Come On in My Kitchen

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"Come On in My Kitchen"
Song by Robert Johnson
Released July 1937 (1937-07)
Format 78 rpm
A-side Come On in My Kitchen
Recorded San Antonio, Texas. November 23, 1936
Genre Blues
Label Vocalion
Writer Robert Johnson

"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.

A critic has described 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.

"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]

Recording[edit]

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 2 was issued in 1937 on Vocalion 03563. Take 1 was chosen for issue by Columbia Records on King of the Delta Blues Singers in 1961.

Sources[edit]

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. Many longer refrains were melodically close to the Sheiks'

But now she's gone, I don't worry
I'm sitting on top of the world

and Tampa Red's

But after all, my hard traveling
Things is 'bout coming my way

Johnson's variant is

You'd better come on, in my kitchen
It's goin' to be raining outdoors

Texts[edit]

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 take 2 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 take 1 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". (Dry long so has changed its meaning in Black speech, but originally meant 'without a cause' or 'That's just how it is'.)[9]

Take 1 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 take 2. This —in Wald's judgement— Inferior take was the one actually issued in 1937.[10]

Song[edit]

There have been many cover versions of the song recorded, 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. This is perhaps because the song did not fit the common 12 bar blues structure of most popular blues, and also possibly because it was not a big seller when originally released on 78. But upon its re-release in the 1960s it became a favorite cover for white (and often British) blues and rock musicians who were influenced by the Johnson LP collection – notably Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Patti Smith[11] and Rory Block; ex-Beatle George Harrison performed a version at The Concert for Bangladesh. On the Crosby, Stills & Nash album Crosby, Stills & Nash, the title riff can be heard faintly in the background just before the song "49 Bye-Byes". Delaney and Bonnie recorded an acoustic live version of it (feat. Duane Allman on slide guitar) in 1971. 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. Crooked Still, an alternative bluegrass band recorded it in 2006 for their album Shaken by a Low Sound.

Notes[edit]

  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. ^ Patti Smith's b-side (CD2)

External links[edit]