♫ Black Water ♫

Last week I reduxed a song by the Doobie Brothers, Listen to the Music, and our friend Clive mentioned two others that were his favourites by the band:  China Grove and Black Water.  Well, China Grove was one that I had never heard before, and when I listened it didn’t exactly make me want to jump up and dance.  But Black Water was another story altogether … I recognized it immediately, and what’s more … I like it!  And so …

Patrick Simmons, who is the group’s guitarist, wrote this song and sang lead. It has the Louisiana swamp rock feel of earlier Doobie Brothers songs like Toulouse Street and Black Eyed Cajun Woman.  The song is about the Mississippi River, with lyrics likely inspired by Mark Twain’s books Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, which tell stories about rafting down the river.

A personal aside … while I have heard this song many, many times and always liked it, I must admit that I always thought they were singing, “Hold that water …”  Ah, the joys of being hearing-impaired!

Black Water wasn’t seen as having hit potential, so it was relegated to the B-side of Another Park, Another Sunday in March 1974. Black Water wasn’t issued as an A-side until November, and it didn’t reach #1 until March 15, 1975.

In discussing how the song became an unlikely hit, says Tom Johnston, the Doobie Brothers frontman …

“That’s a story that could have happened back then, but never would ever ever happen now: Roanoke, Virginia picked that tune up and started playing it in heavy rotation, and somebody in Minneapolis who I guess knew somebody in Roanoke heard the song and decided to follow suit, and it ended up becoming our first #1 single. That was Pat’s first single. And oddly enough, it was never looked at as a single by the record company.

I remember when I first heard it was #1, we were in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and we were just getting ready to go on stage, and then I guess Bruce [their manager Bruce Cohn] must have told us. I think we were already aware of the fact that it was getting airplay, but nobody was really paying a lot of attention. And then all of a sudden it became #1 and we were paying attention. I remember I went in and congratulated Pat backstage, and we’ve been playing it ever since.”

Lead singer Tom Johnston became severely ill on the eve of a major tour beginning in Memphis, Tennessee in 1975, which led to the group replacing him with Michael McDonald, who became the lead singer of the band. Johnston was restored to fitness in 1976 and briefly back in the band, although he was sidelined once again in the fall due to exhaustion.  Michael McDonald remained with the band until their split in 1982 (they reunited in 1987, with Johnston).

Released in 1974, this hit #1 in the U.S., #11 in Canada, but did not chart in the UK.  Still, since our friend Clive knows of it and likes it, I must assume it did receive airtime in the UK.

Tonight, I have what I hope will be a treat for you.  I’m playing the original, official version and also one made within the past year, a ‘pandemic’ version where the members of the band all tuned in virtually and played their parts!  Needless to say, they are a bit older now, and of course the quality doesn’t match the original, but I thought it was fun anyway.

Black Water
The Doobie Brothers

Well, I built me a raft and she’s ready for floatin’
Ol’ Mississippi, she’s callin’ my name
Catfish are jumpin’, that paddle wheel thumpin’
Black water keeps rollin’ on past just the same

Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?

Yeah, keep on shinin’ your light
Gonna make everything
Pretty mama, gonna make everything all right
And I ain’t got no worries
‘Cause I ain’t in no hurry at all

Well, if it rains, I don’t care
Don’t make no difference to me
Just take that streetcar that’s goin’ uptown
Yeah, I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland and dance a honky-tonk
And I’ll be buyin’ ev’rybody drinks all ‘roun’

Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?

Keep on shinin’ your light
Gonna make everything, everything
Gonna make everything all right
And I ain’t got no worries
‘Cause I ain’t in no hurry at all

I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland
Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand
(By the hand) hand (take me by the hand) pretty mama
Gonna dance with your daddy all night long
I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland
Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand
By the hand, take me by the hand, pretty mama (I wanna honky-tonk, honky-tonk)
Gonna dance with your daddy night long (honky-tonk with you all long)
I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland
Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand
By the hand, take me by the hand, pretty mama (I wanna honky-tonk, honky-tonk)
Gonna dance with you all night long (honky-tonk with you all long)
I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland
Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand
By the hand, take me by the hand, pretty mama (I wanna honky-tonk, honky-tonk)
Gonna dance with you all night long (honky-tonk with you all long)
I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland
Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand
By the hand, take me by the hand, pretty mama (I wanna honky-tonk, honky-tonk)
Gonna dance with you all night long (honky-tonk with you all long)
I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland
Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand
By the hand, take me by the hand, pretty mama (I wanna honky-tonk, honky-tonk)
Gonna dance with you all night long (honky-tonk with you all long)

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Patrick Simmons
Black Water lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc

14 thoughts on “♫ Black Water ♫

  1. Thanks for playing this, Jill. It still sounds as good as it did back then, and the harmonies on the lockdown version are great. It wasn’t a hit single here but it was on their first UK top twenty album. A friend on my corridor at uni had the album and we used to listen to it a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

        • In my next life, I hope to be born with either musical or artistic talent … ANY talent, really! My daughter is in a Scottish Pipes & Drums band and they have been doing virtual practices for the past year … they don’t sound anywhere near as good as the Doobies, but then … what do you expect with bagpipes??? 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  2. The original record would never have been a favourite but WOW, the song produced in isolation was just fantastic. Just shows what fantastic musicians they all are- and I bet they’re probably even older than us Jill. These day I couldn’t carry a tune in a big bucket.
    Cwtch

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed … I expected the one produced in isolation to be really ‘homemade’ sounding, but they did a heck of a job with it! I always like seeing how musicians look now, compared to 30-40 years back, and most of them have aged really well! Yeah, they’re just a little bit older than us … Patrick Simmons is 72, John McFee is 70 (4 months older than you), and Bill Payne is also 72. John Cowan must be the baby of the bunch at only 67. Heck, I never could carry a tune in a bucket but always sounded, as one friend told me once, like a bird with indigestion. Dunno how she knew what a bird with indigestion sounded like, but …. there you have it.
      Cwtch

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