“Me and My chauffeur blues” – the foundations of Obviously 5 Believers

This article is part of the Why does Dylan like… series. The other articles in the series can be found via the link.


By Tony Attwood

When introducting this song on one of his “Theme Time” programmes Bob called this “One of the great blues songs of all time, one of the great car songs of all time, one of the great chauffer songs of all time! Sung by one of the great old ladies of all time.”

Here it is

It was also one of the songs mentioned by Bob Dylan in an interview with Scott Cohen and what makes this song even more interesting is the fact that Bob then took it and turned it into Obviously Five Believers.

Here’s the version by Memphis Minnie on her own…

It’s a variant on the classic blues format – but the way the variant works, with the added line of music after the repeat of the second line – plus the highly distinctive melody – really makes it stand out from the rest of the blues.  I’m not enough of a blues historian to claim that the song kicked blues in a new direction, but I have a feeling this might have been the case.

The song later turned up in another variant form with Good Morning Little School Girl by Sonny Boy Williamson, also performed by Chuck Berry – not lyrics one would particualarly want to perform today but seemingly a lyric that no one got too worried about at the time.

So, moving onto the performer.  Memphis Minnie (1897 to 1973), is said to have recorded around 200 songs, and this is probably the best remembered of all of them.

Although her life was very tough – as it was for all young female performers at the time, there are elements of that could be turned into a sanitised Broadway musical if anyone had a mind to (and assuming it hasn’t been done) – running away from home aged 13 with a guitar she was given for her 10th birthday, playing on street corners, joining the circus, and then playing in the blues clubs before being discovered by a record company talent scout playing with her husband in front of a barber shop.   It was he who called her “Memphis Minnie”.

My Chauffeur Blues is also reported (differently by different sources) to have won a competition, the prize being a bottle of whisky and a bottle of gin.  Another scene for the musical maybe.

The song was originally released as “Me and My Chauffeur Blues” on 21 May 1941, and this recording credits Ernest Lawlar (Minnie’s husband) as the composer, but in the subsequent 1953 release this credit was changed to Minnie herself and most commentators seem to feel she was the actual composer.

Here are the lyrics…

Won’t you be my chauffeur?
Won’t you be my chauffeur?
I wants him to drive me
I wants him to drive me downtown
Yes, he drives so easy
I can’t turn him down

But I don’t want him
But I don’t want him
To be ridin’ these girls
To be ridin’ these girls around
So I’m gonna steal me a pistol
Shoot my chauffeur down

Well, I must buy him
Well, I must buy him
A brand new V8
A brand new V8 Ford
Then he won’t need no passengers
I will be his load

Yeah, take it away

Going to let my chauffeur
Going to let my chauffeur
Drive me around the
Drive me around the world
Then he can be my little boy
Yes, I’ll be his girl, yes, I’ll be his girl

And then as we know Bob took it on a journey of his own.  Here’s Bob doing Five Believers – and introducing the band.

There’s a clear link between the two songs musically, but not in the lyrics.  Here’s Bob’s version.

Early in the mornin’, early in the mornin’
I’m callin’ you to, I’m callin’ you to
Please come home
Yes, I could make it without you
If I just didn’t feel so all alone

Don’t let me down, don’t let me down
I won’t let you down, I won’t let you down
No, I won’t
You know and I know honey but
But honey, please don’t

I got my black dog barkin’
Black dog barkin’
Yes it is now, yes it is outside my yard
Yes, I’ll tell you what he means
If I just didn’t have to try so hard

Your mama’s workin’, your mama’s moanin’
She’s cryin’ you know, she’s tryin’ you know
You better go now
Well, I’d tell you what she wants
If I, but I just don’t know how

Fifteen jugglers, fifteen jugglers
Five believers, five believers
All dressed like men
Tell your mama not to worry because
They’re just my friends

Early in the mornin’, early in the mornin’
I’m callin’ you to, I’m callin’ you to
Please come home
Yes, I could make it without you
Honey, if I just did not feel so all alone

So why did Bob like it so much that he wanted to put it play it on his radio show, having re-used the song as one of his own?

It certainly is lively, and an outstanding song of its time, with a real entertaining element to it in terms of the lyrics – plus it is unusual in the way that it changes the standard blues format to make a song that is so lively and with so much energy.   Plus the fact that it is a classic in the genre – one of the songs that everyone into the history of the blues after the original classic 12-bar composers, must know.

In short it is a song that really gave the blues a kick away from the poverty of the south songs, and really has fun with the lyrics and the whole concept of female power, many, many years before it became the everyday.  But what is also interesting (to me at least if no one else) is what Dylan did with the lyrics in his version of the song: what exactly are they all about?

I can’t really find a meaning, and I am left with the notion that he simply put words in to fit with the music.  Nothing wrong with that of course – but not something that those who believe everything Dylan writes has a meaning, really want to think about.

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6 Responses to “Me and My chauffeur blues” – the foundations of Obviously 5 Believers

  1. LarryFyffe says:

    There’s a bit of connection between the lyrics as well:

    I wants him to drive me downtown
    Yes, he drives so easy
    I can’t turn him down
    (Chauffer)

    Note the end-rhyme: ‘downtown’/’down’

    Then:

    Don’t let me down, don’t let me down
    I won’t let you down, I won’t let you down
    No I won’t
    (Believers)

    With the ‘twist’ to self-rhyme: ‘down’/’down’

  2. LarryFyffe says:

    Tony, your ‘notion’ that the words are just thrown in to fit the music (as you oh-so-too-often state) is not correct yet once again.

    Yes, I’ll tell you what he likely means ….it’s not that hard – Dylan’s deliberately playing around with words.

    – For example, Dylan’s ‘black dog’, which represents depression, is hangin’ around again like a hard rain, despite the clowns he has for friends.

    Conceit and paradox-filled Metaphysical or Baroque verse often features the colour ‘black’.

    Where’s that damn two-by-four when I need it!!!

  3. LarryFyffe says:

    Nit-pickers take note – ‘… what he wants’ (instead of ‘means’), Dylan sings on above tape – but on “Blonde on Blonde”, as I recall, he sings ” This is just my friend”, not “They’re just my friends”.

  4. Morten Jonsson says:

    Don’t forget the verse in his first attempt at “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”:

    Well, can I be your chauffeur, honey, can I be your chauffeur?
    Well, you can ride with me, honey, I’ll be your chauffeur
    Just as long as you stay in the car
    If you get out and start to walk, you just might topple over
    In your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

  5. Mr. Echo says:

    While Dylan probably was aware of Memphis Minnie’s “Me And My Chauffeur Blues” when he recorded “Obviously Five Believers”, his actual recording is based on Chuck Berry’s “I Want To Be Your Driver” (released May 1965) and Little Walter’s “Up The Line” (released 1963). Both are of course based on the Memphis Minnie song. The main structure of “Obviously Five Believers” comes from the Chuck Berry song, while the distinctive riff was taken from the Little Walter song.

  6. LarryFyffe says:

    And the lyrics:

    So let me be your driver, let me be your driver
    I would love to ride you, I would love to ride you
    downtown
    Drive you so slow and easy, you won’t want to put me down
    (Chuck Berry: I Want To Be Your Driver)

    With the ‘downtown’/’down’ end-rhyme again.

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