It’s been a slow news day, as they sometimes say, so I thought I would file through the Jeff’s Corner Archives for a fun story to repost. This one has a hint of truth to it, and dates back to June 5, 2015. It goes like this:
When I was a kid, perhaps a little too young to be drinking, I hung out with some of the same guys I’m hanging out with now, almost 45 years later. I’m a very lucky guy indeed!
We thought we wuz pretty damn hip, in fact we wuz so hip we thought wine was a cool alternative to beer; and what great wine it was! Ripple, Boone's Farm, and Spanada went down great right out of the bottle, with fewer bottles to hide if we got pulled over.
The one who thought he was the hippest of all called cheap wine “spo-dee-o-dee" and clued us in that the phrase was from a really old R&B tune with the verse “Drinkin' wine spo-dee-o-dee drinkin' wine”. We’d swill the stuff down and sing that same line over and over and over while we passed the bottle.
Well, it turns out the tune “Drinkin Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” was written by “Stick” McGhee and was one of the first big hits for Atlantic Records in 1949. It’s been covered by the likes of Lightn’n Hopkins, Bruce Springsteen, and Hank lll. It was #2 on the Billboard R&B Chart for 4 weeks, and Jerry Lee Lewis played it in his first concert in 1949.
The original refrain was “Drinkin’ wine ****** ****** drinkin’ wine” but couldn’t be recorded (it took Rap to change that). So, Stick made up the totally nonsensical phrase spo-dee-o-dee, or perhaps borrowed it from a chant he learned in boot camp.
It wasn’t long until an actual drink called Spo-Dee-O-Dee surfaced. I can’t find its origin, but it was a staple in the blues and jazz clubs of the early 50’s and beyond. It was a really stiff drink that most often began with a shot of Port, followed by a shot of cheap bourbon, and another shot of Port.
Jack Kerouac writes about it in “On the Road” when he and his beat-buddies were hanging out and listening to Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. They wuz really hip. Kerouac’s version, if I remember, was brandy and blackberry wine.
Here’s the first stanza, and you can hear Stick’s original recording on YouTube here.
“Down in Petersburg everything is fine
All them cats is drinkin’ that wine
Drinking that mess to their delight
When they gets drunk, start singing all night
Drinkin’ wine spo-dee-o-dee drinkin’ wine.”