Come On in My Kitchen

"Come On in My Kitchen" is a blues song by Robert Johnson. Music writer Elijah Wald has described it as "a hypnotic lament" and "his first unquestionable masterpiece".[1] A sometime traveling companion and fellow musician, Johnny Shines, recalled that Johnson's performance of the song could be overpowering:

"Come On in My Kitchen"
Come On in My Kitchen - single cover.png
Original 78 record label
Single by Robert Johnson
ReleasedJuly 1937 (1937-07)
RecordedNovember 23, 1936
StudioGunter Hotel, San Antonio, Texas
GenreBlues
Length2:35
LabelVocalion, ARC
Songwriter(s)Robert Johnson
Producer(s)Don Law

One time in St, Louis we were playing one of the songs that Robert would like to play with someone once in a great while, "Come On In My Kitchen". He was playing very slow and passionately, and when we had quit, I noticed no one was saying anything. Then I realised they were crying – both women and men.[2]

BackgroundEdit

Blues scholars have identified a body of previously recorded songs with direct and indirect melodic similarities. Edward Komara suggests a line of recordings with notably high degree of sales and of imitation by other artists: 1925 "How Long Daddy How Long" (Ida Cox with Papa Charlie Jackson); 1928 "How Long How Long Blues" (Leroy Carr with Scrapper Blackwell); 1930 "Sitting on Top of the World: (Mississippi Sheiks); 1934 "Six Feet in the Ground" (St. Louis Jimmy Oden). Former neighbours report that Johnson learned "How Long" from Carr's record in the year following its release.

Komara suggests that Johnson's thumbed bass lines in "Come On in My Kitchen" were directly inspired by Carr's piano in "How Long" and that part of humming and slide guitar playing copied the violin of Lonnie Chatman of the Sheiks on "Sitting on Top of the World".[3] Elijah Wald suggests that Johnson's main inspiration was Tampa Red's 1934 "Things 'Bout Coming My Way".[4] The structure of this melodic family is an eight bar blues with a couplet followed by a refrain. The repeated refrain gives textual unity to the song, and generally sets an emotional tone to which the couplet verses conform.

LyricsEdit

In his two takes, Johnson created two texts based on the refrain and on a consistent emotional projection. In both, his opening verse is a wordless hum, and his central verse is the spoken address to his woman "Can't you hear that wind howl" as his guitar imitates the sound of winter wind. Only two sung verses are common to both takes. One describes the isolation of the woman: "Everybody throws her down". The other establishes the regretful retrospective mood of the singer:

The woman I love, took from my best friend
Some joker got lucky, stole her back again

This verse had been used by Skip James in the emotionally similar "Devil Got My Woman". Some critics believe that Johnson copied the verse either directly from James or indirectly through Johnny Temple[5][6] The issued second take has three other verses, all of which could fit easily into other songs. His woman "is up the country, won't write to me". The singer "went up the mountain" only to see that "another man got my woman". He is an orphan: "Ain't got nobody to care for me" The unissued first take was slower, with time for only two other verses. These are perhaps closer to the central mood with themes of separation and of winter. The woman won't come back: "I've taken the last nickel, out of her nation sack". A "nation sack" was a pouch for carrying money and personal effects, originally a juke joint keeper's "donation sack" to hold the takings.[7] In one interpretation, the nation sack would have contained nine silver coins as a love spell.[8] In the other verse, winter is coming but "That's dry long so". The phrase has changed its meaning, but originally meant "without a cause" or "that's just how it is".[9]

Recording and releasesEdit

Johnson recorded the song on November 23, 1936, at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas – his first recording session. Two takes were preserved. Vocalion Records issued the second take in 1937; Columbia Records chosen the first for Johnson's first compilation King of the Delta Blues Singers (1961). Wald believes that the Vocalion producers considered the first take to be too mournful and uncommercial, and told Johnson to sing a more upbeat variant for the second take. Wald feels that the inferior take was the one actually issued in 1937.[10]

CoversEdit

The rhythm & blues duo Delaney and Bonnie recorded the song in an acoustic medley with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist Duane Allman on Dobro, released on their 1971 album Motel Shot. Said Stuart D. Krause of the performance in Duane Allman: The Studio Recordings, "The 'Come on in my Kitchen: Medley' is a true high point on the album, featuring Duane’s unmistakable Dobro."[11] The trio reprised "Come on in my Kitchen" during a July 1971 live radio show broadcast by New York's WABC-FM (now WPLJ). The recording is included on the 1974 Duane Allman compilation album An Anthology, Vol. II., highlighting the famed slide guitarist's most memorable works.

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Wald, Elijah (2004). Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. Amistad. ISBN 978-0-06-052427-2. p. 142.
  2. ^ Olbrect, Jas (ed). (1993). Blues Guitar: The Men Who Made the Music. San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books. Quoted in Wald (2004) p. 119.
  3. ^ Komara, Edward (2007). The Road to Robert Johnson: The Genesis and Evolution of Blues in the Delta From the Late 1800s Through 1938. Hal Leonard. ISBN 978-0-634-00907-5.
  4. ^ Wald (2004). p. 144.
  5. ^ Komara (2007) p.29
  6. ^ Wald (2004) p. 142
  7. ^ Calt, Stephen. (2009). Barrelhouse Words, A Blues Dialect Dictionary. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
  8. ^ [9] Harry Middleton Hyatt, Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork, 5v., 4766pp., (1935-1939). "Spell #13008". Contained in this work are interviews with hoodoo practitioners illustrating the use and meaning of the nation sack.
  9. ^ Calt (2009)
  10. ^ Wald (2004) pp. 144-145
  11. ^ "Duane Allman: The Studio Recordings" (first published in Discoveries, November 2005, Issue 210)