The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
"Jug Band Song"
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"Jug Band Song"

#366 / June 28 Podcast

This raucous David Bromberg composition that The Flood has covered since the song’s release in the early 1970s opens with a stream of similes worthy of any precocious English major:

She's got eyes like crystal water,
Lips like cherry wine,
A body like fine brandy,
… And a soul like turpentine

But the best bit — the capper for the song — is a borrowed line, in fact, one of the greatest lines in the entire blues oeuvre:

When I ask for water she brings me gasoline!

In other words, Bromberg used “Jug Band Song” — released on his Demon in Disguise album, his second for Columbia — to pay tribute to one of his idols.

Or maybe more than one idol, actually.

So Where Did That Wild Line Come From?

Most of us who have mucked about in the midnight milieu of blues and hokum think the line is obviously from The Wolf, Mister HOWLIN’ Wolf. And that’s true. But only up to a point.

The fact is that in 1956, with the great Willie Dixon at his side on bass, Howlin’ Wolf recorded “I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)” for Chess Records. The disc is considered by many to be a defining moment in a remarkable career.

However, dig a little deeper — as we usually try to do around here — and you find that Howlin’ Wolf was honoring one of his own heroes with that line.

Almost 30 years before Wolf, Delta blues innovator Tommy Johnson of Crystal Springs, Mississippi, opened his 1928 recording of “Cool Drink of Water Blues” for Victor with:

I asked her for water, and she gave me gasoline.

As near as we can tell, that is where the line was born.

Tommy in Rock

Tommy Johnson made a habit, incidentally, of contemplating unconventional brews. Remember Alan Wilson and Bob Hite’s rocking 1960s blues band Canned Heat?

Well, they took their name from a Johnson song, one that was recorded at that same 1928 Victor session in Memphis, in fact. Singing about drinking methanol from the fuel Sterno, Johnson recorded, “canned heat, mama, sure, Lord, killing me!…”)

Tommy on the Screen

In popular culture, Johnson was enshrined in the year 2000 when the Coen Brothers included a character named Tommy Johnson in their film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Portrayed by Chris Thomas King, the character at one point memorably tells The Soggy Bottom Boys how he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for killer blues guitar chops. (“Oh, son, for that you traded your everlasting soul? / Well, I wasn’t using it.”)

Props to the Coens for including that bit of music lore. The story of Johnson's dealing his soul to the devil was first told by his brother, LaDell Johnson, and was reported in David Evans’ seminal 1971 biography of the artist.

(This legend was subsequently attributed to the unrelated blues musician, Robert Johnson, but in fact the story started with Tommy.)

Our Take on the Tune

In our world, some songs turn up at the beginning of a Flood night and gauge the energy in the room. Others — like this one — come at the end of the evening and give everybody one last blast before they pack up and head for home.

Oh, and be sure listen to the end of this track to catch Sam St. Clair’s special sound effects. We think you’ll agree they’re right on the nose!

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The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
Each week The 1937 Flood, West Virginia's most eclectic string band, offers a free tune from a recent rehearsal, show or jam session. Music styles range from blues and jazz to folk, hokum, ballad and old-time. All the podcasts, dating back to 2008, are archived on our website; you and use the archive for free at:
http://1937flood.com/pages/bb-podcastarchives.html