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“Shotgun”

Posted by purplemary54 on December 13, 2012

I freely admit that I’ve never paid much attention to the lyrics of this song, mostly because I’ve been too busy grooving along with the unbelievable organ and a sax solo that King Curtis would’ve been a little jealous of (but only a little).  This soul classic features some of the best musicianship ever.  Junior Walker and the All-Stars were one tight band.

But that awesome music is a careful disguise for one of the most scathing anti-racist songs ever.  This is the “Strange Fruit” of the 1960s.  Spike Lee didn’t use it in Malcolm X just because it was recorded and released in 1965; he used it because it made visceral and immediate the danger that Malcolm found himself in when he began speaking out and making enemies.  I say without irony or pretense that Malcolm X is one of my heroes.  I did not always agree with him (I’ve always preferred the nonviolence Dr. King stood for), but I admired him.  He dragged himself out of the depths of despair and ignorance, educated himself, found Islam, and stood up for the rights of his people–and by default, for all people.  Malcolm himself would eventually travel to Mecca on the Hajj, and would find a deeper understanding of his religion that helped him renounce his avocation of violence.  Of course, that renunciation coupled with his power and popularity led to his assassination by a member of the Nation of Islam.

Back to the song.  I’m just going to include the lyrics, because they are that stunning.  I wonder if anyone (besides the black folks in the audience) had any idea what they were dancing to.

“I said, shotgun
Shoot ’em ‘fore he runs, now
Do the jerk, baby
Do the jerk, now
Hey!

Put on yo’ red dress
And then you go downtown, now
I said, buy yourself a shotgun, now
We gonna break it down, baby, now
We gonna load it up, baby, now
A-then you shoot him ‘fore he run, now

I said, shotgun
Shoot ’em ‘fore he run, now
Do the jerk, baby
Do the jerk, now
Hey!

(sax & instrumental)

Shotgun
Shoot ’em ‘fore he run, now
Do the jerk, baby
Do the jerk, now
Yeah!

Put on yo’ high-heel shoes
I said, we goin’ down here
An listen to ’em play the blues
We gonna, dig potatoes
We gonna, pick tomatoes

I said, shotgun
Shoot ’em ‘fore he run, now
Do the jerk, baby
Do the jerk, now
Yeah!

I said it’s, Twine time
I said it’s, Twine time
I said it’s, Twine time

‘Hey!
‘Wailin’ out the blues!'”      (lyrics found here)

Thank you, Junior Walker, for writing this song.  I’m sorry it took so long for this white girl to pay enough attention to its meaning.

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