Boll Weevil (song)

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"Boll Weevil" is a traditional blues song, also known by similar titles such as "Boweavil" or "Boll Weevil Blues." Although many songs about the boll weevil were recorded by blues musicians during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, this one has become well known, thanks to Lead Belly's rendition of it as recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax in 1934. A 1961 adaptation by Brook Benton became a pop hit, reaching number two on the Billboard Hot 100.

Lyrics[edit]

The lyrics deal with the boll weevil (Anthonomus grandis), a beetle, which feeds on cotton buds and flowers, that migrated into the U.S. from Mexico in the late 19th century and had infested all U.S. cotton-growing areas by the 1920s, causing severe devastation to the industry.

Origins[edit]

The song is known to be "at least a century old."[1]

Perhaps as early as 1908,[1] blues pioneer Charley Patton wrote a song called "Mississippi Bo Weavil Blues" and recorded it in July 1929 (as "The Masked Marvel") for Paramount Records. Some of the lyrics are similar to "Boll Weevil," describing the first time and "the next time" the narrator saw the boll weevil and making reference to the weevil's family and home. "Mother of the Blues" Ma Rainey recorded a song called "Bo-Weavil Blues" in Chicago in December 1923, and Bessie Smith covered it in 1924, but the song had little in common with Lead Belly's "Boll Weevil" aside from the subject matter.

A version recorded by the Old Time Country musician Gid Tanner in 1924 (see Country Music Records A Discography, 1921 -1942, Tony Russell, Oxford University Press, 2004)is extremely similar to Lead Belly's both in the tune and the dialog lyrics. It can be accessed at this link: https://www.myspace.com/gidtanner/music/songs?filter=featured#!

At least two other early Country versions of Boll Weevil or Boll Weevil Blues (Tanner's title) are listed in Russell.

In both Jaybird Coleman's "Boll Weevil," from the late 1920s, and Blind Willie McTell's, from the 1930s, we find the element of a dialogue between the boll weevil and a farmer.[2] W.A. Lindsey & Alvin Condor's "Boll Weevil" recorded February 24, 1928 contains these same elements.[3]

But the first version to include all the hallmarks of the song is Lead Belly's, first recorded by Lomax on October 15, 1934 in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Later versions[edit]

Lead Belly himself re-recorded the song a number of times between 1934 and his death in 1949, with slightly different lyrics. The following is a list of cover versions by other artists.

[4] [5]

Brook Benton version[edit]

"The Boll Weevil Song"
Single by Brook Benton
from the album The Boll Weevil Song and 11 Other Great Hits
B-side "Your Eyes"
Released 1961
Format 7" (45 rpm)
Genre Novelty song
Length 2:39
Label Mercury Records
Writer(s) Brook Benton
Clyde Otis
Producer(s) Shelby Singleton
Brook Benton singles chronology
"Think Twice"
(1961)
"The Boll Weevil Song"
(1961)
"Hit Record"
(1962)

The 1961 recording by American R&B singer Brook Benton was released as "The Boll Weevil Song" in an adaptation by Benton and frequent musical collaborator Clyde Otis. Considered a novelty record, it was produced by Shelby Singleton and appeared on an album called The Boll Weevil Song and 11 Other Great Hits.

Benton's recording was a hit single during the summer of 1961 and became the highest-charting single of his career on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where the singer had eight Top 10 hits between 1959 and 1970. "The Boll Weevil Song" spent three weeks at number two on the Hot 100 chart.[6] On the R&B chart, where Benton had enjoyed even greater success, the song also reached number two.

On the week ending July 17, 1961, Billboard Magazine debuted a new chart called the "Easy Listening chart" (renamed the Adult Contemporary chart in 1979). This separate chart was created to list songs that the magazine deemed were not rock and roll records. Since the number-one song on the Hot 100 chart at the time was "Tossin' and Turnin'" by rock and roll singer Bobby Lewis, and Benton's song was not considered rock and roll by the magazine, "The Boll Weevil Song" holds the distinction of being the first number-one song on the Billboard Easy Listening chart.[7]

In the UK, the song reached a peak position of number 30 on the UK Singles Chart and remained in the Top 40 for eight weeks during the summer of 1961.[8]

The majority of the song's lyrics are spoken by Benton, as in when the farmer inquires, "Say, why'd you pick my farm?", to which the boll weevils reply, "We ain't gonna do ya much harm". The chorus of "we're lookin' for a home" was sung by Benton and the Mike Stewart Singers.

Eddie Cochran version[edit]

"Boll Weevil Song"
Single by Eddie Cochran
from the album Never To Be Forgotten
A-side "Somethin' Else"
Released July 1959
Format 7" 45rpm
Recorded 23 June 1959
Genre Rock and roll
Label Liberty F-55203
Producer(s) Eddie Cochran
Eddie Cochran singles chronology
"Teenage Heaven"
(1959)
"Somethin' Else"
(1959)
"Hallelujah, I Love Her So"
(1959)

"Boll Weevil Song" is an adaption of the traditional blues song written by Eddie Cochran and Jerry Capehart. It was the B-side of Cochran's Liberty Records hit single "Somethin' Else" and released in July 1959.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Boll Weevil Here, Boll Weevil Everywhere: Field Recordings, Vol. 16 (1934-1940)". Allmusic. Retrieved January 9, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Uncensored History of the Blues: Show 40 - Boll Weevil Blues". Purplebeech.com. 2009-01-24. Retrieved 2012-01-09. 
  3. ^ All About Jazz (2008-02-20). "Various Artists | People Take Warning! Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs, 1913-1938". Allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved 2012-01-09. 
  4. ^ "Tex Ritter". Famoustexans.com. Retrieved 2012-01-09. 
  5. ^ "RITTER, WOODWARD MAURICE [TEX] | The Handbook of Texas Online| Texas State Historical Association (TSHA)". Tshaonline.org. Retrieved 2012-01-09. 
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 8th Edition (Billboard Publications), page 59.
  7. ^ Hyatt, Wesley (1999). The Billboard Book of #1 Adult Contemporary Hits (Billboard Publications), page 1.
  8. ^ UK Singles Chart info Chartstats.com. Retrieved 7 April 2009.