Friday, 24 February 2012

Number nine, number nine, number nine . . . 

9 Back Door Santa Clarence Carter

There were — in the heydays of R&B and soul — a lot of black Santa records of one kind or another. There was Big John Greer’s I Wanna See Santa Do The Mambo and the Enchanters’ Mambo Santa Mambo. There was Babs Gonzales’ Be-Bop Santa Claus and Santa Claus Boogie by The Voices — who went on to become Bob and Earl and do the Harlem Shuffle.

James Brown — whose long-term associate Bobby Byrd was the Bob in Bob and Earl — cut at least three Santa tracks. The Jackson Five cut a brace — even though, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, they didn’t even celebrate Christmas. And there is, of course, Butterbeans and Susie’s vaudevillian Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus (And Mama Ain’t No Christmas Tree.)

I can’t help but see some possible symbolic meaning in this black Santa thing. What exactly it is, though, I’m not sure. Is there something ‘outsidery’ about Santa? Is he some kind of non-Christian figure for a Christian festival?
Well, there is also Santa Claus Is A Black Man by AKIM and the Teddy Vann Production Company. Born in Brooklyn, Vann won a Grammy for a song he wrote with Luther Vandross. He died in 2009, on St Nicholas’ Day — by accident or perhaps design. His casket was left open. There were a pair of trainers in it, just in case there was a chance to do a runner. (It’s not a good record, by the way.)

Is black Santa a dressing-up thing? Or is it a sex thing? Think Rufus Thomas’ I’ll Be Your Santa Baby. Or, a female corollary, Victoria Spivey’s I Ain’t Gonna Let You See My Santa Claus. (Next year’s seasonal collation will, I can tell you now, be entitled Sexmas and include both of those, plus Let Me Hang Your Stockings In Your Christmas Tree and Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’.)

Back door men had been around in the blues since the mid-1920s. Probably somewhat longer than that in life outside. As the husband goes to work, out through the front door, her lover steps in through the back door. Which, in a large affluent house, would be the traditional tradesman’s entrance.

If, at this point, you’re wondering if there is an anal intercourse reference hanging around this back door, there probably is. But there wasn’t when the first song-mention of back door men was made, in the 1920s. The actual Back Door Man song, though, is far later than that. Written by Willie Dixon, it was cut, in 1960, by the great Howlin’ Wolf, as the, er, back side of Wang Dang Doodle. This back door man ‘ate more chicken than you ever seen’.
The Staton-Carter wedding. 

Clarence Carter — a blind man who got his first guitar for his 12th birthday on December 25, 1947 — was, truth be told, something of a back door man himself. The titles of his hits tell the tale: Slip Away, Making Love (At The Dark End of The Street), Thread The Needle. He was married to Candi Staton. Her record titles tell the truth of their life together. I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Man’s Fool). Suspicious Minds. Young Hearts Run Free — ‘You'll get the babies, but you won't have your man/While he is busy loving every woman that he can’. Victim — ‘a victim of the very songs I used to sing.’

PS1 Run DMC sampled this track for Christmas in Hollis.

PS2 I do also have a mash-up of it, on which it shares aural space and time with Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. I’ll save that one for Sexmas.


Johnny Morgan said...

That is a great wedding photo: are they all standing on a giant cake?

Peter Silverton said...

I hadn't noticed that before but yes, I think you must be right. It must have taken a ton of fondant icing. Where the hell can you find caterers of that quality — or at least quantity — these days?