Backwater Blues

The eye of hurricane is going to Cajun country, it is now said, so we will look at pictures of the 1927 flood as experienced there from the Louisiana Digital Library. These pictures appear first in postage stamp size, but enlarge in a few seconds. Check out the Evangeline Oak in St. Martinville, which is slated to experience hurricane force winds by Monday at mid morning, the girl dancing to twin fiddles at a Lafayette refugee camp, men wading in Arnaudville, the entrance to the refugee camp at Opelousas, the inundated stores at Port Barre, and an inundated cabin in Avoyelles Parish.

Bessie Smith apparently wrote the Backwater Blues before the 1927 flood. Still it is a good song to wait for a hurricane with, and Dinah Washington sang it famously at Newport in 1967, in a version you have surely heard. More recently Troels Jensen sang it in Copenhagen.

The lyrics are available on line at several different sites. Smith’s 1927 recording sings like this. I, of course, bolded my favorite phrases.

When it rains five days and the skies turn dark as night
When it rains five days and the skies turn dark as night
Then trouble’s takin’ place in the lowlands at night
I woke up this mornin’, can’t even get out of my door
I woke up this mornin’, can’t even get out of my door
There’s been enough trouble to make a poor girl wonder where she want to go
Then they rowed a little boat about five miles ‘cross the pond
Then they rowed a little boat about five miles ‘cross the pond
I packed all my clothes, throwed them in and they rowed me along
When it thunders and lightnin’ and when the wind begins to blow
When it thunders and lightnin’ and the wind begins to blow
There’s thousands of people ain’t got no place to go

Then I went and stood upon some high old lonesome hill
Then I went and stood upon some high old lonesome hill
Then looked down on the house were I used to live

Backwater blues done call me to pack my things and go
Backwater blues done call me to pack my things and go
‘Cause my house fell down and I can’t live there no more
Mmm, I can’t move no more
Mmm, I can’t move no more
There ain’t no place for a poor old girl to go


12 thoughts on “Backwater Blues

  1. Yes – everyone was freaking out last night and the people from N.O. who were supposed to evacuate to me decided it wasn’t far enough and are going on to Austin – but in fact it is now only supposed to make landfall as a category 3 storm and may well move still further westward as I thought it would (the further from N.O., the better, *I* say, because I want my historic city to still exist). The westward movement is taken seriously enough that they are evacuating the coastline in eastern Texas. In any case it will be noticeably weaker by the time it gets here than at landfall.

    Also, it is supposedly coming in sooner than I had originally thought, which is good – I am tired of waiting. Winds should be *here* in about 24 hours – landfall is about 9 AM tomorrow but winds extend much further out. The sooner they arrive, the sooner they go. Weather is nice now, was yesterday, too.

  2. This is a heartwrenching post. I’m sentimental about archives and sensitive to the blues. Those images!

    Waiting for a storm is exhausting, indeed.

  3. bueno suerte! be safe….and looking forward to your continued posts, insights, and music

    lafayette native

  4. Hi Kiita!!! The first thunderstorms associated with the outer bands arrived a few hours ago. Now it’s quiet, and the storm appears to be delayed. I’d like to be done with it already. and all, but … paciencia.

    Kathy – Mais yeah, chère! it’s going to miss Lafayette, at least the eye will … looks like it’s going from New Iberia to Lake Charles. There’s only a 29% chance (last I looked) that it will still be a hurricane when it gets to La-LA. We’ll see … sending CAJUN FORCE (that’s a barbecue sauce from Crowley) across the ether to dispersed Acadiens.

    Jennifer – yes, N.O. is 95% empty and there’s mandatory evacuation in the coastal parishes. The whole state only has 5 million and I am among those allowed to stay put! 🙂

  5. I was at a spa retreat yesterday with a friend of mine who talks about being evacuated to Baton Rouge from N.O. when Camille came. If this is another Camille… Be safe.

  6. Gracias Hattie! I will – it’s more like, I’ll be uncomfortable if the electricity goes. Camille, I don’t think this will be, although there was more coastline back then. I’ll let you know! (And then maybe go on spa retreat also.)

  7. P.S. Here is the relevant radar loop:

    Now it is eerily still away from the coast.

    It is raining steadily in N.O., hurricane conditions expected tomorrow:

    The TIMES-PICAYUNE says this:

    The Atlanta JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION says this, recently:
    Number of people evacuated seems to be close to 2 million, and 100,000 were still on the coast this morning. That’s yesterday morning now … I’m very curious to see where and how it comes in but it won’t be until tomorrow (i.e. later today).

  8. How ya holdin’ up? I moved out of my taaaall pine tree surrounded place to a place nearby and less threatened. My cell gets no signal, but I’ll go home Tuesday. The University isn’t open until Thursday. Blessings.

  9. Hi! I’m delighted it came in at II not III and that N.O. is not destroyed. I am now exhausted, I realize, due to my extreme tension about that possibility.

    It isn’t really here yet, but it won’t be too bad. I don’t want to lose electricity and if we do, I want it to come back soon. The nuns are channeling St. Joseph to save the buildings; I have been trying to channel Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception to save the people on the seas and the coast; now perhaps I will channel St. Barbara not to calm things down but to keep that electrical current going (but I don’t want that to get misdirected and start a fire, so I will think about it first!).

    I hope no trees fall on your house … I think there’s a good chance they won’t because they are pines, isn’t it water oaks that have the greatest propensity to this … ?

    Anyway, when I get to that piney country in Louisiana and Mississippi I always think of the Leadbelly song “In the Pines,” so we will sing: 😉

    This version just hums “In the Pines,” and goes on to other songs. The staging and so on is very antiquated (well, it was 1945). It is the only video of him, though, and it does have TAKE THIS HAMMER. My unrelated comment on this video, as on all old videos, is notice how much better health he (and most people on old videos) is/are in than the average U.S. person now.

    Here he sings “In the Pines” in a good recording, with a weird video attached (they used software to make a photograph look like a film, it is somewhat macabre).

    Here’s the same version with a video of photographs, but these still aren’t the recording I heard at 78 rpm as a child, in which he did not say “My girl” but “Black girl.” It was also not “hard working man” but “railroad man.”

    Anyway, now I’m going on a Leadbelly jag, I can feel coming on … but I need to work while the electricity lasts, the storm is speeding up and the light is flickering!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s