Understanding the meaning behind the lyrics of certain blues songs necessitates a basic understanding of black slang. Since the blues is a very “earthy” style, one might expect such slang to pop up often in the songs of blues singers, and it does. Here, we’ll take a look at Muddy Waters’ smash hit “Hoochie Coochie Man” (1954, Chess Records). Part of the song’s lyrics goes like this:
“The gypsy woman told my
Before I was born
I got a boy-child’s comin’
He’s gonna be a son-of-a-gun
He’s gonna make pretty women’s
Jump and shout
Then the world gonna know
What this all about”
“Don’t you know I’m here
Everybody knows I’m here
Well, you know I’m the hoochie-coochie man
Everybody knows I’m here”
“I got a black cat bone
I got a mojo too
I got John the Conqueror
I’m gonna mess with you
I’m gonna make you girls
Lead me by my hand
Then the world’ll know
The hoochie-coochie man”
Wikipedia explains: “A really old term, going back to 1890, about a sexualized dance performed by carnival side-shows. A hoochie coocher was a hoochie coochie dancer. She is also called a shimmy dancer. A hoochie coochie man either runs a show or is a drag queen performer.
The phrase has made famous by various blues, jazz and rock performers. These include Elvis Presley’s ‘Saved’, Cab Calloway’s ‘Minnie the Moocher’, and Muddy Waters’ ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’. Believe it or not, there’s a 1929 Micky Mouse cartoon called ‘the Karnival Kid’ where Mickey, a carnival worker, is attracted to Minnie, a hoochie coochie dancer.”
“Hooch” is Prohibition-era slang for alcohol and “Coochie” has other meanings as well – it is specifically a reference to a drunken (black) woman’s genitals. Put together, the term could have been a reference to black women groupies who followed male blues singers around. Although Muddy Waters was forever known as the “Hoochie Coochie” man, the song itself was written by upright bassist Willie Dixon, a former heavyweight boxer and member of Waters’ band at the time. It was Waters’ 10th recording and it became his best-selling single.
There are several references in this song to hoodoo (Black religious practices similar to Haitian voodoo) such as John the Conqueror, an African-American mythical hero. This name also relates to a tree root which is said to bring good luck and protection from any sort of attack. Black cat bones, after anointment with magical Van Van oil, are often used as components in mojo bags. These small bags are normally worn as necklaces to protect against evil spells and to bring good luck. “Got my mojo working, but it just won’t work on you” is a line from another of Muddy’s songs.
“Still, it seems that the distinctive stop-time rhythm of ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ was not lost on another singer from Mississippi, by the name of Elvis Presley,” wrote David Welna on the NPR website. “Legend has it that when Muddy Waters heard Presley’s 1958 recording of the Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoler song ‘Trouble,’ Waters said, ‘I better watch out. I believe whitey’s picking up on the things that I’m doing’.”
Although singers such as Muddy Waters popularized the notion that a “hoochie coochie man” was a hunk who is sought out particularly by attractive women, there is another expression “hoochie mama,” which means an unattractive older woman who dresses in sexy clothes, trying to attract younger men. A hoochie mama can also mean a grown woman who displays an abundance of sex appeal and who is entertaining and fun to be around.
Whatever the intended usage, combining slang words for booze and female genitals in one expression may be a dog whistle for some or an unpleasant choice of words for others.
Muddy Waters sings “Hoochie Coochi Man”