Fred McDowell's speech:

A Transcript


I've included Fred McDowell on the AAVE page as an accessible example of old-fashioned Southern vernacular speech. As a well-known musician, his recordings are widely available, and his life has been more or less carefully documented (here's some biographical info).

The following transcriptions of Fred McDowell's speech are from an undated recording made in the late 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, and released on Capitol Records SM-409 sometime in the 1970s. I've used standard spelling with only a few departures, so it somewhat underrepresents the rich country flavor and vernacular character of McDowell's speech, as anyone familiar with his music will know. Lines that end with a question mark "?" here are given a high-rising inflection on the recording; lengthened sounds are followed by a ":"; and the lowering of /I/ to [ae] as in "thang" is noted where it happens.


My name is Fred McDowell. They call me Miss'ippi Fred McDowell. But it, my home's in Ro[ss]ville Tennessee. But it don' make any different, it soun' good to me. I seem like I'm at home in there when I'm in Miss'ippi? An' I do not play no rock'an'roll y'all. I jus' play jus' straight an' natchel blue? An' whenever you get somebody, y'know, want to plo:w for you, just call for Fred McDowell, yeh. I wa[s] raised on the farm, y'unnerstan'? Now only way you can rock Fred, you have to put him in a rocking chair, or either lay me down, y'unnerstan, yeh. Heh, that's my type of rockin', yeh heh heh. [plays a line]


An' my type of blue? I play it with a bottleneck? I first got this style from a beef bone, y' understan' me. Rib wha' come out of a steak? My uncle, when I was a small boy in the country. He ground this bone down, and filed it with a file, and put 't'on his little fi[ae]nger. But I play't on my ri[ae]ng finger, y' understan'? An' nis a- dis here bottleneck sound better'n the bone, cause you get more clar- clear sound outa it. [plays a chord]

An' I, I would like for you to, you- who's never listen to me. [Come] over here an' buy one of the tape, a album, anything. I like for, I like for you to listen at what I'm saying. I'd make the guitar say what I say, y'understan'. [plays line] If I say 'Our Father'? it'll say 'Our Father'. [chord] If I give out a hymn? it'll say it. [chord] If I play '[A]mazin' Grace'? it'll si[ae]ng that too. [plays line] Now that's my style, what you hear me doing there. [plays line] I hope y'all like it, who's never git it. [Plays. To rhythm musicians:] Time! Take your time.

'Ba[b]y, please don' go, Ba[b]y please don' go

'Baby please don' go back to New Orleans...'

Dis is- yeh aright, dis is w- dis what I want to understan', want you to understan'. The congregation. Everybody don' know what the blues i[d]s. Now you take up when I was a boy. Jus' like I first told y'all, my home? well was in Ro[ss]ville Tennessee. Okay. Now what you- what we call the blues now? at dat time you know what dey called 'em? A reel. Tha's what the blues come from, a reel...

Now you don' know what a reel is, do you? Okay. Aright is jus' like a r- uh... Old people raised you when I was coming on. You go to church, you- you- you call yourself confess t' 'ligion. Okay. Well everybody had got confidence in you, y'understan', dat you, you really done confe[ss]. Well you turn around? From the church song and start singin' 'at- well see, didn' call it a blues then, you call that a reel, you understan'. Well that- the reel came from- the blue came from the reel. They change it, just to say blues, y'un'stan'. Say like er ah- your mother an' father raise you into, and you tol' yourself, tha's even when I come on, dey hea- dey heard you t' sing a- something. Uh-unh! He ain' got nothin'! I heard him si[ae]ng a reel. Yestiddy, see. Okay?

But er ah- But a blue, an' a reel is all the same. [chord] An' I'll tell you 'bout the blues, how this- how- how they work?. Okay. It's so many different ways that the blues work. Here they go. Okay. Jus' like you take me. Er, that- that- that fellow in yonder what's a-runnin' this, this, to the mike.You an' him been together for a year, run together for a year, ah. Well you begin to gain mo' confidence in him, y'understan' see. You let him have any amount of money he ask lon- long as you got it. An' when he gets somethin' in his han', catch you down... He'll turn you down? Or either get with another crowd 'n' misuse you with somebody else y'unnerstan', y'see.

Well you, first thing you say, you get off to yourself, see, not in the- not whilst you there. You get off to yourself an' get to studyin'. You say, I wouldn' have thought so-an-so woulda did me like that. Close as I thought me an' him was, y'un'stan, see, huh? Well see that was your min', man, y'see. And if you can do this [chord] if you can play this thing... [chord] Well, the more you play, the bluer you get, until you get to it.

See I have got up out of bed an' played the thing. Me an' my wife have got into it. An' I got up out the bed, an' she was sleep. An' went in the other room and played. Played the blues? When I got satisfied, I put it down, wen' on an' went to bed an' went to sleep. You see, it was off my mind, but... It's a worrisome thing man, but it works so many differen' ways. You see you could be as nice to so many people.

See that what- tha's- tha's the way they work, jus' like that. Jus' like ah, you nice to me. Okay, he nice to me. Well, you got confidence. Confidence make love you know, twixt woman or either man. Well you got confidence say well, say, tha's my frien'. You tell, you tell the nex' person, Oh yeah, me an' him good bosom friends, tha's my friend yonder. Well [chord] ... You know they say that your frien' will [r]deceive you some time. But yet still? you got that confidence in you, he wouldn't have figured that you woulda di- he woulda did you like that, y'see. Well see, when you get- you can say now, [plays line]. You see that the reason now that so man- You know, jus' like so many people, "How you- how you- how you make that sound like..." [plays line, sings:]

"Lord my best friend baby, done turn his back on me..."

See that, yeah, see you- th's, tha's in you. Y'see so, so many people misuse you, an' you don' know how they come by it. [plays line, sings:] "Lord I don' know, why everybody down on me..."

"Lord I don' know, why ev'body down on me..."

Now thi's the way you try an' do it.


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