Rolling Stones unreleased: Salty Dog
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Also known as: Salty Dog Blues
Written by: (Traditional)
Recorded: backstage at ABC Theatre, Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sept. 4 1965
From Matteson Art:
One of the all-time bluegrass favorites is the song Salty Dog. The song is usually associated with the Morris Brothers 1938 “Let Me Be Your Salty Dog,” which later became the bluegrass standard “Salty Dog Blues.” If you’re wondering where the song originates or even what a Salty Dog is you can look on-line and find some of the answers. Most sources online quote the excellent article on the Morris Brothers by Wayne Erbsen:
During the recording session in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the Morris Brothers recorded the song that was their all time hit-“Let Me Be Your Salty Dog.” The song was written by Zeke in 1935, but both brothers arranged it. Wiley explained that “I have a different definition of a salty dog than Zeke has. Back when we were kids down in Old Fort we would see a girl we liked and say “I’d like to be her salty dog.” There also used to be a drink you could get up in Michigan. All you had to do was say “Let me have a Salty Dog,” and they’d pour you one.”
Zeke remembers that “I got the idea when we went to a little old honky tonk just outside of Canton which is in North Carolina. We went to play at a school out beyond Waynesville somewhere and we stopped at this place. They sold beer and had slot machines. At that time they were legal in North Carolina. We got in there after the show and got to drinking that beer and playing the slot machines with nickels, dimes and quarters….
…I think we hit three or four jackpots. Boy, here it would come! You know you had a pile of money when you had two handfuls of change. The name of that place was the “Salty Dog,” and that’s where I got the idea for the song. There’s actually more verses to it than me and Wiley sing, a lot more verses.” There is little doubt that “Salty Dog” is the most popular number the Morris Brothers ever recorded. According to Wiley, “It’s considered a standard. Everybody uses it in the bluegrass field, just about. We’re making more money off it now on copyright royalties than we ever did on our record, with other people using it. I reckon that song is known all over the world….
…When I get my statement every six months, it’s being played in every nation under the sun. That song is even popular in Japan! It aint one that’s gone up to high heaven and then fell completely down. It’s just one that’s considered a standard. It’s our biggest song ’cause it’s a good five string banjo number played bluegrass style.”
Here’s what Dave McKissack from Blacksburg Virginia found: With regard to the term “salty dog,” the book “A Sometimes Westering Man” says that this term actually refers to a medicinal device used by some early frontier America communities, especially in the eastern Appalachian ranges. In the fall, during hog butchering season, small sausages or “dogs” were placed in a brine solution and left to soak until the winter cold arrived. At the onset of pneumonia or influenza in a community, these sausages, or “salty dogs” were heated and worn under the clothes, with women placing them inside the bodice or brassiere. It was believed that the combination of brine and hog fat was beneficial because the salt drew noxious vapors from the body while the hog fat insulated the body against cold temperatures.
According to banjo picker Jack Hatfield, “It don’t mean nuthin’, it’s a novelty song.” Whether a salty dog is hot dog on a stick, a sausage or it’s just some floating lyrics based on an old blues song, I hope this article has given you some food for thought. I recently completed my painting of Salty Dog Blues with lyrics from Papa Charlie Jackson, the Morris Brothers and other sources.
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