Who Is Jody?
Following on from my earlier playlist of cheatin’ R&B, here a post about a micro-genre of cheating tunes…courtesy of Jody..(give those players a second to load they do work)
I didn’t know until just recently but, Jody is the man who is sleeping with your wife when you are not home. I guess nowadays it could be a woman sleeping with your wife, or a man sleeping with your partner, or any combination you can think of. In song (and a whole lot more) though, Jody (aka Joe the Grinder) is all about cheating, infidelity, and sex. Some iterations of the Jody story are playful and some (usually the older ones) are x-rated.
Jody Man – Slim Harpo
I always thought the story of Jody was tied to southern soul singers, because I first heard Jody mentioned by Johnnie Taylor, who cut a couple of Jody songs for Stax,right in the middle of the Vietnam War. There were also a few female Jody tunes, including my fave by Jean Knight, as well as a bunch of early 70’s Jody tunes (see below) I’d happened over through my crate digging years. I never really linked these together though until, surprisingly, I was thumbing through my Baseball Dictionary (Paul Dickson) and I saw this:
Jody: The name of the man that Negro League players feared was romancing their wives or girlfriends when they were on the road.
Seeing that Jody’s history went back further than Vietnam sent me to the internets where there was a wealth of info including a nice musical breakdown on WFMU’s Beware the Blog. You’ll find more tracks than I have here in the Jody vein and a back story that puts Jody’s roots in military and prison culture that evolved after 1939. Jody is a shortening/ bastardization of Joe De Grinder, the 1939 tune recorded (see below) in North Carolina by field operatives from Alan Lomax’s stable of folk finders.
Military folks know all about Jody Calls…
The songs get the name jody call or jody (also, jodie) from a recurring character, a civilian named “Jody” whose luxurious lifestyle is contrasted with military deprivations in a number of traditional calls. Jody is the person who stays at home, drives the soldier’s car, and gets the soldier’s sweetheart while the soldier is in recruit training or in country…Obscene, scatological, and offensively violent jody calls exist; their official use in formal training is now discouraged by the U.S. military, with an emphasis on “clean” versions of traditional jodies. The flexibility of jodies is nearly unlimited, and old jodies have always been retired or rewritten as times and wars change. Jody calls are a subset of work songs, and share in their rhythmic properties. Most jody calls have a call and response structure; one soldier initiates a line, and the remaining soldiers complete it.
Standing In For Jody – Johnnie Taylor
So FMU pegs the origins of Jody to that first Blues tune, but more probably, it is much older, like other legendary characters in the African American Oral tradition, Jody is a close cousin to Stagger Lee, The Signifying Monkey, Toledo Slim, Pisspot Pete, and many others. Characters who delivered parables, boasts, and toasts in language that was designed to be impenetrable to white ears and spoken in something other than white man’s English. Because Black folks were highly discouraged from reading, the ability to tell a good story and a facility with the language was paramount. In my mind the tradition is carried on today by the best practitioners of hip hop. Take a listen to Joe De Grinder and GI Joe (scroll down-and beware the language is very salty), and tell me that WW 2 story doesn’t have a little hip hop flavor.
Another reason prison and the military are early souces for Jody material is that they were some of the first institutions that were widely integrated, and like just about everything in African American culture(or any immigrant culture, really) the traditions gradually get absorbed into the culture as a whole. The fact that much of this toasting was full of sex and violence made it absolutely ripe for our ouevre here in the USA, as the success of hip hop, gangster flicks, and gun sales attest. It’s not just the blues men and the hustlers either,even the now ivory- towered world of jazz has these same “rough” roots. Horace Silver and Quincy Jones, rightfully and righteously, pay tribute to Jody as well .
As much as some folks would prefer a cleaner, tidier history for this country, when you dig just slightly below the surface you find some very human, scarred, and dirty stuff. To my mind, that stuff, is what makes this country a great one. It’s not the captains of industry who built this country, it’s the incredible blend of regular folks, their methods of survival, their cultures, their lives and their blood, mixing together to form something new.