Come On in My Kitchen
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"Come On in My Kitchen" is a blues song by Robert Johnson. Drawing on popular recordings of a traditional tune, Johnson creates a picture of himself alone in his kitchen. As the wind howls outside, he urges his lover to join him before the rain starts.
|"Come On in My Kitchen"|
Original 78 record label
|Single by Robert Johnson|
|Format||78 rpm record|
|Recorded||November 23, 1936|
|Studio||Gunter Hotel, San Antonio, Texas|
A critic has described it as "a hypnotic lament" and "his first unquestionable masterpiece". A sometime traveling companion and fellow musician, Johnny Shines, recalled that Johnson's performance of the song could be overpowering:
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.
Some versions are credited to Robert Johnson and Woody Payne.
Johnson recorded the song on November 23, 1936, at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas – his first recording session. Two takes were preserved. Take two was issued in 1937 on Vocalion 03563. Take one was chosen for issue by Columbia Records on King of the Delta Blues Singers in 1961.
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". Elijah Wald suggests that Johnson's main inspiration was Tampa Red's 1934 "Things 'Bout Coming My Way".
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.
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
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. In one interpretation, the nation sack would have contained nine silver coins as a love spell.
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".
The first take was first issued in 1961. Elijah Wald believes that the Vocalion producers considered it 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.
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There have been many recordings of the song, but unlike some of Johnson's other songs – such as "Dust My Broom" and "Sweet Home Chicago" – the song never entered the standard repertoire of black blues singers after his death. But upon its re-release in the 1960s, it was performed by white (and often British) blues and rock musicians, who were influenced by the Johnson LP collection, such as Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton, Delaney and Bonnie, Peter Green, Patti Smith and Rory Block; ex-Beatle George Harrison performed a version at The Concert for Bangladesh rehearsal with Leon Russell, Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr. Leon Russell has also been performed it live. Crosby, Stills & Nash used some of the refrain in background just before the song "49 Bye-Byes". Delaney and Bonnie recorded an acoustic live version of it (featuring Duane Allman on slide guitar) in 1971. The Steve Miller Band included a live version (recorded at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia) on the 1973 album, The Joker. The Allman Brothers Band recorded song for the studio album Shades of Two Worlds in 1991. David Bromberg performed a version of the song on the live portion of How Late'll Ya Play 'Til?. In more recent years black blues players including Keb' Mo' and Chris Thomas King have performed and recorded versions. Jazz singer Cassandra Wilson included the song in her 1993 album Blue Light 'Til Dawn. Crooked Still, an alternative bluegrass band recorded it in 2006 for their album Shaken by a Low Sound. HowellDevine recorded a version for their first album, Delta Grooves (2012).
- Wald, Elijah (2004). Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. Amistad. ISBN 978-0-06-052427-2. p. 142.
- Olbrect, Jas (ed). (1993). Blues Guitar: The Men Who Made the Music. San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books. Quoted in Wald (2004) p. 119.
- 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.
- Wald (2004). p. 144.
- Komara (2007) p.29
- Wald (2004) p. 142
- Calt, Stephen. (2009). Barrelhouse Words, A Blues Dialect Dictionary. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
-  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.
- Calt (2009)
- Wald (2004) pp. 144-145