See See Rider.
“See See Rider”, also known as “C.C. Rider”, “See See Rider Blues” or “Easy Rider”, is a popular American 12-bar blues folk blues song that became one of the most popular blues and jazz standards. Gertrude “Ma” Rainey was the first to record it on October 16, 1924 at Paramount Records in New York. The song uses mostly traditional blues lyrics to tell the story of an unfaithful lover, commonly called an easy rider: “See see rider, see what you have done,” making a play on the word see and the sound of easy. Origin
See See rider is an old traditional song that may have originated on black vaudeville circuit. Its sound is similar to “Poor Boy Blues” as performed by Ramblin' Thomas. Lemon Nash, a Louisiana Ukulele blues and vaudeville performer born in 1898, remembered “See See rider” as the first blues song he paid any attention to as a very small boy, which would place the existence of this song before 1914. An Indian woman from Oklahoma Anna, who possibly worked at a medicine show, sang the song.
Jelly Roll Morton recollected hearing the song as a young boy some time after 1901 in New Oreleans, Louisiana when he belonged to a spiritual quartet that played at funerals. Band members, men older than Morton, would play “See see rider” during get-togethers with their “sweet mamas” or as Morton called them “fifth-class whores”, colored and poor white girls who slept with men to get by and worked for white people when they couldn't get anything from the men they slept with.
Big Bill Broonzy claimed that “when he was about 9 or 10—that is, around 1908, in the Delta (Jefferson County, Arkansas)—he learned to play the blues from an itinerant songster named “See See Rider”, “a former slave, who played a one-string fiddle … one of the first singers of what would later be called the blues.
Lead Belly and Blind Lemon Jefferson performed the song in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area between 1912-1917.
Gates Thomas collected a version of “C.C.Rider” in 1920's in South Texas. This version of the song was notable for the repeat of the second line of the stanza (ABB) rather than the first (AAB) that is more common in blues.
Folklorists recorded regional variations in stanza patterns such as ABB and ABA in Texas vs. AB in New Orleans.
It is possible the song is connected to the Shelton Brooks composition “I Wonder Where My Easy Rider’s Gone” (1913) that was inspired by the 1907 mysterious disappearance of the 28 year-old Jockey Jimmy Lee, “The Black Demon”, a well-known black rider who won every race on the card at Churchill Downs.
Ma Rainey's rendition of “See See Rider” is an example of a song based on traditional old folk 12-bar blues that was composed for commercial recording. The original folk blues that inspired the commercial blues recording was most likely akin the rendition by Lead Belly in which the lyrics follows the traditional repetition of the first line of the stanza structure (AAB). Ma Rainey's rendition opens with the three couplet introduction credited to Lena Arant that explain why the songstress is blue. The following lines are adapted in the less typical repetition of the second line of the stanza (ABB) pattern.
In October 1924 “Ma” Rainey was the first to ever record “See See Rider Blues” at Paramount Records New York Studio. Louis Armstrong on cornet, Charlie Green on trombone, Buster Bailey on clarinet, Fletcher Henderson on piano, and Charlie Dixon on banjo accompanied the blues songstress as Her Georgia Jazz Band and transformed the song into a blues masterpiece. The record was released in 1925. While the copyright listed Lena Arant as a composer, she was responsible only for the first three rhymed couplets at the beginning of the song.
Numerous musicians later recorded their own versions, including Big Bill Broonzy, Mississippi John Hurt, Lead Belly, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Peggy Lee.
In 1943, a version by Wee Bea Booze reached number one on Billboard magazine's “Harlem Hit Parade,” a precursor of the rhythm and blues chart. Some blues critics consider this to be the definitive version of the song. A doo-wop version was recorded by Sonny Til and the Orioles in 1952. Later rocked-up hit versions were recorded by Chuck Willis (as “C.C. Rider,” a number one R&B hit and a number 12 pop hit in 1957) and LaVern Baker (number nine R&B and number 34 pop in 1963). Ella Fitzgerald recorded the song for her album These Are the Blues (1963) with Wild Bill Davis on organ and Ray Brown on bass.
Other popular performances were recorded by Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels (as part of the medley “Jenny Take a Ride!”, number 10 US pop in 1965) and the Animals (number 10 US pop in 1966). The Animals' version (featuring keyboard accompaniment by Dave Rowberry) also reached number one on the Canadian RPM chart and number eight in Australia. The arrangement of the song was credited to Rowberry. However, it resembles Joe Tex's rendition, which first appeared on his 1965 album The New Boss.
In his later years, Elvis Presley, having befriended Wayne Cochran in Las Vegas and admired his band's performing of the song, regularly opened his performances with the song, as in the performance captured on his 1970 album On Stage and in his television specials Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite and Elvis In Concert. Presley's version opened with a rolling drum riff by drummer Ronnie Tutt followed by the band's entrance and Presley's famous brass melody.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band long had “C.C. Rider” as part of their “Detroit Medley” encore, which achieved significant publicity on the 1980 live album No Nukes. At the 1972 Sunbury festival in Victoria, Australia, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs played a heavy blues-rock version as a part of their late night set. This was released on the LP Aztecs Live at Sunbury. American R&B and boogie-woogie pianist and singer Little Willie Littlefield recorded a version for his 1983 album I'm in the Mood.
Other renditions were recorded by the Youngbloods, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the Who, the Everly Brothers, the Kingsmen, Charlie Rich, Ian & Sylvia, Julie London, Janis Joplin, Leon Thomas, Cher, Snooks Eaglin, John Fahey, Old Crow Medicine Show, Caroline Herring, Drake Bell, Freda Payne, Chris Clark, Bobby Powell, and Jimmy Smith.
The Grateful Dead's setlist entry “C.C. Rider” refers to the Grateful Dead's version of “C.C. Rider”, sung by Bob Weir, not to be confused with the Dead's often-played “China Rider” sequence (China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider)
Recognition and influence
In 2004 the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress chose Gertrude “Ma” Reiny's rendition of “See See Rider” as one of the songs to preserve its legacy for future generations.
In 2004, the original Ma Rainey recording received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. Film director Martin Scorsese credited the song with stimulating his interest in music. He commented: One day, around 1958, I remember hearing something that was unlike anything I'd ever heard before … The music was demanding, “Listen to me!” … The song was called “See See Rider,” which I already knew from the Chuck Willis cover version. The name of the singer was Lead Belly … I found an old Folkways record by Lead Belly … And I listened to it obsessively. Lead Belly's music opened something up for me. If I could have played guitar, really played it, I never would have become a filmmaker.
The Blues Foundation inducted “See See Rider” in 2018 into the Blues Hall of Fame as a “classic of blues recording”. In addition to hit singles, it notes the song's popularity among “blues, soul, jazz, pop, country, and rock performers.”
John “Big Nig” Bray, the leader of a crew that hauled cypress logs from Louisiana swamps in 1930's, borrowed the frame and tune of “See See Rider” for his “Trench Blues” (1934), a semi-autobiographical heroic blues ballad recounting the experience of a Black American soldier in World War I, as recorded by Alan Lomax.
“See See Rider” was among the most known Black American play party songs in Alabama in 1950's.
Origins of the term
The spelling of the song name See See Rider is likely a pronunciation spelling of “C.C.Rider”. Many sources indicate that “c.c. rider” refers to either early “church circuit” traveling preachers who did not have established churches or “county circuit” riders who were attorneys following a circuit judge. Debra Devi, a researcher of the language of the blues, recorded a hypothesis that during the American Civil War C.C. stood for Calvary Corporal, a horseman officer. Riding is the most common metaphor for sexual intercourse in the blues. The rider is a term for a sexual partner. In Black American usage “rider” can be either male or female. This folk etymology appears to stem from somebody by the name Alex Washburn who came across this interpretation of “c.c. rider” in a folk song collection by Alan Lomax, a prominent American field researcher of folk music.
The term see see rider is usually taken as synonymous with easy rider. In dirty blues songs it often refers to a woman who had liberal sexual views, had been married more than once, or was skilled at sex. Although Ma Rainey's version seems to refer to “See See Rider” as a man, one theory is that the term refers to a prostitute and in the lyric “You made me love you, now your man done come,” “your man” refers to the woman's pimp. So, rather than being directed to a male “easy rider,” the song is in fact an admonition to a prostitute to give up her evil ways.
There are further theories:
Easy rider was sometimes used to refer to the partner of a hypersexual woman who therefore does not have to work or pay for sex.
Another theory is that the term easy rider sometimes originally referred to the guitar hung across the back of a travelling blues singer.
Big Bill Broonzy states, on his album Big Bill Broonzy (recorded in Baarn, the Netherlands, early 1956 and released late 1956), that the first time he heard that song was by a man who “loved to be on the water, and that's why he wrote this title, and that's the title of the song: it's Sea Sea Rider”.
Big Bill Broonzy also states, in a conversation about his youth with Bill Randle on his album The Bill Broonzy Story (recorded on July, 12, 1957), that See See Rider was a blues singer (AVID Roots, Classic Box Set, AMSC1159) before playing the tune.