Southern Spirits: Ghostly Voices from Dixie Land
introduction | 19th century hoodoo | 20th century hoodoo | 21st century hoodoo

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS NARRATIVE:
FERDINAND "JELLY ROLL" MORTON

Born in Gulfport, Lousiana, 1890.
Interview conducted by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress, 1938.

Ferdinand Jelly Roll Morton

This is a small fragment of a lengthy series of interviews with the great jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton (born Ferdinand Joseph Le Menthe), conducted by the prominent musicological folklorist Alan Lomax. The interviews have been released on recrdings several times and are in the public domain, as they were produced for and funded by the United States government. This edition of the narrative was transcribed by Michael Hill, Roger Richard, and Mike Meddings and is an extract from http://www.doctorjazz.freeserve.co.uk/locspeech1.html -- where the complete Library of Congress Morton Narratives are kept online.

Biograhies and recoording discographies of Morton can be found at numerous places on the web and in print books. The interested reader is advised to do a simple google search for more data about Morton and his place in the history of popular music.

The text that i have copied here is extensive, but quite valuable because it contains the full set of lyrics to a previously unrecorded song about hoodoo history, a description of the famous Court Case beef tongue magic spell found throughout the South, and mention of an otherwise undocumented early 20th century professional rootworker named Madame Papaloose who was active in New Orleans prior to World War One. [The name given by Lomax in his notes as "Madam Papa Loos" and herein transcribed as "Madame Papaloose" is a French surname, possibly of Greek origin, which, in the United States and Canada, can be found in a variety of spellings, including Papaloose, Popalus, Popaloose, Popleuse, Popluce, Populous, and Populus. In addition, in Canada, the name was Anglicized to "Moore" because the French word "plus" means "more" -- which sounds like "Moore."]

I also find this interview of importance because it dates to the period before the fiction writer Robert Tallant popularized the idea of "Voodoo in New Orleans" in his book of the same name. Here, roughly ten years before Tallant blurred the historical record with his fabulizing and false ethnography, we can hear the clear voice of Jelly Roll Morton, a long time New Orleans resident, explain to his white interviewer that, "Some ... some say voodoo. But we ... it's known in New Orleans as hoodoo."

1644 B a 1644 B b Monologue on Aaron Harris -- sp/p c Aaron Harris, his story told by J.R. d AARON HARRIS Part I e jm-33

(Tell us about some of these bad men they had down in New Orleans.)

Well, I believe Aaron Harris was no doubt the most heartless man I've ever heard of or ever seen. I knew him personally. But I really didn't know the man until I had known him for quite a while. He used to love to play pool. And I was ... supposed to be a very good pool player.

[Plays chords softly as he speaks]

So every day he used to play me for two dollars. It was really his object ... to try to win some money off me, because he knew I played piano in the sporting houses every night. And we all made a lot of money. So it was his object to try to beat me.

So I'm playing this man every day and nobody tells me that it was Aaron Harris. At this time I believe he had eleven killings to his credit ... including his sister and his brother-in-law. Somehow or 'nother he got out of all ... all the trouble that he ever was in. So one day he said to me ... his last money.

He said, "Let me tell you something."

I said, "What do you mean?"

He says, "If you make this ball on my money, I'm going to take every bit of the money you've got in your pocket."

I said, "Well a lot of people, you know, they go to the graveyard for taking. I got what it takes to stop ya."

He said, "What is that?"

I say, "A hard-hitting thirty-eight special. And that'll stop any living human. You have your chances to take my money. Because if I can make this ball, in the pocket she goes."

I raised my cue high in the air, because my taw ball was close on the cushion. And I stroked this ball. And into the pocket she went. It was then that Aaron Harris found that he had been playing a shark all the time.

So undoubtedly he decided I didn't know he was Aaron Harris at the time. Of course I never would have spoke to him like that if I had've known it, see?

He said, "O.K. kid, you the best. Loan me a couple a dollars."

I said, "Now that's the way to talk. If you want a couple dollars, I'll be glad to give it to ya. But don't never take anything away from me 'cause nobody ever does."

After leaving, at that time one of the big gamblers in New Orleans, a good friend of mine, that used to wear a diamond stud so big that he could never get to tie ... no kind of a tie, firm enough, to hold that diamond in place that it would stand straight up. It would hang down. His name is Bob Rowe. He's a man that owns strings of racehorses on the track. When he died some years ago.

He said to me, he says, "Kid," I guess he's a little older than I, he says, "Don't play that fellow no more."

I said, "Why? Why should I eliminate playing a sucker? He brings money here every day for me, why should I pass up money?"

He say, "You know who you playin'?"

I say, "Why certainly, I should know. Why I beat him every day. He's my sucker, that's who he is."

He says, "Yes." He says, ... "You know him don't ya?"

I said, "I do."

He said, "What's his name?"

I said, "I don't know his name, but I know him."

He said, "Well, I'll tell you his name. Maybe you'll know him better."

I says, "O.K. Let's have your ... let's have you divulge it."

He says, "O.K." he says, "That's Aaron Harris."

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1645 A a 1645 A b Aaron Harris was A Bad, Bad Man -- v/sp/p c Jelly Roll's story (5) The ballad of Aaron Harris d AARON HARRIS Part II e jm-34

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[Plays chords softly as he speaks]

Of course I never played Aaron Harris no more. From then on, I decided to be good friends with Aaron. And I didn't want Aaron's money any more. Well of course they wrote a song about Aaron, because Aaron was known to be a ready killer.

I wouldn't be saying this now but he's dead and gone, because he's gotten killed. But here's a song they wrote about him:


Aaron Harris was a bad, bad man,
Aaron Harris was a bad, bad man,
He is the baddest man,
That ever was in this land.

He killed his sweet little sister and his brother-in-law,
He killed his sweet little sister and his brother-in-law,
About a cup of coffee,
He killed his sister and his brother-in-law.

He got out of jail every time he would make his kill,
He got out of jail every time he would make a kill,
He had a hoodoo woman,
All he had to do was pay the bill.

All the policemens on the beat they had him to fear,
All the policemens on the beat had old Aaron to fear,
You could always tell,
When Aaron Harris was near.

He pawned his pistol one night to play in a gambling game,
He pawned his pistol one night to play in a gambling game,
When old Boar Hog shot him,
That blotted out his name.

[Plays chords softly as he speaks]

That was the baddest man I ever seen. Boy, that man was terrible. That man would chew pig iron ... and spit it out ... into razor blades. And chew the ... I'm telling you he would chew glass up if it was necessary. The same thing that would cut a hog's entrails out. He's a tough man Aaron Harris was. He was no doubt the toughest.

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Note: Aaron Harris (1880-1915) was one of 14 children of a black New Orleans grocer, George Harris, and his wife Mary Jane Moore. The family lived at 2238 Cadiz Street in the 13th Ward in 1900. Despite his reputation, Harris was never convicted of a crime in New Orleans, although he stood trial for the murder of his brother, Willis Harris, in 1910. Aaron was acquitted on the grounds of self-defence. After a heated argument, Willis attacked Aaron with a razor, and Aaron coolly shot his brother dead. In 1915, Aaron was working as a cotch dealer for various gambling houses. Boar Hog, the nickname of George Robertson, a watchman for the Frisco Railroad Company, had accused Aaron of stealing goods from the company. Aaron, never one to ignore a challenge, threatened to kill Boar Hog.

On the fateful night of 14th July 1915, Aaron left work and was walking down Tulane Avenue when he encountered Boar Hog. He reached for his Colt .41 but Boar Hog was quicker and shot Aaron twice with his Colt .44. Aaron fell to the ground, and the blood-splattered "heartless killer" never moved again in this life. As Leadbelly sang in the Los Angeles studios of Capitol Records in October 1944, when he recorded that thrilling blues-ballad called Ella Speed, Aaron Harris "was dead, goin' home all re-ragged in red." [PH 5]

{PH 5 Peter Hanley - Letter to Mike Meddings, 3rd September 2003.}

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1645 B a 1645 B b Monologue on Aaron Harris, Madam Papa Loos, Sheep-Eye and Robert Charles -- sp c The story of the Robert Charles riot - 1900 d I. AARON HARRIS, concl. II. ROBERT CHARLES, Pt. I "Robert Charles was a marksman" e jm-35

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[Plays chords softly as he speaks]

See Aaron ... I guess the reason why he got out of trouble so much, it was often known that Madame Papaloos was the lady that ... always backed him when he got in trouble. I don't mean with funds, or anything like that. Money wasn't really in it. As I understand, she was a hoodoo woman. Some ... some say voodoo. But we ... it's known in New Orleans as hoodoo.

Well ... Madame Papaloos is supposed, that is ... from certain evidences, to tumble up Aaron's house. Take all the sheets off the bed. Tumble the mattresses over. Put sheets in front of the glasses. Take chairs and tumble 'em all over. That is said and known to ... discourage the judge from prosecuting.

And ... of course the different witnesses ... have all their tongues supposed to be tied. They supposed to tie 'em with ... by lambs' tongues. And ... beef tongues and veal tongues out of the markets. And stick 'em full of needles. That is what I understand. I don't know, 'cause I've never seen 'em stick pins and needles all through 'em. And take some ... we'll say twine in order to make it real secure. And tie these tongues up.

And that's supposed to have the prosecuting attorneys and the judges and the jurors and so forth and so on, have their tongues tied that they can't talk against whoever the victim's supposed to be. Not the victim, but ... the one that's arrested, the prisoner. So Aaron Harris was always successful in getting out of all of his troubles.

[This is a famous Court Case spell.]

Of course they had a lot of bad men in New Orleans, because New Orleans ... wherever there's money, there's a lot of tough people. There's no getting around it. But we had a lot of swell people there too.

We had another tough guy by the name of Sheep Eye. He was the toughest man in the world until Aaron Harris showed up. When Aaron ... Aaron Harris showed up he was just like a lamb, like anybody else.

He was also one of those raiders. Go round ... games, the cotch games as they call 'em. They what ... Cotch game is what you call ... three-card Spanish poker. And take all the money. And curse you, beat and kick you, take a pistol and slap you across the head. It was all right when Aaron Harris walked in. Why he's ... this is nicest little boy you ever seen anywhere ... he's nice, lovely, you see.

(Do you have any songs about Sheep Eye?)

No never had a song about him, see because he really was yella. See ... I hope he's dead because if he ever hears this, I'll be dead too you see.

This material is reprinted from

http://www.doctorjazz.freeserve.co.uk/locspeech1.html

SOUTHERN SPIRITS: GHOSTLY VOICES FROM DIXIE LAND
is copyright © 2004 by catherine yronwode. All rights reserved.

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