart were just about all these people had. In that period Sam Cooke used it in Somebody have mercey.
When The Beatles recorded Carl Perkins song, there was some confusion about "matchbox hole in my clothes" in stead of "hold  my clothes".

Stevie Ray Vaughn & Albert King Sessions - Matchbox Blues


She wants the ticket so much that she would give her right arm for it. She wants to leave so badly, they she would do anything to obtain the ticket.

My baby bought the ticket, long as her right arm
My baby bought the ticket, long as my right arm
She says she's gonna ride, long as I been from home
Who's been talkin' - Howling Wolf

Version of Lucky Peterson

Sources:,, YouTube, Wikipedia, Hudson Motors Compagny, Archive Minneapolis, The Cruel Plains, M.H.Price a.o.,, The Austin Chronicle, Cambridge Free English Dictionary,