Fattening Frogs For Snakes

Sunnyland Train

for Jack Vaughn

“Blues & gospel
is all I ever did know,”
Sunnyland Slim told Jack Vaughn,

“gospel blues & rag

blues & gospel
just like something going
side by side

gospel & blues
go hand in hand. . . .

you take the song [willie] dixon wrote
for [little] walter
. . . my babe . ..

what it is
is
. . . this train
don't carry no gamblers . . .

times have changed
but in writing blues
you can change
train
to
plane

just like
when the preacher says something

if it’s touching to the people
it puts soul
to the public

just like
when youre playing
the blues right

blues & gospel like
two trains runnin’ side by side”

Sunnyland Slim,
born Albert Luandrew
on a farm between Vance
& Lambert, Mississippi,
September 5, 1907—

“7 years old, 1914, carried to town
on a mule on Saturdays,

listen at the fellas playin
the fiddle & chordin guitars
there was one great big artesian well

& the town was a very busy place
what with the railroad hauling everything
with iron flourish everywhere

food,
instruments, tractors

people
ordering whiskey & beer

trains
was plentiful then

haulin cotton, cotton seed,
sands. coals, lumber,

& men in transition
were in boxcars called transients

had names like groun’ squirrel, lee green,
box car, papa lord god, race riot, milas
davis
they were musicians

everything was hauled by train
they put ice in the cars to cool the fruits
comin from new orleans

& the sound of the train
was
the lonesome blues
chuggin rhythm—

mournful
whistle music
the foreboding hiss of steam
two lights on behind—

the dream of the train
was cold railroad steel.”

Albert picked up his stage name
in the ’30s
from that Sunnyland
southland train. Slim told Robert Palmer:

“The Sunnyland train
was a fast train,
right out of Memphis to St. Louis on the Frisco.

I started singing about it because,
man,
it killed peoples.
They would be

coming to town
along those gravel roads,
farmers in their wagons

gettin’ supplies
for their families, & people
would just get caught
comin’ across those tracks.

“The Sunnyland Train
killed my aunt’s husband down there,
comin’ fast
through that brush.”

“Life then,”
Sunnyland says,
“was fillin
bags of cotton

one-hundred, two-hundred, three-hundred
pounds of cotton
& the clippity-clop music following
the mule

if I could run into town, to t. booker’s joint
I could hear the piano, jeff morris,

& he was
a ragtime millionaire

& I followed that sound
half pints of whiskey
& elaborate gamblin hustles

I would listen to the blues
they tell a story

they were playin
all night long papa lord god
I can hear it now

. . . got my hesitation stockin
got my hesitation shoes
got a hesitation woman
sing the hesitation blues
Tell me how long . . .

once when I was a little boy
they got to shootin
they throwed me in the corn crib
didnt want me hurt

all of them had them big pistols
they got to frolic,
drink that corn whiskey
frolic like that”

“So,”
concludes Robert Palmer,
“tall, skinny Albert Luandrew
became Sunnyland Slim—

a man who traveled
far & fast
& could be
dangerous”

— Detroit
March 12, 1982/
New Orleans
November 18, 1995/
February 5/August 21/September 1, 1999

Special thanks to Jack Vaughn
For the use of his verses