Fattening Frogs For Snakes

The Forty Fours

for Mark Braun & Bill Lynn

While the .44
was a popular gun
throughout the South,
immortalized on record

by Chester Burnett
who confessed on Chess,
”I wore my .44 so long, it done made my
shoulder sore,”

this is instead
a tribute to the piano players
& that particular beat
that came from the Delta

& the piney woods
of Louisiana
where Eurreal
”Little Brother” Montgomery

came up in a sawmill town,
Kentwood, Louisiana,
just south of the Mississippi line,
where his daddy ran a barrelhouse

& all the piano players
used to come to play
when the peoples
got their pay

Little Brother was born in Kentwood
on April 18, 1906
& grew up under the piano
listening to Rip Top,

Papa Lord God,
& the top players of the day.
He ran away from home
at the age of 11

& by 1919 or 1920
in Ferriday, Louisiana,
just across the river
from Natchez, Mississippi,

(& later the home
of the great
Causasian pianist,
Jerry Lee Lewis)

Little Brother
met Dehlco Robert
& Long Tall Friday
& together they created “The 44’s”

Little Brother maintains that
this song is the
”hardest barrelhouse blues
of any blues in history to play

because you have to keep
two different times going
in each hand.”
& Robert Palmer explains,

”’The Forty-Fours’
wasn’t a boogie
or a rocker. It was a
medium-slow blues

with an extravagant,
ascending bass line
that seemed to operate
in an altogether different

rhythmic sphere
than the familiar
downward-tumbling melody. The piece
impressed everyone

who heard it. It became
the ultimate test piece
on which Mississippi & Louisiana pianists
would gauge each other’s mettle.

”Montgomery
has always resented the fact
that Lee Green,
a pianist from southern Mississippi

who learned it from him
& from Long Tall Friday,
& Roosevelt Sykes,
from Helena, Arkansas,

both recorded their versions of the tune
in 1929, a year before Little Brother
cut his own, definitive version,
’Vicksburg Blues.’” & Palmer adds,

”Montgomery & his friends
were already playing pieces
with boogie-woogie-style bass patterns,
which may well have been created

in the logging & turpentine camps
& oil boomtowns of Texas,
Louisiana & Mississippi
around the turn of the century.

They knew these 8-to-the-bar patterns
as ‘Dudlow Joes.’” And Willie Dixon,
a native of Vicksburg, says:
”They used to call boogie piano

’Dudlow Joes’
in Mississippi.
I didn’t hear it called boogie
till long after. If a guy

played boogie piano,
they’d say he was a Dudlow player.
Later on guitars played boogie too.”
And Jerry Brock says,

”Dudlow Joe? Man,
he was from New Orleans!”
Sunnyland Slim adds,
”It was in the ’30s

that people started talkin’ about rockin’, like
’rock this house.’ But they been playin’ it,
with the shuffle in it
to make it move,

since at least 1923
or ’24. All them Mississippi people
that you never heard of,
they been rockin’ all their fuckin’ life.

— Detroit
August 13, 1982/
New Orleans,
March 5, 1998