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 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.
A junkie is a heroin addict. A junko partner is someone who shares the ritual of shooting heroin with another addict. The traditional song “Junco Partner” has been covered by many artists, from Aaron King & the Imperials, Louis Jordan, and Professor Longhair to Warren Zevon and The Clash. It was jokingly called the national anthem of Angola Prison:
Oh, down the road came poor little Junco Boys
he was loaded as he could be
The poor man was knocked out, knocked out and loaded
And he was wobblin’ all over the street.
I heard him singing six months ain’t no sentence
He said one year was not no time
He said he had friends still in Angola
Serving from fourteen to ninety-nine
The derivation of junco is uncertain but may have to do with the connection between opium and the Chinese. The Chinese ships called “junks” got their name from the Old Javanese word jonk, which meant “sea-going ship.”
Too many blues artists have been lost to drug (and alcohol) addiction, yet, as Bonnie Raitt says in The Language of the Blues, “Some people, like Buddy Guy, have overcome drug or alcohol abuse and have really surged forward. I believe that Charles Brown and John Lee Hooker were with us for as long as they were because they were not among the people that kept up bad habits. It makes you wonder what Freddie King and Magic Sam, who died so early, or even Paul Butterfield and Michael Bloomfield, and the other young blues artists who died from drug use, might have accomplished.”
“Junco Partner”- traditional (composer unknown)
“Junker Blues”- Champion Jack Dupree
“Junko Partner”- Michael Bloomfield
Dr. John – “Junco Partner”