#667: Who Do You Love by Tom Rush
Tom Rush was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1941. By the age of twenty he had a weekly gig at a folk music coffee house named Club 47 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His appearances at The Unicorn in Boston resulted in his 1962 debut album, Tom Rush at the Unicorn. His 1963 album, Got A Mind To Ramble, included a cover of “Nine Pound Hammer.” His 1968 album, The Circle Game, helped a wider audience appreciate the songwriting abilities of Joni Mitchell. Between 1962 and 1975, Tom Rush released twelve studio albums and one compilation LP. He had a break from studio recording until 1982 when he released two more albums. But back in 1966 Tom Rush released the album, Take A Little Walk With Me. It included a song titled “Who Do You Love.” In 1967 a Michigan band named The Woolies had a #11 hit in Vancouver with “Who Do You Love.” It would be four years later that Tom Rush’s version of the song made the Vancouver pop charts on CKVN.
Who Do You Love is a song first written and performed by Bo Diddley in 1956. Diddley’s original version was ranked at #133 on Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs. The song draws heavily on West African hoodoo folk spiritual images: a cobra-snake necktie, a house made of rattlesnake hide, a chimney made from a human skull. The singer menacingly relates they have a “tombstone hand and a graveyard mind, just 22 and I don’t mind dying.” Diddley’s single never made the R&B or pop charts.
However, Bo Diddley had a number one R&B hit in 1955 called Bo Diddley. It was the first rock n’ roll song to include African rhythms in a record, as he used a patted Juba beat. This involved slapping and patting arms, legs, chest and cheeks.
Bo Diddley’s original lyrics “Arlene grabbed me by the hand, she said, ow wee Bo, I understand.” With the Woolies the lyrics are rendered “cool me Stormy, you’re my man.” Stormy refers to The Woolies’ lead vocalist, Stormy Rice. The combination of Stormy Rice’s snarled vocals and the fuzzed guitar and Farfisa organ on the verses made the song menacing.
The song’s lyrics present a series of images. They could be totems or signs of initiations the singer has had to go through and emerged victoriously from in order to obtain a cobra-snake necktie, a house made out of rattlesnake hide and a chimney made out of human skulls. The song’s lyrics stand in a chasm where life and death meet. There’s a tombstone mine and a graveyard hand, an eye that looks through others and an ice-wagon, a nickname for a hearse. Though the man is young, just twenty-one, he doesn’t mind dying. For the woman in the song, Arlene, this is all fine with her. After the singer tells asserts, “I’m the kind of man for a girl like you,” she says “Cool me, Stormy, you’re my man.” Relationships are often full of surprises, and some are unwelcome. In this case, the singer lets all the skeletons out of the closet from the start. If Arlene’s okay with this kind of a man, what she sees is what she’s going to get.
“Who Do You Love” is influences by the West African spiritual tradition of hoodoo that was brought over the Atlantic Ocean by African slaves who continued to practice its folk magic beliefs in Louisiana and Mississippi. The use of the homonym “who do” is an allusion to “hoodoo.” The word hoodoo originates from Hudu, which is the name of a language and a Ewe tribe in Togo and Ghana. The word, hoodoo, was first referenced in Webster’s dictionary in American English in 1875 and was used as a noun describing the practice of hoodoo. It was also used as a transitive verb, as in “I hoodoo you,” the act of conjuring a spell. The hoodoo could be manifest in a healing potion, or in the exercise of a parapsychological power, or as the cause of harm which befalls the targeted victim. In African-American communities in the southeastern United States, hoodoo describes a paranormal consciousness or spiritual hypnosis, a spell. Alternately, hoodoo is also used as an adjective for a practitioner of hoodoo, such as hoodoo man. In the Woolies version of the song, the roots that are part of the hoodoo man’s powerful spell include some essence of bear in order to conjure the spell, or to put a spell on someone. The lyrics Bo Diddley wrote set a hoodoo man further west to Southwestern United States, as his power is found in things he’s acquired that would more likely be found in New Mexico or Arizona: a rattlesnake hide, a cobra-snake necktie etc.
“Who Do You Love” was recorded by a number of musicians. Tom Rush’s version caught on in Vancouver in 1971 and peaked at #8. Only in Oklahoma City did the tune also crack the Top Ten.
Rush would release over 25 albums featuring folksongs, country and blues during his career spanning five decades. In 2009, Rush recorded his first studio album in almost 35 years titled What I Know. His most recent album, Voices, was released in 2018. He has been in concert for special shows broadcast on PBS and NPR. Tom Rush currently has seven concerts scheduled variously in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire between September 14/18 and April 6/19.
About Tom Rush, Tom Rush.com
Tom Rush, Take A Little Walk With Me – Track Listing, Discogs.com
Bo Diddley ~ History, Bo Diddley.com
The Woolies, Jeff Baldori Music.com
Steve Seymour, Woolies Hit With Diddley Classic, Rock N Roll Graffiti Blogspot.ca
Catherine Yronwode, Hoodoo, Conjure, and Rootwork: African American Folk Magic, Lucky Mojo.com, Forrestville, California
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.