What can we learn about settlement from Sonny Boy Williamson’s Little Village?

Sonny Boy Williamson has a great track on his “album” (for lack of a better word) Bummer Road. It’s called “Little Village”. (This is Alex “Rice” Miller Sonny Boy Williamson).


For Williamson, to quote:

“The little village is too small to be a village
Not large enough to be a town…”

But he complicates it:

“Talkin’ ’bout your little town
Small little place, you know
It’s not large enough to be no city, couldn’t be no town

Small little place, small little village couldn’t be a town
It’s too small to be a village, and not large enough to be a town
But I fell in love with a swell little chick, that’s why I can be stickin’ around.”

Between those verses however, he gives us a hint at the significance of the village or the small town in an exchange with Leonard Chess:

(The transcription here is from Justin London’s website at Carleton College (pdf).)

LC: Go ahead we’re rolling, Take 1
What’s the name-a this?
SB: “Little Village” <pause>
“A Little Village,” mother f*cker! “A Little Village!”
LC: There’s isn’t a mother f*ckin’ thing there about a village
You son-of-a-bitch! Nothin’ in the song has got anything to do with a village
SB: Well, a small town
LC: I know what a village is!
SB: Well alright, goddamn it! You know, you don’t need no title
You name it up, you, I got-get through with it, son-of-a-bitch
You name it what you wanna. You name it your mammy, if ya wanna

This exchange is a good sign. It means that the status of village or town is incidental to the song, despite its prominence in the title. It is possible, however, that little villages could have pads like palaces:

“She got a pad like a palace, everything was cruisin’ kind
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, she take me to her pad, an’ everything was cruising’ kind…”

This need not imply monumental architecture, but certainly suggests a kind of opulence. Perhaps it’s the presence of a palace that prompts Williamson to change the lyrics later in the session:

“You know I dropped in a little place, too small to be a village,
an’ not large enough to be a town
Yeah, it’s a little place–too small to be a village an’ too large enough to be a town
Yeah, now it’s large enough to be a village and too small to be a town
But I fell in love with a small little chick, that one night she’d taken me down

She had a cruise, cool apartment, and she invited me around
She had a cruise cruisin’ lil apartment, an’ she invited me around”

Here Williamson clearly links the village’s transformation to the lady’s apartment.

In the end, as much as he’d like to stick around: “But I got to leave you now, ‘cause tomorrow I’m Chicago bound.”

So to answer the question at the start of this blog: this song doesn’t tell us much about settlement patterns.

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