By George Boyland
Did you know that anyone can cast a spell? You don't have to be a witch. Of course, it helps if you know what you're doing. But even so, casting a spell to help yourself is almost a guarantee that it won't fail. You want it to work, so you make sure it does by trying a little harder for the desired result. As for spells cast upon other people, the physical accoutrements are relevant, but not crucial. It's the concentration that matters, the tapping into the life force, the putting it out into the universe. So you tie knots in string to create a storm. Isn't that rather like saying the rosary? In Martin Carthy's 'Willie's Lady' the mother disapproves of his marriage and performs several evil acts to make the young lady lose Willie's babies. Willie's wife has been conned, but they work it all out and undo the spell. It's called 'sympathetic magic', but there's not much sympathy in a psychic bullet.
Tampa Red, in 'Witchin' Hour Blues', has also been cursed, but in his case it's from beyond the grave. His late partner told him on her deathbed that she would come to him every night at the witching hour. The furniture moves, the door handle rattles and she enters, “walking like a man”. But maybe she's cursed herself as well as Red, her malevolent dying energy dooming her forever to be a poltergeist. This guy needs some salt and cast iron around his house.
Koko Taylor's 'Voodoo Woman' has the full kit and caboodle. The black spider bone, (I know, they have an exoskeleton) the crawfish and the toad, but above all, a scrying bowl, and she wants to tell women whether their man is cheating on them. A scrying bowl performs the same function as a crystal ball. It's just plain water sitting still in a consecrated copper bowl. Nostradamus used one. But what matters is the degree of concentration, the trance-like effect on the human mind. The focus. You could stare at the moon and achieve results. It's just whatever suits you.
Ask a witch, "Are you a black witch or a white witch?"
"Oh, a white witch," will always be the answer.
"So you've never done any harm to anyone?"
"Well, only if they've hurt me or my friends."
Ask a black witch the same question and you'll get the same answer.
Cream had it right in 'Strange Brew'. It's risky to let a witch fall in love with you. Just run. Keep going. The New World beckons.
The Temptations take a trip to the southern Caribbean for 'Witchcraft (For Your Love)'. All the voodoo boxes are ticked because Paul Williams is going to use magic to get his baby back. Wouldn't you? It's funny how many witchy songs are about love. But is it really love? What kind of love is that? Zombie love. Now I gotcha. Remember Circe kept Odysseus prisoner on her island because she loved him? Then turned his crew into pigs? You might as well put a gun to someone's head. It's a warning from antiquity. Run. RUN.
Jimi Hendrix had a girl in every town, which is fair enough; he was a single man travelling the world. Those ladies had a choice. Devon Wilson, however, went way back, as far as New York when Jimi was pawning his guitar. After he struck fame he stood by her, in a manner of speaking. He always went back to her. One day Mick Jagger cut his finger on a broken glass. Devon elbowed through all the concerned ladies, grabbed his hand and sucked the blood. "Dolly Dagger," Jimi sang. "Been riding broomsticks since she was fifteen. Blown all the other witches off the scene. She drinks the blood from a jagged edge." Geddit? Jagged - Jagger?
I couldn't find a lyric for this Sharon Forrester song, so I'm not sure what to write about. 'Which Craft Is Witchcraft?' is a great title, and I love her music. Got plenty of it. All I can say is it's utterly barmy. I mean, seriously so. Maybe it's an imagining of what a coven of witches sounds like. But I know different. On the other hand, I can't say I know too much about Jamaican witches. It's certainly original.
'Redbone' is a Cajun term for a mixed race person. The band 'Redbone' were a mix of Yacqui, Shoshone, black and white, so I suppose within their own culture that name applies. Their massive hit, ‘The Witch Queen Of New Orleans' was about a real person, Marie Laveau, a creole woman, famous for her voodoo. She was certainly a healer and a midwife, but best of all, she was also a hairdresser. As such she had access to rich people and their servants, and was privy to information that wouldn't come anybody else's way. Blackmailer? Certainly. Con artist? Check. Witch? Most likely. Here you go .…
Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, what a love / hate relationship. Here they are with The Mothers playing 'Debra Kadabra'. Zappa and Beefheart went to school together. Grew up in Zappa's father's garage. I'm not sure what Beefheart was, but Zappa was pretty pervy. He wrote 'Debra Kadabra'., amongst other strange songs. He seemed to have had a penchant, not to say a skill, for finding strange witchy women who would indulge his … proclivities. Or maybe he just made those songs up. However, we're talking La-La Land here, so you never know. Maybe Debra Kadabra was a real witch who came over all groupie-like when Frank walked into the room. You gotta admit, he was a handsome fucker.
Back to real witches at last. Way up in the mountains, there's a proper active coven. Someone has murdered a young girl, and the ladies have gone up into the mountains to curse him. That's good. I'd like to think that happens every time a child is attacked. I for one put my curse on the criminals. Supergrass and their song 'Brecon Beacons' is quite cheerfully vengeful.
No, me neither. Is Hen Ogledd’s (Richard Dawson and co’s) 'Tiny Witch Hunter' about tiny witches on the run, or a miniature Matthew Hopkins chasing down pretty girls and helpless hags? We seem to have wandered back into Zappa country here. Two young ladies sing the main vocal part rather listlessly, though pleasantly enough, whilst wearing headdresses of aucuba and laurel. A tilt towards Wicca?
Same old, same old. From Bogota, Colombia, La Perla's song 'Bruja' tells the usual tale of a young woman who gets labelled a witch for doing her own thing. She just wants to enjoy her life while she can, but down come the evil fogies. I first learned about brujas in Cordoba. 'Brujo', the male version, I knew from Carlos Castaneda's con jobs. In Cordoba, a pleasant city by day, but shadowy and spooky by night, some female shopkeepers explained the difference to me. There was a strong focus on witches. I asked them why. "The Inquisition, of course." There was a wide square, very open and flat, with no lighting at night. That's where the tortures took place. The air was like lead. I fled.
And the 13th in our coven; a young American-Puerto Rican female rap band who revel in their witchcraft. Princess Nokia use the plural 'Brujas' to define themselves. These ladies, young as they are, are on a mission to relay their sense of strength and individuality to all and sundry. Are their baby fathers in gaol? Certainly. Do they gain strength from a sense of group solidarity? Definitely. Are they angry? Duck you sucker.
Abacadabra A-List Playlist:
Martin Carthy – Willie's Lady
Tampa Red – Witchin' Hour Blues
Koko Taylor – Voodoo Woman
Cream – Strange Brew
The Temptations – Witchcraft (For Your Love)
Jimi Hendrix – Dolly Dagger
Sharon Forrester – Which Craft Is Witchcraft?
Redbone – The Witch Queen Of New Orleans
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention with Captain Beefheart – Debra Kadabra
Supergrass – Brecon Beacons
Hen Ogledd – Tiny Witch Hunter
La Perla – Bruja
Princess Nokia – Brujas
Witches’ Brew B-List Playlist . . .
Royal Trux – Witch's Tit
The Sonics – The Witch
Betty Lavette – Witchcraft In The Air
Thurston Moore – Wonderful Witches
The Lollipop Shoppe – You Must Be A Witch
Cowboy Junkies – Witches
Siouxsie And The Banshees – Spellbound
Van Der Graaf Generator – White Hammer
The Cramps – Big Black Witchcraft Rock
Audience – I Put A Spell On You
Jethro Tull – The Witch's Promise
October Country – My Girlfriend Is A Witch
Return To Forever – Sorceress
Guru’s Wildcard Pick:
Screamin' Jay Hawkins' original 'I Put A Spell On You' is long zedded, so I swerved the many fine versions nominated. But whereas Screamin' Jay sounds threatening and scary, Nina Simone brings a melancholy dimension to the song. In it she's vulnerable, cornered, desperately fragile. It's her last throw of the dice, her head is hanging low, as if she's given up trying to convince even herself.
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: Put in a spell on this: songs about witches and witchcraft. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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