Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rose Maddox on Milk Cows & Matrimony

Rose Maddox in a detail from Joe Coleman painting "A Doorway to Joe".

On some old hillbilly records, use of the word matrimony underscores the sexual dimension in that “union of man and woman in marriage.” Wayne Raney’s 1949 hit “Haul Off & Love Me,” which went to #1 on the Country charts before crossing over to the Top 40, suggests with a leer that that union is sealed by love, law, and genitals. The singer, lookin’ to score in the only way that good Christian values allow, pursues his object of desire through a proper courtship—about two verses in duration—before reaching that promised land at the altar, and in between her thighs. At that point he proclaims Now I can feel your warm lips on me, hear you breathin’ soft & fine/ I can feel the matrimony crawlin’ up & down my spine!  
And this from the same guy who’d later record “We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (And a Lot Less Rock and Roll)”!
           But, in “Haul Off & Love Me,” Raney still tows the Christian line, and towing the line never generated much good material for Country & Western songs. For that you need sin, or at least a more hard-bitten realism. Maybe the two go hand in hand.
           Enter “America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band,” aka The Maddox Brothers and Rose. Who better to bite hard on reality than a band of Dustbowl Okies? From the late 40s through the mid-50s, brothers Fred, Cal, Henry, Don and sister Rose Maddox cut a slew of sides for the 4-Star and Columbia labels, several of which treat the subject at hand with swing, humor, and occasionally, a big helping of milk & butter. 

           “I Want to Live and Love”
--Our opener, and sort of the MB&R’s theme song. Rose’ll tell you what this love can do, and with a swingin’ steel guitar break thrown in, to boot. That glad feeling is the working girl’s friend, just ask Friendly Henry, on the friendly mandolin.
           “Milk Cow Blues”—If the word matrimony suggests sex, then the phrase milk & butter waves it under yr nose, then spreads it all over your toast. Lots of acts did great versions of this number, but Rose delivers it with a certain ache, you can tell “by the way she lows.” For lustiness, her version makes those of Elvis and The Kinks seem droopy by comparison. Add the fact that that’s one of Rose’s brothers, probably Fred, volunteering to “drive ol’ heifer in” and, well, you get some pretty colorful hillbilly music, all right.  
           “Love is Strange”--
The Mickey &Sylvia hit, played pretty straight here. Recorded after the MB&R had split, and Rose had signed as a solo act with Columbia. Raises that eternal question: which came first, the Love or the milk & butter? Or are they one and the same, and inseparable?
           “I Wish I Was a Single Girl Again”
-- Uh Oh, just goes to show, the wages of fear, in this case the fear of becoming an old maid, is to end up marrying a husband who “chaws tobacca and snores in his sleep.” O Lord, she wishes she was a single girl again. A universal sentiment, applicable to bride and groom, as Fred yells in the background “Sometimes I wish I was a single boy again!”
--Rhymes with “stale baloney,” upon which her mark, that is, her luckless ex, must feed, since every time he gets a dime she wants that alimony. That monotonous melody is as relentless as her ex’s bad luck. Rose’s unflinching deadpan reflects the chill of a stone cold heart, the flipside, if you will, of a heart in love.
           “Faded Love”--
After the gladness flees, after the milk & butter’s all gone and the alimony too, there are only the stars above, which heaven will miss, like you’ll miss your faded love. Brother Fred Maddox rescues this one again, just when the sad fiddle brings a tear to your eye. “Our love’s not faded,” he says. Then, cracking up, adds “It’s just full bloom!”
Funny, from this somewhat random selection of songs, those about matrimony don’t say much about love, and those about love don’t much mention matrimony. Marriage based on romantic love is a fairly modern concept. And, hey, if you don’t get it right the first time, you can always “Marry Me Again.”

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