1 November 2016

Post 442: 'ROOT, HOG! OR DIE!'

Times are hard. You can no longer afford to feed your pig. So you turn him loose to fend for himself. You say to the pig: 'Off you go, Piggy. Root around and find some food for yourself. If you don't, you will die.'

Or you may simply say: 'Root, hog! Or die!'

From early colonial times, this became a familiar expression in American English of the Southern States (but never in English English). An American friend in Connecticut tells me it is now considered antiquated, even in the USA. Root, hog! Or die!, meaning Be resourceful and self-reliant, was once proverbial. And John Dixon told me: 'It IS an antiquated term, but you still hear it out in the country. It wasn’t a regular expression but I remember both my paternal grandma and my dad both saying it a few times on occasion'.

It made its way into some folk songs, even long before The Harlem Hamfats recorded a song called Root, hog! Or die! in 1937.

The Harlem Hamfats were founded in Chicago, primarily as a studio band. Not one of the band's eight members was actually from Harlem! Their leaders were Herb Morand (trumpet and vocals) and Kansas Joe McCoy (guitar and vocals). They developed a riff-based style, which is conspicuous in Root, hog! Or die!

This minor-key tune uses virtually the same chord sequence as Blue Drag and Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. To see what I mean about the riffing and the chord sequence, listen to the Hamfats' recording (apparently in the very unusual key of Gb minor) of the song BY CLICKING HERE.

But why am I telling you all this?

Because on 19 October, during a fleeting visit to New Orleans, I caught The Shotgun Jazz Band playing Root, hog! Or die! at The Spotted Cat Music Club. John Dixon told me they had recently introduced the tune into their repertoire, having picked it up from The Harlem Hamfats.

I made a video of their version. Playing (in the key of C minor) at a slightly faster tempo than the Hamfats, they had that wonderful combination of John Dixon and Tyler Thomson powerfully laying down the rhythm and chords, while Craig and Tomas offered some good solo choruses.

By the way, John also told me: 'It differs from the Blue Drag form by adding a #5 over the words ‘root hog or die’. If you divide those words up in time,  it’s:  -   (#V)root - (V)hog or - (1)die - instead of just V-I.'

Marla lustily provided the vocal and showed in her trumpet solo chorus what can be achieved by using a mute while lingering on the most bluesy notes. I hope you will enjoy watching my video. You may do so BY CLICKING HERE.