Keep Your Hands Off Her/Shake It and Break It

I learned “Keep Your Hands Off Her” very early, from an LP called Folk Blues Song Fest — I don’t remember when I got that record, but it was early enough that I was undoubtedly attracted more by the inclusion of Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston than the inclusion of Champion Jack Dupree or Arbee Stidham. It was also early enough that I learned a bunch of songs off it: this one, by Lead Belly, stuck with me, but for a while I also picked up “Fan It,” “Hush, Somebody Is Calling Me,” “Beautiful City,” and “Face in the Crowd” — it would be at least another decade before I saw the Andy Griffith movie in which Brownie McGhee played a small part and realized he must have written that last song in hopes of it being used as the title theme. (I hadn’t thought of that song in years, but just ran over it in my mind and still remember the whole thing; I guess I’ll have to put it up here at some point.)

I have a better sense of when I heard “Shake It and Break It,” because I didn’t turn on to Charlie Patton until I started buying the Yazoo reissues during my year of college in 1976-77, but I’m not sure when I learned it. Certainly, the spur for combining them was a workshop on playing in the key of F, conducted by Paul Geremia at the Augusta Heritage Center’s Blues Week in the early 1990s. I’d never thought about F as a good key for blues — but this isn’t really blues, it’s ragtime, and these songs start on a C chord, and for all I know, Patton and Lead Belly thought of them as being in the key of C, if they bothered to think about things like that. Honestly, I don’t know if they both played this in F; I’m relying on Paul and my memory.

Be that as it may, I played them both in F and that gave me my first taste of what a great key it is for ragtime/pop songs — and then I married a clarinet player and got into flat keys, and by now I play dozens of songs in F… and this was where that started.

I don’t remember when I combined these songs, but it’s been a few years, and after I started playing them together and saying I thought they were at some level versions of the same song, someone pointed out that Patton doesn’t actually play the chords I play… but they still feel to me like they fit together.

I also like to think that “Keep Your Hands Off Her” can be understood as a kind of “me too” song — though I admit that’s a bit of a stretch — as well as a “body positivity” song, with that wonderful line: “She’s a heavy-hipped woman with great big legs, walks like she’s walking on soft-boiled eggs.” And, of course, I now consider all the “jelly” references in “Shake It” as part of my Jelly Roll Blues research… but mostly this is just fun to play and sing.