Crawling King Snake

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"Crawling King Snake"
Single by Big Joe Williams
B-side"Meet Me Around the Corner"
Released1941 (1941)
Format10" 78 rpm record
RecordedChicago, March 27, 1941
LabelBluebird (Cat. no. 8738)

"Crawling King Snake" (alternatively "Crawlin' King Snake" or "Crawling/Crawlin' Kingsnake") is a blues song that has been recorded by numerous blues and other artists. It is believed to have originated as a Delta blues in the 1920s[1] and be related to earlier songs, such as "Black Snake Blues" by Victoria Spivey (1926 OKeh 8338) and "Black Snake Moan" by Blind Lemon Jefferson (1926 OKeh 8455).

As "Crawling King Snake", it was first recorded by Big Joe Williams on March 27, 1941. The song is a country-style blues, with Williams on vocal and nine-string guitar and William Mitchell providing imitation bass[2] accompaniment. On June 3, 1941, Delta bluesman Tony Hollins recorded "a markedly different version"[3] (OKeh 06350), which served as the basis for many subsequent versions.

John Lee Hooker versions[edit]

John Lee Hooker began performing "Crawling King Snake" early in his career and included it in his sets after arriving in Detroit, Michigan in the early 1940s.[4] In an interview, Hooker explained that he adapted Tony Hollins' song: "I got that 'Crawling King Snake' from him [Hollins]".[5] Hooker first recorded the song in Detroit on February 18, 1949 for producer Bernard Besman. When it was released by Los Angeles-based Modern Records, "Crawling King Snake" became one of Hooker's most successful singles, reaching number six on the Billboard R&B chart in 1949.[6]

Hooker recorded several subsequent versions of the song, including one with Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards for Hooker's 1991 album Mr. Lucky. "Crawling King Snake" "remained one of his signature songs and became a concert staple for dozens of blues-rock bands".[7]

Other recordings[edit]

Various musicians have recorded their interpretations of "Crawling King Snake", including Howlin' Wolf (1966), Fear Itself (1969), Big Walter Horton (1970), and Muddy Waters (1971). American rock band The Doors, who had performed the song since the earliest days of the band, recorded it for their 1971 album L.A. Woman. Eric Burdon recorded it as a two-minute track for his 1982 album Comeback; his complete 11 minute version is included on a later compilation album. Other versions include those by George Thorogood (1985 Maverick), Junior Kimbrough (1994 Sad Days, Lonely Nights), Buddy Guy (2003 Blues Singer), Etta James (2004 Blues to the Bone), and Peter Green Splinter Group (2001 Blues Don't Change, released 2012).


  1. ^ Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). "Crawling King Snake". Encyclopedia of the Blues. University of Arkansas Press. p. 443. ISBN 1-55728-252-8.
  2. ^ Usually a jug or washtub bass.
  3. ^ Young, Alan (1997). Woke Me Up This Morning: Black Gospel Singers and the Gospel Life. University Press of Mississippi. p. 292. ISBN 978-0-87805-944-7.
  4. ^ Gioia, Ted (2008). Delta Blues. W. W. Norton. p. 240. ISBN 978-0-393-33750-1.
  5. ^ O'Neal, Jim; van Singel, Amy (2002). The Voice of the Blues: Classic Interviews from Living Blues Magazine. Routledge. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-415-93654-5.
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Record Research, Inc. p. 194. ISBN 0-89820-068-7.
  7. ^ Dicarre, David (1999). Blues Singers: Biographies of 50 Legendary Artists of the Early 20th Century. McFarland & Co Inc. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-7864-0606-7.