zzzj | Shorty George, Sippy Wallace, Lead Belly

In this column: Shorty George Blues, Shorty George, Sippie Wallace, Lead Belly, Shorty George Snowden, Mailed in the air, Monkey Man


Shorty George Blues
Beulah "Sippie" Wallace recorded "Shorty George Blues" in 1923. It is like "Fore Day Creep" and "Empty Bed Blues" about men who leave their women.

Sippie Wallace in 1970s
Sippie Wallace in 1970s

Some background on Sippie Wallace

If Sippie wrote the song with her older brother George Thomas or George wrote it with his daughter Hociel, I don't know. The label states George and Hociel Thomas.

In the early 20s Sippie formed a trio with George and her kid brother Hersal.
Sippie had assumed the name of her second husband Matthew Wallace. Her maiden name was Beulah Belle Thomas. Beulah got her nickname because she had almost no teeth until she was 3 and had to sip everything she ate.
Around the age of thirty and some years afterwards Sippie had a lot of misfortune: her brother Hersal Thomas died at the age of sixteen to food poisoning, George died in a car accident, her husband Matt proved to be a notorious gambler and died at a young age.
For some 40 years Wallace was a singer and organist at the Leland Baptist Church in Detroit. She did little in the blues until she launched a comeback in 1966, after her longtime friend Victoria Spivey coaxed her out of retirement, and toured on the folk and blues festival circuit. But, just as things were looking up, Sippie suffered a massive stroke in 1969. She was still in a wheelchair in 1972 when popular singer-guitarist Bonnie Raitt heard of her idol’s recovery and urged that she be invited to perform at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival.
The video, that is shown here, was taken during The 1982 Reunion Concert by British Bluesman John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers.


The lyrics are transcripted from the 1923-recording and the video:
"I wrote a letter and mailed it in the air
You can tell by that I've got a friend somewhere

But soon one morning, lord by the break of day
Some low down woman stole my man away

I lay down last night, trying to take my rest
My mind starts to rambling like the wild goose in the west

I went upon the mountain, looked far as could see
The women had my man, lord and the blues got me

I want all you women to strickly understand
That if a man wears overalls he sure is no monkey man

Shorty George is the only man that I chose
He treated me good now I've got the Shorty George Blues".

"Mailed in the air" she had a special friend, a very special friend, somewhere far away. Airmail was a new thing and it was a big deal. It cost over ten times much.

Shorty George. People called a train, that took convicts to prison The Shorty George. When Shorty George took the men, he left the women behind. Although not specifically stated, the train is comparable to a man called Shorty George.
"The Shorty George, travellin' trough the land
Always looking to pick some woman's poor man"

More about Shorty George in the column to the right.
Monkey man. When a woman is in a marriage or committed relationship with a good man, but she keeps fooling around with someone else, that someone else is called her monkey man.


Shorty George, Lead Belly, 1935

Well-a Shorty George, he ain't no friend of mine
He's taken all the women and left the men behind

Well-a Shorty George, he done been here and gone
Lord he left many a poor man a great long way from home

Well my baby caught the Katy, I caught the Santa Fee
Well, you can't quit me, baby, can't you see
Well I went to Galveston, work on the Mallory Line

Traditionally the Shorty George was the train that took convicts (and visitors) to and from the prison.
In 1934 Alan Lomax recorded James Baker (Iron Head) with a version of "Shorty George", at Central State Farm, Sugarland, Texas.
"Along that prison runned a narrow-gauge track and down that track about sunset came whistling a little gasoline motor car. It was on this train that the women who had come out for a Sunday with their men-folks leave the prison. "Because it's such a runty little train," the convicts had named it Shorty George, but they sang about it as if it were one of those favored men, like John Henry, who could get a woman by a crook of the finger".

I'll write about The Katy and The Santa Fee in a next episode.

Galveston is a coastal city located on Galveston Island and Pelican Island in the U.S. state of Texas.
During the 1920s and 1930s Galvestonians accepted and supported illegal activities, often referring to their island as the "Free State of Galveston".

Mallory Line / Clyde-Mallory Line
Mallory Line, New York (1866-1932), was one of the old family-owned passenger lines in the coastwise trade. The line connected New York with Galveston, Texas, and later expanded with routes to New Orleans, Havana, and Mobile. In 1932 it combined the lines with those of the old Clyde Line under the name of the Clyde-Mallory Line. Clyde-Mallory Line was sold in 1949 to the Bull Line and the company name disappeared.

Shorty George - Smith Casey

Shorty George Snowden

Shorty George and Suzie-Q
The Suzie Q and The Shorty George were populair dance steps in the 30s and 40s.
Shorty George Snowden was a top dancer in the early 30's. Although he was barely five feet tall, Snowden made his height an asset rather than a liability. With comic genius, he parodied himself in his signature "Shorty George" step, in which his bent his knees, swinging from side to side, exaggerating his closeness to the ground. He is also known for the "Lindy Hop".

Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire show the "Shorty George" step
Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire show the "Shorty George" step

Fred Astaire sang a song about Shorty George:
Watch him go! - and he can -
Like a real- nach'-l man
High Stepper is Shorty George
Black pepper is Shorty George
He dances to pay the rent
And to see that you're solid sent
Mister can you spare a penny?
Lady can you spare a dime?

Shorty George Snowden

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