Hokum was a style showing a completely different side to the blues that was upbeat, salacious and light hearted. With its use of clever and suggestive innuendo, this risqué style was extremely popular in the late 1920s and early 1930s and its influence has remained part of the blues ever since.
With its early minstrel show origins, hokum was a novelty style that showed a completely different side to the blues that was upbeat, salacious and light hearted. Its spicy style often made repeated and continual sexual references by using clever and subtle (but not always) innuendo. Its popularity would last through the 1930s and its influence has remained part of the blues ever since.
A true unsung hero, and one of the first and most successful of the solo blues singers to record was the banjo player Papa Charlie Jackson who helped popularise hokum with tracks such as the featured 'Shake That Thing'. Likewise, the light-hearted and humorous jug bands from Memphis were early pioneers of the genre and used a lot of suggestive material, demonstrated by the brilliant harmonica played Noah Lewis who leads his own jug band for 'Selling The Jelly'.
Perhaps the most famous of tracks in the hokum cannon is 'Its Tight Like That' a 1928 recording featuring pianist Thomas A. Dorsey aka Georgia Tom and bottleneck guitar wizard Tampa Red who aptly became known as the Hokum Boys. This risqué number was a huge seller, and one of the seminal songs of the period that ushered in the hokum trend of loose rhythms and cleverly penned, ribald lyrics. Both had previously performed with the &;ldquoMother Of The Blues&;rdquo, Ma Rainey, who also took up the trend when recording 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom'. Bessie Smithwas another blues diva who tackled cheeky double-entendre with an unmistakably mischievous tone, as can be heard on 'I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl'.
Rather than just coming out and saying it, artists would use silly innuendo as part of the fun of writing and performing these songs. There were however exceptions like Lucille Bogan who didn't write the music to be cute and clever, but instead downright stimulating and arousing. Her featured song 'Barbecue Bess' shows her tamer side, unlike some of her X-rated numbers which completely threw innuendo out of the window.
The influence of hokum also crossed over into early country music as demonstrated by the Chattanooga-based Allen Brothers whose hilarious 'Bow Wow Blues' includes the classic line 'She's got more ways of lovin' than Wrigley's got gum'. The Dallas String Band had a foot in both early country music and blues camps and recorded the instrumental 'Hokum Blues' with its wonderful mandolin instrumentation. Fellow Texan Blind Lemon Jeffersonhad links with the band at various times and was amongst the first of the recorded bluesmen to use subversive 'double-meanings' such as the 'black snake'. Another towering figure of the blues, Charlie Patton, delivers a seemingly never-ending supply of happily lewd lyrics on the raggy 'Shake It And Break It'.
Like many bluesmen of the late 1920s, Barbecue Bob jumped into the hokum craze with tracks such as 'Honey You're Going Too Fast', which had a chugging strumming technique unlike anything he'd recorded before. Other East coast favourites such as Blind Willie McTell, Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fullerall did the same with upbeat numbers of their own. However, it's Bo Carter who can be considered as the true lyrical master of the dirty blues with his often-hilarious content, usually steering clear of any subtlety in numbers such as 'Please Warm My Weiner', 'Banana In Your Fruit Basket', and the featured 'Cigarette Blues'. Bo Carter produces a wonderful guitar accompaniment, showing that there was a lot more to his music than suggestive wordplay, which is the case for so many of the featured performers helping serve up this fun and racy take on the blues.