Tuesday, September 06, 2005

When The Levee Breaks

If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break,
If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break,
When the levee breaks I'll have no place to stay.

Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan,
Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan,
Got what it takes to make a mountain man leave his home,
Oh, well, oh, well, oh, well.

Don't it make you feel bad
When you're tryin' to find your way home,
You don't know which way to go?
If you're goin' down South,
There ain't no work to do;
If you're goin' North,
There's Chicago.

Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
Now, cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move.

All last night sat on the levee and moaned,
All last night sat on the levee and moaned,
Thinkin' about me baby and my happy home.
Going, going to Chicago... Going to Chicago... Sorry but I can't take you...
Going down... going down now... going down....


from Led Zepplin IV, 1971, based on a 1929 recording of the same name by Blues artist Memphis Minnie McCoy.

3 comments:

Lorna Dee Cervantes said...

YEA! My IDOL, Memphis Minnie.

There are several versions of the song. Most poignant is sung by Kansa Joe (McCoy) with her on lead guitar making the sound of the storm, flood and pyschological pressure building. When sung by Joe, the song becomes a metaphor for all the stress of being out-of-work, poor & black in the South.

She said, in little known conversations conducted by black women journalist students and aired on the radio, that she was traveling and performing in the Delta when there was a huge flood. Everywhere she went the people were crying and moaning, starving and dying, and they were begging her to sing "When the Levee Breaks." She said, she thought they had mistook her for Ma Rainey or some other singer, but she sat down and wrote the song — to relieve the people's suffering.

There's a MM link on my blog as well as a link to an interview with me conducted by Alex Stein and published in the Michigan Quarterly Review with more info from those conversations.

Peter said...

Lorna: Fascinating story. Thanks for pointing me to it.

Collin said...

That song has been on my mind for a week. However, after hearing local Atlanta performance poet Lady Hardin read a persona poem of a woman trapped on her roof in New Orleans interspersed with the Doobie Brothers' "Black Water," that song has been in my head.