Shake 'Em On Down

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"Shake 'Em on Down"
Single by Bukka White
A-side "Pinebluff, Arkansas"
Released 1937 (1937)
Format 10" 78 rpm record
Recorded Chicago
September 2, 1937
Genre Blues
Length 2:59
Label Vocalion (Cat. no. 3711)
Producer(s) Lester Melrose

"Shake 'Em On Down" is a Delta blues song by American musician Bukka White. In 1937, he recorded it in Chicago for producer Lester Melrose. It is his best-known song and became a blues standard, with recordings by a number of blues and other artists.


After several attempts at recording for Victor Records and Okeh Records in the early 1930s, Bukka White came to the attention of Vocalion Records' producer Lester Melrose. Melrose arranged for White to record a single in Chicago in 1937, but White was arrested and convicted for a shooting incident and received a two-year sentence at the infamous Parchman Prison Farm in Mississippi. However, White did manage to record two songs—"Shake 'Em On Down" and "Pinebluff, Arkansas"—before serving his time, either by jumping bail or through an arrangement by Melrose.[1]

Original song[edit]

"Shake 'Em On Down" 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
time in the key of E.[2] Music writer Mark Humphrey has described the rhythm as "shuffling" and its lyrics as "risqué":[3]

Get your nightcap mama, and your gown
Baby 'fore day we gonna shake 'em on down
Hey done stopped hollerin', oh, must I shake 'em on down
I done stopped hollerin' now, must I shake 'em on down

The song became a hit and "earned White the status of a celebrity within Parchman", including an audience with the governor.[4] According to music historian Ted Gioia, "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".[4] Largely on the strength of "Shake 'Em On Down", when White was released from prison, he was able to resume his recording career with Melrose and Vocalion, despite the shift in public taste that had taken place in the previous two and a half years.[4]

Other recordings[edit]

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", according to Gioia.[4] (Vocalion 4149). Other versions followed by Tommy McClennan (1939 Bluebird 8347), Big Joe Williams (1941 Bluebird 8969), and Robert Petway (1941 Bluebird 8838).

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. Led Zeppelin's "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper" (1970) uses some similar lyrics:

Listen mama, put on your mornin' gown
Put in your nightshirt mama, we're gonna shake 'em down
Must I holler ... must I shake 'em on down

Similar lyrics also appear in Led Zeppelin's song "Custard Pie" (1975).

The Black Crowes recorded a live version of "Shake 'Em on Down" which was included on the Japanese release of The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (1992). Recoil reworked a recording of Bukka White performing "Shake 'Em On Down" into "Electro Blues for Bukka White" on Bloodline (1992), and again into "Electro Blues for Bukka White (2000 Version)" on the "Jezebel" single (2000). 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 recorded the song for their Grammy-winning album Shake Hands with Shorty (2000).


  1. ^ "Bukka White". Gale Musician Profiles. Retrieved July 17, 2011. 
  2. ^ Burton, Thomas G. (1981). Tom Ashley, Sam McGee, Bukka White: Tennessee Traditional Singers. University of Tennessee Press. p. 173. ISBN 0-87049-260-8. 
  3. ^ Humphrey, Mark (1994). The Complete Bukka White (CD booklet). Bukka White. Columbia/Legacy. CK 52782. 
  4. ^ a b c d Gioia, Ted (2008). Delta Blues. W. W. Norton. pp. 90–93. ISBN 978-0-393-33750-1.