The Origins of Dust My Broom

June 26, 2014

Trying to recall where you first heard the quintessential electric blues riff that opens ‘Dust My Broom’ is difficult. It may have been the early 50’s version by Elmore James or Fleetwood Mac’s late sixties offering. Some may recall an unknown blues band at a club they visited in their youth, a few know that it’s true origins are in the 1930’s with Robert Johnson, or is it?

In early December 1933 Roosevelt Sykes accompanied Carl Rafferty, a man about who we know absolutely nothing, on ‘Mr Carl’s Blues’. What we do know is this session was significant in the history of the Blues. ‘Mr Carl’s Blues’ contains the immortal lines, “I do believe, I do believe I’ll dust my broom. And after I dust my broom, anyone may have my room”.

Many years later, as historian’s dissected Robert Johnson’s songs to understand his influences, it was generally assumed that he based ‘I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom’ on Kokomo Arnold’s ‘Sagefield Woman Blues’. Kokomo’s song has words similar to ‘Mr. Carl’s Blues’ but was recorded some ten months after Rafferty’s effort. In truth we may never know who ‘did it first’, but recorded evidence points to Mr Carl Rafferty accompanied by Mr. Roosevelt Sykes.

Back then performers swapped songs, heard others sing and lifted what ranged from bits of a song to the complete thing with no thought to copyright – a concept few recognized as important. The blues have an oral tradition which meant that all this happened as a natural process.

It's recordings of blues songs that are our historical markers that signify when something was done first, but it doesn’t mean the performer who recorded it was the originator of a song, all it proves was who it was that record it first – as often as not that was a matter of luck as record companies went to towns and cities across the Southern States looking for performers to record on their mobile studios.

Several schools of thought exist as to the meaning of “Dust My Broom”. It could concern cleaning a rented room before you leave, shades of the itinerant musician or it is simply a sexual reference. Singer, Son Thomas said, “It was an old field holler to tell everyone, except the people the hollerer didn't want to tell, that he was running away.”

In 1951 Elmore James recorded what for many is the definitive version of the song. His was released on a Trumpet 146 with Elmore, billed as Elmo James, on one side and Bo Bo Thomas singing Catfish Blues on the other. The record made No.9 in the R&B charts in April 1952. In 1955 James re-recorded ‘Dust My Broom’ as ‘Dust My Blues’ with minor lyrics changes and a re-arrangement of the verses. Credited to Johnson, arranged Elmore James & Bihari (Bihari is one of the two brothers that owned the Modern label. James recorded for Modern’s subsidiaries, Flair and Meteor).

600000s Elmore James (Dust My Broom)

In 1968 the original Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green recorded their version for their album ‘Mr. Wonderful’. It contains further lyric variations. Like many of the later versions that were both recorded and sung live they often mixed up Dust My Broom with Dust My Blues. We've collected together a number of versions of Dust My Broom from a whole collection of different blues artists, from Wolf & Muddy to three Kings and a fabulous lady who sings the 'broom'.

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11 comments

  1. Dan Stark
    Reply

    Awesome ! Today, I learned something meaningful to me. I had always assumed Robert Johnson wrote it. I have the Kokomo Arnold tune (Sagefield Woman Blues) which contains the lyric reference to “dust my broom”, but hadn’t connected the two because they’re substantively different songs. But the Sykes collaboration with Carl Rafferty (of whom I’d never heard until this moment) was a new horizon for me. Thanks !

  2. Rob from Portland
    Reply

    Interesting. There are an amazing number of colorful stories that emerge as one bores down into blues history. Thanks for the post.

  3. mike abbott
    Reply

    Thank u 4 your informative arrival on dust my broom.being a lover of the blues myself I enjoyed reading it.keep up the good work

  4. Henk Maaskant
    Reply

    Great article on this great and campus blues song. Also a very good playlist. We Jacob Dyrstin form Denmark and Henk Maaskant from the Netherlands. Are collecting versions of this blues song. An overview of the more than 1600 versions we have You can find on this website http://www.dustmybroom.nl

  5. Ronald Weinstock
    Reply

    It says Dust My Blues wascredited to Robert Johnson and arranged by James and Bihari. I would be curious what the original label showed and doubt it showed that and the credit would be James and Taub (the pseudonym used by the Biharis).

  6. NOWMON
    Reply

    From some black gospel singers, they said “I believe I`ll dust my broom” was a field holler that turned into a get sanctified song…

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