By Susan Sliwicki
Say the words “easy rider” these days and chances are good any combination of Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson or Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” will pop into your head.
But back in the day, Georgia Tom and Tampa Red and His Hokum Jug Band gave a different take with “Mama Don’t Allow No Easy Riders Here,” a song that has nothing to do with motorcycles or the open road. While it’s not entirely clear just who the easy rider in question is — the ad paints a picture, the song paints its own — one thing is for sure.
“Either way, somebody’s in trouble with Mama,” said John Tefteller of Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records.’
The song is a solid example of a type of music known as hokum blues. Just like rock and roll and rap music have their subgenres, so, too, do the blues.
“It’s more of a combination between suggestive lyrics and comedy mixed with blues as a background, and they had a bunch of people that were doing this so-called hokum blues, which was almost like a code language,” Tefteller said. “They could use words that people in the black community knew what they meant.”
“There’s a bunch of these records that are out there that they call hokum blues, but it’s basically comedy-style blues with a salacious intent, and I don’t really care for that style so much,” Tefteller said. “They’re kind of cute and kind of fun; they’re really more novelty things than they are actually blues records.”
Even though he’s not a huge fan of the style, Tefteller chose to feature this song’s advertisement on the cover of the 2012 Blues Images calendar, and both versions of the recording on the accompanying CD.
“It turned out to be a very popular choice for the cover,” Tefteller said. “I thought the ad was really cute and the whole concept is really cute. The record itself is all right; some people think it’s quite a fun thing. It’s an area that I haven’t covered in my calendars before.”
Novelty or not, hokum blues records actually sold quite well — better than some regular blues records, perhaps due to the appeal of the naughty aspect of the songs, Tefteller said. Copies of “Mama Don’t Allow No Easy Riders Here” (Vocalion 1430) — which feature one version by George Tom and Tampa Red and another recorded a few weeks later by Tampa Red and His Hokum Jug Band — can bring $1,000 in mint condition. More ordinary-condition copies bring $100 to $200 and tend to show up on eBay every three to six months, Tefteller said.
“They are hard to find in really nice shape, as are any of those early blues things,” Tefteller said. “Even though they were big sellers, they were also popular, so when you find them, they’re fairly battered.”
For the record, Tampa Red and Georgia Tom’s musical waters ran a lot deeper than hokum blues. Georgia Tom went on to become The Rev. Thomas Dorsey, and he wrote and recorded some very famous spirituals. Both artists made a lot of records — though some fans might argue that Tampa Red made the same basic record a lot of times.
“Because he sold so many records in the ’30s, people kept recording him. RCA recorded him in the ‘50s, and in the ‘60s they put him on Prestige and Bluesville,” Tefteller said. “These are pretty famous guys doing this stuff. Tampa Red was a very famous, long-time, well-known and big-selling guitar player. Georgia Tom wrote a bunch of famous blues songs. Both of these guys are important in their own way.”