Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Skip James performing his classic Devil Got My Woman.
Devil Got My Woman
by Nehemiah Curtis "Skip" James recording of 19 from probably Complete Early Recordings (Yazoo 2009) & Melodeon 7321, copyright notice
I'd rather be the devil, to be that woman man1
I'd rather be the devil, to be that woman man
Aw, nothin' but the devil, changed my baby's mind
Was nothin' but the devil, changed my baby's mind
I laid down last night, laid down last night
I laid down last night, tried to take my rest
My mind got to ramblin', like a wild geese
From the west, from the west
The woman I love, woman that I loved
Woman I loved, took her from my best friend
But he got lucky, stoled her back again
And he got lucky, stoled her back again
Note: the song was inspired by his broken marriage;
Note 1: James usually completed this line with ""woman's man"
"... The devil was stronger than I was, an' he did have, and is got now, a certain amount of power... And he lives in hell, and that's where he haves his part. And God give him a certain amount of time to be on the earth, in the bowels, persuadin' people... He still has agencies out. Everywhere you've been. And then he's a man don't never sleep. he never get offa his job or duty, That is, you can lay down happy at night, you and your companion... and in harmony. Everything goin' well. Satan'll creep in the house overnight... next mornin' you cannot get a good word out of her. Why?. Because satan has got the bill of sale over her. He done crept in overnight...
“Damn, I can’t get that Selena off my mind no matter how far west I go, I miss her, miss her bad ” thought Be-Bop Benny, real name: Peter Paul Markin and an amigo of mine of long standing back to sunnier summer of love, 1967 version, days when the world was strictly tomorrow ( we always laughed then, and called out in the middle of some drug-induced stupor, “manana mama,” when any decisions beyond the next meal, and sometimes not even that, came due). Yes, Be-Bop had it bad, as bad as a man can have it when the devil gets your woman. So bad he had to get out of town, get out quick, and get out with some fifteen hundred dollars in gringo dinero, that he owed the “boys” for some unfinished drug deal. Yes, that bad.
Of course Be-Bop’s (let’s keep it short like that, like the way we used to call him in those sunnier days) problems had nothing to do with some abstract devil, his own devilish character (well, maybe, just a little), but with one Spanish spitfire named Selena Rios. Let me fill you in a little on the details and see if you don’t agree.
No question this Selena was strictly mex, mestizo, beautiful, not that icy norte beautiful, proper English or Irish, the way I like them (although, truth, if she had passed her eye my way I would have had no second thoughts about giving her a tumble. She was that kind of woman.) with dark mestizo skin , dark hair, dark smoldering dancing eyes, ruby red lips and that sings-song voice that made you think of mists and fogs, if you have time to think, Or wanted to. But mainly it was that scent she gave off, of adventure, of silky sheets, of sweaty nights and cool showers after, frankly, of lust. And if that didn’t lure you in, lure Be-Bop in, then that slight fragrance, some cacti mix from a thousand husks wore just lightly enough to keep you within five feet of her at all times, and glad of it.
How they met? Oh, this one is a beaut, but it will tell you about the times, about summer of love 1960s times, and if I spill it here you won’t have to go ask your fidgety grandparents about it. They met in the middle of the Cambridge Common, when she fresh in town on some student exchange program between Harvard and Sonora University down in Mexico, when she, she remember, asked Be-Bop if he wanted to “split a joint with her.”
I already described, described her one hundred generations (or whatever number of generations have elapsed since the old Spanish conquests down there) scent. And that fragrance. And bug-eyed Be-Bop was a long gone daddy, long gone. Innocent enough though even for today’s prudish ears.
And Be-Bop swore it was that pure for a couple of weeks. Then two things happened. First the money ran out, what little there was of it between them. And they (or rather he) had big dreams of together and California and ocean washes to feed. So to solve the dough problem Selena gave Be-Bop all the details for making some dough by becoming small-time dope dealers through her connections with the righteous (her word, and he didn’t disagree, for the dope she shared was high grade Acapulco Gold, real good stuff compared to the normal Commons oregano mix) down in Sonora. So they went south instead of west and “muled” their first supply without too much difficulty. Coming back , at first, it was selling just to friends, a few joints here and there, just to keep them in coffee and cakes, but then to friends of friends, and their friends, and then to strangers. All this meant a couple more trips south, and a much expanded business. Hell, it was fun for a while, although working weights and packaging and all the rest was boring.
Be-bop said he could have seen it through though because the more dough they made the happier Selena seemed to be, and the better she was under those silky sheets she was addicted to sleeping on. But then, the other shoe dropped. Selena started going over to the Commons and asking other guys if they wanted to “share that dynamite joint” she had, and what went with it.
Now Be-Bop, despite his funny moniker, was no monogamous fool guy, and didn’t want to be, but this Selena thing got to him, got to him bad. Sometimes she would bring a guy right up to the apartment, smoke a joint, all Be-Bop could hear was the sound of silky sheets from the bedroom. Christ how much could a guy take. She called him bourgeois, and an old lady when he objected.
One night a few months later after a few taunts from Selena, and some stuff about going to old Mexico for another shipment by herself (they had always gone together previously) Be-Bop had had enough of this woman, or so he thought. About three in the morning he put some clothes in a ruck- sack, put a couple of sandwiches together, a little dope, and about fifteen hundred dollars in cash from the last drug sales. He hit the road west at the Massachusetts Turnpike entrance in Cambridge, and fled town.
Here is where I really enter the story. A couple of years later I was down in Mexico, down Sonora way for some conference, some journalism thing, and as I signed in at the front desk of the Hotel Sonora I heard a blood-curdling voice scream across the room telling me to tell Be-Bop that she, and her “connections,” had not forgotten about the missing dough. And that honor debt would never be forgotten, even if he wound up face down in some dried bed desert somewhere. No more sing-song voices for far-gone Be-Bop.
I actually had not seen Be-Bop for a couple of years at that point but the whole thing had me interested for his sake, and maybe for a story. In any case it turned out that the so-called Harvard –Sonora University connection was bogus (the school was some local church school for girls and not the kind of place Harvard would have had some educational relationship with), she had been in the United States illegally and had been using a bogus visa,
her brothers were her drug connections (and heard to have done some nasty things to competitors, and those who didn’t come up with their cut of the dough), and she was married to some local drug bigwig while she was silky sheeting it with Be-Bop. The only “truth” about her was that little habit of coming up to guys and asking the “joint” question. A few companeros in the Sonora area that she was seen with came up face down in some deserted culvert as proof of her obsession.
After a while I finally found out where Be-Bop was, or had been, and passed a message on. Mainly about staying very far west, and very far away from sunny Sonora down Mexico way. And stay very, very, very far away from one Selena Rios. And this is the message I got back- “Damn, I can’t get that Selena off my mind no matter how far west I go, maybe I should try to see her.” Well, what is a guy going to do when the devil has got his woman. Adios, amigo.