Friday, September 02, 2005

High Water Blues: Remembering 1927

This blog makes the apt comparison between the Katrina disaster and the Mississippi Flood of 1927.

The flood (caused by river flooding, not hurricane-related effects) made a strong impression on African Americans, especially in music. Most notably, Charlie Patton wrote "High Water Everywhere":

Look-a here the water now, Lordy,
Levee broke, rose most everywhere
The water at Greenville and Leland,
Lord, it done rose everywhere
Boy, you can't never stay here
I would go down to Rosedale,
but, they tell me there's water there

And Memphis Minnie wrote "When the Levee Breaks," memorably re-recorded by Led Zeppelin in the '70's:

Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
Now, cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move.

Blind Lemon Jefferson wrote "Rising High Water Blues":

People, since it's raining, it has been for nights and days
People, since it's raining, has been for nights and days
Thousands people stands on the hill, looking down were they used to stay

Children stand there screaming: mama, we ain't got no home
Oh, mama we ain't got no home
Papa says to the children, "Backwater left us all alone"

Backwater rising, come in my windows and door
The backwater rising, come in my windows and door
I leave with a prayer in my heart, backwater won't rise no more

And Barbecue Bob Hicks wrote "Mississippi Heavy Water Blues":

Lord, Lord, Lord, I’m so blue, my house was washed away
and I’m cryin’ how long ‘fore another pay day?
That’s why I’m cryin’ Mississippi heavy water blues.

Most recently, Randy Newman wrote and recorded "Louisiana 1927":

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

You can donate for disaster relief at the Red Cross site.


'eliyahu ben 'avraham vaSarah said...

And in 2001 Bob Dylan released this song, which was inspired by the Charley Patton song you quote above:

High Water (For Charley Patton)
by Bob Dylan

High water risin' - risin' night and day
All the gold and silver are being stolen away
Big Joe Turner lookin' East and West
From the dark room of his mind
He made it to Kansas City
Twelfth Street and Vine
Nothing standing there
High water everywhere

High water risin', the shacks are slidin' down
Folks lose their possessions - folks are leaving town
Bertha Mason shook it - broke it
Then she hung it on a wall
Says, "You're dancin' with whom they tell you to
Or you don't dance at all."
It's tough out there
High water everywhere

I got a cravin' love for blazing speed
Got a hopped up Mustang Ford
Jump into the wagon, love, throw your panties overboard
I can write you poems, make a strong man lose his mind
I'm no pig without a wig
I hope you treat me kind
Things are breakin' up out there
High water everywhere

High water risin', six inches 'bove my head
Coffins droppin' in the street
Like balloons made out of lead
Water pourin' into Vicksburg, don't know what I'm going to do
"Don't reach out for me," she said
"Can't you see I'm drownin' too?"
It's rough out there
High water everywhere

Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew
"You can't open your mind, boys
To every conceivable point of view."
They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway Five
Judge says to the High Sheriff,
"I want him dead or alive
Either one, I don't care."
High Water everywhere

The Cuckoo is a pretty bird, she warbles as she flies
I'm preachin' the Word of God
I'm puttin' out your eyes
I asked Fat Nancy for something to eat, she said, "Take it off the shelf -
As great as you are a man,
You'll never be greater than yourself."
I told her I didn't really care
High water everywhere

I'm getting' up in the morning - I believe I'll dust my broom
Keeping away from the women
I'm givin' 'em lots of room
Thunder rolling over Clarksdale, everything is looking blue
I just can't be happy, love
Unless you're happy too
It's bad out there
High water everywhere

Ben Myers said...

I'm glad this Bob Dylan song was mentioned -- in fact, Dylan's whole "Love and Theft" album (as well as several of his earlier songs, like "Down in the Flood") resonates with the old blues tradition about Mississippi and the flood.

Since last week, I have somehow found myself listening to Dylan's heartbreaking song "Mississippi" over and over again.