Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cryptozoology, wampus cats, and rockabilly

Last night while surfing around, I ran across an article on acid spitting Mongolian death worms, a cryptozoological creature I was totally unfamiliar with. I posted the link to Twitter, and this started me thinking about music,as most things do. Here's the link again:


I remember running across several songs that mentioned "wampus cats". I had no idea what a wampus cat was, but I discovered that it derived from an old Cherokee legend. In the Cherokee legend, a woman disguises herself by wearing the skin of a mountain lion to spy on a hunting party. The medicine men punish her by changing her into a half cat/ half woman forever. There are several high schools in the South whose sports teams are known as the Wampus Cats

There were some pretty good records made by Kitty Gray and her Wampus Cats, who featured the great slide guitar player Oscar Woods, made in the late 1930's. The group featured risque blues songs such as "I Can't Dance, I've Got Ants in My Pants".There may be songs by them with lyrics about wampus cats, but not in any of their songs I've heard.

There are rockabilly songs from the 1950's by Howard Chandler and Johnny Burnette called "Wampus Cat" These songs, rather then referring to wampus cats in the way they are referred to in legend, refers to males who are tough ,on the prowl and not to be messed with. The Chandler song has lyrics such as "I'm a wampus cat and I'm going to hunt tonight". The Burnette song starts with "A lonely wampus cat came to town, took my woman tore my castle down" He vows to find his baby no matter where she is. Wampus cats in rockabilly are more like the prowling tomcat discussed below.

Here's Howard Chandler's "Wampus Cat" - on the Wampus label no less.

An extremely cryptic phrase found in a number of songs is "dead cat on the line", which may have derived from "dead catfish on the line" This lyric shows up primarily in blues and gospel songs. Suggested meanings for the phrase include, 1) a dead fish on a fishing line indicated negligence 2) a dead cat on a power line indicates something is wrong, that can't be covered up - often infidelity. The unfaithful "tomcat" is electrocuted, and it's obvious the unfaithful woman has been with him and 3) as a symbol of sin - needing to clear the dead cat off your line so your call to God can be heard (as in the J.W. Gates sermon).

There are "dead cat on the line" recordings by the preachers Elder Beck and J.W. Gates , and the blues singers Tampa Red and Marion Williams.

Here's the Marion Williams song with the haunting ,mysterious lyric "If a child don't favor his father some day, it's a dead cat on the line".

The definition of "dead cat on a line" from the "Dictionary of American Regional English:


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