Language of the Blues: SHAKE

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 Also available as an eBook.

Hubert Sumlin, Howlin' Wolf (photo: Sandy Schoenfeld The Language of the Blues)
Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf (photo: Sandy Schoenfeld The Language of the Blues)

Depending on the decade, there are many different meanings in the blues for shake, including a rent party (1920s), an erotic dance (1930s), or to extort or “shake down” someone (1940s). Shake is also slang for poor-quality marijuana that is mostly stems and seeds.

The cry “Shake it!” was shouted to encourage dancers at juke joints and rent parties–not to mention women walking down the street.

Guitarist Hubert Sumlin told me how he and Howlin’ Wolf came up with the title for their hip-shaking song “Shake It for Me.” Sumlin explained, “You know womens is the thing. They all look good to you. Although some you gonna find looks better than others. We used to sit, and your eyes gonna look. Wolf, he’d say, ‘You see that woman’s booty? Shake it for me, oh man.’ And I said, ‘Let’s record it!’ And that’s what we did.”

Pick up a signed copy of The Language of the Blues today!
“Shake It for Me”- Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Burnett)
“Shake Your Moneymaker”- Elmore James

Howlin’ Wolf – “Shake It for Me”


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

Leave a Comment

Get On
The List!