Interpreting blues lyrics
February 23, 2006 8:39 PM   Subscribe

In blues music, what does the term "rider" mean?

In my relatively brief exposure to blues music, I have noticed numerous uses of the word "rider". A few that come to mind are Zeppelin's "Traveling Riverside Blues", as well as Robert Johnson's "Crossroads". What exactly is a rider? The word seems to be used in different contexts in the two songs. Here are some selections from the songs I mentioned above:

Travelling Riverside Blues
Well, uh-huh, I know my baby if I see her in the dark
I said, I know my rider if I see her in the dark

Now, I'm goin' to Rosedale, take my rider by my side
Still barrelhouse 'cause it's on the riverside, yeah
I know my baby, lord, I said-a, beware, there's something wrong
I know my mama, lord, a brown-skin but she ain't no plum, ah-ha

See my baby, tell her, tell her, "Hurry home"
Had no lovin' since my baby geen bone (sic), yeah
See my baby, tell her, "Hurry on home"
I ain't had, no, my right mind since my rider's been gone

Hey, promises-a she's my rider
I wanna tell you, she's my rider
Blow your mind, she's my rider
She ain't but sixteen, but she's my rider

I'm goin' to Rosedale, take my rider by my side
Well I'm going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side.
Going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side.
You can still barrelhouse, baby, on the riverside.

Going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side.
posted by Paul KC to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by cali at 8:40 PM on February 23, 2006

Why's that? Oh, wait, nevermind.
posted by rossination at 8:47 PM on February 23, 2006

I guess that was a pretty simple question to answer, but I am also interested in how the the term "rider" came about. How did it originate?
posted by Paul KC at 8:48 PM on February 23, 2006

It originated with the sidekick on Boy Meets World, Rider Strong. As in, "Ride 'er, ride 'er strong."
posted by klangklangston at 8:50 PM on February 23, 2006

I've often wondered about some of these terms too — like high heeled sneakers. Was that a common phrase? I'm assuming it just means high heels, but heels and sneakers are two totally different things in the modern world.

Also, a number of blues songs mention black cat bones — is that a voodoo thing? (Most of the blues I listened to was Delta-based).

There are soooo many I've wondered about, but I can't think of any of them now.

I always thought a rider was a woman who was your long-term lady, as in maybe you aren't officially committed to her but you know she's still gonna be there even if you come home with a 13-year-old groupie.
posted by Brittanie at 9:02 PM on February 23, 2006

There's a tremendous amount of research, discussion, and speculation on this term. As cali says, it is definitely shorthand for "lover". But when you follow its permutations, particularly the "CC Rider" and "Easy Rider" variants, it gets very interesting.

Here's a copy of a comment I posted when this question came up on my folklore listserv. I apologize for the raw links, but I can't be arsed to reformat them right now.
Interesting question. A few minutes' Google searching revealed these comments, from the University of Houston's Digital History resource center, in a Blues Glossary': The easy rider, also known as see see rider or c c rider (see also rider), is a blues metaphor for the sexual partner. Originally it referred to the guitar hung on the back of the traveling bluesman. The word easy has different meanings for the female and male lover: applied to a woman it is an expression of admiration but applied to a male it usually carries the meaning of reckless and unfaithful." -and - *"rider/riding* A girl friend or sexual partner (see also easy rider). Riding is probably the most common metaphor for the sexual act in blues, see also balling the jack and grinding."

This page ( expands upon that definition: "2 - According to Alex Washburn "In one Alan Lomax' folk song collections it says that the abbreviation "C.C." means "Cavalry Corporal" and that they had no female soldiers at that time (19th century). Now the conclusion from this fact was that the singer or the original songwriter must have been a gay... Well, in my opinion the songwriter even could be a woman singing this song to her soldier lover. Anyway, the author then said that "C.C.Rider" became "See See Rider" and "Easy Rider" because of prudery...". Thanks to Alex Washburn; 3 - Southern Louisiana's John "JohnnyB" Bradford says: "An easy rider is the husband or significant other of a whore - thus the name. He doesn't work or pay for sex. It's his easily. Thanks to John "JohnnyB" Bradford for this contribution to the list This phrase can be found in: Big Bill Broonzy, C C Rider (1) & C C Rider (2), Ma Rainey, Jelly Bean Blues & See See Rider, Mississippi John Hurt, See See Rider, Bessie Smith, Rocking Chair Blues"

And, finally, the ever-more-useful Wikipedia*(* helps out with: "During the Great Depressiona large population of Americans driven by poverty rode the railroad system & the term easy rider, (along with hobo and bum ) found its way into slang vocabulary to mean a slow moving train and the men that, even after the great depression, continued to live and travel along the rails. Majority of these trains, commissioned in the early 1920s had the letters C.C. (for Colorado Central ) or S.C. (for Southern Coastal) stenciled on them in bold white letters & this is most likely where the term C.C. rider originated. In the early 20th century African American communities the term refered a woman who had liberal sexual views, had been married more than once, or someone skilled at sex. The term appears in numerous blueslyrics of the 1920s and many popular early folk-blues tunes had "See see rider" or "C.C. rider" in its title. Early uses of the term include the 1924 jazz recording by Johnny Bayersdorffer's Jazzola Novelty Orchestra entitled "I Wonder Where My Easy Rider's Riding Now". ...So it sounds like there is a pretty interesting evolution to the phrase. Some compiled research would make a terrific article. Fun question.
Although I didn't say so in this comment, my gut tells me the "Colorado Central" story is apocryphal. Much too neat.

More: Language of the Blues.
posted by Miko at 9:10 PM on February 23, 2006

Also, in the extended features DVD of the film "Easy Rider," Fonda says the term refers to a man who lives off his woman — not that she has to be a prostitute, per say, but she is the bread-winner in the relationship and he is, as the kids say these days, "the scrub."

Fascinating thread, by the way. can't wait for more.
posted by Brittanie at 9:17 PM on February 23, 2006

That link rocks — Spoonful! I love that song, but for some reason I never put two and two together, being a middle-class white girl who's never had to struggle for anything in her life.
posted by Brittanie at 9:24 PM on February 23, 2006

Sorry -- I forgot to unlink the "CC Rider" above. I didn't realize the list archives were password-protected, that's why I just posted the entire comment. There's more out there to be Googled, too; blues language is really interesting.
posted by Miko at 9:26 PM on February 23, 2006

By the way, the O.P. should know that Robert Johnson wrote Travelling Riverside Blues; the Zeppelin track is a fairly faithful cover, although with some really amazing electrified slide guitar instead of the acoustic slide that Johnson used.

I've not run across the term 'rider' in other blues songs, unless you count Jimi Hendrix's "Ezy Rider," which I believe was used in the soundtrack of the Dennis Hopper flick.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:47 PM on February 23, 2006

There's the old standard, "I know you rider" most famously done by the Grateful Dead but also covered by Janis Joplin. I'm not 100% sure that it's the same "rider" but there's a pretty good chance.

I know you rider gonna miss me when I'm gone
I know you rider gonna miss me when I'm gone
Gonna miss your baby, from rolling in your arms.

And on (and on) like that.
posted by mikel at 3:18 AM on February 24, 2006

Rider is everywhere in traditional blues. Extremely common.
posted by Miko at 6:39 AM on February 24, 2006

Mighty Rider
Leadbelly's No Good Rider/Noted Rider Blues
Mudcat thread on song origin for "I Know You Rider"
A short list of songs with a mention of "rider" (there are many more, though)
posted by Miko at 6:51 AM on February 24, 2006

The first Bond Girl was Ursula Andress playing Honey Rider.
posted by MsMolly at 7:35 AM on February 24, 2006

As Miko said I Know You Rider is a traditional blues song. The Grateful Dead covered it for decades.
posted by terrapin at 7:36 AM on February 24, 2006

By the way, the O.P. should know that Robert Johnson wrote Travelling Riverside Blues; the Zeppelin track is a fairly faithful cover, although with some really amazing electrified slide guitar instead of the acoustic slide that Johnson used.

probably-deletable derail: does anyone know if Zeppelin's version of "Riverside" was recorded live? I thought I'd heard that somewhere... but if Page is doing all of that guitar work on his own without overdubs or a second player, damn.
posted by COBRA! at 8:03 AM on February 24, 2006

ikkyu2: I'm unfamiliar with a Hendrix track Ezy Rider, but if by 'the Dennis Hopper flick' you're talking about "Easy Rider" the song in question is "If 6 Was 9" which appeared originally on "Axis: Bold as Love."
posted by Rash at 9:09 AM on February 24, 2006

COBRA!: I don't think their version of Travelling Riverside Blues was live. From what I understand, the first disc of the BBC Sessions (which the song is on) was recorded in-studio. Amazon does say something to the effect of it being "nearly off the cuff" though. You can tell there are guitar overdubs during the solo and some of the fills at the end when there is obviously more than one guitar playing at once.
posted by Paul KC at 5:13 PM on February 24, 2006

Rash: 'Ezy Rider' was on the Band of Gypsies album.

"There goes Easy, Easy Rider.. Riding on the highway of desire. He says the free wind takes him higher, tryin' to find that heaven above, but he's dying to be loved.."

Perhaps not Jimi's finest moment lyrics-wise, but the guitar playing is great.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:30 PM on February 24, 2006

Er, maybe it's 'dying to get off.' I haven't heard the song in years.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:31 PM on February 24, 2006

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