“But I Rub My Root, My Luck Will Never Fail”

Muddy Waters can sing anything and make it sound like a seduction. I can imagine him strutting up on stage with a phone book in one hand and a sly grin on his face, being all like “That’s A, I say A, Abrams, Aaron, Abrams, Barton, Abrams, Daniel…” and all the women in the place just swooning.

In the current issue of the Oxford American, Bill Friskics-Warren has a nice piece about how people who write about music tend to focus on the lyrics and say very little about the instrumentation or even how those lyrics are delivered, as if songs were simply poems stuck over melodies.

It’s impossible to listen to listen to Muddy Waters sing and not be aware of how much information is conveyed not only in what he says, but how he says it.


So, I want to talk about “My John the Conquerer Root” from two ends, even though, I think, when you hear the song, those two ends are tied together about as tightly as they can be. I don’t know who to give credit to for that–Willie Dixon, who must be one of the greatest practically forgotten songwriters of the 20th century, or Waters. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

But the first end is how much information the song conveys about how to use a John the Conquerer root in one’s own root work. In the first verse–“My pistol may snap, my mojo is frail/ But when I rub my root, my luck will never fail”–we learn that the John the Conquerer root is lucky, that you active its luck by rubbing it, and that in dangerous situations, it’s more reliable than a gun and more potent than most magic. This is substantiated by the second verse, in which the speaker finds himself in an incredibly dangerous situation–“I was accused of murder in the first degree” but by rubbing his root, he can cause the judge’s wife to cry out “Let the man go free!” The root is so powerful that it can influence court cases and affect married (and I think it’s no stretch to say) white women to publicly demand the freedom of the black speaker.

In all the ways the deck of life might have been stacked against a black man in 1964, John the Conquerer can get a man a reshuffle. Speaking of decks, in the third verse, we learn it’s lucky for gamblers as well–“All I have to do is rub my root, I win every time.”

But isn’t this also as much a song about male potency?

Sure, the constant rubbing of the root suggests it, but so does Waters’ delivery, that casual swagger of his.

It’s hard for me to imagine what it must be like to be a man. But it’s also hard not to be delighted when I see one of y’all feeling his oats. That way you have when you feel like everything’s working just like it should, that bravado… I like it. You want to walk around all “I’m a man, that’s spelled M-A child N” and I’ll gladly provide the swooning giggles. You want to be all “I don’t want you to wash my clothes/ I don’t want you to clean my home” and I’m dying in anticipation for you to grab me, pull me close and growl “I just want to make love to you.” (speaking, again, of Willie Dixon songs).

I can’t quite bring myself to admit it, but the reason I love these songs is that you can boil it down to “I’ve got a penis, it works, I know how to use it, and that makes me feel like the luckiest, most awesome man on the planet.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love my cooter. But it must be delightful to have a penis. Shoot, especially if it makes you feel as good as Muddy Waters seems to be feeling. I hear him sing and I feel like I’m sharing, a little bit, in what the best, most fun parts of being a man must feel like.

That’s lucky for me, I think.

6 thoughts on ““But I Rub My Root, My Luck Will Never Fail”

  1. That is most decidedly unfeminist of you to feel like that. You do realize that SOME people are going to jump all over this, don’t you?And of course it’s referring to their penises. Rubbing their roots, indeed. It’s mostly, always, almost about that, in the end. That dude Atticus Finch represented needed one of those roots. Apropos of nothing else, we once rode the Tri-State Coach to O’Hare with Buddy Guy on board, the day after the guy (Guy?) played the Chicago Blues Fest. Where we had seen him perform.

  2. Buddy Guy?! Lucky.Is it anti-feminist to talk about penises and cocky (tee hee) men? God, I hope not.If a girl can’t appreciate beauty in all its forms, what’s the point in living? Might as well just sit in a corner and wait to die.

  3. Oh, shoot, Peg. I just thought… Gosh, yes. Naked man-ness is SO anti-feminist. I’d just HATE it if my readers sent naked photos of themselves to me. That’d be so terrible and really show me how horrid feminism is. Please, please don’t send me naked pictures of yourselves, dear readers. I’d hate to have my feminism challenged like that.

  4. Pingback: For Theogeo « Tiny Cat Pants

Comments are closed.