The Panic is On

Hezekiah Jenkins, circa 1930s

You’re probably aware that I’m a great fan of blues music and when I’m in the car I’m usually listening to BB King’s Bluesville on XM Satellite Radio. Recently a song being performed by Maria Muldaur, a contemporary performer, titled The Panic is On began playing. It had a sound from the 20s or 30s and the subject was economic hard-times. The lyrics were so familiar I couldn’t tell if the song was addressing hard-times today or hard-times during the Great Depression. Muldaur had added a last verse containing the name of our current president, further confusing my thoughts.

So, later in the day I did some Googling and discovered the song was written by and first performed in 1931 by Hezekaih Jenkins and Muldaur had resurrected it for an album of hard-times music. I found the complete, original, lyrics and thought you might like to see just how similar the thoughts, experiences, and concerns of our ancestors were to those of today.

THE PANIC IS ON (by Hezekiah Jenkins) (Panic is a historical term used to describe economic depressions)

What this country is comin’ to
I sure would like to know
If they don’t do something bye and bye,
The rich will live and the poor will die
Dog-gone, I mean the panic is on

Can’t get no work, can’t draw no pay,
Unemployment getting worser every day
Nothing to eat and no place to sleep,
All night long folks walkin’ the street
Dog-gone, I mean the panic is on.

Saw a man this morning walkin’ down the street
In his BVDs, no shoes on his feet.
You ought to seen the women callin’ in the flats
I could hear ’em sayin’, ‘What kind of man is that?’
Dog-gone, I mean the panic is on

All the landlords done raised the rent
Folks that ain’t broke is badly bent
Where they get the dough from, goodness knows
But, if they don’t produce it, in the street they go
Dog-gone, I mean the panic is on

Some play the numbers, some read your mind,
They all got a racket of some kind
Some trimmin’ corns off of people’s feet,
They got to do something to make ends meet
Dog-gone, I mean the panic is on

Some women are sellin’ apples, some sellin’ pies,
Some sellin’ gin and rye
Some sellin’ socks to support they man,
In fact, some are sellin’ everything they can
Dog-gone, I mean the panic is on

I pawned my clothes and everything,
Pawned my jewellery, watch and my ring
Pawned my razor and my gun
So, if luck don’t change, there’ll be some stealin’ done
Dog-gone, I mean the panic is on.

Old prohibition ruined everything,
That’s why I’m forced to sing
Here’s one thing you all want to hear:
Until they bring back light wine, gin and beer,
Dog-gone, the panic will be on

Author and performer: Hezekiah Jenkins. Original recording 16 January 1931 Columbia 14585-D.

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