Got me some reefer and a jug of corn, gonna raise some sand, sure as you’re born. I’m a Memphis rounder, ain’t gonna tell no lie. Be a Memphis rounder ‘til the day I die. Ever get my hand on a dollar again, that’s the next dollar I’m gonna spend. I’m a Memphis rounder, y’all heard what I said. Be a Memphis rounder ‘til the day I’m dead. And when I’m Beale Town bound, on my last go round, just prop me up when I fall down, gimme my reefer and whiskey. Yeah, gimme that stuff to get me high, get me to heaven before I die ‘cause gettin’ there when I’m dead might be too risky. 'Cause I’m a Memphis rounder, y’all heard what I said. Be a Memphis rounder ‘til the day I’m dead. Well, those Beale Street women are mighty fine: stop on a nickel, turn on a dime, they’re all Memphis rounders. Y’all heard what I said. Be Memphis rounders ‘til the day they're dead. Yes, and all my friends are dead and gone. Don't stop me from carryin’ on. I’m a Memphis rounder, ain’t gonna tell no lie. Be a Memphis rounder ‘til the day I die . . . . Just a Memphis rounder, y’all heard what I said. Be a Memphis rounder ‘til the day I’m dead.
The title was inspired by Frank Stokes' "Memphis Rounder Blues", and by the line "one more rounder gone" in Blind Willie McTell's " Little Delia" (not to be confused with "Delia"). The lines "Those Beale Street women are mighty fine: stop on a nickel, turn on a dime" are from another old blues tune that I can't remember anything else about, which is too bad because I'd like to give credit there too. A certain amount of borrowing and theft goes with the territory, but I favour owning up when possible. For the guitar style, I'm indebted to the usual suspects: John Hurt, Elizabeth Cotten, Gary Davis, Blind Blake and countless others.
All around this yard is a big stone wall, top is razor wire. And in my dreams I watch it fall, rock stone catch a fire. Out in the yard I can see the sky a couple of times a day. Rest of the time it’s a cold steel bars, everything painted grey. And I and I can’t climb this wall. I just can’t get nowhere at all. I try and I try just to stand up tall. I do what must be done. Cloud a come but na rain na fall. Ain't no one gonna hear ya call while they march ya down this endless hall, from here to kingdom come. Politicians, I hear them say, “Let's help the less fortunate ones.” But the only time they gonna turn your way is to look for a smoking gun. Too many snakes and too few ladders in a game that can't be won. And down on this floor ya just don’t matter, ya just get trod upon. And I and I can’t climb this wall, I just can't get nowhere at all . . . . My mother's in the welfare line. My brother's in Iraq. My sister's down in Baltimore, turning tricks for crack. My father's name is in Washington. It’s carved in a long black wall. And I'm behind this wall of stone, where I'll stand or fall. And I and I can’t climb this wall. I just can’t get nowhere at all. I try and I try just to stand up tall. I do what must be done. Cloud a come but na rain na fall. Ain't no one gonna hear ya call while they march ya down this endless hall, from here to kingdom come.
Way back in 1910 I came here from Japan. And I worked on the fishing boats 'til I could buy some land. And I bought a farm near Whannock, between the mountains and the water. Sawmill took one son away, and the Fraser took one daughter. You never know just how things will go. There's a flow, and there's an undertow. You know, you never know. Then there came Pearl Harbour and that's when things got bad, and our own home and native land took everything we had. First they took our rights away, and then they took the farm. Sent us to the Kootenays, where we could do no harm. A ghost town shack in Kaslo with a nice view of the mountains was what we got for what we lost, by the government's accounting. You never know just how things will go . . . . And when the war was over I found some land to till, in the Credit River valley by the town of Huttonsville. And I think of what's been lost to time, and I dream about the Fraser. But I'm glad to work the land again, and grow what people pay for. And I see my grandson in the field, playing in the dirt. And I wonder how to pass on the past without the hurt. You never know just how things will go. There's a flow. There's an undertow. You know, you never know.
No Water No More
I was born in a mining town. There was a lake where my best friend drowned, and they filled that lake with tailings from shore to shore. And then they shut the last shaft down, and that was it for that hard luck town. Shut her right down now there ain’t no water no more. A man spends half his life a mile out of sight, breathin’ the dust ‘til he can’t breathe right, and he goes up to his room and he closes the door. Just sits there and he waits for the night, looks out the window in the dyin’ light. There was a whole damn lake but there ain't no water no more. And the dust just sticks wherever it lands, but the gold never sticks to a miner’s hands, it just ends up in glass towers in Toronto. And way up there a poor man’s blood don’t mean much more than the rocks and the mud to them that never look where they don’t want to. Like up in North Ontario, where the snow comes hard and the spring comes slow and the hoppers come and they haul away the ore. And you follow the nickel and you follow the gold and you dig yourself down into a hole and then one day there ain't no water no more. And the dust just sticks wherever it lands . . . . Lungs full of water, lungs full of dust, I guess you just go the way that you must, and if God’s up there I guess he knows what for. He’s in charge of the flood and the fire next time and I guess he’s in charge of the dust in the mine. Guess he must know why there ain’t no water no more. Yeah, maybe he knows why there ain’t no water no more.
Cobalt Miner's Daughter
There's a trailer by a northern lake. Deep blue sky and cold dark water. And there's a glow that the campfire makes on the face of the Cobalt miner's daughter. Such a sight to lay your eyes on. And I’m so glad I brought her all these northern lights above the hills on the horizon, dancing for the Cobalt miner's daughter. And I will patch this old canoe, take her out upon that cold black water. Up in the sky there's a silver vein of stars, and I thank every lucky star I’ve got her. I'm in a trance from the firelight, and the way its glow has caught her, and how the cold dark blue of this northern night makes the embers that much hotter for me and the Cobalt miner's daughter. There's a trailer by a northern lake. Deep blue sky and cold dark water. And I'm caught by the glow that the campfire wakes on the face of the Cobalt miner's daughter. Wonder how I ever got her.
Sonny Boy Said
Sonny Boy said don’t take no drinks from strangers. That just might be your last coffin nail. Robert said I can make my own arrangements. You know I got a hellhound on my trail. Well the next day they say Robert was not walkin’. They say he was crawlin’ on the ground. And I don’t know, but I heard people talkin’. They say he was barkin’ like a hound. Sonny Boy left for Helena in a hurry. Said he didn’t have no time to stick around. Wonder who’s gonna see poor Robert buried. Guess that hellhound run him to the ground. Laid him six feet under by the crossroads, didn’t have no tombstone for his grave. Some folks say his soul gone to the devil. Some folks say that was the deal he made. Late last night there come a great big rain storm. I was standing in my kitchen door. I could hear that lonesome wind a howlin’. I could feel a chill all in my bones. And I heard tires whinin’ on the highway. Grayhound bus pulled over to the side. Door swung out, but I did not see no one. Did not see a soul get on to ride. Sonny Boy said don’t take no drinks from strangers. That just might be your last coffin nail. Robert said I can make my own arrangements. You know I got a hellhound on my trail.
You may bury my body down by the highway side, so my old evil spirit can catch a Greyhound bus and ride. ("Me and The Devil", R. Johnson)
Sleepy Little Town
I’ve been here before, in this hotel room. We stayed up way past midnight, slept way past noon. And nobody cared. There was no one around. And nothing much happens in this sleepy little town. There was a moose head on the wall gathering dust, and a boxcar on the siding gathering rust. There were logs in the river. They’d be paper some day. And the evening train took the tourists away. And there were no questions about what to forget or what to remember or what to regret. We just looked out the window at the smoke drifting down, just watching the wind blow through this sleepy little town. Now I have no answers for the ghosts in this room. I’ve been gone forever and I’ve come back too soon. And I have forgotten half of what I once knew, but I remember this window. I remember the view. The boxcar is gone. The moose head’s gone too. They must have gone looking for something to do. There’s no logs in the river. They just drifted away. There’s no evening train and there ain’t much to say. And there ain't much to do about pages unturned or memories like smoke from bridges that burned. Or these ghosts by the window just hanging around, watching the wind blow through this sleepy little town.
If You Break Her Heart
If you break her heart, don’t try to be her friend. Some things last. Some things end. And if you break her heart, don’t try to make it better. She’ll make another start if you just let her. You’ve done your part. You can’t undo it. And you can’t be around to see her through it if you break her heart. Don’t leave her wondering if there still could be a chance. Let the curtain fall on any thoughts of one more dance. And if you break her heart, break it right in two. It can’t be fixed unless it’s broke clean through. Don’t ask me how I know. That’s just the way it goes if you break her heart. And if you break her heart, don’t tell her I said anything. Hearts have their own way to do their own remembering. And sometimes hearts don’t care that much for what we try to say. But they know what to keep inside. They know what to throw away. You won’t have to tell her so when you go. Her heart will know.
The Junk Man's Singing
The junk man's singin'. He's singin' a high old lonesome song. Singin' 'bout how we're all gonna miss him when he's dead and gone. The junk man's singin'. And he's just wingin' it. He's flyin' so high he don't know where he's gone. Been all over but he ain't seen nothin' like this trip he's on. He's just wingin' it. And things ain't never gonna be any better than they really are. You get up in the mornin'. You get down under the car, and the tie rod's busted and the wheel's gonna fly right off. And you still got that cough. And you still ain't got that far. You ain't got that far. All the bells are ringin'. Everybodys knows why, it's 'cause the junk man's gone. They're gonna keep on ringin' just to keep him movin' on. All the bells are ringin', and the junk man's singin' . . . And things ain't never gonna be any better than they really are. That beat up old blue truck's about as good as a brand new car. They'll both put a hole in your pocket and you just gotta rock it 'til it's all paid off. And you still got that cough. And you still ain't got that far. You ain't got that far. Down at the lost and found they're sayin' goodbye to their old friend. They say the junk man's glory bound just like all the prayers they send, down at the lost and found. But you hear that sound and you don't know why. Even when you laid him down in the cold cold ground and that ought to be the end, you hear that sound and you don't know why the junk man's singin'. Singin' a high old lonesome song. Singin' 'bout how we're all gonna miss him when he's dead and gone. The junk man's singin'. The junk man's singin'. Listen to the junk man singin'.
Devil Made Rock ’N Roll
God made men and angels to do as they were told. They bask in his eternal light, but he’s in full control. And it’s my confirmed opinion that when Satan took that fall, when he was hell bound with his minions he did not mind at all. And I would not trade places with any of the chosen ones. ‘Cause God gets all the glory but the Devil has all the fun. Yes, it ain’t about salvation. It’s all about control. If you can’t follow orders then your name ain’t on the roll. But me, I like it better down here in the hole. 'Cause God made the commandments but the Devil made rock ’n roll. Now, down here it ain't nothin' like those TV preachers say. There's just lots of smoke and whiskey and you can't tell night from day. And dim lights, thick smoke and loud loud music never hurt no one down here. And no one dies from smokin' crack or drinking too much beer. And no one wants to save your soul and the women don't want love. So I would say that’s a better deal than what you get up above. And it ain’t about true religion. It’s all about control . . . . God made the commandments but the Devil made rock ’n roll. And it's the same old story whenever Johnny gets his gun. Some pump lead for Old Glory. Some say, “Thy will be done”. But the ones we get down here, you know they all had a different plan, and when they crawl out of those body bags that’s when they understand: you can give God and your country your body and your soul, but if you really fight for freedom you're gonna end up in the hole. And it ain’t about good and evil. It’s all about control . . . . God made the commandments but the Devil made rock ’n roll.
The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it. ("The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell", William Blake)
There’s a holy man in India. He’s standing on one leg. He’s been standing there for twenty years; it’s his career. Me, I’m going nowhere too, but I get to sit down sometimes, playing in this bar for tips and beer. I’m like that guy in the Himalayas who burns off your bad karma, consuming gifts that represent attachments of the giver. He drinks rum and coke all day, sits around and smokes all day, never seems to worry ‘bout his liver. Me, I worry sometimes. Those guys know something I don’t know. They say things like “Be here now”. Me, I’m always wondering where to go. Then again, you take a guy like Conrad Black. He was gonna speak at my old school. I got my invitation. They must have mailed that letter to ten thousand other fools. It said, “We’ll have to charge admission. This great man’s lofty vision don’t come cheap, but it should be quite a show. Conrad has a way with money like Mount Everest has a way with ice and snow.” I decided not to go. I don’t care much for snowy weather. And money can’t buy summer, or change the way time has us tethered. But still I wonder whether I can balance here forever. Teach me a different song. I’ll lay my burden down and I’ll sing along. After twenty years and countin’ I’ll do anything to get down off this mountain.
Meadow's full of fireflies. August moon is on the rise. So many stars in the big night sky. Like holes in a blanket way up high. So many reasons not to close your eyes. Your sleepy head’s all full of wishes. That big old pond is full of fishes and we’ll go catch some soon some day, I know. Bring ‘em home and cook ‘em in a pan. Nobody cooks like your mama can, at least that’s what your daddy says. Now off to sleep you go. And when you dream you fly so high, drifting like a lullaby on the night breeze blowing by. But first you have to close your eyes.