Mississippi John Hurt
Tom: We are at the Ontario Place in Washington, DC. Today is October 13, 1963, about 1:00 in the morning. Here with Tom Hoskins and Nick Perls, we are talking with Mississippi John Hurt.
Tom: How old were you when you learned how to play?
John: Nine years old.
Tom: So you were playing guitar and learning songs like Good Morning Miss Carey, Satisfied, Hot Joint, when did you first start to play around to parties, dances, stuff like that?
John: Well, I was about 12-13 years old when I started playin for parties dances like that.
Tom: How did you get your start?
John: Well, everyone asks me says, "Say how would you like to make some music for me tonite, I'm having a party." I says alright, alright, alright. Had to play for them.
Tom: At age 13 you were out of school by this time. Went as far as the fifth grade at...What was the name of the school?
John: St. James in Avalon, Mississippi.
Tom: When you started playing for these parties were you playing by yourself?
John: I was playin by myself.Tom: Singing songs like what?
John: Oh I sing songs like Hot Joint, Good Mornin Miss Carey, well, you know I can't remember right now. There was more.
Tom: Now you were working by this time, is that right?
Tom: Now what kind of work were you doing?
John: Workin over the farm there for my mother.
Tom: You were just helping her with the farm that belonged to your father?
John: That's right.
Tom: How long did she have the farm, John, after he died? How old were you when she lost it?
Tom: Fifteen. And then you moved up to the Avalon district and she began to do washing and cooking and things like for people.
Tom: At this point what did you do as far as work? Did you hire out to someone?
John: I did.
Tom: Who did you hire out to?
John: Felix Evans.
Tom: He was a farmer?
John: He was a farmer, at a place adjoining our place.
Tom: So you worked for him?
John: Worked for him.
Tom: Let's see now, then from the age fifteen... well fill me in on pretty much what you been doin, John, from the age fifteen up until the time you recorded for Okeh in 1928. Can you tell me what you were doin where you travelled, this and that?
John: Well I worked on the railroad.
Tom: How old were you when you worked on the railroad?
John: Oh, about twenty-two. I worked on the Illinois Central.
Tom: What did you do on the Illinois Central.
John: Oh, I went down and lined the track.
Tom: Lined the track, what do you mean?
John: Well, the railroad bowed see, we would run railroad jack, the track was kind of hoppin like wine you know. Even get out of sight, he'd holler out, "Hey, joint ahead." Somethin like that.
Tom: When you join together.
John: Join together, "Joint ahead," sometimes he say, "Two joints ahead" like that and he'd run this jack on there and you'd take it off and set it over there and begin the jack up you know and next you got it jacked up and you got those line box and you go over there and see what you call "Callin track," well, it's really you sing a little song and all bar rapped together and you push the track over and you get it in line and "UP!"
Tom: You jack it up under the tie or on the actual track?
John: You jack it up with that jack, tie and all. The whole thing. Then, after we got it jacked up, it's swayin like we could rap it over with those line bars, you see. Just as I said, someone would be singing, you know. They would probably be singing a little song like this cause they called it "Callin Track." They says who's goin to call this track, maybe this one says "I'll Call It." Alright, get to sing a little song. See that keeps time, you know, all rap together, you get it in line and "UP!" That thing settle down and you take your jack out from under there, let it down then, what you call, tappin those ties.
Tom: Get them at the right height.
John: That's right.
Tom: When they be swinging these tie bars?
John: Lining bars.
Tom: Well when they were swinging the lining bars, did they have a man called a Caller that would sing a verse by himself and then everybody would join in on the chorus, is that the way it worked or did he sing by himself.
John: He'd sing by himself. Everybody would just follow him with that song.
Tom: Was anybody else singing or would he do it all by himself.
John: He's doing it all by himself.
Tom: There wasn't lots of people, not a whole bunch of people.
John: Not a whole bunch, just one man singing keepin time.
Tom: You took turns, who did the Callin.
John: That's right.
Tom: Do you remember any of the songs that you did sing while you were lining the bars, lining the tracks, some of the calls that the Caller would sing? What were some of the names?
John: Well I wouldn't know the names, just the verses that I was singing a while ago? "Ida when you marry, I want you to marry me, Like a flower held, baby you never see," you know, like that.
Tom: Do you remember any other songs that you sang while workin on the railroad?
John: Well, I don't remember. Of course they sung some more but I just can't remember right now.
Tom: How about Spike Driver Blues. That's a railroad song. Did you learn that while workin on the railroad?
John: I did.
Tom: You did. Do you remember who you learned it from or how you learned it?
John: Well, I learned it from a railroad hand called Walter Jackson.
Tom: And he worked for the Illinois Central.
John: That's right.
Tom: He was a caller, he was the one who taught you this Spike Driver Blues?
John: He was the man, that's right.
Tom: Did he play guitar? Did you learn the guitar part from him?
John: He didn't play the guitar, I just learned that song from calling track.
Tom: What other songs did you learn while working the track?
John: Casey Jones.
Tom: Casey Jones, do you remember how you came to first hear Casey Jones?
John: Well, a cousin of mine sang it.
Tom: Did he work on the railroad?
John: He did, that's right he worked for the railroad. Of course, some of them verses I didn't get them from him, I got em all together by hearin people talk about what happened.
Tom: You made up your own verses?
John: That's right, myself, that's right.
Tom: How long did you work on the railroad, John?
John: About five months.
Tom: Five months. Why did you leave?
John: Well, I had to leave and help my mother some more on the farm. I couldn't well work the railroad and help too, so I just quit the railroad.
Tom: Whereabouts were you layin this track? Was this in Mississippi?
Tom: Was it near Avalon?
John: That's right, from Crisbee.
Tom: From where?
John: Crisbee, that is far as our territory, you know, that is the line I'm sayin, it's like uh...
Tom: The difference between being in your own district and being out of your own district?
John: That's right, see I say you take the police in this town, they all have the same beat, ain't that right? Well that's the way that was. Other section in front of us was takin over from Crisbee towards Jackson while we worked from Crisbee to Granada.
Tom: Out towards Granada.
John: That's right, someone take over from there you see, another section.
Tom: What did the people do, they come through the area and just announce that they were looking for people to work on the railroad? Was that how you got with them?
John: Well, the way that I got with them, there was a friend boy of mine, Matthew Miller, he was a real handy, so he could get, right away workin on the railroad he could at another place and of course I wanted a little money, so he told me he says, "Well you come on and see if you canÕt get on the railroad." So I tried for the job for the section boss. So they hired me.
Tom: How much did they pay you, John?
John: They would pay-off every two weeks. I'd get fifty dollars.
Tom: Did you get fifty dollars clear money?
John: Clear money, fifty dollars clear money.
Tom: So you worked out about five months and then you decided you had to help your mother.
John: That's right.
Tom: That was at age twenty-two, so you went back and what did you do?
John: Well, we raised up cotton and corn.
Tom: Your mother still had the farm.
John: Still had the farm.
Tom: I have written down here that she lost the farm when you were about fifteen.
John: Well, you know she had it, but it was under that mortgage, it wasn't clear. See what I mean?
Tom: When did they finally foreclose on the mortgage? When did they finally make you all move away, take the farm away?
John: Well, I was twenty-seven.
Tom: At age twenty-two you left the Illinois Central and you went back and went to farmin.
John: That's right.
Tom: Now, did you do anything between the time that you went back to the farm and the time that y'all had to move away?
John: Well, made cross ties.
Tom: Made cross ties, out of what?
John: Out of woods, ground trees, oak trees, pine, sweet gum.
Tom: All those different kinds of trees were used for cross ties?
John: Cypress trees.
Tom: How did you do that?
John: Well, made with a crosscut saw, axe and what you call a sledge hammer, wedge and make wood wedges what you call gluts and a broad axe, you ever seen a broad axe?
Tom: Big long one.
John: Big long, wide one.
Tom: Does it got two blades or one?
John: One big long wide blade.
Tom: Who did you sell the ties to.
John: To the railroad company. He was a tie man, we called him. These ties would have to be inspected you see. He'd inspect these ties and put them on the railroad, stack em up on the side of the railroad. Well, when you got enough ties made that you want to call this inspector, well he would come out, I'd say twice a month and he'd inspect them.
Tom: There were lots of people doing it?
John: There were lots of people doing it. He'd inspect these ties, he was real picky on those ties. They had to be flat and smooth, you know, eight feet long and six inches wide.
Tom: How thick did it have to be?
John: Six inches.
Tom: Straight, that's eight feet and how far this way?
John: Six, Six by eight and eight feet long.
Tom: How much did you get for the ties those days?
John: Those days, well, some of those days you didn't get but what they call ten cents a stick. That was ten cents a tie. Well, they raised, when I got into makin them, they was payin a dollar, a dollar and a quarter a stick.
Tom: You did alright on those I guess.
John: Well, you know, I did pretty good, now you know. But you couldn't make 'em too fast.
Tom: How long did it take you to make a stick?
John: Well, maybe it take me about three quarters an hour, sometimes an hours to make a stick.
Tom: How many sticks could you get out of a tree.
John: You know, sometimes you get, or you might get a good long slim tree you might get four, five out of that. Sometimes you get a tree you only get one out of it and sometimes you get a tree that you get ten or twelve out of it. It was all accordin to the size of it.
Tom: You do that all by yourself or did you have somebody doin it with you.
John: Well, sometimes somebody with me and sometimes by myself.
Tom: How did you get the tree, did you cut the tree before you bring it back?
John: You saw it, you measure it eight feet and you saw it off with your saw.
Tom: Then you bring the pieces back to the farm. Did you make the ties there where you cut the tree down?
John: Sure, sure. Alright you make the ties right there. Then, you have to haul them to the railroad, you see. Get someone with a truck or get some mules and a wagon. I towed many a cross ties I made across my shoulder.
Tom: Must have been heavy.
John: Oh man, they're heavy, that's right.
Tom: When you went back to work with your mother on the farm, were all your brothers and sisters there then or did some of them move away.
John: They moved away, some of them married and moved away.
Tom: Alright, John, let's see, now you made railroad ties and worked on the farm and you raised cotton and peanuts and things like that.
John: And potatoes.
Tom: Then she lost the farm when you were about age, what, twenty-seven then she moved and began doing domestic work.
Tom: O.k., and you hired out to Felix Evans and were still playin for dances and things.
John: That's right.
Tom: Now you talk about a fiddler that came up from Louisiana. Now when did you first run into him?
Tom: That's right after you made your records.
Tom: He heard your records.
John: He had not.
Tom: Did he hear them after he met you?
John: He did, heard them after he met me.
Tom: Well now John, that's jumpin ahead just a bit. Can you remember anything from the time you came back from the railroad to the time you made your records. Tell me what you can remember about your music, people that you played with, songs that you especially liked, anything that influenced you musically. Like if you heard a song that you still play now that you learned then, tell me about that. Or tell me about the things that went on around Avalon, the social life, you know, the dances, the parties, the music, things like that.
John: Oh well, we had dances. We called them square dances. Hands up four. Ten gallons, oh I don't know what you call these little dances, why they two steppin.
Tom: And walking, dancing, buzzard floppin.
John: That's right.
Tom: Did you always play by yourself or every once in a while there might be another guitar picker or fiddler or banjo picker that you played with?
John: Well, sometimes durin the square dance time, I would maybe go play for the dance and run into a fiddler. There'd be a fiddler there. Never played with two fiddlers. Had one from Louisianna and one lived around Allen there. He was from out about Duck Hill. That was George Hanks.
Tom: And he was from around Avalon, he was a black man. Did you meet George Hanks and play with him before you recorded or after.
John: After, if I recall.
Tom: Who was the fiddler from Louisianna.
John: Bea Anderson.
Tom: B-E-A Anderson.
John: Anderson that's right.
Tom: He was from Louisiana and came to Mississippi, why?
John: Well, from what I understand, well I know his father and his brother they came from Louisiana and he came later, you know, after they came from Louisiana and why they moved from Louisiana was they were under from the boll weevil. That's right from the boll weevil.
Tom: This is in the early Thirties?
John: They said that they couldn't raise no cotton on account of the boll weevil.
Tom: Where there any boll weevils in Mississippi?
John: There wasn't any in Mississippi then. But they got here.
Tom: Lookin for a home.
John: Lookin for a home, found it I guess.
Tom: So he moved in near you and you all got talkin with one another and decided to play something together.
John: That's right.
Tom: You played dances and things like this and sometimes you just get together on a Sunday afternoon and pick and sing, this kind of thing?
John: Saturday nights we just get together and play and sing.
Tom: Then if somebody called you up or got a hold of you and said, "Hey, John, I want you to make some music for us this Saturday night," you'd try to get him included in on it too, is that right?
John: Sure, that's right. After we got together with the fiddle and guitar, well we played for our dances a whole lots and then those white people they'd have us to play for them a lots.
Tom: Do you remember any songs that he used to sing, things that he used to play?
John: Well, he mostly would play my songs, what I recorded.
Tom: Do you remember any songs that he taught you? Did you learn any songs from him?
John: Oh I used to play the guitar, I never did try to learn the pickin, but I think he got that song over it, well sure he did. Bumble Bee, Bumble Bee.
Tom: Bee buzzin around my hive?
John: That's right, that's right.
Tom: What finally happened to him?
John: He died in Mississippi.
Tom: Do you remember when?
John: 1938, I believe..
Tom: When you were working on the railroad did you sing anywhere, dances and things, you know, did you make music for people? Did you continue to do that?
John: Oh yeah, every once in a while I would, sure. You know, like Saturday nights when I didn't have to go to the railroad the next morning.
Tom: You had to get up pretty early to go to the railroad.
John: Pretty early.
Tom: How far was it, the railroad to your house?
John: Oh about three miles, about three miles. But I had to be at post at seven o'clock.
Tom: Tell me about Narmore and Smith.
John: Well, Mr. Smith was Mr. Narmore's second and lots of times when he couldn't be with him, well he would get me.
Tom: He'd do fiddlin and you'd do backin up.
John: That's right, I'd do the backin up.
Tom: Now when you played with him, I imagine he knew things like the Rubber Dolly.
Tom: Carroll County Blues.
Tom: Now when you followed him did you use strums and chords or did you try to pick out the melody and follow behind in the melody, how did you do that?
John: I would strum with a guitar pick.
Tom: A flat pick?
John: A flat pick, that's right
Tom: You didn't play as much melody, with him, as you did when you played by yourself, is that right?
John: That's right.
Tom: Just used the chord "Boom-chang Boom-chang?"
John: That's right, boom-chang.
Tom: That was all Shell Smith could do.
John: That's right, all he could do, boom-chang.
Tom: How did you get started with them? With William Shell.
John: Well, we were livin that far from Etar, so the way I got started with them. Well I would be with him, Mr. Smith was his background. When Mr. Smith had to be away some other place, I sneaked somethin in and he'd get me to back him up.
Tom: But the three of you never played together?
Tom: Did you do any singing when you played with him? When you were playing a dance and came up with a song like Rubber Dolly, did you ever sing?
John: I didn't with him, but I did with me and my fiddler, I call him Lee Anderson.
Tom: How did you get started with Willie Naramore. Did you just live around there and he new that you played the guitar?
John: That's right.
Tom: What year did you start to play together?
John: Oh, in 1923.
Tom: You continued to play with them, on up for how long.
John: Oh, you know I didn't play with Naramore regular but every once in a while. I just continued on till 1930. Every once in a while he'd call on me. Smith would be out of pockets for some reason.
Tom: They were the ones that got you to the recording studio. A man from Okeh was down there for a fiddling contest and heard Naramore and Smithand asked them if they knew anyone else in the area that played and they said, "Yeah, there's John Hurt." So they heard a song and a half and that was enough for them.
John: That's right.
Tom: John, so what were you doing in 1928, the year of your first recording.
John: Working on the farm.
Tom: You worked for someone else.
John: I was sharecroppin, they call it. I had someone else's land, wasn't my land individually, I was makin a crop on whatcha call a half a crop. I got say, thirteen acres around, along with this man. Say I make twelve bales of cotton, six bales is his and six bales is mine.
Tom: Split it right down the middle.
John: Split it right down the middle. I make ten wagons of corn, five his, five mine.
Tom: Did it always work out that way. Or did you have ten wagons of corn, you was supposed to get five and landowners supposed to get five, but it comes out at harvest time that you only got three.
Tom: Let me say this, before we go any further. This tape is not going any farther than me.
John: Well, turned out pretty good about the corn, but sometimes run out. Kinda missed about the cotton.
Tom: But you didn't always get a fair shake.
John: Didn't always get a fair shake, that's right. Because, I'll tell ya, what I would call a fair shake, is like this. Well, alright now, make a crop of your own, say alright. I made six bales, three yours three mine alright. Seem to me like just right, see. Alright, here's your three bales, here's mine. See, your pleased with your three bales. Wouldn't that be right? But when this would all come out, you've got three bales and I've got three. But now I'm gonna do the sellin of all of them, see? I'm gonna sell your three, my three. Let me sell mine, oh no, no, I'm gonna sell the whole thing. Well, then you tell me, say, your three brought payback say six hundred dollars all other three hundred dollars OK? Well, alright, that's what you told me, I don't know. You didn't show me no statement about what you got.
Man: Just have to take his word.
Tom: Doesn't do to go ask him.
John: No, no, just have to take his word. Or maybe he will find out then how much extra they chargin for loanin me that money. No, I just half a hundred dollars. I owe him a hundred and twenty and I show him a hundred and thirty. Alright, I figure it out myself, how much interest did you charge me on that money? Well, you could tell me but, I don't like what you chargin, well I could help you to learn. Well that's no good.
Tom: What about the store? Did the guy who owned the land have anything to do with the store?
Tom: When you got stuff from the store, you would have to buy it on credit.
John: The guy who owned the land, you see, he would say well, how much money is on your bill. Are you broke? Well, maybe I'd say well, I have about thirty dollars a month. He's say alright, have fifteen dollars a month, twenty dollars or twenty-five dollars a month.
Tom: Then you'd be a little short.
John: Be a little short. Have to go round someway, have to make out to save, see.
Tom: So he lent you money all along. Then when the crop came in then you'd pay him back, and he'd charge you interest on all that money he was lending you.
John: Sure, sure.
Tom: Then if you didn't like the interest there wasn't much you could do.
John: There wasn't much I could do about it, that's right. Then, oh I guess its well, I wouldn't say it wasn't fair, but to him, alright, he was making out alright. He told me says, alright, you owe me a hundred-ten, hundred-twenty, thirty, whatever, I say alright, seems like that's fair. Alright, let me sell my cotton and give you the money, see.
Tom: Then you give him the money that you borrowed.
John: That's right.
Tom: Who does he sell the cotton to?
John: Cotton company.
Tom: Cotton company comes around to all the different towns?
John: That's right. Go to him see and he'd sell.
Tom: All these bales, and they'd tell him how much their gonna give him.
John: That's right. He'd sell it and alright, he'd get it all sold. Come back to my house and settle it with me, see what my cotton brought.
Tom: Had a lot of people sharecropping?
John: Lot of people sharecropping.
Tom: Did he have a lot of land? This was around Avalon.
John: That's right.
Tom: Still the same way today?
John: That's right.
Tom: When I came down you were working on a cattle ranch.
John: Right, a cattle ranch. Course I was you know, workin on a farm some, maybe I was what you call, haying type, you know cutting the grass. Maybe I'd pick some cotton with the hands, you know, help em people out.
Tom: When does the cotton crop come in, when does it get ready.
Tom: And what about the weather? What do you plant during the winter?
John: We plant some oats.
Tom: Do you turn the oats under?
John: Turn them under.
Tom: You don't pick the oats?
John: When they get ripe, you harvest. You cut those oats for feed.
Tom: For the animals.
John: That's right, put them away for the animals.
Tom: Then the rest you just turn under.
John: Turn em under.
Tom: So the ground stays good for your cotton crops?
John: That's right.
Tom: What about peanuts, do they raise that on the same fields as the cotton or is that different fields.
John: That's different fields. Well, I say, you have a field of peanuts this year, well you might get smart and put cotton here where I had peanuts.
Tom: Oh, so you take turns.
John: That's right, take turns, see.
Tom: Well, peanuts are good for the ground.
John: That's right. Peanuts are good for the ground, peanuts and peas, you know.
Tom: And cotton is not good for the ground.
John: That's right. Either _____ cane is not good for it.
Tom: Yeah, no. But where they had the cattle, they were not raising any kind of crops, just grass for the cows.
John: Grass for the cows, just pasture, grass. Well, they had the hay fields, where you know, they cut hay. I'd say they cut hay on the other way by plant seed holes See em on that. All different things, maybe some small nuggets of corn.
Tom: Oh, you raised corn there too?
Tom: You don't raise corn during the summer do you? It's too warm for corn during the summer.
John: We raised corn during the summer, then this corn cures, gets hard and you gather, you see, it in the fall.
Tom: And you put it all up in the bales, in the big long thing?
John: Corn? You have what you call a corn crib, you know a house for the corn. This month, what's this October, regular corn gatherin month, you see harvestin corn. Have em cured, hard dry, put it away, house it up. You feed your stock off of it you know, mules and cows.
Tom: Cows eat the corn?
Tom: What about pigs? Did you have any pigs?
John: Oh sure, sure. Pigs, chickens.
Tom: Were those cows for milking or were they for meat?
John: Oh, I'd say meat, because raised them for sale. Course see you could get yourself some milk along if you want to. But mostly we milked for the cows that were raised from calves you see, make fine cows.
Tom: Looks like Mr. Spottswood got sick, he's got something wrong with stomach, he drank some unpasteurized milk, some of that milk that hadn't been gone over you know?
Tom: He got sick from it.
John: Well, see you take the cow, its a little different thing, you know out on the farm that way, all kinds of weeds you know. That's right it should be pasteurized.
Tom: Well, talk about the cows and things huh? Let's see, John, how about the story of Jesse James and Stag O'Lee. The time they got together and broke up a dice game, wasn't it?
John: A dice game. Well, now, I didn't see this with my natural eye, I didn't see it, you know, just like somethin happened maybe. Somethin I would do across town, maybe, someone come to me say, Why, John is there such thing like that? I say Yeah. Maybe another come along and say "Oh is there such..." I say "Yeah, heard about it, thatÕs right." Then another come along tell ya. So I heard it like that must be so, yeah must be so cause couldn't wait to tell me. So that's the way that story was, why, I know it's kinda the truth. They goin down the coal mine, make lots of money, more money just I'll say stacked around there gamblin you know. They went down in there after their money that was their business. They didn't go down there to gamble, they went after their money.
Tom: That's Jesse and Stag O'Lee.
Tom: and Stag O'Lee.
John: That's right, they went after that money.
Tom: This is in a coal mine?
John: In a coal mine.
Tom: And miners have gotten paid...
John: Gotten paid
Tom: And they are gamblin a little bit.
John: That's right, gamblin a little bit.
Tom: I heard about this, so they're goin down there to get the money.
John: To get the money.
Tom: I see.
John: Went down there and they got the money. Of course, we all are gonna do something we have a way of doin it to them. Of course when they went in there, alright, stand around, look em over, check the money over. That's all they were doing, I say. The money is there or not. Well, they decided they threw a few dice, just gettin all set, you know. Tell me they facin each other like I say this crap table walkin around. You gonna do somethin like that I kinda give you a wink say alright, we understand, you get over there now and I get right here at the crap game. We goin to get this money. Alright. They are facing each other. There is gonna be some sharp shootin. Quick sharp shootin. Why, see you don't have to stickle on me, a man have on the side of me, just went around you know. You, alright, want to do some shootin, why, yeah, I say this man. Then you say I ain't got to shoot, that's what you shootin your around. Just pick around, like that you know, miss you, you see. So says Lee, begin to shoot a few craps, you know, and Stag O'Lee says, "oh, Won lots of money." Boys wondered what would happen if ole Stag O'Lee, he was to walk in here. One guy, he had a 45 layin there right beside while he was gamblin. He musta walked in, oh, in trouble about this money. Guy says, yeah, picked up his 45, I dont imagine Stag O'Lee gun shootin that a bit hard to miss. Well he's down. He looked a second or two after that, he looked up and says, "alright boys, it was an accident." This guy sure enough knocked his head off.
Tom: Who was that? Who shot? Did the shootin knock his head off?
John: Yeah, knocked his head off. So, there was this Billy the Line.
Tom: That was Billy the Line.
John: That's right, knocked his head off. He come in to me, told him, no kidding, he had two little beads. Why, well, I guess, now this hat was kinda, as I understand its a magic hat, see what Stag O'Lee had. In other words you couldn't do so much harm to him if he had on that hat, see. From what I could understand, this Billy the Line stole his hat. That chap stole his hat, see.
Tom: Stole Stag O'Lee's hat.
John: Stole Stag O'Lee's hat.
Tom: This is before hand though.
John: Right before hand see. So, when he knocked the hat off and he was gonna rob it. Maybe it was Stag O'Lee's hat he had on. Cause, sounds like it to me, because when he knocked the hat off, he commits beggin for his life. He told him, says, "I don't care about nothin about your two little babies and your wife. You stole my steppin hat, I'm gonna kick your lights." And took it. After that he took it.
John: He punctured him twice with a forty-four. Boom boom, see, with a forty-four.
Tom: That was Stag O'Lee who did the shootin.
John: He did the shootin. Slide poor Billy the Line lyin down on the floor, yeah.
Tom: What did they do then?
John: Well, they gets the money and gets out.
Tom: Were all those other people there too, from that game?
John: They were there.
Tom: He took all the money?
John: All the money and then went one other guy and five people I'd have made it ten. Jesse, he took another one.
Tom: Jesse shot another one. So Stag O'Lee shot Billy the Line, twice with a forty-four.
Tom: And Jesse James had to shoot another fella.
John: Another fella, I reckon he makin some dent, tryin to eat, I guess do something to make Stag O'Lee wild.
Tom: He saw him and got him.
John: He saw him and they was sharp shooters you know. He got him, only he didn't hit him right where he intend to. He didn't send him right back. I mean hit him in the eye, missed his eye. Well, alright, say they were going on I nailed him. Said, yes I did. Stag O'Lee says, "WhatÕs wrong Jesse?" "Well, I'm weak, very weak." "But what you mean, what you did, you're weak?" "Yeah, but not like you." "Yeah," he says, "I'll tell you why I was cryin about, you know I intend to send him right there in the right eye, you know I missed hittin that eye." He cryin because he didnt get that bullet right where he intended to. He might have killed a man, but that bullet didnt go right where he intended.
Unknown: He was all unhappy because he didn't shoot him right.
Tom: So they made their getaway alright, huh?
John: They made their getaway.
Tom: How did they finally catch Stag O'Lee?
John: They finally caught him in, when they was havin the trial. Alright, you know that words to that song. What you done on the jury, you know, just like convicted him. What you think of that, Stag O'Lee killin Billy the Line over a five dollar stetson hat?
Tom: Where was it that they had the trial, do you know?
John: I don't know where they had the trial. I say like this, I don't think he was yet a sweetness about him. Yeah, after they had the trial, they say "well, Mr. Lee, you be hung." He standin up there, he says, "yeah." The jury says, "Well, lets kill him before he kill someone else."
Tom: They didn't catch Jesse at the same time, though, did they?
John: No, they didn't catch him at the same time.
Tom: Do you know what happened to Jesse James?
John: I don't know.
Tom: I'll tell you about Jesse. Jesse went back to train robbin, I know that.
John: Is that right?
Tom: With his brother Frank.
John: Oh, yeah.
Tom: They had that, oh, they had a helluva game. Robbin trains and banks.
Unknown: They had all sorts of stories, they went up with the Golden Boys and all.
Tom: But Jesse was finally shot in the back, by...wasn't it his brother-in-law? Robert Ford shot Jesse.
Tom: I think it was Jesse's brother-in-law, I'm not sure, but Jesse was in his home, I think, in St. Louis and he was hanging a picture on the wall.
Unknown: Standing on a chair.
Tom: Standing on a chair. And this Robert Ford pulled a gun, didn't say anything to Jesse, just shot him right in the back. And he did that because there was a reward after Jesse. So, he shot him to collect the reward. He wasn't a too popular fellow after that. He got his reward money but all the people around town, you know, they knew what happened, they knew that, even though Jesse was an outlaw, that Robert Ford shot him in the back.
Unknown: Was Jesse's name really Howard, that very little coward that shot Mr. Howard.
Tom: I guess that was the same Howard. Let's see John, after they robbed that coal mine game, do you know any other stories about what they did get into, any other mischief that they got into?
John: Later on they did some robbin. So I'm told. Out in Memphis an old cave, go in this cave, alright, they have different sight see, you go in there, you got to come back out this way, because it goes on out to the Mississippi River and you can't go out the other way unless you go in the Mississippi River. They did some robbin went in this cave to get away, went on through and swim the Mississippi River. So they got out, they find out they didn't have them. They went on out swimming in the river, they got away.
Tom: That woman didn't raise no fool.
John: That's right. I'll tell you a story about what I believe, now. I reckon, what name a Frank had an idea, Jesse James brother whatever that is...
Tom: Frank James.
John: Sure, Frank James. I'll tell you, now this is my ideas, I believe, I told you I wouldn't say for sure. I believe I seen Frank about ten or twelve years ago. I believe I seen him. He didn't say anything about who he was and I didn't ask him and nobody else knew. Only by this name, nobody knows where he come from, they don't know. But all of a sudden one day he appeared up in a little town, no town a little stop on the railroad. When you came through Avalon coming to my home, why just before you come to Avalon, two miles north of Avalon, you come right throught the place, the place they call the floor of the Mississippi, alright. This man appeared up on the floor there one day. So he settled down there for about, just about three weeks, that's all. In the mornings some lumbermen, and build him a, just a nice little one room house. Just one room sealed it nice and everything. This is right. I don't know where he come from but the first time we ever went into his place of business, he sold whiskey. He sold whiskey and he had a safe, money safe in this little building. That's all, chair to sit down. A little cookin place, you get all this in one room. So he sold whiskey, they said, I don't know, well I know, I drank some of the whiskey. It was good too. It was just like this, why get it from a store around here, had a label across it and they said that this was his name, Kid Daughter. Kid Daughter whiskey. It was good, so all I know, all of a sudden, three weeks, well probably a month, he asked a question. "Is that place far from here, is that place far from here name of Peoc?" He said, "Well you know, Stag O'Lee and Jesse James, you know, there's barrels of money buried." He said they buried a lot of money along some hills east as you going into Peoc. Told him "Yeah. Along the Vista Valley, along them hills, they buried lots of money." I had heard that before, I heard Mr. Lee a little judge of country a white farmer many a day, he'd call us. I heard him say that day these people buried money along. But that day, after he asked that question about Peoc, all of a sudden he disappeared. Nobody know when he left or which way he left. That's right. I say uh, huh. I see, he was on trail of that money he comin to get the money.
Tom: He came in to find out if anybody knew about it.
John: That's right. My older brother, he lived on Peoc. Not far from one of those wheat fields from here, across the street from that field over there. So one night, late, I don't know why, but something caused him to go to the door, you know how it is in the country, lots of times, you ain't gotta get up and go to the restroom or somethin. What you have to do, you have to get up and go outside, that's right. Father, he have either one of them, I don't guess, the way I just see it, he just went to the door, you see, somethin like that. Then he saw, he said, about twelve one o'clock goin down to see what they doin. So he went down there, he didn't know whether it was a bear or a pot. He said was a pot, a very big pot, he says, there was an old rusty chain, about that long, a piece of rust long chain grid. It was on a stick or a big piece of wood about that long. It was rusty as it could be it was across there, a chain hangin on it, and now they had a barrel or pot or somethin comin up out of that hole. Says, well, what in the world could this have been, he just decides, yeah, they diggin up money. That's all it could of been, you know, that's right.
Tom: You know what they've been looking for.
John: Sure, he says even the ground is a rusty well.
Tom: John, this Judge Lee, which county court was he judge of La Flora or Carroll.
John: Carroll, Carroll County.
Tom: Alright, let's see. It was time John that you tell me about Hoodoo lady. She wasn't a Hoodoo lady, that's right, but she could tell you your fortune, and if you lost something, she could tell you where to find it.
John: Well, she was just a wise lady, that's that. But, back when I was a boy, back ten year old, started playin the guitar pretty good. I knew her brother all of my life but I just somehow didn't know too much about her but I knew her brother all of my life. I didn't know anything, he was grown with children, wife and children, you know I didn't know so much about her, and this man was her brother, I don't know, don't know a first name, all I know is Miss Kent, she was Kent. She was a very wise lady. Fortune teller we called her. It was a known fact he been giving part like money, you lose it she could tell you right where you lose it, and if someone got it she could tell you and if you gonna get it back she could tell you and will tell you, that's right.
Tom: Well, that's quite a talent.
John: Yeah, you bet that's a talent.
Tom: You go to her sometimes.
John: I know people to, you know out here in the country, I've known people to use straight off with a cow somethin like that. She'd tell them just where to go just where to go to find this cow. Just like me old mule straight off me someplace, alright I say, you live in a three or four room house, uh huh, we live in a two room house. Alright you got a barn in that back of your house, then my own mule you live in this barn. Well, she tell which way to go, how many houses I would pass till I get to the door. Then I would come to your door and ask you about this mule. Alright, right there you will find your mule round there in his barn back of his house. So it be like that, that's right. Both of them speak to you ask you about this mule you say yeah, found him in the barn there. If she told you so, you listen and ask about it you gonna get that mule no more. You can try and you'll find it just like she told. Say if you lose some money, she'll tell you just how to look, where you lose the money, you go ask and she'll tell you. That's right, can't believe it but just gonna cry, see what she said, uh no I need my money, no way, you baby, you ask me and say hmm mmm, how do you do. Did you find some money such and such place, well the other day. Yeah, It's mine would you mind givin it to me. No, no.
Tom: So this lady didn't actually cast spells or put a hex on anybody but she could tell you how things are gonna be.
John: Tell you how things are gonna be and I'll tell you this, she didn't actually put a spell on anybody, but she could help you, she'd help anybody that's smart. Because I remember, the last time I remember seein this lady face. Like when Mr. Molen got stolen out, the man that might say raise me, John Hamburg. That was his store, so I went his house and visited sometime, just the boys. My sister, one that's dead now, had a bleedin spell, her nose, oh bad, bad, bad, couldn't get it to stop. Well, had her sit up with a washpan, you know used to use a washpan, hold her head over that and when I lived home, goinÕ back to the store, that pan lyin there from the blood she bled on that pail, and my mother said to me, she's always calling me baby, she says, baby, the people you see over there at the store, you ask anybody, ask anybody you see, did they know anything could they tell you somethin to stop somebody's nose from bleedin. Well, I got over there to the store, wasn't anybody in there but Mr. Hamburg and just me, well, I got out of the door, I was just outside the door. And the store, you see, got an old porch and on that same building, all it was you know all stores, you know, where he livin back there, all that was store.
Tom: The whole thing.
John: That's right. And where Ms. Fulman lives that was Mr. Hamburg's house where he live, all through the front was still there. Somehow she was come walkin in the door behind, I mean musta heard about her such a wise lady, she just knew what was gonna happened. She come out the door behind and I heard her walkin by the time I stepped off the porch. When I looked back, she was out the door, I says, yeah, that's right. Ms. Musselwhite alright, that's right. I says Ms. Musselwhite, she looks back, I says Ms. Musselwhite do you know anything that stops anybody's nose from bleedin. She would just like that, says Lord have mercy, said nothin she said, what are you talkin about. She says John, if her nose, now she didn't say whose nose was bleedin nothin , she says just like this. If her nose don't seem to be stopped when you get back just tie a cord string around it. When I get back home her nose had stopped bleedin. That's right.
Tom: Was Ms. White the wise lady?
John: She was the wise lady.
Tom: Now who was Ms. Kent?
John: I said Mrs. Kent, but I had it wrong, she was Mrs. kent before he married, you see she married her husband and he was a Musselwhite.
Tom: Musselwhite. She was a handy lady to have around.
John: Very handy.
Tom: It's gettin cold in here do you know how to turn the heat on? John, uh, how about Mr. Hamburg, now he ran the store there.
Tom: Ran what now is Moreland's store, you said that he practically raised you.
John: That's right. From nine year.Hamburg motor company in Greenwood. That's his boys that raised me.
Tom: He was a car dealer, right? What kind of cars did he sell.
John: Just a dry goods and grocery.
Tom: What about Henrick motors?
John: Well, thems his boys, they got that started that after they begin to get grown. They the ones that started that.
Tom: Do they sell cars?
John: They do now.
Tom: They still do.
John: They sell cars now, yeah. You know since they grown up.
Tom: What kind of cars.
John: Fords, Ford cars.
Tom: Tell me about them and Mr. Hamrick. Tell me about Mr. Hamrick first then about his boys.
John: Well, Mr. Hamrick, he runs the store there, That store that was his store and where Mrs. Fuller live that was his house, he lived there. I grew up around there with his boys. Fact I would stay there whole lots more than I did at home. I didn't and so finally he moved to Greenwood. When he moved to Greenwood, the boys was quite young, so they begin to be grown men there and started the business, the car business. When he moved to Greenwood, he clerked in, he was clerkin in a General store in Greenwood. Oh, large store, two or three departments of different things, well, its the whole block, Damer block they call it. They have almost everything in there, just everything. So he died in Greenwood and those boys mother, she died there in Greenwood. And uh, she, taken sick and was operated on, thatÕs time when they were livin back there, she taken sick, that's when I was a boy, I remember she taken sick and was operated on for somethin, I don't know what. Well, Memphis was where she taken her operation, she came home, later on she had another operation, later on she had another the third operation, but the first operation, they operated on she laid on the bed for three long years she couldn't walk still. That's right, for three long years before she died.
Tom: John, after the Hamrick boys moved in town with there father, did you go visit them in Greenwood and stay with them sometimes in town?
John: Well, I didn't stay with them but I would go and visit them.
Tom: For a while weren't you workin around the motor company as a boy? Didn't you tell me one time that you worked around a car dealer as a boy, doin this and that?
John: Well, it was their older brother, he used to be uh, oh, I don't know what you call him but me and him would go out through the country. Wild cows by my house, say like that, go out through the country, by yellin makin beef you know, we'd get em real fat. We'd kill these yellins and sell them out. So me and him were along the same age. You see I'm older than these men here in Greenwood, although just like the small boys and large boys, we grew up together, all of us, but me and their brother were older than me. So we held all good times together, buyin cows. So I tell you this little joke, course, it might not be then, but just full of them thenWe had some horses, had these Texas saddles. We always ride with spurs, guess you know what I am talkin about. So we went about twelve miles from our home, out through the hills there. More cows, yellin, well, the man wasn't sellin the yellin without he bought the cow. So he had to buy a cow too to get the yellin. So we got the yellin and the cow quite naturally you know the yellin he don't followin his mammy you see. So we had a rope on the cow, his name was Warren Hamrick, I say Hey Warren, he says, yeah, Hey man, I says, What about you leadin my horse. He says, Leadin your horse? Yeah, I says, I'm gonna take the saddle off my horse and ride that cow. He said, Oh good, alright, alright. So he stopped and I unsaddled my horse and put the saddle the cow, saddle and the blanket, everything. So, I said alright. Alright, he had a rope now, he says. I says, No now, I tell you what, you better let me keep this rope take your cow rope over there off your saddle and have that for your reign. I said, Oh no. Let me have him he says. Well I can but it wouldn't hurt me to hold this rope and you have one, you know. You don't know just how she'd guide. I says, Ok, Ok. So I get my rope and put my rope on him. The cows standin there layin down look like. Well we were right side the road, these were dirt roads, you know leadin through the hills, in the fall when the trees were sheddin their leaves off and right on the side of the road there, the leaves where about that deep. If it hadn't been for those deep leaves the cow might . But in a way he stood just as still I put the step, I through my leg over, I hollered come up. She just stand there, wouldn't move, I says come up, she wouldnt move. I kicked him with that spur and she come up then I bet you. Right over I went too. Horns were just about that long. I come right down on my head, heels up because she threw me away. Those horns caught me right along fit me just like this, built, just good and tight, nice fit you know. She went runnin down the hillside towin the rope you know and my head hangin down just plowin those hills, heels up, I rollin and swingin on the rope, that stopped her. When I got up, he says, she hurt you, I says, no. He says, you want to get back on. I says no, I want to get on my horse, like I should've been.
Tom: I reckon horses are better to ride.
John: Don't let nobody tell you that cows can't buck, man. I bet these rodeo. You can't tell me, I know somebody, cows buck. Oh man, you got to be somethin. That's somethin else, I'm tellin you. You think an ole mule can buck, he ain't got no time buckin with a cow. Man.
Tom: He don't have no horns neither.
John: That's right. Man if he hadn't had that rope and I just had the rope by myself, oh man.
Tom: Cow'd have carried you to Granada.
John: Oh yeah, and just suppose she had my head really went on hard ground but those leaves so deep that I.... Gosh almighty, I couldn't say nothin I couldn't even holler, Hold on. Hold on. I could say nothin.
Tom: Busy talkin to the leaves, uh. Is that the way you all herd the cows, get on your horses, round em up cowboy style?
John: Oh sure, you know those horses, because, we'd maybe go so far and we'd have to ride you know. Then if a cow got loose, somethin like that. Oh man, them horses you could out run em. You could head her off with that horse. The horses could line em up for you. You can you job. Well you could if you just wanted to. You get on and tell that horse, bite her.
John: Doesn't seem like one of us knew what it was .
Tom: Yeah, I hear that.
Tom: Man flyin over them strings.
John: You know this here, its such an ease action.
Tom: We'll take that with us when we go to Philadelphia and those places, that's what we'll be usin.
Unknown: You like that John? Chocolate mixed in with your coffee?
John: Well, I don't know.
Unknown: It's called Mocha.
John: Mocha, well let me try some mocha, I don't know if I like it or not.
Unknown: Just a teaspoon of mocha. Coffee's strong. Want some chocolate John? Want some chocolate.
John: Yeah, yeah, I'll try it.
Unknown: Want somethin to drink John?
John: I don't know what they're fixin for me. Whacha callit, Mocha?
Tom: Mocha. Taste it and see how it is.
Unknown: Want some whip cream.
John: I'll have one of them.
Tom: Put this in a coffee shop and see what happens.
John: Oh man.
Unknown: Hey that's pretty good.
Unknown: Folks can hardly afford this I tell you. We sit up there and have coffee, say Hi, shoot the breeze, play a little guitar.
John: What the devil is this, I don't know, its good. What did the buzzard say when he was in the sunshine. Man can't live a dizzy order now. Old buzzard you know, its rainin, he sittin there, I'll build me a shanty. I listen this rain, want the sun to shine. You see the way he is dressed. Man can't live with this order or die. You forgot about what he said about he gonna build a shanty in the sunshine feelin good then, see?
Unknown: When we went to Mexico? We were wondering where all the buzzards were, where all the vultures were. Now, they put a price on the vultures head because they carry disease and they shot them all, shot the whole bunch of them.
John: Oh, is that right now?
Unknown: That's right.
Tom: That's one way of doin it.
Unknown: Well, you know the vultures had a purpose because they'd come and they'd eat. Like a dog gets killed on the road by a car, they come and eat it and it doesn't sit there and rot. Now they just sit there and rot.
Tom: Back the attack on dead dogs, support vultures.
John: Well, they's supposed to clean up.
Tom: Supposed to and they do to.
John: That's right.
Tom: Crows they do the same thing. Sittin by the road where somethin got hit.
John: You know, speaking about an old crow, he has go too much sense to me. The sense the old crow got, man, a crow is somethin if you just think about it.
Unknown: That makes it even bigger light than you got.
John: That's right. I'll tell somethin you about an old crow I don't expect you, they're an expense to nobody. Did you know about the easiest think to pet one.
Tom: Make a pet out of them.
John: That's right. When you get a pet, you got somethin gets you in trouble if you don't watch it.
Tom: They steal things, don't they.
John: Steal things, they'll steal things and break you. Steal it bring it home.
Unknown: As long as he doesn't get caught.
Tom: You know something else you can do with a crow. You take a crow and you make a pet out of him and you split his tongue. You take a knife and split his tongue and he can talk.
John: That's right.
Tom: Like a parrot.
John: That's right. He talkin away "Waa Waa."
Tom: Yeah, they're plenty smart birds. You go out into the woods, you know, just walkin and man you see crows all over, you know "Kwaa Kwaa Kwaa." But go home get your gun, go back into the woods, your not going to see a crow.
John: That's one thing, your not going to get close enough to a crow, get your gun go out, if you see im. If you see him you won't get close enough to him to kill him, I'll bet you that. You know what you'd have to kill him, they love a pine thicket, they really love a pine thicket. Alright, you get your gun, go out in a pine thicket, now you aint goin out there and go shootin, no, because they gonna see you before you get there and you ain't gonna get no shot then. But you go on in thicket and when comin back comin in you know, before he light, he'll light because when he starts light then it's your time. Man, he's gonna see you as soon as he gets settled down, just by your head, gone, just as soon as he settles down you pop him. Just like at my home, a big pine thicket, not far from my house just right down the hill, behind my house. He'd come out there crow huntin with me. He says, Hey John, you heard any crows this mornin? I says, Oh Yeah, plenty of them, I said. Oh man, they gone now just rustles the bunch someway. Alright, where we at this morning, yeah we're out. I'll be at the home when you come back. Sure enough, he would go and sit in that pine thicket. He had an automatic, hear somethin "boom-boom-boom-boom," see crows flyin. Yeah, he's comin in and cuttin the wales. Get five, six of them right out back the town.
Tom: Will he eat them.
John: Sure, that's what he's gonna do with them, eat crows. I might eat them. They say they eat quite good, I eat one, dark meat.
Tom: Just like a duck. Sort of like a duck. You roast them.
Unknown: They're both birds.
Tom: A duck's got dark meat.
John: Well, crows meat is as dark as his feathers. That's right, but it's good meat so what they tell me, I never eat it.
Tom: So John, you went to Memphis with William Shell, is that right? Went up there with them recordin or did you go up by yourself?
Tom: Who did you meet up there?
John: You mean musicians?
Tom: Yeah, weren't there other people up there at the studio at the same time recordin?
John: Sure, well, let me see. Well, I don't know but , I wouldn't think of him if he wasn't with me so much that's Lonnie, Lonnie Johnson.
Tom: In Memphis?
John: No, no, beg your pardon. This guy says he was Lonnie Johnson, but he wasn't.
Tom: But he wasn't.
John: He wasn't. When I went to New York to record I found even better. He said he was Lonnie Johnson, but he wasn't so I don't know who he was. When went to New York to record, Lonnie, me and I says, Yeah, you don't look like the fella I met in Memphis, said he was Lonnie Johnson, He has no. He was lyin to you. This is Lonnie. I found he was right, this was Lonnie because he had did some recordin just ahead of me. My time while I was recordin he just went off, like we doin now, went to Memphis.
Tom: You and Lonnie.
John: Me and Lonnie, we was in the recordin room there so I had I just written this Candy Man I forget some of the verses so they typed them on the chart, look and sing, so I was singin and so Lonnie, he says, see I was practicin on it while they were gone. And Lonnie says, ain't a little to high. I say yeah, he says gotta be low. Gotta let it down son. High, I says, high right. I'll never forget the manager, T.J. Rockland come in he says, whose been messin with that chart. Lonnie says, I did. And what are you , I didn't think it would do any harm, it was too high. Ah well, he looked at me and says, is it too high for you, I says, yeah, it was a little to high, I couldn't sing good, kinda playin it on the front and sing some. That's how I know it was for sure Lonnie Johnson, but that other guy in Memphis, he was black, I didn't know, I never met Lonnie, thought, yeah, this was him.
Tom: Now you say you just finished writin the Candy Man, did you write that in New York, while you were in New York?
John: Oh, well, you know I got the verses while I went home. While I went to New York.
Tom: Just been recently.
John: Recently, I had it written in pencil and I gotta tell you they typed it for me. Sure. I could just put it out just right.
Tom: So you and Lonnie got to be pretty good friends up there, huh?
John: That's right, we had us a little ball while we were goin. I played the guitar and he played the piano, oh, nice little ball.
Unknown: He was playin the piano? I never heard him play the piano.
John: He can play it, that's right.
Tom: Well, did you all fool around anymore together? Outside the studio? Did you go to any parties together? Fool around, go shoppin, you know.
John: Sure, we did. We went shoppin or to his house, have a little party, dance, oh yeah, had a big time.
Tom: Now who else to you remember that you met in New York?
John: Well, I can't remember anybody I know that I met in New York.
Tom: Weren't there other people up there to make records to record?
John: Lots of them, but I didn't know who they was.
Tom: But you didn't get to know em.
John: That's right.
Tom: You were stayin as I recall with the janitor at the OKeh building, was he the janitor?
John: No, I wasn't stayin with him, I was stayin at a boardin house. I don't know the guys name, we call him babe.
Tom: They gave you ten dollars a day to stay in a hotel
John: That's right.
Tom: And somebody approached you and said, Hey I'll save you some bread.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Tom: Who was that.
John: Well, I got to remember him. Can't remember at all.
Tom: Well, what'd he do?
John: Well, he said to me, I'll save you some bread. This is the joint, but I'm trying to think of his name. He told me, says, I'll save you a little bread, I'd appreciate it if you want to he says, then I help to save an artist out at the company. I says, what is that. He says listen, they give you ten dollars a day to stay at a hotel, that right? I says, yes. He says I'll tell you what you do, I don't know how long you gonna be here doesn't make any difference. I says, alright. He said I gonna get you ten dollars today. You give me your ten dollars and you come you go home with me. See they told him to take me to a hotel, he says come on home with me and if you likes my wife's style of cookin. Say alright, you stay there with me, alright, eat sleep there. You stay there one night, ten dollars, you stay there a week ten dollars, you stay there two weeks, ten dollars. I thought that was a good deal, I say ok. Well, as soon as I got the ten dollars I went outside the buildin, got on the streetcar, sit down on my side, say ok, say alright. Gets off the streetcar, he says, goin into the barbershop and get my hair trimmed then go on home. Say ok, he got his hair trimmed and we goes on to his home. His wife, I'll never forget that, she had somethin I say I liked in my life, but never at night, she had some fish and some good old country sausage. And she had the fish baked, ooh man did I eat. Well we got through the house and he says well what do you think about it. I says, yeah man, yeah ok. Well, so I stayed there till my performance come off they send me home. But just before, I don't know why they found out, but they found out some way, just before, course they didn't say here, give me my money back, but they got on and he said, I know I did, I know I did. So they off a bit, you know, and alright, they didn't say at that time what you do with that money. It was back here, no they didn't say that.
Tom: They knew better than to say that.
John: He saved me a good many night
Tom: That he did.
John: That's right. I put that money in my pocket. They was givin it to me to live off of. You didn't get by with less than what they were givin you. But I got by cheap. Johnson Bennett, that was his name, Johnson Bennet.
Tom: Johnson Bennett.
John: I knew if I kept talkin I'd remember his name.
Tom: How old was he, John, was he your age?
John: Then, I reckon he's, well he looked to be a few years older than I.
Tom: How old would you say he was then? Just guess.
John: Oh, I'd say he was thirty-five, forty years old.
Tom: Victoria Spivey remembered you at Newport, do you remember that? She said that she remembered you from New York.
John: Well, I did meet with her out in the hall, that's right. I met with her out in the hall.
Tom: You were recordin.
John: That's right, I was recordin. She'll tell you, at that time they had a large recordin room and they had a hallway between these buildings, alright, you come out of the hallway, you go in here, you recordin. They keep the door closed, like that, you could, well you could hear, you could hear nothin. Unless, the door, it was a glass door you know, bottom was wood, you could ease up to the door and peak through them and lay your head close up side the door you could hear like somebody way across town. But you weren't goin to get in there till your time comes, see?
Tom: Do remember anyone else besides Lonnie and Dee that was up there at that time?
John: Well, one more that I met with, standing on the first floor when I walked in there go up on the elevator, that was Bessie Smith.
Tom: Bessie Smith
John: Bessie Smith.
Tom: Did you talk to Bessie?
John: Oh, I asked her, I didn't know who she was, until after she come up on the elevator, when she came up on the elevator, I went up before she did. You know when it gets full, just full, that's all, then the elevator went back and got her you see. So I found out from Johnson then who she was. I didn't talk with her, spoke with her. Didn't talk to me because, I don't know who the fella was that was with her, but he had a guitar and she had a guitar, they both had a guitar, he was kinda heavy set brown skin fella. Who he was I don't know, but they were recordin.
Unknown: She had a guitar with her?
John: She had a guitar with her. I don't know whether she played that guitar or just sing, but she had one too, she had a guitar with her, sure did.
Unknown: I never heard her play.
John: Well, I didn't heard her play, I didn't see her play, but she had that guitar, certainly did. Now this fella had one and she had one, of course, I don't know both of them might have belonged to him. I don't what, I don't know what she doin with the guitar, I know she sing I know that.
Unknown: She does some good singing.
John: That's right, but I never have heard her playin I don't know. But I've heard her sing many times, that's right. I don't think she could play, I don't think she did play, I don't think she played the guitar, I think she just sing, that's what I think.
Tom: John, gettin back just for a minute to Jesse James and Stag O'Lee. Now Stag O'Lee was a colored man was he not?
John: He was not.
Tom: He was not, he was a white man?
John: That's right, white.
Tom: Was Billy the Lions a white man?
John: That's right, that's right.
Tom: I always heard Stag O'Lee was colored.
John: White, White, White, White.
Tom: Ok. Now we haven't talked about animals too much except for the crows. There's all kinds of animals in Mississippi.
John: All kinds.
Tom: Tell me about aligators and panthers you've got snakes that tie up.
John: Aligators, sure panthers, snakes and racoons, water dogs, possums, water dogs, wolves and coyotes.
Unknown: About a regular zoo.
John: Oh man.
Tom: Tell us about some of those animals, John. About what they are like, what they will do.
John: Well, coyotes he's pretty rough on calves, young calves. The wolf he's pretty rough on calves, dogs and human. Yeah, oh yeah.
Unknown: They usually come in a pack, the wolves.
John: That's right.
Tom: You have a zip open pack. Like the wolves.
John: Well the fact is Mississippi got lots of animals since too, I'd say alright. You hare will run a pack together, they got a leader. Well, I say they got a manager like a hos
Unknown: You got to change your name to Tango Wolf.
Tom: Lead Dog.
John: I see a dog alright want you to go such a place, see, got everything all set, alright. Here he goes, alright. Now this wolf, show you what I mean by that, the manager. The moon shinin all night, all dark, makes no difference, you know. He go out lookin lookin up something, just like a wild manager lookin for somethin to . You like to be goin in walkin the wood road. Uh, huh, says huh, I smell a human. He ain't nothin but a wild dog, no way. He puts his head up and gets the scent and oh yeah comin down the road. You walk along, ease along, and say, walkin along takin his time, alright. You all waitin your scent gettin stronger and stronger. Reckon in sight where he see you, swear notice get down the road like, you seen dogs.
John: He get down the road, you come walkin. About close turn from here, I say bout the back side the wall to over behind the couch. You get about that close to him. Pounce, yeah, snappin bitin you know. What he's tryin to do, what he's goin to do if you don't make some reign to keep im from you. What he's after, you know, the leaders back here in your leg, he gonna cut them in two so you can't go. Now he ain't goin to jump up, he gonna cut them in two and when them cut two that's that you drops. Down on your knees or lay down or somethin, you can't go no where. Then he take off. Take off. He know where his gang is, but bother you. He take off and call em, howlin. They comin, he call the whole gang. They gonna eat you, that's right, they gonna eat you. He callin Come on boys, I got us somethin to eat, Come on. My cousin a wolf attacked him one night. He was talkin about somethin man they fraid of a harmonica, you get a harmonica and you can run him just as long as he can get. You can be standin still, when that harmonica, he be goin man he can't stand it.
Tom: Is that right?
John: That's right, he can't stand that, no, no. My cousin he had a harmonica you know, he had a blow harp, he had it in his pocket alright. I tell you he was comin from the Moblin store up there. Mr. Hamrick, he was runnin that store then, he was comin from the store. Goin off to the... you know I showed you where my brother lived.
John: Well he was goin off to the right down that, down through them woods, little fast leg, goin through the woods, goin home one night. Wolf attacked him there, that wolf got runnin by snappin at him, you know. The first thing he thought of was climin a tree. And he went up that tree, a wolf can't climb a tree. He went up that tree that old wolf he look up at him around the tree, scratchin. Then he thought about his harp, funny thing, he got that harp and started blowin that harp and commenced blowin that harp. God almighty man he got away from that tree, down through the woods, got away from that tree and all the way home. Somethin, me and him were together one night walkin along home, a small path, I had an old guitar, so after I learned to play guitar, awful young, you know. He tryin to learn to play the guitar too. We go along to peoples private homes, way in the night, midnight, twelve, one o'clock. Serenadin we call, just like we knew you well, you know, we tip up on the porch and we'd wake you up with music. Yeah, we kept in music. Well, you might lay there and listen, you might not get up and ask us in but say you lay there and listen if you like and we'd quit. We wouldn't mind hearin when we walked off hearin, Yeah Good boys yeah good come back again, see? Then you'd get up, sometimes you'd get up and say come on in. So we were serenadin one night right about one thirty, we walkin along one of them little roads, a little path, moon was shinin bright. Somethin attacked us, didn't know what it was, I was walkin along behind, the path so small you couldn't walk side by side. I was behind him, I walkin along with my head down, I was a little pace behind. He had seen this thing and he had stopped. I bumped into him, I thought oh boy. He said, What is that John? What's that there, he standin there. Well, I tell you what it looked like to me, I don't know what it was, it look liked a panther to me, I don't know what it was.
Unknown: A what?
John: A panther.
Unknown: A panther?
John: That's what it looked like to me. We standin there talkin to one another and he says, Give me your guitar. Just like that. I hand him my guitar and he just walkin along goin "Rmmmm Rmmmm." He didn't run, he just got out of the path and let him by and was just slidin around you know, like this you know, kinda lookin like sidin up gettin behind us. And he was lookin still rappin on the guitar, you know. I was watchin him, he was slidin around to get behind us. God almighty, I jumped in front of him and I lit out man. I went runnin you know, he takin off right behind. Oh I was runnin and he fell, he fell, and bout him, he fell. Of course, I don't know, I thought the thing had him, whatever it was. I couldn't stop I had to keep goin. That's the funny part about it, anybody prayin and cursin too. He was yellin and kickin Lord almighty. Goddamn off. I thought he got him. He was cursin and prayin all the way. Oh Lordy, Oh, Goddamn, yeah. I swear I got way up on top of the hill. He got over his scare I reckon. When he got up he says he didn't see nothin. He's rappin on the old guitar, when we got inside, I saw him lookin back. I say, Hey, his name was John, John T. I say, John T. that thing get a hold of you. He says, Devil, what do you want to know about it, you run off. I says man, I couldn't come back out. He says, Why didn't you come back and shoot, you heard me holler.' I says, Oh boy, I turned around, I thought, I'm goin in while he's eatin you. Well, I had oh some, I don't know what kind of times in my lifetime.
Tom: Sounds pretty wild to me.
John: Oh me. Talk about snakes, some bad snakes in my part collection.
Unknown: What kind of bad snakes, water moccasins?
John: Oh man, water moccasins, rout snakes, cortswood.
Unknown: What kind was the last one?
Unknown: I never heard of that kind before.
John: Yeah well, Oh man.
Unknown: Is he a poisonous snake?
John: Is he poisonous?
Unknown: Is that a poisonous snake?
John: Oh he's poison, he don't bite.
Unknown: He don't bite, no kiddin.
John: I never heard of one bitin. But what he does, the cortswood, he whip you to death.
Unknown: No kiddin?
John: Oh man, he'll whip you to death, that's right. Oh they grow long from here to the back side of the wall.
Unknown: That's a big snake.
Tom: Yeah, that's a good size alright.
John: That's right, about the size of my, about as large as my wrist around here, and that long. Oh man, what can you do. I guess you'll tell me, what can you do. He ain't goin to bite you but, oh man, he's gonna whip you to death.
Tom: Do they get around you, get around you.
John: That's right. See, he's long enough, part of him tie you up, he whup you. And their tails it takes off, just like.. Have you ever saw a plan whip or a mule whip or a ox whip like that?
Tom: I don't know what you mean.
Unknown: One that's plaited on the end.
Tom: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
John: Yeah, well. About that much of his tail, about that much of it looks just like a whip, just like it. I mean looks like that rawhide cover, that well, looks just like its plaited you standin off lookin at it, looks like its plaited. And keen, well its strong part of him, the body part of him I'd say, the body part. He eases when he gets started he wraps it just that quick. Wraps so much around you you can't walk, then he commences usin that tail that quick. You can't run, you can't do nothin. The only thing you can do is look around and fall, you can't stop him from whippin.
Tom: That's a mean snake.
John: Yeah, that's right. We have plenty of them. Although had nobody that whipped by one. I know a fella he liked to got beat up by one, he never got over it. I mean he was lyin at his door at his house. Can you remember an old fella come in, one time he was at my home, his name is what we call David. Well, he was the one.
Tom: Oh Yeah.
John: He was the one. He had a little, he ever come again, I'll show ya, I'm tellin you the truth, he got a little mark just about that long, where it split his ear, you see. This snake had him tied up, and whoo was fixin to whippin him you know. He thought about his pocket knife to cut him loose. He grabbed his pocket knife, and what the snake was doin, he was tryin to hypnotize him I guess before he went to whippin him. And he went to cuttin him, you know, he never could cut im. But he did finally cut him and cut him loose from him. But while he was cuttin in and split his own ear. That's right. See this snake had him tied and wrapped up and...
Unknown: So he couldn't move to good.
John: Couldn't move too good and after he had him wrapped up he had his head, you know, didn't bite im, but he just acted like he was gonna bite him he strikin against his head, you know, strikin and he's cuttin in, you know, then split his ear. That's right, he'll tell you the same thing, you see him tomorrow and you ask him how his ear split open. He was right at his door. He was in a little house, had two rooms, hadn't been too long he built that, you know. Oh well, a pretty good while too, because where they cut the trees you know, they I don't know, they just open up. There was a good size stump there. This house been there long enought that this stump start to rot. And down at the ground it had a hole down there. It was settin close to the steps and he was sittin down on the steps and wasn't doin anything. This old cortswood come out of that hole and ease up and had him tied up before he knew anything. When he discovered he was tied up by a snake why he jumped you know and he was strikin at him. He was hollerin at his wife to get gun. She brought the gun, but he couldn't take it and she couldn't shoot im without shootin her husband, see. So there he was and started with the knife and went to cuttin and split his ear but finally when he whacked im a time or two and he dropped he turned him loose. But still got away, went back down in that hole, can't get him. But he cut him loose to him.
Tom: What's baby's name?
John: Joe Watts.
Tom: Is he the same one that I'm thinkin of that...you were playin up there, last time I was down there. You were playin guitar on Sunday, and there was a bunch of them up there and he was talkin about how you took him out one night, kept him out all night?
John: Yeah that's him, that's him.
Tom: Got him to.. then started on the road drinkin.
John: That's right. So your the one. I guess you know about the rattlesnake. You know about him.
Tom: Yeah rattlesnakes, I do know about.
John: He's a bad snake, I think he's the worst of all why because he's so quiet. He eases along. You ever saw one crawlin, yeah man, just eases, just straight. He hear you walkin, he stop, sets still. And I have heard that a rattlesnake can charm you just like a cat charm a rabbit, and I believe it.
Unknown: Yeah, do snakes still do that.
John: I believe it. In fact, I been I just know it, I'll tell you why. I was workin on a farm for Paul West, fellow named Paul West. He had fine mules, you know. I was plowin for him, plowin his crop. So he.. I had to cross a little bayou we call it, just a little dry lake, but when it rained why, there was water, when it rained and stopped rainin in time in about a week or so or somethin like that , that water would sink it, would dry up. A dry boyou. They was a block of land on this side and there was a block of land on other side and over on the other side where this block of land was, was where I was plowin for im. Also his house sit on this side and there was peach tree over on that block of land. Just one nice peach tree. Had a bear on mule, whenever I would go for lunch, why I would be ridin the mule I had about plug up over there, up there on the street way to get up by the lights. But you know, I take the mule, it wasn't a bad ride. I be sittin on the mule, sittin sideways like this, takin it easy. You know I lookin up in the peach tree at the good last peaches and Oh I want me a peach. This mule was awful gentle. So I lookin up in the peach tree had my eye on the peaches. I pull me down one or two peaches, sittin down on the mule, peelin my peaches, eatin my peaches, every once in a while I look back up in the tree, you know. Well get this one eat up and get me another one. I sittin down on the mule just enjoyin, the mule just kind of drop his head down and HOOOOOOO. I look down see what she's lookin at, man there's a great big long rattlesnake stretched out there, had his head up you know. Lookin up at me you know. I look down at him. Well I had to pass another fella's house, Gus Barnes house, before I get to Paul's house. He's livin in between the field and Paul's house, also he was workin for Paul to but he's makin a crop. So I could see Gus's house and I could look in his kitchen when the door open. And he had table piled for dinner, and was back home, eatin lunch, and I could see him sittin down at the table, and I called him. That's how come I called him, I knew he had a good slingback shotgun. I wanted him to come and kill this snake. I called him, I said, Hey, Gus. I could even see him stop eatin. I could just imagine he say to his wife, Hush. Hey Gus. He jumped up and run to the door. Hey, I says, Come here and bring your shotgun. What'd you say? I say,Hey come here and bring your shotgun, kill this snake. Alright. Yeah, he comin, What I want to tell him, the second time I told him to come and bring the shotgun, I couldn't... I liked to not told him. Now listen this is the truth, but I place a hard time, Hey Gus and he says Hey. I looked back at the snake, you know. I says Come here and bring the shotgun, I looked right at the snake in his old grey eyes and Come here and bring your shotgun, kill this snake. He says,What you say. I say (very low) Come here and bring the shotgun and kill this. I... you know, it just come to me, I shook my head and yelled Come here and bring the shotgun and kill this snake. His head lookin at me on top of this mule. He told me sure would.
Tom: Just looking at the eyes.
John: That's right.
John: That's the reason I say, I know that's about right. They'll do it, that's right.
Tom: Well, what happened. Did he come?
John: He come.
Tom: Did he kill the snake.
John: When he got near to me about as close to the front door there. I'll tell you what happened, alright. You ever seen one of these old grasshoppers. There's a grasshopper that come and he lit on that snakes back. When he hit that snake back, God he went Zoom, and down that Bayou he went, went on the brush pile. Gus walked up with the gun and says, Where is it? I says, A grasshopper flew on his back and he run. He says Where he go? I says, He went up on that brush pile that little pile of brush. He says, Are you sure John. I says, Yes. Well he went down the bayou, that dry bayou over up on this pile of brush. All right, well all on that side was open. And Gus down on the far side of the brush and on this side comin from the bayou, you know, it was weeds growed up right side the bayou, weeds about that high., thick and the were path was clean went right down between them weeds, where I had to go down across, you see. Gus says, You take the gun, watch for him now, he gonna come out here. He's comin out. He's commenced pullin brush, you know, one by one, I'm watchin him. He knew when he got where he could see me, he wasn't goin to stand there he gonna get away from me. Gus was pullin branches, he says, Watch for him. I say, Ok. I stand there with a shotgun. After a while I saw him, you see they crawl with there head up just like that, he slidin along right straight. I saw that head come out the clean path, I didn't say a word about here he is, I see him nothin. Got that head in that path. I clipped it off, just smooth as you take a knife whack it off. Gus says, You got him? Yeah I got him.
Unknown: I bet that snake wished he never saw you.
Tom: How big was it John?
John: Well, now, I tell the truth about that.
Tom: Snake stories.
John: Well, aw he's about the size of...
Tom: That can there. How long was he?
John: Oh about, I'll say, four feet long.
Tom: About four feet, good size rattlesnake.
Tom: You don't fool around.
Unknown: Not somethin you want your kids to play with.
John: I wouldn't care much about gettin me a good size stick, whippin him with it. I wouldn't like that so well. I'd like to have one about long here from that light about that size.
Unknown: They are good to eat, you know?
John: That's right, that's what they say but I wouldn't want to eat a piece if I knew.
Unknown: I never tried it, but they are supposed to be real good to eat.
John: Well I saw a fella, a colored fella, at home, said he eat a piece. But he didn't know it. He didn't know it till he was done.
Tom: Skin this one?
John: Gus did. Skinned it and dried the hide and made him a belt.
Tom: Did he?
John: That's right.
Tom: I'll be damned.
John: And you know.
Tom: Be pretty as a belt.
John: That's right.
Tom: Well, I just made a guitar strap out of a snake skin. Just the other day, I had the snake skin for a long time, I finally backed it up with a heavy piece of leather, you know, and folded it over and glued the thing on. Gonna make a guitar strap out of it.
John: Well! Sorry to say, this fella that eat a piece of rattle snake, he was workin in, some men cuttin some, one of the boys men, they got talkin about rattle snake. So Lucas, that was his last name, Lucas, oh what was his first name, Will I think, Will was his first name. He said, Will, talkin about rattlesnakes they're good eats you know it? He says, Yeah man, that's what they say, I don't know it because I had ever eat a piece and I tell you, I wouldn't eat a piece. He says, Why they good, you eat no rattlesnake? No man, no rattlesnake. Why they good. So the next day, this gentleman had some rattlesnake for his lunch, had a couple, two or three, I say, a whole bunch of rattlesnake steak. He had a bunch of rattlesnake steak. He got to eatin now. Will, he didn't have any grub on the job with him. He says, Will, what are you gonna do, work all day without dinner? Well, I guess I would try to make it. Oh fella, he says, well, let me tell you, I don't know whether you make it or not. He says, I'm gonna try. Tell you what, I'll divide my dinner. No, I'll try to make it. He says, alls you got is dinner for yourself. He says, Well it's alright, I hate to see a man workin without eatin, I'm dividin. So he had three or four sandwich, you know, of this rattlesnake, so he eat two and he give Will two. Gonna try some of that steak, mighty good and tender. So he eat these two sandwiches of this rattlesnake. He wait till he got through eatin and got him a good cool drink of water, good cool ice water and they're smokin. He says, Will. Yeah? You said you wouldn't eat rattlesnake? No man. I told you it eat mighty good, don't you think it's good? I ain't never eatin it. He says, That's what you eatin here, rattlesnake. He says, Man, what? Yeah, that's what you've eaten, rattlesnake. That's right. He says, Well, I won't say I don't rattlesnake anymore, you get some more rattlesnake, please bring me some more rattlesnake. Will says, Yeah, that's right, that snake was good. But he wouldn't have eaten it if he knew it was snake. But to tell you have to get him while he, you know, before he gets mad. You sure better not eat him after he gets mad. You kill him, but you better not eat him if he gets made.
Tom: Oh yeah, no good then, huh?
John: Oh man, because that's poison is through him.
Tom: It's all over then.
John: I'll tell you one thing I believe in too. You can make one mad, man, you can smell him from here to town.
John: That's right.
Tom: Yeah, that's right, I know you can smell a copperhead pretty far.
John: Oh man, whooee, it can make you sick, you have to get away from that scent. That's right.You all seen these old, have you all saw these old stingin worm, stingin worm, alright, you know them some green lookin and then some black. Well about that far up his tail looks just like one these old black stingin worm. That needle, the one he's stingin with, is in this here pleasant looking, it's in this little, fuzzy part of his tail, look like stingin wood. That needle just as black, about, oh it's about near as large as a match.
John: He runs it out that way, you know. Just like a needle, like a big old black needle. That was about nine o'clock that mornin. I on, oh, about eleven, he says, Hey, let's go to lunch. Say, alright.
Tom: Burning the midnight oil.
John: He comin back along, don't see no snake. He was lookin, when he, he don't take no, hit that tree, think nothin to that. We just sit under the tree, we don't think nothin of that. But, this all the truth, this is right. I say, oh, two hours nine to eleven. I'm goin to lunch. I just haven't noticed, what are you lookin at. Yeah, those leaves on that tree, all green. When he stung that tree, we went back along about eleven o'clock, those green leaves had withered just like you ever. Kill that tree, that's right, if he kill a green tree, what would happen to you.
Tom: Wow, won't want to mess with one of those fellas.
John: Mmm mm, no man. Alright, the second one I saw, uh, Jesse Carter, me and him was clearin land of trees. New ground down at the wet marsh place was Mr. Burton's. Had some kaiser blades, everyone don't call them kaiser blades but that's what we call them, big long handle. So we was usin them cuttin briers, axe too cuttin down some good size trees. And this happened, he's cuttin some brier in the wet marsh. Me and him rakin some green weeds. He cut right over him, and he kinda jumped when that blade went over him. He says, Hey John, man look here there's a snake. I looked I say, Yeah God almighty, and I commenced backin up. I say, Man that's a stingin snake that's what he is. He says, Whoa, yeah! We're talk of change, kind of a hawk bill, turn it over to the flat side like that. Half cause of the blade. I say, Well Jesse. He says, What? I say, Pay me tomorrow when we meet. He says, What you mean, man don't come till the weekend. I say, That's alright, that's alright too, pay me on the weekend, but pay me when I quit tonight would mean I don't get no pay.He says, What are you talkin about? Man, I ain't choppin this new ground no more, God there's sting snakes down here, Lord no. He says, Oh, well, we see em and kill em. I say, Yeah, but that might not be the only one. Man I'm gettin out of this new ground, these weeds and wet places here you can't see, I say oooh. He says, Well, I'll tell you, you put on some boots, you know these old gun boots, that snake can't bite you through them boots. I say, No, you're right, that's alright, but he don't bite that's the thing. What does he do, you call him a stingin snake. I say, He stings that's what he does! Well, you have on these boots. I say, Yeah, Hmm mm, my boots not as hard as a tree, I say ooh man, that don't help none, alright no boots, I'm just stayin out of this new grass. And I did.
Tom: And you quit your job.
John: I quit it. Well, what's a , you like rattle snake? I say, Yeah, Mr. Clayton sir. Sure that's right, especially that kind of a snake. I say I haven't got very much for these old cottom mouth moccasin, we call em. Rattle snake and the sting, you see, that's three snakes I haven't got very much for them to do. He say, Oh well, I'll tell you, how bout workin down there in the pasture or somethin. I say, Oh sure, I'll cut down the pasture for you, but man I'm not goin to the new ground, no. Well, alright, so I did, I went down and cut. And Jesse, I don't know if he lyin or not, but he told me week later, he kept workin down there, a week later. You know what? I says, What. He says, I killed another stingin snake. I say, Yeah, that's alright, I wasn't there when you killed him was I? Oh no. That's alright, you helped me kill him. Course he might have just been jivin me, come to find out I was so fraid of em. But he says he did, he never did change, maybe he really did. But then, plentyful are, might mean too, I don't know. Yeah, I know one place there's and he's a water snake too. That's another thing I think that's the reason you find them around marshin place, he's a water snake. Why it makes me say that, a fella fell out of a boat in a lake. The lake is just full of cypress trees. Call it King Lake and he fell out of the boat and drowned. He could swim, he fell out of his boat and drowned, alright, and then there were Bulk Tyler, right had to rescue him, soon as he, you know when you fall out in the deep water, you sink, when you drownin you come up to the top and go back. I don't know, I never seen somebody drown, but they tell me you can't swim in the deep water, no matter how deep it is, you come to the top, you come up three times. When you come up that third time go back, that's it, you don't come back no more. That's when you drown. But he fell one time and never come back, never did come back. Alright, why didn't he come back. You know what happened, they fished him out. When they fished him out, oh man, I don't know what, but you know in fishin him out. You see they fished him out with a fish hook. Start pickin around there, they catch over somethin, you know and bring it back. Snag that, what comin to the top of the water. Don't know what it was, but they just bring it on up. Thought maybe it might been him, top of the water, swimmin all around. It's a stingin snake. Yeah!
Tom: That thing got him.
John: Just happened to sink right on him, I reckon, he popped him and that was it he never did come back. Just killed right now.
Tom: Guess you wouldn't come back.
John: Oh man, I'm so scared of them I hate talkin about them.
Tom: There's one now.
John: Oh man, make my time Mr. Robbins buildin. He comes back, wow, what all happened. Tore my house up.
Tom: Tell him you would too, if a stingin snake after you.
John: Make me take em I'll make you take em.
Tom: What about cotton pickin, John, I spect you done your share of cotton pickin.
John: Oh man, I did my share, is right. Oh, I used to be a cotton picker. Oh, I used to pick, three hundred easy, them pounds.
Tom: Three hundred pounds.
John: In my young days, yeah, sure, three hundred pounds. These old fingers.
Tom: Just get in there and start grabbin, huh?
John: Start grabbin. Get me about a hundred and five, I get out of the house, well, when you first get started pickin cotton, long over the year, dew we call it, dew comes to fallin, you know, it's kind of like a little light rain. Well, you get out there, I say you get out there about seven o'clock, you know let the sun get up a piece and dry some of that dew off so it ain't so wet and deep. Dew dried off about seven o'clock, about nine o'clock I'd have about hundred forty five pounds. I'd get me another hundred and forty-five by lunch time. Right.
Unknown: That's a lot of cotton.
John: Right, then, that evening well, I believe I kinda slow around and rest a little bit. I had all evening to pick another hundred. The whole evening through. Well, all about I do that evenin was take my time. Pick a little business, walk across the field lookin. Oh yeah, we'll hit these rows here in the mornin it's regular, get lots of spokin, look around rest up a little bit. Walk up that side again. Well, I just fool around in the evenin.
Tom: Did you ever sing while your pickin cotton? Do people ever sing while they're pickin cotton?
John: That's right.
Tom: What do they sing? Some special cotton pickin songs?
John: Well, they sing religious song. Maybe some would sing an old, no I wouldn't say it's a cotton pickin song, but it's along the cottom pickin line, be a regular old farm song.
Tom: They get up there, doe everybody sing together, or is it like the railroad where you got a caller.
John: Sometimes they sing together and sometimes...it's like, I said, maybe some over there start a song and maybe somebody else join in and help, sometimes they wouldn't. They'd be singin by themself.
Unknown: Some songs have a caller who sings the verses and everybody else joins in and sings the chorus?
John: That's right.
Tom: Do you know the song, John, about "Jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton?"
John: Jump down...
Tom: Gotta jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton. Gotta jump down, turn around, pick a bale a day. You've heard about Leadbelly, that's a song he used to sing all the time.
John: Well, I don't believe I ever heard that.
Tom: Used to be a big boast about a man who could pick a bale a day, you know. You ever heard of anybody could pick a bale of cotton in one day?
John: I heard of two men pick a bale of cotton a day, not one, but two.
Tom: That's a lot of cotton, huh?
John: That's right. In fact, the business...that place where you come through, when you comin to my house, down in that level, you know, when you leavin Avalon and comin to my house, Mr. Bronson's. He got two fellas from Duck Hill, well he's heard about em. So he got these two fellas to come down and pick cotton for him. About a week and also, just like going to a show, lots of people went down to Mr. Bronson's field to see these men pick this bale of cotton a day, just these two men. They picked, they stant and watch them pick, you know, to see how they moved their hands, how fast they moved them or ... or what.
Unknown: Just what they're doin.
John: Sure, and they sit and watch them, they pick.
Unknown: How big is a bale, how much does it weigh?
John: Well, now you goin to pick a bale of seed cotton, you're gonna put fifteen or sixteen hundred pounds in.
Unknown: Fifteen, sixteen hundred pounds.
John: That's right.
Unknown: Wow, that's a lot.
John: Alright now, you say, alright, them men gonna pick this bale of cotton. That's eight hundred pounds a piece, see?
John: That's right.
Unknown: That's a lot.
John: You know that's pickin a lot of cotton. You pick eight hundred pounds of cotton a day, that's really pickin cotton.
Tom: That's movin.
John: That's movin, that's..
Tom: What's the most you picked in a day?
John: Three ninety.
Tom: Three ninety.
John: Like have done four hundred. That's right.
Tom: When you come back you go out in the field and pick till your bag gets full.
John: That's right.
Tom: You take your bag back to the uh...
John: Scale and weigh it.
Tom: You take your bag back everytime.
John: Every time you get the bag full you weight it.
Tom: Now do they pay you just a flat salary or do they pay you by how much you pick?
John: Pay you by how much you pick.
Tom: Uh huh.
John: That's right.
Tom: How much do they pay you.
John: Oh, then you didn't get but fifty cents a hundred.
Tom: Fifty cents a hundred.
John: Fifty cents a hundred, that's right.
Tom: Was that pretty standard? A standard price, a standard wage?
John: That was standard wages then, you'd get fifty cents a hundred, but now is something else.
Tom: When was this, that it was fifty cents a hundred.
John: Oh that was in the early nineteens, I'll say, well, I know just exactly, I was about thirteen fourteen years old when I was pickin all that cotton.
Tom: Thirteen, fourteen.
John: That's right.
Unknown: That was about 1920.
John: That's right. Fifty cents and they started goin on, seventy, seventy-five cents.
Unknown: That was before 1910.
Tom: What's it now, John. What's the wage now for cotton pickinÕ.
John: Two and three dollars a hundred now.
Tom: Two and three dollars.
John: Two and three dollars a hundred, that's right.
Tom: So if you pick three hundred pounds a day, you can make nine dollars.
John: That's right, that's right.
Unknown: How many days a week do you do that? Do you do that five days a week, or six days week?
John: Six days, if you want, it's up to you.
Unknown: It's up to you.
John: It's up to you, because, alright you pickin by the hundred, you get paid for what you pick. Course, they want to get the harvest in, you can quit when your ready but they like you to keep on because they want to get the harvest in. So when I tell you how to do that, now when they first start pickin cotton, like this year when they open up to harvest, they only pay but two dollars, alright, and as the year passes on, I say oh about a month after they pay you that two dollars, why they go up to three then. I'll tell you why that, alright, they some good cotton pickers and they some that's, you know, that's good and better, and they is some that pick too much. This fella can't pick very much, course that two hours he can't get over much. They say maybe, ah, there are some people that can't pick over a hundred pounds. Say, well alright, can't help it, he made but two dollars. That fella that picked three at two dollars, he made him six dollars. Well, this old, this fella can't pick too much you know why he can't pick a whole lot. That's why they do that. Well, gets on up, why the cotton dries out and the bole you see, the longer it stays in the bole the rottener it gets. And when frost get it, dries that much faster. If you pick three hundred pounds then, you really picked cotton then.
Unknown: Yeah, makes it that much harder to pick.
John: That's right, you have a sack, just full, like I said, alright when it's green, you got a nine foot sack, nine feet long, well alright, you get it full and packed and it's green, well, it's alright, that's cotton picked. You got a hundred four five pounds in that one sack, that's right.
Unknown: You hear that Tom, about the cotton, you know when the cotton gets older it gets ligther and John says, when the frost hits it gets even lighter. So you got to pick a whole lots more. So when you get a whole bag full it doesn't weight nearly as much as when it's green.
John: That's right.
Unknown: That's why they pay three dollars...
John: That's right.
Unknown: That's why they pay three dollars later for the cotton picked. You want something to eat, John?
John: Oh a small sandwich.
John: I'll tell you now just how, alright I'll say it like this. Just as I tell ya a while ago, a few minutes ago well, you got a green cotton, a long sack of green cotton, they call, well you got a hundred and four, five pounds in that sack, alright, you take it when it gets real light, like I told you about. You got that sack just as full as with that green cotton, alright. Here you go to the scale, you know what you got? You got fifty, fifty-five pounds.
Unknown: No kidding! Boy, it's just about half!
John: That's right. That's all you got.
Unknown: Boy that really cuts down on the weight.
John: You're right, that's right.
Unknown: You gotta work twice as hard!
John: Sure, you gotta work twice as hard, that's right. It really cuts down on the weight.
Unknown: So you do better to pick it when its green.
John: Sure, that's right, pick when it's green.
Unknown: You got the womenfolk workin out there in the fields too?
John: Womenfolk? Sure.
Unknown: Well they can't pick as much as a man can.
John: Well, the can't, but some of them can, some of them can pick more than some men does.
Unknown: And they carry their own sack.
John: Carry their own sacks.
Unknown: As big as your carrying?
Unknown: Do you have to fill up your sack before you go weigh in or can you weigh in anytime.
John: You weigh in anytime you get enough to weigh in, you know to balance the scales.
Unknown: What's the smallest amount that you can weight in?
John: Well, you can weigh in with ten pounds.
Unknown: Oh, well that's not much at all.
John: Now what helps you about the ten pounds, if you weigh in with ten pounds, I'd say your sack weigh five pounds, alright.
Unknown: Oh yeah, I got ya.
John: Well, you got ten pounds of cotton in your sack and the sack weighs five pounds, you got fifteen sack and all. Well, you take five from fifteen, leaves you ten, that's right. That's the way to do it your sack weigh five pounds. Take off five pounds for the sack. You don't get paid for that sack weight. No they gonna take that off.
Unknown: I figure they gonna do that.
John: You know, there's a whole lots of pickers in a field. There be one thats on the scales all the time to weigh. You see there are so many why he don't got time to pick some he just stand there and be weighin. Alright, just standin there weighin another one sittin down over there keepin the weights.
Unknown: Taking it down you mean, writing it down.
John: That's right. He weighin and sometimes he says, Fifty-five a hundred and five sack and. What he means sack and all, you see. So the writer put down and take off five pounds for a hundred. Sometimes he says, A hundred and five cross.
Unknown: That means he take it without the sack.
John: That's right.
Unknown: What about the peanuts? How do you get them? Do you collect them in a sack too?
John: Well, you can, you can collect them in a wagon, or a truck.
Unknown: You bring a truck through the field?
John: That's right. You know about the width of your wagon or your truck, alright so you gotta. Well what you want to do is to pull these peanuts up, pull em up and stack em up or pile em up. I say a peanut hill. Well, what I'm gonna do, I'm gonna go along like this (oh man, that sandwich is too large, thank-you), I'll go along the door, a bunch you know, just swipe them up turn them bottom up, like that. Say this is peanuts, alright I pull them up and turn them down like that so they be up to the sun. I'll be right back in and come back on this one and do the same thing. Well, I'll pile them on this well, put them on top of each other like that. Maybe I'll pull me up three or four rows, enough for the truck to come and clean them you know. Pick them up as they come along. That's right it be nothin but naked ground. One each side. On each side, you take a hay walk, you know, take a long walk, pullin peanuts and put them in the truck.
Unknown: You gotta let them dry out or no?
John: You let them dry, you see, you leave them right there in the field, till they dry, then you take the hay walk, pick em up, put them in the truck. Let them dry.
Unknown: What about the greenery do you plow that under or does that go right with them.
John: The green? You mean the top of the peanut? That goes in the truck with them. Then you get these peanuts piled up. If you want to, why, alright, you can, you just barrell, those sacks don't make no difference. I say you get you a tub, you know you seen these zinc tubs? Wash tub they call it?
Unknown: Oh yeah, yeah.
John: Well, you get you somethin like that or a barrell, it doesn't make any difference, you pick em off put em in the barrell or get you some sacks and pick em off, put em in that sack. Just pile these peanut vines somewhere. Hey, cows and horses will eat em.
Unknown: So that's all useful.
John: That's right.
Unknown: That's good.
John: That's right.
Unknown: Did you ever see anyone make a bass out of a washtub, turn it upside down put a stick on the front of it with a string, you know?
John: I saw that for the first time at Newport.
Unknown: The first time.
John: That's right, I say wow!
Unknown: You know, boom, boom, boom, boom.
John: I look and I say well what is that playin? A washtub, man, I say wow. First time I ever saw that. That's right.
Unknown: They don't do that back home in Mississippi.
John: Nope, don't do it.
Unknown: Always thought somebody, you know, wants to get a bass and picks up a washtup.
John: That's right.
Unknown: Hey Tom, I asked John if anybody down in Mississippi used a washtub bass.
Tom: Uh huh.
Unknown: He said the first time he seen was was in Newport.
Tom: Yeah, I heard that.
John: That's right.
Tom: They make a nice sound, you know they're pretty good.
John: Nice sound.
Tom: You know the jug bands? They use the jugs, they use the washtub bass.
Tom: Sounds real good. What a good sandwich.
John: Right. Not one thing wrong with mine. Not a thing wrong with my sandwich.
Tom: You gotta eat to have energy.
John: I told him a small one.
Tom: You're a good sandwich maker. Have to pick some cotton for us when we go into the sandwich business.
John: Mine is just a little too large.
Tom: Too much, huh.
John: Don't want to make myself sick.
Tom: So John, there is just one other subject I want to cover tonite, and that is the Depression.
John: The Depression? Well, oh yeah, I know about it.
Tom: Well, what effect it had on you and what you did and how you made it through.
John: Well, I would, I don't know make it through. First, I say first one way then another, anything cept robbin and stealin. I'd fool around, raisin a pretty good patch. Work for this man for just what I could get.
Tom: It was hard for you to get a job?
John: That's right, just what I could get.
Unknown: Wages went pretty low.
John: Wages went low, yeah like it was when I was a boy, pickin all that cotton. Went near but didn't get quite down that low.
Tom: You worked for the CCC, didn't you? The WPA.
John: WPA, WPA I worked for the US Agent here on the river.
Tom: What did you do for the WPA?
John: Well, I put gravel on the road. Cut the banks of the road, town trees, hold em up. Like I say, just like a car comin up the streets there and goin down this way. Those trees, you know, kinda like this house, car comin up the street there and you comin down here, you can't look through this house and see that car comin down the street, see. Well, those trees would be so thick, you know, like those crooks in the road, you know. Well, a fella might be comin down and you comin, you know, be right on him before you can see. So we cut the trees down, you comin up there and comin around and he comin up here, you can be seen, you see, just a wide open space, just look off there see him. And he could see you, see the top of your car. I commenced give him room, back then, you would too, because when you met each other all set, you see. Come around that bend, you plop right down on each other, you better be drivin pretty slow. That's right. Make a collision or whatever you call it.
Tom: How much they pay you, John?
John: Three dollars.
Tom: Three dollars a day.
John: Yeah, for a period of time of seven days, I don't know why they had it like that but that's they way, alright, a period of time of seven days, alright. You had to lay off seven days, go to work, you work seven, then you stop seven, then you go back to work and you work seven, then you stop seven.
Tom: Those days you weren't working you'd go and do something else.
John: Sure, somethin on the farm, pick cotton or somethin.
Tom: What did you do for the engineers?
John: Cut trees back on the bank, also get a log or something in the river. Out of the way of the boat.
Tom: Building dams?
John: Buildin dams right, building pump stations, they call it, pumpin water out town. Place to pump it out and run down it into the river.
Tom: You'd get floods down there, every spring, don't you?
John: Every spring, it floods. Floods every spring.
Tom: Where you building any levees?
John: Sure, sure, build levees, like that and cut trees and way back away from the bank.
Unknown: Did you use those trees for anything, that you cut down? Or did you just leave them where you cut them?
John: Brought em up. Cut on the bank, that's right, brought them up. What would happen, I'll say, me and you goin along, or might be more than me and you, but I'm just showin you how it would go, a crew here. You, me and others we go along and we ain't doin a thing but just sawin down trees. Cuttin them down. Alright there's a crew comin along behind us and cuttin these trees up and pile em up, you know cuttin up short, and pile em up, pile em up, you know, fixin them for the burn. Alright, and we go on cuttin, a crew come along and cut them up, you know short, pile them up. A crew comin along right behind the burnin them, settin them afire, burn em up. Thats right. I didn't know about it, say what? You workin on the railroad, I say, yeah. I didn't know this till I was worked for the mill. This man he ask a question, just like you he says, What do you say you cuttin those trees, pile and burn them up. Yep. You burn green brush? Yep. Green wood? I told him, Yeah. Oh man, you can't burn up no brush pile of greenwood you can't never get a fire started. I say, Oh yeah, I we can too. No man. Oh yeah, we could. I was brush burnin one while, while I did some all, boys burnin, cuttin down some, some boys cut up trees. All kinds of games I was a kaiser blade sharpener, worked for a pump station. Oh I did somethin most everything to do on the road. Alright. Ain't gonna tell you just how to do and what to do about money in this place. But now, you have to figure that out yourself pretty well, but I'm gonna tell you burnin brush. Alright, but now it was pretty fair, it was. Say this, well, almighty, hot. Take me off of there. I'm burnin one brush fire all day. Says alright, he don't say nothin, he say burn up that brush. What they mean....