Tea for the Bloggerman


Lyrical Musings: High Water Everywhere
September 20, 2008, 11:05 pm
Filed under: Concerts, music | Tags: , , , ,

I just got back from seeing Joe Bonamassa at a free concert at the Clark County government center. Excellent show. Joe had some technical problems in the beginning (who doesn’t?), which caused the band to completely drown him out for a song and a half. His first solo, gone. Only he could hear it. But from then on out it was a rockin’ set.

The highlight of the show was Bonamassa’s searing rendition of “High Water Everywhere,” a song with a long history. The song was written sometime after 1927 by the timeless bluesman Charley Patton, written about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 which caused great destruction throughout Mississippi and Louisiana. The haunting lyrics and tone reflect the helplessness and the heartache of those affected by the flood, Patton repeating that there is nothing to do but pack up and leave his former home and life behind beneath the flood.

High Water Everywhere by Charley Patton

Backwater at Blytheville, backed up all around
Backwater at Blytheville, done took Joiner town
It was fifty families and children come to sink and drown


The water was risin’ up at my friend’s door
The water was risin’ up at my friend’s door
The man said to his women folk, “Lord, we’d better go”


The water was risin’, got up in my bed
Lord, the water was rollin’, got up to my bed
I thought I would take a trip, Lord,
out on the big ice sled


Oh, I can hear, Lord, Lord, water upon my door,
you know what I mean, look-a here
I hear the ice, Lord, Lord, was sinkin’ down,
I couldn’t get no boats there, Marion City gone down


So high the water was risin’ our men sinkin’ down
Man, the water was risin’ at places all around,
boy, they’s all around
It was fifty men and children come to sink and drown


Oh, Lordy, women and grown men drown
Oh, women and children sinkin’ down Lord, have mercy
I couldn’t see nobody’s home and wasn’t no one to be found

The song went through many covers and variations since the late 20s and I won’t bother talking about it. Skip on down to September 11th, 2001 where, just hours before the World Trade Center attack, Bob Dylan’s “Love and Theft” was released. Among “Love and Theft”s many blues songs is a song titled “High Water (For Charlie Patton).” Easily the best song on the album, Dylan takes Patton’s description of a natural disaster and puts it in a modern social context, speaking of God, love, and evolution as well as nature’s fury. Take a look:

High Water (For Charlie 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

And with the hurricanes that have been devastating Louisiana in recent years, the lyrics of both songs have resonated with an even greater force. People can connect with the despair Charley Patton feels and the cynicism Dylan describes.

Then there’s Bonamassa’s version. High winds bearin’ down on New Orleans, ever’thing lookin’ blue. Hurricanes don’t discriminate. Break it down, Joe:

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1 Comment so far
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I love the pictures in the first video.

Comment by Anonymous




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