Language of the Blues: RIDER

This is the latest installment of our weekly series The Language of the Blues, in which author and rock musician Debra Devi explores the meaning of a word or phrase found in the blues.

Grab a signed copy of Devi’s entertaining & award-winning glossary The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu (Foreword by Dr. John) at Bluescentric.com. Also available as an eBook.

LOTB_LeadbellyEasyRiderA rider is a sexual partner, or a steady lover. Riding is probably the most common metaphor for sexual intercourse in blues. Riding is also used metaphorically in the Voodoo, or Vodou, religion to describe divine possession.

Riding as a euphemism for sexual intercourse was common in English for centuries, according to Lexicon of Black English; however, “there is in non-Black usage a strong tendency for the ‘rider’ to be masculine…. In Black usage, on the other hand, it refers with approximately equal frequency to either sex.” Both male and female singers sing the traditional “C.C. Rider,” for example; they just change the gender of the rider. (See cock and lemon for examples of other sexual terms that shift genders in the blues.)

C.C. Rider, see what you have done
You made me love you now your man [woman] done come

Using a condom is “riding with the saddle on.” If a woman has sex with several men in a row, she is “riding the train” and her last partner is “the caboose.” Riding the train can also mean to use cocaine. The riding metaphor in the blues has kept up with technology, with the best “rides” compared to the sharpest cars, as in “Scarey Day Blues” by “Blind” Willie McTell:

When my baby go to bed, it shines like a morning star
When I crawl in the middle, it rides me like a Cadillac car

LOTB_VodouCeremonyAt Vodou ceremonies, the priest or priestess attempts to invoke spirit-gods called loa to possess or “mount” members of the congregation. Prayer, dancing, and offerings, such as rum or roosters, summon the spirits. A loa will descend to ride the body of the worshipper who has succeeded in reaching a state of readiness for ecstatic union with the divine. The morality implicit in this is stated in the Haitian proverb, “Great gods cannot ride little horses.”

The characteristics of an individual loa appear in the behavior of the possessed person during the ride. The possessed person is the chwal, or horse, of the spirit. The god is the rider, the person is the horse, and they come together in the dance. When the god speaks through the possessed person about that person, almost every sentence is prefaced with the phrase, “Tell my horse…”- because the “horse” will have no memory of the ride when it is over, and will have to learn of it from others.

The concept of a deity “riding” a worshipper transferred from African ceremonies to African American Christian churches, where the cry “Drop down chariot and let me ride!” was often heard, as well as “Ride on!” and “Ride on, King Jesus!”, which led to the use of “Right on!” as a statement of approval or enthusiasm.

Pick up a signed copy of The Language of the Blues today!

Songs:
“Banty Rooster Blues”- Charlie Patton
“Hellhound on My Trail”- Robert Johnson

Video:
Charlie Patton – “Banty Rooster Blues

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