Article MT228

No Need of Knockin' on the Blind

An Amazing Link Between bluesmen Papa Charlie Jackson, Frankie 'Half Pint' Jaxon
and the 14th Century Italian Storyteller, Giovanni Boccaccio.


The following article is an expanded and revised version of a piece that first appeared in the magazine Blues & Rhythm (# 3, October, 1984.)

In his sleeve notes to the long play album Papa Charlie Jackson (Biograph BLP-12042), Don Kent describes Papa Charlie's 1928 Paramount recording of the song No Need of Knockin' on the Blind as 'utterly hokum'1. The recording has been reissued by Document Records on Papa Charlie Jackson. Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order. Volume 2 (Document Records DOCD-5088).1  I don't know when the term 'hokum' first came into common usage - the early 20th century, I guess - but I'm certain that it wasn't around in the 14th century when Papa Charlie's song appeared as a novella in Giovanni Boccaccio's 'Decameron (Day Vll, Story 1), and it was probably an old tale even then!

In Boccaccio's telling of the story, Gianni Lotteringhi hears a knocking at his door at night; he awakens his wife, who, realising that it is her lover, persuades Gianni that it is a ghost, which they exorcise with a prayer.  The wife's prayer, recited in a loud voice, warns the lover that she is not alone and the lover flees into the night.

Papa Charlie's version, in the form of a cante-fable - a story told partly in song and partly in narrative - goes like this:

Was an old man about 82.  Now he had a young girl about 22.  They decided to live way in the woods and build themselves a little bungaloo.  Along came a young fella about 26.  He thought maybe he had a chance to get his fix.  He thought it was wlse, but he got fright and swore he was going to fight that old man (?).  The old man happened to go to work every morning.  The young fella was sniffing around, seeing what he could do.  His wife in the kitchen, trying to fix the breakfast.  His little baby playing on the floor.  But the old man had stayed home that night.  Along come the young fella, looking through the blinds, and he sees them talking.  But she couldn't get past to tell him the old man was home.  So she started a little song.  Now here's the way that little song went ...

There's no need of knockin' on the blinds,
There's no need of knockin' on the blinds. 
Whilst the baby's a-sleeping,
My old man's in the house sleeping,
And there's no need knockin' on the blinds.

The old man happened to wake up.  He said, “Baby, what kind of a song is that you'se singing?” She said, “You know the baby didn't rest so good last night, so I thought I'd sing this song to put the baby to sleep while I cooked your breakfast”.

”You know I brought this (strut?) home for you and I, and you and I alone.  So I think I've got a little verse for you”.  “Alright then.  Sing it”.

He said, there's no need of knockin' on the blinds,
There's no need of knockin' on the blinds. 
Whilst the baby's a-crawling, I'll do my own falling,
And there's no need knockin' on the blinds. 
There's no need of knockin' on the blinds.
There's no need of knockin' on the blinds.
Whilst the baby's a-trucking,
I'll do my own sucking,
And there's no need knockin' on the blinds.

Papa Charlie Jackson - Pm 12660.  Recorded Chicago c.May, 1928.

No doubt the rhyme trucking/sucking was inserted to satisfy the Paramount production team.  A verse collected by the Ozark folklorist, Vance Randolph, has a more traditional ring about it:
No use to rattle the blind, No use to rattle the blind, The baby's a-sucking, I'll do my own f----g, No use to rattle the blind.2. Vance Randolph Pissing in the Snow & Other Ozark Folktales, 1976 pp.123 - 24. Randolph's version came from a person who had first heard the story c.1910.2
On Thursday, 29th August, 1929, a white singer and guitar player named Merle McGinnis ('The Joy Kid'), who today is something of a biographical blank, walked into Gennet's Richmond, Indiana studio to record two songs, which were later issued on Gennet 6990.  One song was (There's No Use) Knocking on the Blinds.  So far, I have been unable to trace a copy of this recording, which may be a similar cante-fable to that recorded by Papa Charlie Jackson, or it could be that McGinnis's track was similar to that recorded almost eight years later by Frankie 'Half Pint' Jaxon.  Jaxon's song, and it was a song, rather than a cante-fable, had been recorded in New York City in 1937, and issued on Decca 73603. The Jaxon recording has been reissued by Document Records on Frankie 'Half-Pint' Jaxon. The Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order. Volume 2 (Document Records DOCD-5259).3.  Jaxon, a black bandleader and bluesman specialized in so-called 'party' records, recordings of songs of a sexual nature which made extensive use of the 'double-entendre'.  (Although it should be added that, like many other bluesmen, Jaxon and his band did record Gospel songs - as the Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers.) Jaxon seems to have taken Papa Charlie Jackson's verse There's no need of knockin' on the blinds/Whilst the baby's a-trucking/I'll do my own sucking/And there's no need knockin' on the blinds and used this as a basis for what followed:
1.   No need knockin' on the blind,
No need knockin' on the blind.
The baby he's truckin',
I'm here to do your shuckin',
There's no need knockin' on the blind.

2.   Oh, there's no need knockin' on the blind,
No need knockin' on the blind.
No need to holler,
I'm a hard guy to foller (sic),
It ain't a-need a-knockin' on the blind.

3.   No need knockin' on the blind,
Ain't no need a-knockin' on the blind.
The baby he's nursing,
No need to start cursing,
It ain't a-need a-knocking on the blind.

4.   Oh, it's no need knockin' on the blind,
No need knockin' on the blind.
You can grieve with sorrow,
But come back tomorrow,
It ain't a-need a-knockin' on the blind.

5.   Oh, no need knockin' on the blind,
No need knockin' on the blind.
No need for presents,
The loving I'm getting,
Ain't no need a-knockin' on the blind.

6.   Oh, no need knockin' on the blind,
No need knockin' on the blind.
You're a darn good singer,
But I'm a hot humdinger,
It ain't a-need a-knocking on the blind.

7.   Oh, no need knockin' on the blind,
No need knockin' on the blind.
Ain't no need to yell,
'Cause I'm a- burning well,
It's no need knocking on the blind.

8.   It's no need knockin' on the blind,
No need knockin' on the blind.
For you know a lot of tricks,
But I'm getting near fixed,
It ain't no need a-knocking on the blind.


Frankie 'Half Pint' Jaxon.  Decca 7360.  Recorded New York City on the 12th March, 1937.
Considering the unlikelihood of Papa Charlie, Merle McGinnis or Frankie 'Half Pint' Jaxon having read Boccaccio, how then did they come to be singing the song?  Well, in fact, it's a folktale, probably the most commonly collected cante-fable in the Anglo-American tradition; and one which has now entered into American Negro tradition.4. For another Negro version, collected in South Carolina, see the Journal of American Folklore XXXII, p.363. Of course this is not an isolated example of an Old World tale entering American Negro tradition.
The Rest of this note is too long to fit here - read it in Notes, below.4

Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson have classified the tale as Type 1419H - Woman Warns Lover of Husband by Singing Song and it was well-known not only in 15th and 17th century Britain (one version, for example, being used in Act III of Beaumont and Fletcher's play The Knight of the Burning Pestle, first performed in 1613), but also throughout Western Europe.5. Antti Aarne & Stith Thompson The Types of the Folktale Helsinki, 1961.5  Like all good folk tales, it has managed to keep up with the times.  One English gypsy, having sung the song into my tape recorder, told me that it related to a gypsy whose wife was warning her husband not to return home from a poaching trip, because the police were waiting in the caravan to catch him on his return!6. Recorded from Wisdom Smith, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, 1974. The recording is available on the Musical Traditions CD Band of Gold (MTCD 307).6

And if you believe that - well, it looks like you'll believe any old hokum.

(With thanks to Frank Weston for checking references.)

Mike Yates - 16.12.09

Notes:

Article MT228

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