Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Run for Cover versions: BOLL WEEVIL x 7

For generations, folkies & CW singers have sung about "The Boll Weevil," and the song can bug you. It can be a lesson in accepting, with humor, life's misfortunes, or it could be a sly grumble about immigration, or...literally a song about an insect. (And yep, if you click the picture, it gets bigger, and you can really see what a boll weevil looks like when it's lookin' for a home.)
In most versions of the folk tune, a farmer finds a talking boll weevil has moved in, and there ain't much he can do about it. He tosses the bug into a cake of ice, and the bug replies, "it's mighty cool and nice." The song ends with the insect chewing up a path of cotton on the man's farm.
That's The Weavers version, though. Listen to how rockabilly Eddie Cochran adapts it using a racist opening line: "The Boll Weevil am a little black bug, came from Mexico they say. Came all the way to Texas just lookin' for a place to stay."
Eddie's anecdotes end with the boll weevil heated up and still taunting the farmer. As for the "red hot sand...it's mighty hot but I'll take it like a man." And that's the end of the song. No way to get rid of the boll weevil.
Tex Ritter's C&W version also mentions "the boll weevil am a little black bug from Mexico..." and (you know how they procreate) the "whole family" is now causing a ruckus. Ritter's bug is tossed in the "red hot fire," but the bug says "Yassah, it'll be my home." Ritter's versions ends with the weevil destroying half the farmer's cotton.
The song originated with the black folk-blues singer Leadbelly, and no, his shout does not mention blacks or Mexico. It simply mentions how the insect and his whole family came "lookin' for a home" and he can adapt to ice and sand.
For those who simply want to hear a funny folk song, The Weavers, with droll Lee Hays muttering the lines, is the choice...the beast is "humanized" by being able to speak and his destructiveways lightly written off as just something that can't be cured and can only be endured. The clever weevil even wants to make a deal with a lightning bug so he can create havoc after nightfall! Brook Benton, a black pop singer popular in the 50's, does a version marred by an irritating clinky-piano, but his lyrics do not mention the color of the boll weevil, and "where they come from, nobody really knows." In Benton's version, the farmer asks "Why'd you pick my farm. The boll weevil just laughed at the farmer and said we ain't gonna do ya much farm...we're just lookin' for a home....gonna take me a home...Farmer I'd like to wish you well. And the farmer said to the boll weevil, yeah, and I wish you was in — lookin' for a home."
There are a few other songs about the boll weevil, but these all have the same melody and pretty much the same lyrics. If someone adapted the song today...who knows what that boll weevil would be getting into...
Eddie, Tex, Brook and four more, singin' about BOLL WEEV-ILLS!

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