Friday, April 2, 2010

Music: Swamp Witch / Jim Stafford


John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival) and Tony Joe White (Polk Salad Annie) are probably the best known exponents of swamp rock, a form of rock that emerged in the 1960’s.

According to Wikipedia, swamp rock is characterised by
funky, soulful bass, twangy reverb guitar and songs that typically concerned themselves with matters of Southern American States folklore. There's a literary, Southern Gothic feel to most swamp rock. The lyrics of swamp rock songs often describe life in such locales as along the Mississippi River, in New Orleans or such rural areas as the bayou.
In 1973 Jim Stafford had his first chart success with the swamp rock song Swamp Witch but it only just managed to crack the Top 40. This was followed by a bigger success with Spiders and Snakes. He faded after the 1970’s but still performs to the present. His other claim to fame is that he was briefly married to Bobbie Gentry.

Swamp Witch is as good an example of swamp rock as you'all are gonna find and, like country and western music, succeeds in telling a story and giving a life lesson, all in 3 minutes. It has a spooky and eerie feel to it, with the last line chilling in its menace. I love it.

Listen to it at:

The lyrics also make a good story poem:
Black water Hattie lived back in the swamp
Where the strange green reptiles crawl
Snakes hang thick from the cypress trees
Like sausage on a smokehouse wall
Where the swamp is alive with a thousand eyes
An' all of them watchin’ you
Stay off the track to Hattie's shack in the back of the Black Bayou

Way up the road from Hattie's shack
Lies a sleepy little Okeechobee town
Talk of swamp witch Hattie
Lock you in when the sun go down
Rumours of what she'd done, rumours of what she'd do
Kept folks off the track of Hattie's shack
In the back of the Black Bayou

One day brought the rain and the rain stayed on
And the swamp water overflowed
Skeeters and the fever grabbed the town like a fist
Doctor Jackson was the first to go
Some said the plague was brought by Hattie
There was talk of a hang'n too
But the talk got shackled by the howls and the cackles
From the bowels of the Black Bayou

Early one morn 'tween dark and dawn when shadows filled the sky
There came an unseen caller on a town where hope run dry
In the square there was found a big black round
Vat full of gurgling brew
Whispering sounds as the folks gathered round
"It came from the Black Bayou"

There ain't much pride when you're trapped inside
A slowly sink'n ship
Scooped up the liquid deep and green
And the whole town took a sip
Fever went away and the very next day the skies again were blue
“Let's thank old Hattie for sav'n our town
We'll fetch her from the Black Bayou”

Party of ten of the town's best men headed for Hattie's shack
Said swamp witch magic
Was useful and good
And they're gonna bring Hattie back
Never found Hattie and they never found the shack
And they never made the trip back in
There was a parchment note they found tacked to a stump
Said “Don't come look'n agin”

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