Salty Dog Blues

Lyrics: Traditional/Morris Brothers
Music: Traditional/Morris Brothers

Played by Jerry Garcia with the Black Mountain Boys in March 1964, and before that by the Hart Valley Drifters in November 1962.

Thanks to Matt Scholfield for the lyrics from the Black Mountain Boys version:

I was standing on the corner with the low-down blues
Great big hole in the bottom of my shoes
Baby let me be your salty dog

Let me be your salty dog
Or I won't be your man at all
Honey let me be your salty dog

I was down in wild wood sitting on a log
Finger on the trigger and eye on hog
Honey let me be your salty dog

Let me be your salty dog
Or I won't be your man at all
Honey let me be your salty dog

Now look here Sal I know you
Run down stocking and a worn-out shoe
Honey let me be your salty dog

Let me be your salty dog
Or I won't be your man at all
Honey let me be your salty dog

I pulled the trigger and the gun said go
Shot fell over in Mexico
Honey let me be your salty dog

Let me be your salty dog
Or I won't be your man at all
Honey let me be your salty dog

Now let me be your salty dog
Or I won't be your man at all
Honey let me be your salty dog
Roots
The origins of this song are unclear, although the bluegrass version that Jerry Garcia sang was based on the Morris Brothers' version, later popularised by Flatt and Scruggs

The term "salty dog" crops up in various old blues and jazz songs. The first recorded version seems to have been by Papa Charlie Jackson in 1924. He also recorded it with Freddie Kappard and his Jazz Cardinals in 1926 with lyrics:
Scaredest I ever been in my life
Uncle Bud like like to caught me kissing his wife
You salty dog
Oh mama, you salty dog

God made a woman, he made her mighty funny
Made lips around her mouth, sweeter than honey
You salty dog
Oh mama, you salty dog
Other verses from around that time include:
I raise my dress up to my knees
Show my legs to who I please
'Cause I'm a salty dog
Sweet mama, salty dog

Oh you low down woman
Oh you low down woman
Let me be your low down salty dog
and:
My name is Liz from New Orleans
And I'm the last of the red hot queens
Ooh, I'm a salty dog

Salty dog, salty dog
I don't wanna be your babe at all
I just wanna be your salty dog
Mississippi John Hurt recorded a later version along much the same lines as Jackson:
Hey hey, you salty dog
Hey hey hey, you salty dog

Said, the little fish, big fish swimmin' in the water
Come back, man, and gimme my quarter
Hey hey hey, you salty dog

Said, the scaredest I ever was in my life
Uncle Bud like to caught me kissin' his wife
Hey hey, you salty dog

Says, God made woman, made 'em mighty funny
The lips 'round her mouth, just as sweet as any honey
Hey hey, you salty dog
Hey hey, you salty dog
Hey hey hey, you salty dog
The Morris Brothers wrote their version in 1935, seemingly independently of the earlier blues versions - though they may have taken what was a public domain song, modified it and copyrighted it as their own. According to Wiley Morris, "Back when we were kids down in Old Fort we would see a girl we liked and say 'I'd like to be her salty dog.'" Zeke Morris had a different version of the origins: ""I got the idea when we went to a little old honky tonk just outside of Canton. ... We got in there after the show and got to drinking that beer and playing the slot machines with nickels, dimes and quarters. I think we hit three or four jackpots. ... The name of that place was the Salty Dog, and that's where I got the idea for the song.

The Morris Brothers version became a bluegrass standard, recorded by Flatt and Scruggs in 1951 and by many others. It is that version that seems to be the origin of what Jerry Garcia played with the Black Mountain Boys. The lyrics that Garcia sang were essentially identical to the main Flatt and Scruggs version - though they did at times sing additional lyrics such as:
I got a gal, she's ten feet tall
Sleeps in the kitchen with her feet in the hall
Honey, let me be your salty dog

Oh there ain't but one thing grieves my mind
All the good looking women ain't none of them mine
Honey, let me be your salty dog