UPDATED MAY 31, 2018.

Mess around … with a red dress on … know what I’m talking about?

Not one, but three (not so little) girls standing there with red dresses on









You might have read in my last post about the words ‘blues’ (as in music), and ‘cat’ (as in black musician), first appearing in print.

Let’s expand on this by examining that iconic blues and rock ‘n’ roll phrase, the ‘Little girl standing there with a red dress on’.

This time-trodden cliche first appeared in 1928, on a record by the Alabama-born African-American pianist and comedian, Clarence “Pine Top” Smith. Other notable phrases in the blues and rock lexicon also made their debut on that very same track, including: ‘shake a peg’, ‘shake that thing’ and ‘mess around’. Most important of all, though, was the title of the record, ‘Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie’, thought to be the very first time the term boogie woogie was used in printed form. Take a listen to this mould-breaking track for yourself:

Also appearing on ‘Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie’ in 1928 was that well known rock and soul line, “know what I’m talking about”. Robert Plant, for example, used this expression in many Led Zeppelin songs – for example: ‘The Lemon Song’.

What the funk

Talking about soul, the word ‘funk’ is even older than Pine Top Smith’s lyrical one-liners. One of funk’s first uses was by African-American dance hall patrons describing New Orleans’ infamous Union Sons Hall, a Baptist church hall used to hold Saturday night dances in the 1890s. The hall was known as the Funky Butt Ballroom, which apparently referred to the pungent stench produced by its sweat and booze-soaked dancers.
Union Sons’ Hall (right of pic) was demolished in the 1950s
One of the most popular outfits to appear at the Funky Butt Ballroom was Buddy Bolden’s band, Buddy Bolden being the legendary horn player and band leader generally credited with turning hot ragtime into New Orleans’ pre-jazz blues in the late 1890s. Bolden’s band had a theme song they called Funky Butt, later turned into ‘Buddy Bolden’s Blues’ by the New Orleans piano player, Jelly Roll Morton, who recorded it for the American Library of Congress in 1938. Take a listen …

Buddy Bolden’s trombone player, Willy Cornish, claimed to have written ‘Funky Butt’, the original lyrics of which went something like this:
“You see that girl with the blue dress on?
(Guitar answers)
She got stinky butt, funky butt, leave it alone
`Cause I don’t like it no-how.” 

In keeping with most songs of the era, the song was pretty near the bone and designed to make listeners’ laugh.

You’ll have also noticed that Willie Cornish’s ‘Girl with the blue dress on’ (above) preceded Pine Top Smith’s ‘Girl with the red dress on’ by some 30 years. But I guess the red dress won out in the long run.


Back row 2nd left, Buddy Bolden. 2nd right, Willie Cornish