This is the latest installment of the 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 blues glossary The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to ZuZu (Foreword by Dr. John) at Bluescentric.com. Also available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle.
The kingsnake is so named because even though it is non-venomous, it can eat poisonous snakes such as rattlesnakes, copperheads, and coral snakes with no ill effect. The kingsnake shows up in blues songs like “Crawling Kingsnake Blues” by John Lee Hooker as a metaphor for virility and domination:
The kingsnake locates poisonous snakes with its acute sense of smell. A kingsnake will bite a rattlesnake and coil around it, constricting it slowly and swallowing it whole. Although harmless to humans, the kingsnake is at the top of the reptile food chain. Adults grow to between thirty and eight-five inches long and are typically chocolate brown or black, with white-to-yellowish bands.
The Dahomey (Fon) people of Benin, West Africa practice the African religion Vodun, which includes in its mythology a gigantic snake named Dan that helped create the universe and supports it with 3500 coils above and 3500 coils below. In Haitian Voudou and American Voodoo or “Vodou,” which both evolved from Vodun, Dan is worshipped as Damballah, the Grand Zombie.
“Crawlin’ Kingsnake”- Joe Williams
“Crawlin’ Kingsnake Blues”- Bernard Bessman, John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker – “Crawlin’ Kingsnake Blues