See See Rider

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"See See Rider Blues"
Single by Ma Rainey
A-side"Jealous Hearted Blues"
Released1924 (1924)–1925
RecordedOctober 16, 1924
Songwriter(s)Ma Rainey, Lena Arant
Ma Rainey singles chronology
"Booze and Blues"
"See See Rider Blues"
"Cell Bound Blues"

"See See Rider", also known as "C.C. Rider", "See See Rider Blues" or "Easy Rider", is a popular American 12-bar blues[1] song that became a standard in several genres.[2] Gertrude "Ma" Rainey was the first to record it on October 16, 1924, at Paramount Records in New York.[3] The song uses mostly traditional blues lyrics to tell the story of an unfaithful lover, commonly called an "easy rider": "See see rider, see what you have done", making a play on the word "see" and the sound of "easy".


"See See Rider" is a traditional song that may have originated on the black vaudeville circuit. It is similar to "Poor Boy Blues" as performed by Ramblin' Thomas.[4] Jelly Roll Morton recollected hearing the song as a young boy some time after 1901 in New Orleans, Louisiana, when he performed with a spiritual quartet that played at funerals. Older band members played "See See Rider" during get-togethers with their "sweet mamas" or as Morton called them "fifth-class whores".[5]

Big Bill Broonzy claimed that "when he was about 9 or 10—that is, around 1908, in the Delta (Jefferson County, Arkansas)—he learned to play the blues from an itinerant songster named "See See Rider", "a former slave, who played a one-string fiddle ... one of the first singers of what would later be called the blues."[6] Lead Belly and Blind Lemon Jefferson performed the song in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area between 1912 and 1917.[7]

The song is possibly connected to the Shelton Brooks composition "I Wonder Where My Easy Rider's Gone" (1913) that was inspired by the mysterious 1907 disappearance of the 28-year-old jockey Jimmy Lee, "The Black Demon", a well-known black rider who won every race on the card at Churchill Downs.[8]


Ma Rainey's rendition of "See See Rider" is based on a traditional folk 12-bar blues, such as the rendition by Lead Belly in which the lyrics follows the traditional repetition of the first line of the stanza structure (AAB). Ma Rainey's rendition opens with the three couplet introduction credited to Lena Arant that explains why the songstress is blue. The following lines are adapted in the less typical repetition of the second line of the stanza (ABB) pattern.[9][10]

Gates Thomas collected a version of "C.C. Rider" in the 1920s in south Texas. It repeated the second line of the stanza (ABB) rather than the first (AAB) that is more common in blues.[10] Folklorists recorded regional variations in stanza patterns such as ABB and ABA in Texas versus AB in New Orleans.[11]


In October 1924, "Ma" Rainey was the first to record "See See Rider Blues" at Paramount Records New York Studio. Her Georgia Jazz Band included Louis Armstrong on cornet, Charlie Green on trombone, Buster Bailey on clarinet, Fletcher Henderson on piano, and Charlie Dixon on banjo.[12] The record was released in 1925. While the copyright listed Lena Arant as a composer, she was responsible only for the first three rhymed couplets at the beginning of the song.[9]

In 1943, a version by Wee Bea Booze reached number one on Billboard magazine's Harlem Hit Parade, a precursor of the rhythm and blues chart. Some blues critics consider this to be the definitive version of the song.[13] Later rock-oriented versions were recorded by Chuck Willis (as "C.C. Rider", a number one R&B hit and a number 12 pop hit in 1957) and LaVern Baker (number nine R&B and number 34 pop in 1963).[14]

Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels' version of the song (as part of the medley "Jenny Take a Ride!") reached number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1965 the US.[15] In 1966, Eric Burdon & the Animals recorded "See See Rider" for their fourth American album, Animalization. It was also released as a single, which reached number 10 on the Hot 100.[16] Cash Box said that it is an "excellent re-working" in which the Animals play "the bluesy sturdie in an infectious, hard-pounding rollicking style."[17]

Blind blues guitarist Snooks Eaglin covered this song (sub nom "See See Rider") on his 1964 album New Orleans Street Singer album.[18][19] (The early 1959 album of the same title did not include this track).

Recognition and influence[edit]

In 2004, Ma Rainey's "See See Rider" was selected for the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress to preserve its legacy for future generations.[12] In 2004, her recording received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. Film director Martin Scorsese credited the song with stimulating his interest in music. He commented:

One day, around 1958, I remember hearing something that was unlike anything I'd ever heard before ... The music was demanding, "Listen to me!" ... The song was called "See See Rider," which I already knew from the Chuck Willis cover version. The name of the singer was Lead Belly ... I found an old Folkways record by Lead Belly ... And I listened to it obsessively. Lead Belly's music opened something up for me. If I could have played guitar, really played it, I never would have become a filmmaker.[20]

In 2018, the Blues Foundation inducted "See See Rider" into the Blues Hall of Fame as a "classic of blues recording".[2] The induction statement noted that the song "became a standard recorded by countless artists in many genres [with] hit singles [and] many other versions by blues, soul, jazz, pop, country, and rock performers".[2] It is also specifically recognized as a blues standard.[21]

John "Big Nig" Bray, the leader of a crew that hauled cypress logs from Louisiana swamps in the 1930s, borrowed the frame and tune of "See See Rider" for his "Trench Blues" (1934), a semi-autobiographical heroic blues ballad recounting the experience of an African American soldier in World War I, as recorded by Alan Lomax.[22] "See See Rider" was among the most known African American play party songs in Alabama in the 1950s.[23]

Origins of the term[edit]

There are many theories and conjectures about the origin and meaning of the title; none of them have been proven correct, and the song's complex history may make proof impossible. Performers have interpreted the song in more than one way, and have sometimes changed words to suit their interpretations.

The spelling See See Rider might be a pronunciation spelling of "C. C. Rider". Many sources indicate that "c. c. rider" refers to either early "church circuit" traveling preachers who did not have established churches or "county circuit" riders who were attorneys following a circuit judge.[24][25] Debra Devi, a researcher of the language of the blues, recorded a hypothesis that during the American Civil War C.C. stood for Cavalry Corporal, a horseman officer. "Riding" is also a common metaphor for sexual intercourse in the blues, and "rider" a term for a sexual partner. In African American usage a "rider" can be either male or female.[26] This folk etymology appears to stem from somebody by the name Alex Washburn who came across this interpretation of "c.c. rider" in a folk song collection by Alan Lomax, a prominent American field researcher of folk music.[27]

The term see see rider is sometimes taken as synonymous with easy rider[28] (an unscrupulous man living off his lover's earnings). In dirty blues songs, "easy rider" can also refer to a woman who had liberal sexual views, had been married more than once, or was skilled at sex. Likewise, in jazz singer and guitarist Wee Bea Booze's version of "See See Rider Blues", which reached number one on the US Billboard R&B chart in 1943, the well audible lyrics are "now your girl come", hence addressing a man.[29] Another theory is that the term could refer to a prostitute and there would be a lyric such as "You made me love you, now your man done come", "your man" would refer to the woman's pimp. In this interpretation, rather than being directed to a male "easy rider", the song would be an admonition to a prostitute to give up her evil ways.[30][31]

There are further theories:

  • Easy rider was sometimes used to refer to the partner of a hypersexual woman who therefore does not have to work or pay for sex.[30][31]
  • Easy rider sometimes referred to the guitar hung across the back of a travelling blues singer.[32]
  • Big Bill Broonzy states, on his album Big Bill Broonzy (recorded in Baarn, the Netherlands, early 1956 and released late 1956), that the first time he heard that song was by a man who "loved to be on the water, and that's why he wrote this title, and that's the title of the song: it's Sea Sea Rider".[33]
  • Big Bill Broonzy also states, in a conversation about his youth with Bill Randle on his album The Bill Broonzy Story (recorded on July 12, 1957), that See See Rider was a blues singer (AVID Roots, Classic Box Set, AMSC1159) before playing the tune.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Some versions are in an "expanded", sixteen-bar blues form; see the review of Elijah Wald (2005), Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, Amistad, ISBN 0-06-052423-5, on Google group
  2. ^ a b c Blues Foundation (March 6, 2018). "2018 Hall of Fame Inductees: "See See Rider Blues" – Ma Rainey (Paramount, 1924)". The Blues Foundation. Retrieved March 7, 2018.
  3. ^ Sullivan, Steve (2013). Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings. Vol. 1. Lanham, Toronto, Plymouth UK: Scarecrow Press. p. 356. ISBN 9780810882966.
  4. ^ Sullivan, Steve (2013). Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 357. ISBN 978-0810882966.
  5. ^ Lomax, Alan (1973). Mister Jelly Roll: The Fortunes of Jelly Roll Morton, New Orleans Creole and Inventor of Jazz. University of California Press. p. 20. ISBN 9780520022379.
  6. ^ House, Roger (June 4, 2018). Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy. LSU Press. p. 19. ISBN 9780807138090.
  7. ^ Wolfe, Charles; Lornell, Kip (1992). The Life and Legend of Leadbelly. Hachette Books. p. 96. ISBN 9780306808968.
  8. ^ Hobson, Vic (2008). Reengaging Blues Narratives: Alan Lomax, Jelly Roll Morton, and W.C.Handy (PDF) (PhD). University of East Anglia.
  9. ^ a b Lieb, Sandra R. (1981). Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey. Univ of Massachusetts Press. p. 64. ISBN 9780870233944.
  10. ^ a b Tracy, Steven Carl (2001). Langston Hughes & the Blues. University of Illinois Press. p. 73. ISBN 9780252069857.
  11. ^ Evans, David (1982). Big Road Blues: Tradition and Creativity in the Folk Blues. University of California Press. p. 35. ISBN 9780520034846.
  12. ^ a b Obrecht, Jas (n.d.). ""See See Rider Blues" –Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (1924)" (PDF). Library of Congress. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  13. ^ "Wee Bea Booze - Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  14. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1988). "ARTIST". Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. pp. 448, 32. ISBN 0-89820-068-7.
  15. ^ "Mitch Ryder: Chart History – Hot 100". Billboard. Retrieved February 24, 2021.
  16. ^ "Eric Burdon & the Animals: Chart History – Hot 100". Retrieved September 19, 2021.
  17. ^ "CashBox Record Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. September 3, 1966. p. 18. Retrieved 2022-01-12.
  18. ^ image of album, and track listing (track 18)
  19. ^ You Tube music track listing,sound and image and sound (at 28.09)[1]
  20. ^ "The Blues . Feel Like Going Home . Interview - PBS". Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  21. ^ Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). "See See Rider". Encyclopedia of the Blues. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press. p. 469. ISBN 1-55728-252-8.
  22. ^ Caffery, Joshua Clegg (2013). Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Recordings. LSU Press. p. 247. ISBN 9780807152027.
  23. ^ Gaunt, Kyra D. (2006). The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-dutch to Hip-hop. NYU Press. p. 68.
  24. ^ "Think you are soul folk, baby?". Jet. Vol. 31, no. 18. Johnson Publishing Company. February 9, 1967. pp. 47, 55. ISSN 0021-5996. 7. In "C.C. Rider," what does "C.C." stand for? [...] (c) Country Circuit, preacher an old time rambler.
  25. ^ Brewer, J.Mason (1965). Worser Days and Better Times: The Folklore of the North Carolina Negro. Chicago: Quadrangle Books. p. 52.
  26. ^ Devi, Debra (2012). The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu. True Nature Books. p. 54. ISBN 978-1624071850.
  27. ^ Goings, Russell L. (2009). The Children of Children Keep Coming: An Epic Griotsong. Simon and Schuster. p. 271. ISBN 9781439155127.
  28. ^ Lieb, Sandra R. (1981). Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey. University of Massachusetts Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-0870233944.
  29. ^ CD Female Blues, The Remaining Titles, vol. 2, 1938-1949, RST Records, JPCD-1526-2 ; and CD Let's Ball Tonight ; and CD See See Rider Blues, Sammy Price and The Blues Singers, Original Recordings, New-York, 1942-1949
  30. ^ a b "easy, a. and adv.", Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.), Oxford University Press, 1989, c. easy rider (U.S. slang): (a) a sexually satisfying lover (see also quot. 1926); (b) a guitar.
    1912–13 W. C. HANDY Memphis Blues, Mr. Crump don't 'low no easy riders here. 1926 in R. de Toledano Frontiers Jazz (1947) iii. 37 'Rider', 'easy rider', which term means both lover and (not either, or) procurer... Fidelity to his woman is expected of the easy rider. 1927 Jrnl. Abnormal & Social Psychol. XXII. 16 'Easy rider'. This apt expression is used to describe a man whose movements in coitus are easy and satisfying. It is frequently met both in Negro folk songs and in formal songs. 'I wonder where my easy rider's gone', is a sort of by-word with Southern negroes. 1949 R. BLESH Shining Trumpets vi. 128 In rural Negro parlance...easy rider meant the guitar...carried suspended by its cord. In the double meaning of Negro imagery, the femininely formed guitar...typifies also a woman companion. In Negro 'city talk', the term easy rider has come to mean either a sexually satisfying woman or a male lover who lives off a woman's earnings. 1958 P. OLIVER in P. Gammond Decca Bk. Jazz i. 24 For the blues singer, the most valuable instrument was the guitar,...and, as his 'easy rider', could be slung across his back when he wished to travel.
  31. ^ a b Lighter, J.E. (1994), Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang A-G, vol. I, p. 375, ISBN 0-394-54427-7, n Black E. 1. a parasitical man usu. without a steady job who lives by gambling or sponging, (specif.) a man who is supported by a woman, esp. a prostitute. [...] 2.a. a sexually satisfying lover. [...] b. a young woman who is sexually promiscious or easily seduced. Also easy ride. [...] c.a guitar [...] 4. a person who is not easily ruffled or provoked
  32. ^ Ayto, John (1998), "The Arts, Entertainment, and the Media. 3. Music & Dance", The Oxford Dictionary of Slang, Oxford University Press, p. 351, ISBN 0-19-863157-X, easy rider (1949) Applied to a guitar, probably from a guitar's portability, but compare earlier sense, sexually satisfying lover, perhaps suggesting a link between the guitar's curved outlines and those of a voluptuous woman.
  33. ^ Big Bill Broonzy quote "The first time I hear this song was by a guy ... he was a Negro, I'm sure ... He was ... the first guy that would give me an idea of buying some box and making me a fiddle. And this guy, the first song I heard him playing in my life ... that was 1908. And he told me that he learnt this song because he was a rouster, on a boat. And he loved to be on the water, and that's why he wrote this title, and that's the title of the song: it's Sea Sea Rider.

External links[edit]