Saturday, July 13, 2019

Of Swamps and Witches

T’other day the name Hattie came up in conversation, inducing me to put on my best Jim Stafford voice and begin singing/reciting “Black water Hattie lived back in the swamp where the strange green reptiles crawl . . . “ There was no pat on the back or appreciative comment, just puzzled faces and questioning looks. I explained that this was part of the lyrics of the Jim Stafford song Swamp Witch. Some time ago (April 2, 2010 to be precise) I had posted an item about the song, the lyrics making a great piece of low-brow poetry. Here is the post with some word origins following . . . 

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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 "Ode to Billy Joe" 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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By the way: 

Witch:

The word “witch” originates from the Old English (650-1066AD) words”Wicce”, the term for a female sorcerer, and “Wicca”, the term for a male sorcerer. Over time the male term Wicca became less common and was eventually replaced with words such as warlock and wizard in standard English. Into the period of Middle English (1150 to 1500AD) the plural Wicche appeared and was a more gender neutral term. In the 16th century, the period of Early Modern English (15th-17th Century). the word Wicche was changed to include a ‘t’ and transformed into the word Witch. Funnily enough, modern day witches refer to themselves by the term Wicca. 


Swamp:

The word “swamp” is a fusion of the Middle English swam ("swamp, muddy pool, bog, marsh", also "fungus, mushroom"), from the Old English swamm ("mushroom, fungus, sponge") and Middle English sompe ("marsh, morass"), from Middle Dutch somp, sump

Okeechobee:

Okeechobee is a city in Okeechobee County, Florida, USA. It is the county seat of Okeechobee County. 

The Lake Okeechobee area was the site of the worst effects of the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane, the first recorded Category 5 hurricane in the North Atlantic and still one of the deadliest hurricanes ever to strike the US. At least 2,500 people drowned in the Okeechobee area whilst overall, the hurricane caused $100 million in damage and killed at least 4,112 people.

A statue in Belle Glade, Florida commemorating the 1928 hurricane.
(Not exactly a solemn reflective reminder)




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