Dust My Broom

Album: Blues After Hours (1959)

Songfacts®:

  • On November 23, 1936 Robert Johnson was in San Antonio Texas for his debut recordings. The first song he did was "Kind Hearted Woman Blues" in two versions, his second song was "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" and his third was "Sweet Home Chicago." Though Johnson is usually credited with writing all three songs, there are clear antecedents for each. As far as "Broom" is concerned you would need to look back just over 4 years to a 1932 session in Atlanta Georgia by Aaron Sparks and his brother Milton (real names Aaron and Marion Gant) - as with Johnson, it was their first time in the studio. For the Victor label they cut one of their own compositions "I Believe I'll Make A Change"; it was issued using the pseudonym Pinetop and Lindberg on Victor 78 record. Aaron played piano and Milton played spoons and provided vocals. Leroy Carr and Josh White both did versions of the song in 1934 before Johnson did his interpretation.
  • Around 1948, Elmore James met up with Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup and Sonny Boy Williamson (who was the second artist using that name, his real name was Aleck "Rice Miller" Ford). Together they played gigs in Arkansas. In 1949, Crudup did a version of "Dust My Broom" and it seems likely that this is how Elmore got to know the song.
  • Elmore James' recording of "Dust My Broom" is discussed in Steve Franz' book Amazing Secret History of Elmore James. All the versions Elmore did are given in Steve's book. His first go was on August 5th, 1951 for Lillian McMurry's Trumpet label when he was in the studio recording some tracks with Sonny Boy Williamson. Urban legend has it that Elmore was tricked into recording the song by McMurry, though Franz' research gives a somewhat different account of the events that date - Lillian was adamant that Elmore was complicit in the recording. In any case, it was the first title issued with him as leader and it came out on a Trumpet 78 on the flip side of Bobo Thomas' "Catfish Blues." Fortunately for Elmore, Ms. McMurry knew nothing of the earlier versions of "Broom" by Johnson and Crudup because her policy was not to record unoriginal material. By some quirk of fate, Crudup went on to issue a record on Trumpet in 1952 using the not-dissimilar name, Elmer James.
  • The "Dust My Broom" motif was central to Elmore James recorded output, not only did he return to it on several occasions, the theme was well mined in his other songs. As well as that Trumpet side, James did a version in January 1952 that came out on Modern, in January 1953 for Checker as well as a version in the summer of 1955 for Flair. However, the more commonly known versions are the ones he did for Bobby Robinson in November 1959 and twice in February 1963 shortly before his death. Robinson, a New York record store owner, founded the Fire and Fury stable of imprints. He also knew how to record loud, a skill that allowed Elmore's fierce playing to come to the fore. These later versions by Elmore are very different from the earlier ones, his slide guitar is front and center compared with ensemble playing of harp or sax on the previous attempts.
  • Artists who have covered this song include Robert Jr. Lockwood, John Littlejohn, Hound Dog Taylor, Homesick James and Frank Zappa.
  • On September 10, 1934 Kokomo Arnold was in the studio in Chicago. He cut "Sagefield Woman Blues" at the session, which contains (probably) the first mention of the phrase "Dust My Broom" in the lyrics.
  • Mick Jagger and Keith Richards encountered Brian Jones for the first time when he performed this song with Alexis Korner's band at the Ealing Jazz Club. Bill Wyman recounted in the film Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey:

    "The very first time Brian heard it, he played Elmore James' 'Dust My Broom.' And Brain said the earth shattered and seemed to go off its axis, it was such an important moment in his life. He just went away and just tried to learn to play like Elmore James. And he sat in with the band, the Alexis Korner band, and played 'Dust My Broom.'

    By pure chance, that day Mick and Keith and a couple of their mates who'd been trying to put a band together in Dartford – unsuccessfully – went to see the Alexis Korner show as well, after reading about it in the music press. And they saw Brian Jones sitting onstage, this little white cat, sitting onstage and doing Elmore James, and it blew them away! So that was the Stones. Elmore James was a very, very important part, and if that hadn't happened – that moment – maybe the Rolling Stones wouldn't be here."

Comments: 10

  • Kevin from Everett, WaJumping the broom is taking up a formal relationship with a woman. So, if you were ready to move on to another woman, you would have to dust off that broom to get ready for a new relationship. which is consistant with the meaning being to start over or starting clean.
  • Rock from Shreveport, La"Dust My Broom" means to clean out and start over. I live in the delta country and have heard this all my life. All the phrases and stories written into Robert Johnson's music is pretty much common down here except for a few of the old words that most don't hear any more, like 'a no good "Doney", which is a loose woman. He may also have 'borrowed' lyrics from an old street musician named Oscar "Buddy" Woods in Shreveport, Louisiana while laying over and waiting for the train to Dallas to do his second recording in 1937. His first was in San Antonio in 1936. The lyrics mentioned are in "Love In Vain" and are..."When the train left the station..there was two lights on behind, the blue light was my blues, and the red light was my mind. Wood's lyrics in "Flyin' Crow Blues" went..."She's gone, she's gone...got that red and blue light on behind, oh the red light's for danger, blue light's for worried mind." Blues men did this all the time back then. They would even turn away from the crowd when playing a new hot lick on their guitar so no one in the audience could copy it. Remember, this was the beginning of what would become the most influential music genre of all time...The Blues
  • Guitorb from Warsaw, In That is highly plausible B.T..Why would you dust your broom? The broom is the tool for dusting. In the context and questionable virtues of the woman in subject("so my friends can have my room"),masturbation may have been preferred to the risk of contracting S.T.D.
    That's the blues,no subject is too reproachable to wail about. Howlin' Wolf,who toured with Robert Johnson,was quoted as saying that the blues was a code that the establishment couldn't break. These cats were way ahead of censorship.
  • Mike from Hicksville, NyZZ Top Cover this on their Deguello Album, Johnny Winter does a version on Progressive Blues Experiments
  • Joshua from Twin Cities, MnFleetwood Mac also covered this song, very early in their career (1967 or so, long before Stevie Nicks or Lindsey Buckingham entered the picture), under the title "I Believe My Time Ain't Long". Their rendition appears on their 1992 boxed set 25 Years: The Chain.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, Scthere's a website that contains the lyrics to Robert Johnson's version. It's http://www.deltahaze.com/johnson/lyrics.html. For the most part, both versions have very similar lyrics. If you want me to I could post the lyrics though. I have the website bookmarked.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScIt wasn't recorded in 1926 or 27. It was recorded in 1936 or 37 by Robert Johnson. I think his version is on King of the Delta Singers Volume 2, and I know it's on the Complete recordings. Btw, if you like 1930's blues, you'll love Johnson! He's incredible!! It's ashame he died so young.
  • Jarvis from Ranch Fer Boys, GaLillian McMurry was the aunt of Webb Wilder, Nashville/XM radio personality and Electrifying Artist.

    Sonny Boy Williamson's "Eyesight To The Blind" was also on the Trumpet label.
  • Sailor from San Antonio, TxI beleive "dusting the broom" is an allegory to "starting clean" or "starting over"
    He is using the broom as the symbol of the his life with the woman and now since she is cheating he is clean out the broom and moving on.
  • B from T., Canadaits not 50's slang, the original track was recorded by Robert Johnson in 1926 or 1927, and im not completely sure, but i think that it is slang for masturbation.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Booker T. Jones

Booker T. JonesSongwriter Interviews

The Stax legend on how he cooked up "Green Onions," the first time he and Otis Redding saw hippies, and if he'll ever play a digital organ.

Gary Louris of The Jayhawks

Gary Louris of The JayhawksSongwriter Interviews

The Jayhawks' song "Big Star" has special meaning to Gary, who explains how longevity and inspiration have trumped adulation.

Amy Grant

Amy GrantSongwriter Interviews

The top Contemporary Christian artist of all time on song inspirations and what she learned from Johnny Carson.

Song Cities

Song CitiesMusic Quiz

Nirvana, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen are among those who wrote songs with cities that show up in this quiz.

Justin Timberlake

Justin TimberlakeFact or Fiction

Was Justin the first to be Punk'd by Ashton Kutcher? Did Britney really blame him for her meltdown? Did his bandmates think he was gay?

Billy Steinberg - "Like A Virgin"

Billy Steinberg - "Like A Virgin"They're Playing My Song

The first of Billy's five #1 hits was the song that propelled Madonna to stardom. You'd think that would get you a backstage pass, wouldn't you?