What is Dirty Blues?


Dirty blues encompasses forms of  blues music that deal with socially taboo subjects, including sexual acts and/or references to drug use of some kind. Due to the sometimes graphic subject matter, such music was often banned from radio and only available on a jukebox. The style was most popular in the years before WWII although it had a revival in the 1960s.

Many songs used innuendo, slang terms, or double entendres, such as Lil Johnson’s  “Press My Button (Ring My Bell)” (“Come on baby, let’s have some fun / Just put your hot dog in my bun”) which we perform.   However, some were very explicit. The most extreme examples were rarely recorded at all. Lucille Bogan’s song, “Shave ‘Em Dry” (1935), being a rare example. It was noted by one music historian as “by far the most explicit blues song preserved at a commercial pre-war recording session”

We don’t sing that one! But we might!

Here’s a really good list with links from Wikipedia if you are interested in learning a lot more.


Year Title Artist References
1924 See See Rider Ma Rainey [6][7]
1927 “Bow Wow Blues” The Allen Brothers [8][9]
1928 “It’s Tight Like That” Tampa Red and Georgia Tom [10]
1928 The Duck’s Yas-Yas-Yas James “Stump” Johnson [11]
1929 “I Had to Give Up Gym” The Hokum Boys [9]
1929 “Rock That Thing” Lil Johnson [12]
1929 “You’ll Never Miss Your Jelly Until Your Jelly Roller Is Gone” Lil Johnson [13]
1929 “Bumblebee” Memphis Minnie [9]
1930 “Please Warm My Weiner” Bo Carter [14][15]
1930 “Good Grinding” Irene Scruggs [16]
1930 “Must Get Mine in Front” Irene Scruggs [17]
1931 “Pin in Your Cushion” Bo Carter [14][15]
1931 “Banana in Your Fruit Basket” Bo Carter [14][15]
1931 “My Pencil Won’t Write No More” Bo Carter [14][15]
1931 “My Girl’s Pussy” Harry Roy [18]
1931 “Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl” Bessie Smith [19]
1933 “Tom Cat and Pussy Blues Jimmie Davis [20]
1935 “Shave ‘Em Dry” Lucille Bogan [3]
1935 “Let Me Roll Your Lemon” Bo Carter [14][15]
1935 “Get ‘Em from the Peanut Man (Hot Nuts)” Lil Johnson [13][21]
1935 “Anybody Want to Buy My Cabbage?” Lil Johnson [13][21]
1935 “Press My Button (Ring My Bell)” Lil Johnson [1]
1936 “Trucking My Blues Away” Blind Boy Fuller [22]
1936 “Sam the Hot Dog Man” Lil Johnson [23]
1936 “My Stove Is In Good Condition” Lil Johnson [24]
1937 They’re Red Hot Robert Johnson [25][26][27]
1937 “Meat Balls” Lil Johnson [16]
1937 “If It Don’t Fit (Don’t Force It)” Lil Johnson [16]
1938 “Don’t You Feel My Leg?” Blue Lu Barker [16]
1939 “I Want Some of Your Pie” Blind Boy Fuller [28]
1941 Crosscut Saw Tommy McClennan [29]
1942 Let Me Play With Your Poodle Tampa Red [30]
1944 “Salty Papa Blues” Dinah Washington [16]
1946 “Gotta Gimme Whatcha Got” Julia Lee [31]
1947 (Opportunity Knocks But Once) Snatch and Grab It Julia Lee [31]
1947 Mother Fuyer Dirty Red [32]
1948 “Lolly Pop Mama” Wynonie Harris [33]
1948 King Size Papa Julia Lee [31]
1948 “I Want A Bowlegged Woman” Bull Moose Jackson [34]
1949 “Long John Blues” Dinah Washington [35]
1949 “Mountain Oysters” Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis [36]
1950 “Butcher Pete” Roy Brown [36]
1950 “My Man Stands Out” Julia Lee [31][36]
1950 “I Like My Baby’s Pudding Wynonie Harris [37]
1950 “Sittin On It All The Time” Wynonie Harris [37]
1950 “I’m a Hi-Ballin’ Daddy” Tiny Bradshaw [38]
1950 “Silent George Lucky Millinder [39]
1951 “Rocket 69” Todd Rhodes [36]
1951 Sixty Minute Man Billy Ward and His Dominoes [37][40]
1951 “Lemon Squeezing Daddy” The Sultans [36]
1951 “The Walkin’ Blues (Walk Right In, Walk Right Out)” Fluffy Hunter [36]
1951 “It Ain’t the Meat” The Swallows [37]
1952 “Keep on Churnin'” Wynonie Harris [36]
1952 “Big 10-Inch Record” Bull Moose Jackson [37]
1952 “Nosey Joe” Bull Moose Jackson [41]
1952 Little Girl Sing Ding-A-Ling Dave Bartholomew [42]
1952 “Drill Daddy Drill” Dorothy Ellis [37]
1953 “Wasn’t That Good” Wynonie Harris [36]
1953 “Laundromat Blues” The “5” Royales [36]
1954 Work with Me, Annie The Midnighters [37]
1954 Shake, Rattle and Roll Big Joe Turner [35]
1954 “Big Long Slidin’ Thing” Dinah Washington [37]
1954 “Baby Let Me Bang Your Box” The Toppers [36]
1954 “Rotten Cocksuckers’ Ball The Clovers [37]
1954 “Toy Bell” The Bees [36]
1954 “Sexy Ways” Hank Ballard [43]
1956 “Salty Dog” Blind Willie McTell [5]


What Is Hokum?


Definitions of HOKUM are legion but generally refer to any of the following:

  1. a) Flattery.
    b) To hoax.
    c) Anything designed to make a melodramatic or sentimental appeal.
    d) Bunkum.
    e) Lie: “All that is hokum, I want the truth”.
    f) Tall tale.
    g) Theatrically: obvious or familiar elements of low comedy, melodrama, sentimentality, or the like, designed to appeal strongly to an unsophisticated audience.

According to various dictionaries of slang, the word HOKUM is probably derived from a combination of hocus–pocus [which, itself, means nonsense] & bunkum. The most common meaning, therefore, is simply ‘nonsense’.
By the end of the 1920’s, however, it had become far more commonly associated with sexual innuendo…

Edited from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: In this context the article that follows specifically refers to a particular song type of American blues music.

Hokum is a particular song type of American blues. Hokum songs are humorous songs that use extended analogies or euphemistic terms to make sexual innuendos. The song type goes back to the earliest blues recordings and is still occasionally found in modern American blues and blues-rock.

In a general sense, hokum was a style of comedic farce, spoken, sung and spoofed, while masked in both risqué innuendo and “tomfoolery”. It is one of the many legacies and techniques of 19th century low comedy.  Like so Hokum was stagecraft, gags and routines for embracing farce. It was so broad in its meaning that there was no mistaking its ludicrousness. Hokum also encompassed dances like the cakewalk and the buzzard lope in skits (sketches) that unfolded through spoken narrative and song. W.C. Handy, himself a veteran of a minstrel troupe, remarked that, “Our hokum hooked ’em,” meaning that the low comedy snared an audience that stuck around to hear the music. In the days before ragtime, jazz or even hillbilly music or the blues were clearly identified as specific genres, hokum was a component of “all around” performing, entertainment that seamlessly mixed monologues, dialogues, dances, music, and humor.

Amongst the early performers of hokum who surfaced among the Memphis, Tennessee jug bands heard in Beale Street’s saloons and bordellos were the light-hearted and humorous jug bands such as Will Shade’s Memphis Jug Band and Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers who played good time, upbeat music on assorted instruments, such as spoons, washboards, fiddles, triangles, harmonicas, and banjos, all anchored by bass notes blown across the mouth of an empty jug. Their blues was rife with popular influences of the time, and had none of the grit and plaintive “purity” of the nearby Delta blues. Cannon’s classic composition Walk Right In, originally recorded for Victor in 1930, resurfaced as a Number One hit 33 years later, when the Rooftop Singers recorded it during the Folk Revival in New York’s Greenwich Village, and a jug band boom ensued once more.

An example of hokum lyrics is seen in these first two verses from the song Banana In Your Fruit Basket by Bo Carter (Chatmon), who recorded it in 1931:

I got a brand new skillet, I got a brand new lead,
All I need is a little woman, just to burn my bread,
Then I’m tellin’ you baby, I sure ain’t gonna deny it,
Let me put my banana in your fruit basket, then I’ll be satisfied.

Now, I got the washboard, my baby got the tub,
We gonna put ’em together, gonna rub, rub, rub,
Then I’m tellin’ you baby, I sure ain’t gonna deny it,
Let me put my banana in your fruit basket, then I’ll be satisfied.

Hokum blues lyrics specifically poked fun at all manner of sexual practices, preferences, and eroticized domestic arrangements. Compositions such as Banana In Your Fruit Basket, written by Bo Carter of the Mississippi Sheiks, used thinly veiled allusions, which typically employed food and animals as metaphors in a lusty manner worthy of Chaucer. The hilariously sexy lyric content usually steered clear of subtlety. Another master of the genre was the bottleneck guitarist Tampa Red, who recorded It’s Tight Like That for the Vocalion label in 1928, accompanied by Thomas A. Dorsey on piano. The song was so popular that the two became the core of the recording group, the Famous Hokum Boys. Both had previously performed in the band that accompanied Ma Rainey when she sang the vaudeville circuit. The Hokum Boys recorded over 60 songs by 1932, most of them written by Dorsey, who later put the blues aside and became the founding father of black gospel singing. Dorsey later characterized his hokum legacy as “deep moanin’, low-down blues…!”

BEALE, Paul (ed.)
(1989) Partridge’s Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, from the work of Eric Partridge. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York.
GREEN, Jonathon.
(1986) The Penguin Slang Thesaurus. Penguin Books, London, I>etc (Second edition, 1999)
LIGHTER, J.E. (ed.)
(1997) Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang. Volume 2, H–O. Random House, New York.
SPEARS, Richard A.
(1989) NTC’s Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions. National Textbook Company, Lincolnwood.

Why Dirty or Hokum Blues?


Why Hokum Blues?
Full Definition of hokum
1: a device used (as by showmen) to evoke a desired audience response
2: pretentious nonsense : bunkum

Because I love it. It is funny and dirty and rowdy and wild. It also comes from my grandmother’s generation and earlier! I find it fascinating the way I find burlesque and other types of entertainment from the 1910’s through the 1950’s and even up to the current day. People were not so willing to use words like sex, penis, vagina, intercourse and many other types of words we find almost clinical today. Of course they were also not going to go around saying things like: Pussy, tits, balls, cock and fucking either. OH sorry…pardon my French! They did use these words but never, well mostly never, in mixed company out in the streets or in any other public place. To use them was akin to doing them. Even Mae West who we now see as a comedienne that used double entendre to get a laugh was arrested and jailed for almost a year for producing a show whose name was simply, “Sex.”
We have come a long way into a sexual freedom and a way of expressing ourselves that is more free and easy. Sex itself is more openly discussed and is considered a normal function of the body one has every right to enjoy…to most anyway.
I love history and going into these songs was like a journey back in time to the mind, the mood the feeling of prohibition, the depression, WW! And WWII as well as the beginnings of Rock and even a little jaunt into the beginning of a more pornographic era beginning in the 1970’s.
I also love the Blues. I love the Blues Jazz and Rock like I love to breathe. I have studied and do sing many different genre of music but when I sing these, especially the blues either clean or dirty I feel plugged into something much bigger and more powerful than any other music I have sung. It is physical, this music, it is emotional and it is fun.
I also wanted to do it with older singers. I think having people of a certain age, especially women who are obviously knowledgeable about sex makes it all the more sexy, powerful and funny. I hope you love it all as much as we do.
I am so very happy to be presenting this piece and hope to get it out to many other venues. If you are interested in having us perform these songs and more (we have tons more) we would be very happy to talk to you. My e mail address is maryelizabethmicari@gmail.com