Friday, February 11, 2005

How long must I have to wait?

W.C. Handy recorded "Hesitation Blues" in 1923 and he may have written the first version. More likely, he wrote down a song that was already in circulation. There was a popular song called "Hesitation Waltz" in 1914.

Bascom Lamar Lunsford (1882-1973) was a banjo player, fiddler and lawyer. His father fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. He recorded an solo version of "Hesitation Blues" in 1925.

By Bascom Lamar Lunsford

Now I’m no teacher nor no teacher’s son,
But I can teach you how ‘til my papa comes.
So say boys, how long must I have to wait?
Can I get her now or must I hesitate?

Talk about the boll weevil flyin’ up in the air,
Wherever he lights, he leaves his family there.
Oh say boys, how long must I have to wait?
Can I get her now or must I hesitate?

Workin’ on the railroad, sleepin’ on the ground,
Eatin’ Coolidge meat skin at fifty cents a pound.
Oh say boys, how much longer must I have to wait?
Can I get her now or must I hesitate?

Al Bernard (the Boy from Dixie) was a medicine show singer based in New York City. This early Western Swing version of "Hesitation" was recorded for OKeh Records. He would sometimes perform in blackface and may have been the first to record "St.Louis Blues". Also, Bernard recorded for Black Swan records as Slim White. You can hear some more of Al Bernard here.

Charlie Poole was a hell-raiser from North Carolina. Poole was also a very popular and influential banjo player. He recorded a version of "Hesitation Blues" called "If The River Was Whiskey"in 1930 with his string band, The North Carolina Ramblers.

If The River Was Whiskey
By Charlie Poole

If the river was whiskey and I was a duck
I'd dive to the bottom and I'd never come up

Oh, tell me how long have I got to wait
Oh, can I get you now, must I hesitate?

If the river was whiskey and the branch was wine
You would see me in bathing just any old time

I was born in England, raised in France
I ordered a suit of clothes and they wouldn't send the pants

I was born in Alabama, I was raised in Tennessee
If you don't like my peaches, don't shake on my tree

I looked down the road just as far as I could see
A man had my woman and the blues had me

I ain't no doctor but the doctor's son
I can do the doct'rin' till the doctor comes

Got the hesitation stockings, the hesitation shoes
Believe to my Lord I've got the hesitation blues

There's a 3-disc set of everything he recorded coming out sometime this year that looks like an essential purchase. The liner notes told me more than I knew about Poole and I've been a fan for years.

Finally, here's a cover of "Hesitation Blues" by
Peter Laughner. This was recorded live at Cleveland's WMMS radio in 1972.

the American Folklife Center
Go see what you can find there!


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