Background Info: Shake Sugaree
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Shake Sugaree (Background Info)
- Dylan's "Shake Sugaree" is similar to
"I've Got a Secret (Shake Sugaree)"
- Fred Neil sings "Shake Sugaree" on his "Everybody's Talkin'" album
- Robert Hunter wrote a similar song, entitled
which the Grateful Dead recorded and performed. (The GD version owes some inspiration to
her song, but is quite a bit different .) "Sugaree" has been covered by
Merl Saunders and the Rainforest Band, while many other artists
have recorded versions of it, including Hank Ballard amd Tinsley Ellis.
- "Shake Sugaree" is the title song of a children's album
put out by Taj Mahal in 1990. 
- 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."
 posted by Catherine Yronwode
 posted by Matthew Zuckerman