Over the years I’ve been listening to a lot of roots music: Folk, country blues, and rockabilly especially.
And I’ve noticed a certain rhyme that keeps popping up:
“They’re Red Hot” by Robert Johnson:
“I got a girl, say she long and tall, she sleeps in the kitchen with her feets in the hall”
“Take a Whiff on Me” by Woody Guthrie (originally by Leadbelly w/ different lyrics):
“I got a woman, six foot four, sleepin’ in the kitchen with her feet in the door”
“Cumberland Gap” by Lonnie Donegan:
“Well, I got a girl six feet tall, sleeps in the kitchen with her feet in the hall”
“Red Hot” by Billy Lee Riley (originally by Billy “The Kid” Emerson w/ different lyrics):
“Well, I got a gal, six feet four, sleeps in the kitchen with her feet out the door”
Now surely the similarity between Robert Johnson’s “They’re Red Hot” and Billy Lee Riley’s “Red Hot” can’t be a coincidence? They may be completely different songs, but their titles are nearly identical.
It’s especially odd considering that Riley’s version of “Red Hot” has different lyrics than the original, suggesting it was an intentional alteration. Seems, like a lot of folk music, that you could switch common phrases like that in and out to your liking. For whatever reason, it was only Lonnie Donegan’s version of “Cumberland Gap” that seemed to have that particular verse.
The question that remains is where either Billy Lee Riley or Billy Emerson heard the Robert Johnson song, if either of them did indeed draw inspiration from it. Robert Johnson wasn’t well-known until the release of King of the Delta Blues in 1961, well after 1955 or 1957 when either version of “Red Hot” was released. The only other possibility is that one of them owned the original 78.
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