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Shake 'Em on Down Blues (Bukka White)

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Shake 'Em on Down Blues

"Shake 'Em on Down" is a country-style blues song recorded by Bukka White in 1937. What does the phrase "shake 'em on down" mean?

Although there doesn't appear to be any definition of this phrase online, there seems to be no doubt in traditional Blues songs, the phrase "shake 'em on down" means having sexual intercourse with another person. That meaning of "shake em on down" is used in several blues songs that have different lyrics overall...

Shake 'Em on Down Blues

The phrase "shake 'em on down" is closely related to the phrase "shake that thing" a blues euphemism for engaging in sex, popularized by Papa Charlie Jackson's 1925 hit "Shake That Thing". it now has a more socially acceptable meaning of "getting down" on the dance floor.

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Shake 'em on down in juke joint

 

"Shake em on down" is probably also closely related to the exhortations "Get [on] down to the [real] nitty gritty.” The phrase "get down to the nitty gritty" originated or was popularized by African Americans in juke joints and other dance halls in the early 20th century. The phrase derived referred to reaching nits at the bottom of a barrell but referred to the custom of women -and men- shaking their bodies down close to the floor. That form of "funky" sweat inducing dancing can certainly be said to be a public imitation of the sex act.

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Shake 'em on down

 

Generally, if you aren't certain what a term in a blues song means, it means sex.

Bukka White (true name: Booker T. Washington White) was born in Houston, Mississippi in 1906. When Bukka White was 14 he spent some time with an uncle in Clarksdale, Mississippi and passed himself off as a 21-year-old, using his guitar playing as a way to attract women. Somewhere along the line, White came in contact with Delta blues legend Charley Patton, who no doubt was able to give Bukka White instruction on how to improve his skills in both areas of endeavor.

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Bukka White

 

In 1930 Bukka White met furniture salesman Ralph Limbo, who was also a talent scout for Victor. White traveled to Memphis where he made his first recordings, singing a mixture of blues and gospel material under the name of Washington White.

White until 1937 had gotten into some trouble -- he later claimed he and a friend had been "ambushed" by a man along a highway, and White shot the man in the thigh in self defense. While awaiting trial, he fled to Chicago, where he recorded with Big Bill Broonzy before being caught and sentenced to the notorious Parchman Prison Farm.

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Parchman Farm

 

Bukka White proved a model prisoner, popular with inmates and prison guards alike and earning the nickname "Barrelhouse." It was as "Washington Barrelhouse White" that White recorded two numbers for John and Alan Lomax at Parchman Farm in 1939: "Shake 'Em on Down," and "Po' Boy."

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Alan Lomax

 

"Shake 'Em on Down", "with its shuffling rhythms and risqué lyric", was recorded by White on vocal and guitar with an unidentified second guitarist. The song is a moderate-tempo twelve-bar blues notated in 4/4 time in the key of E.

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Bukka White

 

The song became a hit and "earned White the status of a celebrity within Parchman", including an audience with the governor. "When White performed for the governor of Mississippi, on the latter's visit to Parchman, he was surprised that the politician already knew about him" (according to Ted Gioia, noted jazz critic and music historian). Largely on the strength of "Shake 'Em on Down", when White was released from prison, he was able to resume his recording career with Vocalion Records' producer Lester Melrose, despite the shift in public taste that had taken place in the previous two and a half years.

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Bukka White

 

After Bukka White's success, "Shake 'Em on Down" was recorded by several bluesmen. Some used White's title or a variation, such as "Ride 'Em on Down", "Break 'Em on Down", or "Truck 'Em on Down". Big Bill Broonzy recorded a version in 1938 and became "an even bigger hit". Other versions followed by Tommy McClennan (1939), Big Joe Williams (1941), and Robert Petway (1941).

Mississippi Fred McDowell recorded several versions using electric slide guitar, including one for the 1972 album Live in New York. British rock band Savoy Brown recorded the song for their 1967 debut album Shake Down.

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Fred McDowell

 

R.L. Burnside recorded several versions, including one with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion for A Ass Pocket of Whiskey (1996). The North Mississippi Allstars covered the song on their Grammy-winning album Shake Hands With Shorty.

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Shake 'em on down

 

Bukka White - Shake 'em On Down


Yes, you're a nice girl, mama
And little girl
Night before day
We gonna
Shake 'em on down

I need some time holler, now
Oh, must I shake 'em on down
I done shout hollerin', now
Must I shake 'em on down

Too much is debted to me
Through the week
Save these chili peppers
Some ol' rainy day, here

Best I'm hollerin', now
Ooh, must I shake 'em on down
I done shout hollerin', now
Must I shake 'em on down, now

Fix my supper
Let me go to bed
This white lightnin' done gone
To my head

Oh, must I holler now
Ooh, must I shake 'em on down
I done shout hollerin', now
Must I shake 'em on down

I ain't been in Georgia, babe
I been told
Georgia women got the best
Jellyroll

These nights time holler, now
Oh, must I shake 'em on down
I done shout hollerin', mama
Must I shake 'em on down

See See mama, heard
You, done-done
Made me love you, now I know
Man done coming

Best I'm hollerin', now
Oh, must I shake 'em on down
I done shout hollerin', mama
Must I shake 'em on down

Pretty girl's got
They don't know
What it is
Make me drunk at that old
Whiskey still

It's best I'm hollerin', now
Oh, must I shake 'em on down
I done shout hollerin'
Must I shake 'em on down

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Bukka White

 

Last Updated (Friday, 13 March 2015 16:05)

 

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