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“Shave ‘Em Dry” — Lucille Bogan

May 3, 2010

This song choice was inspired by Florida resident Megan Mariah Barnes’ unique form of “distracted driving” (see the May 3, 2010 post of the dorn blog for the complete story

You know, I didn’t realize they had those “Parental Advisory” stickers back in 1935 when Lucille Bogan recorded this raunchy blues song — after all, Tipper Gore wasn’t even born yet.

Let me add, however, that this song definitely earns that sticker with sexually explicit content that is NOT WORK-FRIENDLY! [Consider yourself warned.]

Think that “dropping the F-bomb” in a song is only a recent phenomenon?  Then you’ve never heard Lucille Bogan.  Using the pseudonym Bessie Jackson, she recorded “Shave ‘Em Dry” on March 5, 1935 in New York.  The song had been around for a while — “Ma” Rainey recorded a version ten years earlier.  Ms. Bogan did several takes of the song with Walter Roland accompanying her on piano; the version that was commercially released in 1935 included a number of relatively mild double entendres and this rather sinister-sounding final verse:

“If you meet your man an’ he tell you a lie,
Just pull out your razor and shave ‘em dry.”

In that version, the phrase “Shave ‘Em Dry” referred to shaving someone’s skin without soap, so that it would itch — making it a kind of payback for being wronged (and we all know that payback is a bitch).

More than three decades later, an unexpurgated alternate take surfaced — with lyrics like those that were sung in whore houses and “midnight rambles” (after-hours minstrel shows).  In the PBS series Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues — A Musical Journey, a snippet of this version is played in Episode 4, “Warming by the Devil’s Fire.”

So… fasten your seat belts and give a listen to Take 2 of “Shave ‘Em Dry” by Lucille Bogan.  [Note that a phrase from the second line of the first verse was “borrowed” by The Rolling Stones (in “Start Me Up”) and Tom Waits (in “Pasties and a G-String”)].

Lord have mercy! 

I’ll go out on limb here and say that, in this version, the title phrase does not refer to shaving (not even the kind Ms. Barnes was doing behind the wheel of her Thunderbird).

Also noteworthy — Lucille offers a most unusual explanation for her plus-size figure — hey, I thought that was a good way to burn calories!

Believe it or not, an Austin, Texas band called The Asylum Street Spankers covered the X-rated version of “Shave ‘Em Dry” on their 1997 EP Nasty Novelties.


From → Pre-1960

  1. Ted permalink

    DJ, how do you even know about this record? They never sold this stuff at Sherman Clay, that’s for sure.

  2. Sherman Clay – I remember it well. My father bought my Gibson LG-1 there when I was a senior in high school.

    How do I know about it? What – don’t you remember Doctor Demento playing it? [Just kidding]

    Actually, a friend of mine back in college had some albums of “bawdy” blues songs – most featured risque word play (Like Memphis Slim’s “If You See Kay” – try saying the title out loud) and/or double entendres. That’s when I first hear Lucille Bogan – she definitely was raunchier (at least on record) than her better known female peers “Ma” Rainey and Bessie Smith. I was reminded of this song while watching the Scorsese-produced PBS series about the blues and again when I went to an acquaintance’s MySpace page and heard it on her playlist.

  3. Incredibly awesome writing. Honest.

  4. Scottie D permalink

    I was looking up the lyrics for “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones. I just happened to read the references when I saw a mention for this song. Just the idea that someone was singing lyrics about making “a dead man cum” in the 1930s was enough to pique my interest. I heard the song and instantly became a fan. I don’t know how I didn’t know about her before, but now I’m gathering up as much of Lucille Bogan’s material as I can now…

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