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HE MAY BE YOUR DOG, BUT HE’S WEARING MY COLLAR Recorded by: Rosa Henderson 10/26/1923 – New York, New York: Vocalion I’m not ashamed to say what’s in my heart I’m not ashamed -- to say what’s in my heart Because I know -- the best of friends must part You came to me -- you said my dog was yours You came to me -- you said my dog was yours I’m not ashamed -- to speak my mind because.... He may be your dog but he’s wearing my collar I’m putting you right He may be your dog but it’s me he’ll follow when he wants good exercise.... .....All day long -- you treat him right But you’ll find him at my house every night He may be your dog but he’s wearing my collar How you gonna keep him home? I’m not ashamed to say when I am wrong I’m not ashamed -- to say when I am wrong Because I know a lie can’t stand up long. Down in my home to lie is something strange Down in my home -- to lie is something strange That’s why I mean to tell you to your face He may be your dog but he’s wearing my collar I’m putting you right He may be your dog but it’s me he’ll follow when he wants good exercise He might eat right off your hand But you can’t make him beg like mamma can He may be your dog but he’s wearing my collar How you gonna keep him home? (piano interlude) He’s with you each night till six Then he comes over here and does his tricks He maybe your dog but he’s wearing my collar How you gonna keep him home? Commentary Rosa Henderson recorded the song “He May Be Your Dog But He’s Wearing My Collar” for Vocalion Records on October 26th 1923 in New York. My transcription comes from the version on the Red Hot Jazz website – www.redhotjazz.com. Henry Creamer accompanies Henderson on the piano. I’m not certain who wrote the song, but I think it might have been Henry Creamer. “He May Be Your Dog...” contains twelve stanzas. The stanzas vary from four lines to two lines and then back again. The stanzas appear to follow a sequence but I’m not certain of the significance yet. This song doesn’t follow a linear narrative; rather, the speaker makes one claim and then offers a litany of examples to support her claim. While many blues songs are from the perspective of the woebegone lover likening her man to a dog, “He May Be Your Dog...” is “the other woman’s” side of the story. Although it’s entirely possible that this song is in fact about two friends quarrelling over a pet dog, the alternative meaning if far more entertaining. The speaker is unapologetic and frank in admitting that ‘even the best of friends must part”. Unlike other songs in which women warn temptresses to stay away, in this song the listener gets a direct sense of the intimacy between the two women. In fact the speaker claims that she is only “putting [her friend] right”. The line “how you gonna keep him home”, because it is repeated so often, acts as a taunt or challenge to the other woman. The double meanings run throughout the song and the speaker builds on the imagery to reiterate her sense of ownership over the man. The collar signals authority and control; despite the other woman’s sense of (emotional) propriety, the speaker has full sexual control of the man. He, we’ll call him Rover, follows, begs, and “does his tricks” for the speaker. The song gives the impression that in this tripartite relationship, only the man is leading a double life while the two women are solidly grounded in their roles as the “owner” and the “other woman”. The speaker restates that she “is not ashamed to say” what she feels and means through out the song. While the song is about a triangular affair, it is also about the speaker’s sense of righteousness and pride in her thoughts and actions. My transcription contains some dashes (--). These indicate a pause in Henderson’s singing. The pauses go to the tune of the music, but if you are reading the lyrics as poetry, they act like enjambed lines. For example, the last line of the second stanza could be read as the fist half of the first line of stanza three. Where the transcription reads: “…when he wants exercise” / “all day long you treat him right”, the lines sound like: “when he wants exercise all day long”. I must confess that of all the songs I’ve looked at for these assignments, “He May Be Your Dog…” has felt the simplest in its message. Aside from the wonderfully amusing double entendres, the narrative is straightforward. In “He May Be Your Dog…” Henderson offers a lighthearted and sympathetic version of the other woman’s perspective. Henry Creamer (probably) Rosa Henderson (v), Henry Creamer (p), recorded by Vocalion Records, New York 26/10/1923 (Transcribed by Ms Pamela Molyneux - December 2011)

    


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