This is the latest installment in our weekly series, The Language of the Blues, in which author and rocker Debra Devi explores the meaning of a word or phrase from a blues song. Come back every week for the latest! Devi’s award-winning book, The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to ZuZu, is now available at Bluescentric.com!
Coffee grinding is one of many (many!) blues metaphors for sexual intercourse. In “Coffee Grindin’ Blues,” Lucille Bogan brags, “Ain’t nobody in town can grind a coffee like mine.”
That was actually one of Bogan’s tamer lines. Her repertoire focused almost exclusively on hot topics like lesbianism, prostitution, drug addiction, and abusive relationships. Bogan recorded some of her raunchiest tunes, such as “B.D. Woman’s Blues” (B.D. stood for “Bull Dyke”), under the pseudonym Bessie Jackson. She uses “grinding” quite a bit in her most infamous tune, “Shave ‘Em Dry,” which she recorded in March 1935. Here’s the unexpurgated version—shoo the kids are out of the room before you play it!
Bogan was born in Mississippi and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1923 she made her first recordings in Atlanta, Georgia. After moving to Chicago, she recorded in 1927 for the Paramount and Brunswick labels. Between 1933 and 1935 she performed and recorded under the pseudonym Bessie Jackson, often working with pianist Walter Roland.
“Coffee Grindin’ Blues”- lyrics Lucille Bogan, music unknown
“Empty Bed Blues”- James C. Johnson, recorded by Bessie Smith
Lucille Bogan, American Record Corp. catalog, mid-1930s, courtesy Delta Hazephoto archives
Lucille Bogan – “Coffee Grindin’ Blues”
Maria Muldaur – “Empty Bed Blues”