Fattening Frogs For Snakes

Johnson Machine Gun

for Bob Palmer & Jack Vaughn

”Sunnyland [Slim] met Muddy Waters
at the Flame Club on Chicago’s South Side
sometime in the mid-40’s,”
Bob Palmer relates. “They were both

from the Delta,
both old enough
to be serious
& professional

about their music (Muddy
was in his
early 30’s,
Sunnyland

almost 40),
both proud,
dignified men
who showed up for work

well-dressed & sober—
even if they didn’t always
stay that way
all night.”

Here’s Sunnyland now
telling Sam Charters
about his first session with Muddy
for Aristocrat Records in 1947:

”I knowed of Muddy Waters’ people,
but I didn’t know Muddy
until I come to Chicago
in 1943. He was stayin’ at

1851 West 13th. I think
he worked more in Mississippi
than he was doin’ in Chicago—
he was just workin’

on that truck. But guitar players
was scarce. Me & him met up
on account of
he come to the Flame

& he come over
to where me & Little Walter was at,
& he was playin’ that bass style guitar,
& finally we got together

for a job. Sammy Goldberg said
’Can you get a guitar player
for the session?’
& I thought about Muddy.

I went [on his job] & told them
that his mother was dead
& I got him
off the truck

& I got him
to come down to Aristocrat”
to make some records
for Leonard Chess & Sammy Goldberg

Here’s their first release,
Aristocrat 1301, in the fall
of 1947, Sunnyland on piano & vocal,
Muddy Waters on guitar,

& while Sunnyland
may have confused his johnson
for the Thompson sub-machine gun
of gangster movie fame,

there is no mistaking
the depth nor the complexity
of his intent in the song called
”Johnson Machine Gun”:

”Yes, I feel mistreated
Boys, seems like my time ain’t long
Yes, I feel mistreated
Boys, seems like my time ain’t long
Because the best friend I had
Done stole my love & gone

”I’m gonna buy me a Johnson ’sheen gun
& a carload of explosion balls
I’m gonna buy me a Johnson ’sheen gun
& a carload of explosion balls
Yes, I’m gonna be a walkin’ cycloon
from Saginaw to the Niagara Falls

”Go & bring me my typewriter
& a whole - round belt of bombs
Go & bring me my typewriter
& a whole - round belt of bombs
I’m gonna free my no - good woman
Boys, she down in the state penitentiary walls

”Hey little girl, the undertaker’s been here
Girl, I gave him your heighth & size
Yes, the undertaker’s been here
Darlin’, an’ I gave him your heighth & size
Now if you don’t be makin’ whoopee with the devil
tomorrow this time,
Baby, God knows you’ll be surprised.”

— Detroit March 26, 1982/
New Orleans December 12, 19 95