Fattening Frogs For Snakes

Come On in My Kitchen

 

” You bett er co me on
in my kitchen,
It's goin’ to be rainin’ outdoors”
—Robert Johnson

“Like anyone
for whom the road becomes home,
” Peter Guralnick points out, “Robert Johnson
established safe harbors

everywhere he went, links
within the community
which he could put down
& pick up again

when he returned
in a month or a year. In Helena
he established a relationship
with Robert Lockwood’s mother,

probably 15 years older than he,
which was evidently as stable
over a long period of time
as any on which he embarked. . . .

”[There was also] Walter Horton’s sister
. . . .[&] in West Memphis
Johnson & [Johnny] Shines’ cousin,
Calvin Frazier,

stayed at the Hunt Hotel,
where Robert took up
with a female midget
who ran errands for the 3 bluesmen.

In Friars Point
there was a ‘runty little girl
named Betty.’ In every town
in which they stopped

there was someone to take
care of Johnson, a woman—
not necessarily a ‘glamour girl’
but someone who would look after him.”

”Women, to Robert,”
Johnny Shines has written,
”were like motel
or hotel rooms:

even if he used them
repeatedly
he left them
where he found them.

”Heaven help him, he was not
discriminating. Probably a bit like Christ,
he loved them all. He preferred
older women in their 30’s

over the younger ones,
because the older ones
would pay his way.” Mack McCormick
discovered at least half a dozen women

involved in 2- or 3-week relationships
in the 8 years following
his first wife’s death. By McCormick’s account
they were shy young girls

for the most part, similar
to the older women whom Shines describes
in one respect: they provided
food & shelter

for a footloose musician
& were not considered
the most desirable or
attractive catches in the community.

”Johnson had a very
unusual
reputation. He was not crude,
but he was direct. He would simply ask them:

’Can I go
home with you? Can I
be with you?’ These were young girls
living with their families

in a rural situation,
& for the most part
their answer
was yes.

The relationship ended
when their husbands
came home
or Johnson moved on.

”Women with whom he stayed
described to Mack McCormick
how they would wake up
in the middle of the night

to discover him
fingering the guitar strings
almost soundlessly at the window
by the light of the moon. . . .”

”He was a guy,” Johnny Shines said,
”that could find a way
to make a song sound good with a slide
regardless of its contents

or nature. His guitar
seemed to talk—repeat &
say words with him
like no one else in the world could. . . .

”This sound
affected most women
in a way that I could
never understand. One time

in St. Louis
we were playing one of the songs
that Robert would like to play with someone
once in a great while,

’Come On in My Kitchen.’
He was playing very slow
& passionately, & when we had quit
I noticed no one was saying

anything. Then I realized
they were crying—
both women & men.”

— Detroit
April 23, 1985/
New Orleans
December 11, 1995