Songlines: The World is in a Tangle –

Build Myself a Cave / I’m Gonna Dig Myself A Hole

The song that Danny Kirwan performed at the Chess Studios on January 04 1969 was a cover of Jimmy Rogers’ recording of the song in 1951.

What I’d like to explore here are the songs that Rogers pulled from for his recording, as well others that his version inspired.

Rogers seems to have taken the title of his song from one written by Detroit bluesman Calvin Frazier.  Alan Lomax recorded Frazier, accompanied by Sampson Pittman performing the song in Detroit for the Library of Congress in January of 1938.

Aside from the title, the number has nothing in common with Roger’s song or those that came after it.

It seems doubtful that any of the other artists heard Frazier’s Library of Congress recording; they most likely would have seen him perform the number live.

Calvin Frazier

Calvin Frazier: guitar & vocal

Sampson Pittman: guitar

Recorded January 1938

Calvin Frazier This Old World’s in a Tangle (3:45)

The song that Jimmy Rogers sang was based on the one below, recorded by John Lee Hooker in 1948.  What is so confusing is that Hooker’s song would not be released for another twenty-one years. 

Hooker introduces the theme of “going underground” to avoid going into the Army.  At the time of the song’s recording, World War II was long over and the Korean War had not yet begun.

Hooker and Bernie Bessman must have thought the song had real potential as they did three takes of the song (none of which saw release at the time).  Hooker changed the lyrics slightly, and moved the break between different verses on each, but the song remained basically the same.

John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker: guitar & vocal

Recorded February 16 / 18, 1949 – released on “Alone” (Specialty) 1970

John Lee Hooker – Build Myself a Cave (Take 2) (2:58)

Two years later, David “Honeyboy” Edwards recorded a variation on the theme as his commercial debut on the tiny ARC (Artist Recording Company) label.

John Lomax had recorded Edwards in 1942 for the Library of Congress.  He performed eighteen titles (six of them in two takes)  One of the titles that he performed twice was titled ‘Army Blues’ but the lyrics have nothing in common with ‘Build myself a Cave’. 

Edwards’ recording was released under the name Mr. Honey.

Mr. Honey

David “Honeyboy” Edwards: guitar & vocal

Recorded 1950 – Released on the Artist Record Company label

Mr. Honey – Build Myself a Cave (2:22)

Edwards’ version is the first to open with “This old world is in tangle”.  He tells the same story as Hooker, about getting his draft notice (his “questionnaire” and “call card”) and wanting to hide underground; ending with his being shipped off and his “baby” crying as he leaves.

The U.S. most likely had just entered the Korean War at the time this was recorded, so it was definitely topical.*

Again, I have to believe that Edwards had heard Hooker perform the song live.

Jimmy Rogers and His Rocking Four

Jimmy Rogers: guitar & vocal /

Big Crawford: bass / Elga Evans: drums /

Eddie Ware: piano / Ernst Cotton: tenor saxophone

Recorded January 23, 1951 – Released March 1951 – A-side Chess single

Jimmy Rogers and His Rocking Four –

The World is in a Tangle (2:53)

With the war now in fully engaged, the number would have greater resonance with listeners.

Rogers refined not only the arrangement, bringing in a full band, including piano and saxophone, but he also refined Edwards’ lyrics.  There is also a plaintiveness to Rogers delivery that brings the seriousness of the situation to the fore as compared to the two earlier versions.

This is best heard comparing the final verse in Edwards’ version and Rogers as they wait to be shipped out.

Within a week of the release of Rogers’ recording, Arthur Crudup was in the studio putting his own spin on the number. 

Even with the addition of a rhythm section, Crudup’s recording harkened back to Hooker’s and Edwards’ performances.

Arthur Crudup

Arthur Crudup: guitar & vocal /

Ransom Knowling: bass / Judge Riley: drums

Recorded April 24, 1951 – released August 1951 A-side RCA single

Arthur Crudup – I’m Gonna Dig Myself a Hole (3:15)

Set to Crudup’s patented jaunty bouncing rhythm, and with his joyously declamatory vocal, any of the gravatas in Rogers version is chased away, and the number plays more as a draft dodger’s anthem.

Recorded a few months after Crudup’s version, Robert Lockwood teamed with Sunnyland Slim on piano and a rhythm section of Ernest “Big” Crawford (who played on Jimmy Rogers’ version) and Alfred Wallace (bass and drums) for a rollicking version that made Crudup’s sound staid.

Robert Lockwood, Jr. with Rhythm Accompaniment

Robert Lockwood, Jr.: guitar & vocal /

Sunnyland Slim: piano /

Ernest “Big” Crawford: bass / Alfred Wallace: drums

Recorded November 1951 – released B-side Mercury 78

Robert Lockwood, Jr. with Rhythm Accompaniment – I’m Gonna Dig Myself a Hole (2:42)

Lockwood restores Edwards’ opening line, and thematically seems closer to his version with the rest of the verse focused on his concerns of losing his woman and his home.

He goes directly into the chorus, but the reference concerning the war now seems arbitrary. 

This is clarified with the next verse about receiving his draft notice, (appearing in each version after Hooker’s).

The next verse is close to the same as used by Rogers and Crudup (first introduced by Edwards, concerning going to the river and being sent overseas.

Another chorus, followed by a break and then a verse clearly based on Crudup’s reworking where the focus returns to the fear of losing his woman and his home.

Covers of the song seemed to have stopped after Lockwood’s recording, leaving an eighteen year gap before it was picked up by an eighteen year old guitar prodigy from England decided to record it.

Fleetwood Mac

Danny Kirwan: vocal & guitar / Peter Green: guitar /

Otis Spann: piano /

John McVie: bass / S. P. Leary: drums

Recorded at Chess Ter-Mar Studios, Chicago January 04, 1969 –

released December 05, 1969 – “Blues Jam In Chicago – Volume 2” (Blue Horizon 1969)

Fleetwood Mac – World’s In A Tangle (Jimmy Rogers) (5:25) (4:58) –

World’s in a Tangle’ — where the studio chatter found Spencer bubbling with excitement at this opportunity, Kirwan sounds subdued and very “serious”. (sorry, the studio talk has been trimmed from this video)

If his band mates, who only had a few years on him, teased him about his age, how must have Kirwan have felt playing with musicians twenty years (or more) his senior, men with life experiences he could only begin to imagine?

Stu Black announces the tape is rolling and Kirwan counts them in. He and McVie almost immediately fall into a groove similar to the one used on his ‘Talk With You’.

Leary is right in the pocket with them, and he is soon joined by Spann; Leary then drops out for a bar, before seamlessly slipping back in. Kirwan’s lead is particularly fine, and Spann’s accompaniment is a wonder; Kirwan’s clean vibrato rings out as Spann’s left hand keeps the rhythm with Leary and his right adds complimentary fills.

There is a smoothness to Kirwan’s playing here not heard before as Spann and Leary provide a steady rolling beat for him to glide upon. Assured by their support, Kirwan focuses on his vocal, (one must wonder if he fully understood just what he was singing about).

Kirwan’s break too displays a previously unheard confidence, pushed by Spann’s treble runs and Leary’s deep beat. The credits show Green as playing on this number but if he is, he is difficult to hear, although he may be adding rhythm guitar beneath McVie’s bass in the break. The pieces all fall into place so perfectly that the band elicits cheers and calls of encouragement from those in the studio not playing on the number.

Kirwan drops the original’s final verse, choosing to repeat the first in its place; he then begins the outro with deep string bends and Spann and Leary fill the spaces left behind by running variations on the beat.

Kirwan then switches to single note playing and Spann mirrors his every move, heightening their impact; support Kirwan had never been given before.

Similar to the way that Walter Horton’s harmonica playing tapped new facets on the Green’s diamond guitar work at this session, Spann’s accompaniment does the same for Kirwan’s playing: increasing its “value” through refinement; helping to shape it to reveal colors previously hinted at but not yet fully exposed; making its illumination seem to come from within, rather than being cast upon it.

As they bring the number to its end, Spann zips his finger across the keys, unleashing a cascade of ascending notes, the pianistic equivalent of a burst of laughter, the perfect punctuation mark for the fun he and the band seems to be having.

*In 1950, Lightnin’ Hopkins recorded a song titled ‘War News Blues’ for Bill Quinn’s Gold Star label, with the final verse built around his decision to “dig a hole”, only here, the hole is to serve as a bomb shelter.

This number also went unreleased at the time, coming out on a LP twenty years later.

Hopkins would record a few songs concerning the Korean War.

In 1960, Hopkins recorded a song titled ‘The World’s in a Tangle’ but it had nothing in common with the songs above.  It was simply a re-titling of a song he had released in 1949 as “European Blues”

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