Language of the Blues: Hambone

This is the latest installment of our weekly series, The Language of the Blues, in which author/rocker Debra Devi explores the meaning of a word or phrase found in the blues. Grab a signed copy of Devi’s award-winning book The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to ZuZu (Foreword by Dr. John) at Bluescentric.com. Also available on Amazon Kindle.  ”One of the wittiest, bawdiest, most fascinating dictionaries ever.” (Reuters) 

In blues songs a hambone is typically a euphemism for a penis, although sometimes female blues singers have used it to refer to their own private parts. The earliest known recorded song to use “hambone” is “Southern Woman’s Blues,” recorded by the great blues singer Ida Cox in Chicago in 1925, accompanied by Lovie Austin & Her Seranaders. Cox, who was born in Taccoa, Georgia, in 1896 to sharecropper parents, sang about her frustration with the men up North:

I’m going back south where I can get my hambone boiled
These northern men about to let my poor hambone spoil

Cab Calloway used hambone this way in his racier live version of W.C. Handy’s relatively tame “St. Louis Blues.” Calloway improvised this verse in 1930:

I’m goin’ way back to Chicago to have my hambone boiled 
These women in New York City let my good hambone spoil

Songs:

“St. Louis Blues”- W.C. Handy
“Southern Woman’s Blues”- Ida Cox

Video:
Ida Cox Sings the Blues

Debra Devi

Debra Devi

Debra Devi is the author of the award-winning blues glossary The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu and the singer/guitarist for the rock band DEVI.

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