When Robert Johnson recorded “Walking Blues” in 1936, he was working from a version Son House, not the Devil, had taught him. And the great Son House himself was borrowing from a Blues tradition that began after the Civil War when black men were free to roam with what they could carry on their backs, which might include a guitar and a harmonica, if they were traveling musicians, free but so free, so there is always a bit of that Blues irony in there.
The Blues were born from the percussive calls and responses of work songs and field hollers, and the rhymes and stanzas of Protestant hymns and English ballads, an African European hybrid that gave them their form. From the beginning of human time, when our ancestors, sitting around a campfire, sang to woo their wayward loves and keep away the dark, the Blues began when we did.
Because older versions of songs are full of slang and references that belong to the time they were sung in, songs, to communicate as best they can, change. When I began to play “Walking Blues,” I changed words too. I did keep Robert Johnson’s line, “She’s got Elgin movement head to her toes,” although Elgin watches have not been manufactured since 1968; in my mind there is also a connection to “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles” by John Keats. So “Elgin movement” remains.
I am not a good musician—I’m too lazy and undisciplined; you don’t have to remind me. But I’ve always been all right with the words, and feel OK passing them along.
Woke up this morning looking round for my shoes Think I’ve got those Walking Blues Woke up this morning looking round for my shoes Think I’ve got those Walking Blues
It’s like I took a match to everything I own Woke up this morning. Everything I had was gone Like I took a match to my happy home. Woke up this morning. Everything I had was gone.
I can leave right now if I have to. Get on down the line. I’ve been mistreated and I don’t mind dying. I’ll leave right now and get on down the line. Sitting crying is just a waste of time
She’s got Elgin movement, head to her toes She can break a dollar wherever she goes Elgin movement from her head down to her toes You can hear them holler most anywhere that she goes
Come on, Shoes. Let’s get on down the road. Not going to get there until we go Come on, Shoes. Let’s get on down that road. Not going to get there until we go.