Monday, August 30, 2010

I Wouldn't Give A Blind Pig...

According to H.L. Mencken, an astute student of American English, the term "blind pig" was first used in 1887 America and referred to lower class establishments that sold alcoholic beverages illegally. An upscale version of such an establishment was known as a speakeasy. The proprietor of such an establishment, or "Blind pigger," was in use by 1894. At such a place there would be a charge for customers to see an attraction (such as an animal) and then one would be served a “complimentary” alcoholic beverage, thus circumventing the law.

Blind pig is said to have American and Scottish roots with the roots of "blind" coming from covering the windows of such establishments so people couldn't look in. This "blinding" may still be on the law books in some states to discourage you from looking in on folks enjoying a drink or maybe getting blind drunk.

The difference between a speakeasy and a blind pig (sometimes called a "blind tiger") was that a speakeasy was usually a higher class establishment that offered food and entertainment. In large cities, some speakeasies even required a coat and tie for men, and evening dress for women. But a blind pig was usually a low class dive where only beer and liquor were offered.

Blind pigs still exist in the United States. Some sell alcohol for off site consumption from their homes (often at double the retail price, or more) during hours when legal sellers are closed by law, and others are illegally operated bars. Here in New Orleans there used to be such an establishment open one night a week with a well known password which doubled as the proprietesses' nickname to get in the door.

Blind pig also shows up as part of a piece of folk advice with an old Russian saying, "Even a blind pig finds an acorn every once in awhile." In the deep south it was little changed to, "Even a blind hog roots up a few acorns."

Another use of blind pig shows up in a lyric by New Orleans songwriter and singer Cousin Joe in his 1946 song called, "You Ain't So Such A Much." "I wouldn't give a blind sow an acorn, I wouldn't give a crippled crab a crutch, " certainly refers to a man who wouldn't offer his hand at a time of need. The song was also covered by Baton Rouge pianist Henry Gray and rerecorded in 2004 on Dr. John's album "Dis Dat or D'udda" as "Such A Much" featuring a duet with Dr. John and Willie Nelson that turns a blind sow back into a blind pig.

Another folk term is "like stealing acorns from a blind pig," which is something that might be easily achieved. A web site also turns up called Blind Pig and The Acorn which contains oral histories of Appalachian culture. There is also a major blues record label called Blind Pig which got its name from a club in Ann Arbor.

This leads us back to the opening picture in this blog which is a 1908 song, "Bl_nd P_G spells Blind Pig" by Junie McCrea and Albert Von Tilzer. Considering the times, the song was probably written by McCrea; since Von Tilzer was also a publisher, he added his name to the credits.

Certainly a blind pig is many things and deserves a place in the study of popular American culture.


Tommy said...

I always heard it as "even a blind pig finds an acron every now and then," as in "even a stopped clock is right twice a day."

Anonymous said...

I first heard the song from Dave Van Ronk. His "Cocaine Blues" was what led me to take up the guitar and singing the blues. I can't sing "I wouldn't give a blind sow an acorn" though...
"I took my gal to the circus to see what we could see; when she saw what the elephant had she didn't want to come home with me..." Just thought of it the other day.