Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The NRR Project: 'Black Snake Moan'/'Match Box Blues'


Black Snake Moan/Match Box Blues

Written and performed by Blind Lemon Jefferson

Recorded: March 13/14, 1927

Blind Lemon Jefferson was an early star among country bluesmen. He was born south of Dallas, Texas, in 1893, and learned the guitar growing up. Soon he was performing on the street – initially near his hometown, then in Dallas itself. His high, keening voice and intricate guitar work distinguished him from his rivals, and in 1926 he went to Chicago to start recording “sides”. This he did until his untimely death in 1929.

The recording cited in this entry was taken from his work for OKeh Records, a break from his initial commitment to Paramount Records. Of the eight sides he recorded for OKeh, only these two made it to the public – Paramount’s complaints about OKeh poaching him led to the other recordings being suppressed.

So what are these songs about? “Match Box Blues” is somewhat mystifying:

“How far to the river, mama, walk down by the sea

How far to the river, walk down by the sea

I got those tadpoles and minnows all in over me”

No idea. Blues singers used coded language to broach intimate or unsavory topics. Presumably, the lines above are a metaphor for something sexual. In “Black Snake Moan,” the reptile of the title is really a penis.

“Mmm, mmm, black snake crawlin' in my room

Mmm, mmm, black snake crawlin' in my room

Some pretty mama better come and get this black snake soon


The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman.

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