Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lightnin' Hopkins: Cryin' for Bread

Two idiosyncratic blues greats, Sam Lightnin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker, both use the "cryin' for bread" trope.  Transcribing their lyrics is tricky, because they glide in and out of present, past and future, using irregular grammar and muttering some words so that at certain points I have no idea (at least yet) what they're singing or saying. Here's my first shot with Hopkins' "Cryin' for Bread" and second with Hooker's "No Shoes."  The Hopkins track was recorded in Houston, Texas, on April 11/12, 1968, with Lawrence Evans on bass, Ben Turner on drums and Cedric Hayward on piano.  It's a deeply wrought lyrical improvisation, involving two men, a woman, hungry kids, money and a matter of land ownership.

"Cryin' for Bread"  by Sam Lightnin' Hopkins

Sure is sad
I come home and
My baby was cryin' for bread
But when she told me
You oughta heard what poor Lightning said
I said it don't look like my baby
She ought to be cryin' for bread

She had takin' all my money
Whoah she throwed it all away
Whoah she had taken all poor Ligntnin's money
Do you know that girl had throwed it all away
That's the reason I come home and caught her cryin'
She was cryin' on one Saturday

But a women will do them things
You gotta watch her close
When you gone somebody will come by
And lead her to the door
... and my children done got tired
And they can't eat no more

He tell her never unless you go to bed with me
I let your whole family
Go down the drain just like old Monk and me
But that's something that people don't understand
What a woman will do to a man

Then he went in the house
And made him feel real good
Then she give him the money
Then holler at the kids that

I didn't do what I should
She done mistreated her whole family

All in the world and me is gone
Ah there ain't no tellin' how soon
Your Daddy will come home
But you take a woman, she's weak
She can't hardly help herself

I can pass the house with a little money
When you see it . . .
She said the children just come

And look at the money
And that man's hand
If I could overtake him and get it
We would own this land

But the children said to Mama, Papa
He doin' the best that he can
When Papa come in, I believe
He'll make us all . . .
That be my Daddy
Yes and them books said that he will . . .
I believe that he would be your husband
And will take care of his baby child

Yes but when Papa come in
This is what he see
He see the baby boy standing at the door
He would sure look at me
He said Daddy, there's been a man by here
Led Mama to the door

Papa rapped her across the head, and she said
I never do that no more
No, she wouldn't
'Cause everything in the world she got was gone
Well, that would be all right, you know
Them childrens can't live there by themselves

Compare with John Lee Hooker's "No Shoes" (1960). (Note: this plays briefly in the background during Ridley Scott's American Gangster [2007] in a scene where Frank Lucas gathers his family in Greensboro, North Carolina, establishing in mood how far he's come since childhood).  "No Shoes" makes no mention of a woman, but like "Cryin' for Bread" involves hungry children, a man, money and improvised living arrangements.

"No Shoes" by John Lee Hooker

No food on my table
And no shoes to go on my feet
No food on my table
And no shoes to go on my feet
My children cry for mercy
They ain’t got no place to call their own

Hard times, hard times
Hard times seem like a jealous thing
Hard times, hard times
Hard times seem like a jealous thing
If somebody don’t help me
And I just can’t be around free much long[er]

No shoes on my feet
And no food go on my table, oh no
It’s too sad
The children crying for bread. 

 Today's Rune: Journey.  Happy Birthday to Hubert Sumlin!


Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely some hard times described there.

the walking man said...

50 years of music making for both of them you could fill shelves with all of the work they have recorded.