There is an old recording of a young Muddy Waters crooning the phrase, “leaving this morning if I have to ride the blinds.” I am very, very certain that “riding the blinds” is a reference to a song sung by his teacher, Son House. That song is called “Empire State”—the white folks list it as “Empire State Express” for obvious (surface) reasons. There is a classic, famous Blues recording by Howling Wolf where he says the phrase, “stop yo’ train // let a po’ boy ride.” Again, I am very, very certain that this harkens back to Son House and that song, “Empire State.” (The only other train imagery in the Blues that I am aware of ‘competing’ with the “Empire State” roots is the phrase “I’m’o catch the first thang smokin’”…)

On the surface, “Empire State” is a song about a train—and a woman leaving a man with it. Both Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf were relatively successful making sexual entertainments fixed firmly and deliberately within this surface. But Son House was going somewhere underneath the surface. There may be a tendency to credit Bob Dylan by way of Woody Guthrie when it comes to symbolic/intellectual depth in folksy American music. But I am asking you to read the lyrics of “Empire State” and let me know how much of the deep you see.

Spoiler alert: do not read this last bit here. The railroad train made empire in the Americas possible. It is a grand, sweeping, monumental technology that “Empire State” makes intimate, gruesome and comical. This technology was used to enslave millions but was empowering for the oppressed as well—such as the woman portrayed as being “on board” with the “Empire State” (a lady’s drama I have seen played out to this very day). “Empire State” is one of few Blues songs that makes direct reference to the modern world’s relationship with the ancient world—I see it in the apparently harmless statement made by the old depot agent (older than the old Son House), “The Empire State, she runs on Eastern Time.” I know immediately that the “East” being referred to is not in the Americas but the east of the ancient world… Babylon system… 


Based on the song “Empire Express” by . . . . . . . Son House
HTML/CSS Programming by . . . . . . . Bryan Wilhite