Here’s 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. To learn even more about what your favorite blues songs really mean, grab a signed copy of Devi’s award-winning book The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to ZuZu (Foreword by Dr. John) at Bluescentric.com. “One of the wittiest, bawdiest, most fascinating dictionaries ever.” (Reuters)
Riding is probably the most common metaphor for sexual intercourse in the blues. Riding as a euphemism for sexual intercourse was common in English for centuries, but in white usage there was a strong tendency for the “rider” to be masculine. In the blues, in contrast, a “rider” could be a sexual partner — a steady lover — of either gender. An “easy rider” is a lover who is sponging off his or her partner.
Easy rider is used sometimes in blues songs to refer to a man who is a prostitute’s or a working woman’s lover and, instead of working himself, lives off her earnings. The term usually also implies that the rider (male or female) is slippery and faithless.
Bessie Smith made her feelings about one such fellow clear in “Rocking Chair Blues”:
Easy rider, you see I’m going away,
I won’t be back until you change your ways
“Easy Rider Blues” – Blind Lemon Jefferson (Lemon Jefferson)
“”Rocking Chair Blues” – Bessie Smith/I. Johns
Bessie Smith – “Rocking Chair Blues”