Fattening Frogs For Snakes

Walking Blues


” I woke up this mornin'
feeli n’ ’round for my shoes —
Know by that I got these
old walkin’ blues”
—Robert Johnson

Johnny Shines,
from Memphis, Tennessee,
met Robert Johnson
in Helena, Arkansas

by way of the pianist
called M & O, who was named
for a railroad,
the Mobile & Ohio,
running from St. Louis

down thru the Delta
& on to Mobile.
Johnny Shines says,
Robert Johnson was the

”greatest guitar player
I’d ever heard. The things
he was doing
was things that I’d never heard

nobody else do. He was
kind of long-armed” (by which he meant
it was hard to get too close to Robert).

”Robert was a guy,
you could wake him up any time
& he was ready to go. Say, for instance,
you had come from Memphis to Helena,

& we’d play there all
night probably, & lay down to sleep
the next morning
& hear a train. You say,

I hear a train. Let's catch it.’ He wouldn’t
exchange no words with you. He’s just
ready to go.

”We’d go right back to Memphis
if that’s where the train’s going.
It didn’t make him no difference. Just so
he was going.

”We was staying in West Memphis
at a place called John Hunt’s
& this place burnt down
& burnt our guitars up.

”I didn't know that Robert knew anything
about harmonica at all, but he came up
with this old harmonica. We were out
on Highway 61, & he started

blowing this harmonica
& slapping his hands—patting his hands,
blowing & singing—& in a few minutes
the whole highway

was almost blocked off with cars,
people piching us nickels,
dimes, quarters.
He'd sing,

I would sing. And when we got to
Steels, Missouri, we bought ourselves
little guitars. We had enough money
to buy guitars with! And,

truthfully speaking,
we didn’t have
no money
when we started out.

”We'd be on the road
for days & days, no money &
not much food,

let alone a decent place
to spend the night, playing on dusty streets
or inside dirty places of the sort
you played in those times,

& as I’d catch my breath
& see myself
looking like a dog, there’d be Robert
all clean as can be

looking like
he’s just
out of church.”

— Detroit
March 22, 1982/
New Orleans
December 11, 1995