Background Info: Shake Sugaree back to "Shake Sugaree" Cover Page



Shake Sugaree

(Background Info)


Catherine Yronwode writes:

I have never heard Fred Neil's version. He has changed some of Libba Cotten's lyrics. Not for the better. A few interlineations:

I got a secret I shouldn't tell
I've got to go to heaven in a split pea shell

it's a "ground pea shell" which means a peanut shell. I even asked her about that once, back in the 1960s, 'cause i was just a California white girl and had never heard of a ground pea and couldn't understand what she was singing. In fact, when she explained it to me, i suddenly realized she had provided the key to opening my understanding of another old country blues song, recorded in the 1920s by Papa Harvey Hull, that had long mystified me. The lyrics to that one were:

Sometimes i walk
Sometimes i crawl
I never get drunk, great God,
'Til my goobers fall

Goobers is yet another name for peanuts or ground peas -- and as Elizabeth Cotten explained it, ground peas make their peas above ground, like regular pea vines do, but as the pods ripen, they "fall" and twirl themselves into the ground, actually planting themselves for the next year. To harvest peanuts, one must wait until they "fall" and dig them out (which is why they are also called ground peas!).

So Harvey Hull was saying that he remains sober until his peanut crop falls and is harvested and when he sells it then he goes on a bender and gets so drunk that he crawls -- and Elizabeth Cotten was saying that like the peanut that buries itself in the soil, she hoped to reach Heaven through Earth internment.

Split peas have nothing whatsoever to do with this symbolism, which is rich and redolent of the South.

Lordy me, didn't we shake sugaree
Everything I had I done pawned

Cotton sings this line with much more dialectically purity -- and far better metrically scansion -- as "everything i got is done and pawned."


[1] posted by Catherine Yronwode
[2] posted by Matthew Zuckerman


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