Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Memphis Minnie McCoy-Lawler – I Owe You an Apology
I recently credited one of my favorite bands, Led Zeppelin with writing the song, “When the Levee Breaks.” I was wrong. As it turns out according to http://www.songfacts.com/ (main site and most certainly worth investigating if you are a music fan), or more specifically, http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=335, “The lyrics to this song (written by Memphis Minnie in 1927) are based on The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. African-American plantation workers were forced to work on the levee at gunpoint, piling sandbags to save the neighboring towns. Hence the lyrics, "I works on the levee, mama both night and day, I works so hard, to keep the water away." After the levee breached, blacks were not allowed to leave the area, and were forced to work in the relief and cleanup effort, living in camps with limited access to the supplies, which were coming in. Many left at the first chance since there was no work in the Delta after the destruction of all of the plantations; hence the lyrics, "Oh cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do no good" and "I's a mean old levee, cause me to weep and moan, gonna leave my baby, and my happy home”.
Rock, blues, and jazz – we really owe a debt to untold thousands of African American musicians. There is an article by Barry Lee Pearson at All Music that you should check out (http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:kiftxq95ld0e~T1). Of course there is always my favorite second brain too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memphis_Minnie.
I’m sorry Memphis Minnie; I didn’t know. I look forward to discovering you for myself.