Lil McClintock, Blues & Medicine Shows
The roots of the blues are many and varied. The two most prominent genres from which they sprang are Black
folksongs, including both play–party songs and animal rhymes, and work songs. Many of these latter songs
evolved from the singing of railroad track–lining gangs, sugarcane cutters, cotton pickers, road gangs,
quarry and mine workers and the like, commonly within the prison systems of the American South and South West.
Amongst the early outlets for the performance of the blues were the minstrel shows and medicine shows. These shows were, in the main, traveling shows. Of these two, medicine shows, in particular, were generally staged from horse–drawn wagons or tents, that roamed from community to community and camp to camp, selling patent medicines ‘guaranteed’ to be efficacious – and usually accomplishing this, at least in the short term, by containing a considerable amount of alcohol, cocaine, heroin or opium, which dulled the symptoms of an illness. To attract customers, the shows hired performers of almost every kind but invariably including musicians and singers, and very often incorporating both black and white performers, with either or both in blackface, a somewhat modulated continuation of minstrelsy. A very general cross–section of musics could expect to be heard at any of the shows and, by the early years of the 20th century, this included country blues, hokum, jug band songs and jazz blues, as well as the music we now think of as old time, white, string band music – variously played by individuals and by groups both large and small.
Lil McClintock’s Don’t Think I’m Santa Claus, however, is something of a departure from this. It is an excellent example (and one of the very few existing examples) of an early, twentieth century, medicine show singer’s song–medley, and one that belongs almost solely to, and is a direct product of the shows. It includes verses and/or choruses from four, quite separate, popular (vaudeville), published songs in a typical device designed to cover a large amount of material and attract, or keep the attention of a varied audience. Of the four songs that make up Don’t Think I’m Santa Claus, the title song is from You Must Think I’m Santa Claus, written by Irving Jones and Frank Silver. It was recorded by Bob Roberts in 1904 on Victor 4110, Matrix B–1768, and again the following year, on a wax cylinder, by Tascott (no forename). Tascott’s version can be heard on line at: http://www.archive.org/details/Tascott–YouMustThinkImSantaClaus1905. The running chorus (Lindy) is from By The Watermelon Vine, Lindy Lou, written by Thomas Allen and published in 1904. The two other fragments are from Keep A Little Cosy Corner in Your Heart for Me, by Jack Drislane and Theodore F. Morse, published in 1905, and Everybody Works But Father, by Jean Havez, also published in 1905, but based upon an English music hall standard We All Go To Work But Father.
This last song was published under the banner of Lew Dockstader. Dockstader was a vaudevillian and blackface
minstrel who had his own minstrel troupe (with Al Jolson amongst its alumni).
Dockstader’s troupe performed by itself as Lew Dockstader and His Great Minstrel Company, as well as in the company of others (Primrose & Dockstader’s Minstrels).
The chorus of Everybody Works But Father (the first verse of the two included in Don’t Think I’m Santa Claus) survived well into the second half of the 20th century. Groucho Marks sang it in both English and German when he was a guest on a television programme, and the blues minstrel Jesse Fuller recorded it on his 1963 Fantasy recording Brother Lowdown, [released on CD as Fantasy FCD–24707-2].
Ken Romanowski, in his 1993 notes to Document Records CD Georgia Blues & Gospel (1927–1931) [DOCD–5160] suggests that ‘Lil’ was probably a shortened version of ‘Little’. However, although this may well have been the case, it was quite likely that it had the reverse meaning and that he was called ‘Lil’ either because was tall and thin or because he was a big man. An on–line video of Don’t Think I’m Santa Claus, can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3j6ZCguSyE, sung by Dom Flemons. One of the notable things about his introduction to the song is that Flemons holds his hand so high (about four feet off the floor) to illustrate why McClintock is referred to as ‘Lil’.
McClintock was from Clinton, South Carolina, near the birthplaces of both The Rev. Gary Davis and ‘The Carolina Bluesman’ Pink Anderson. Although McClintock’s voice was not recorded until 1930, he and his wife had been interviewed considerably earlier, in 1923, by Chapman J. Milling. At that time Milling collected a version of Delia Holmes, later better known as Delia or Delia’s Gone, and he published the words in the Southern Folklore Quarterly Vol. 1 No. 4 (December, I937, p. 3–7) under the subtitle of “A Neglected Negro Ballad”.