‘It’s Goin’ To Be Rainin’ Outdoors . . .’

Originally posted July 8, 2008

Many people of my generation – maybe most – first heard of “Come On In My Kitchen” from the snippet of the song that leads into “49 Bye Byes,” the closing song on the 1969 debut album of Crosby, Stills & Nash. That snippet, sung by – I think – Crosby in an odd, strained voice, is a little bit haunting, and for a few years, I wondered why that little snippet was stuck there, not imagining that there was a whole song out there somewhere for me to hear.

At least not until I heard Delaney & Bonnie’s To Bonnie From Delaney a few years later; the album includes a brief rendition of “Come On In My Kitchen” as part of a three-song medley. (“Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad” are the others.) As was the case in those days – before we knew what we now know – the song was credited to someone named Payne, as it was when Delaney & Bonnie recorded it for 1971’s Motel Shot.

I’m not sure who Payne is – someone out there in blogworld must know – but the song, of course, is one of the twenty-nine blues songs written by Robert Johnson during his brief life (1911-1938). During the blues revival of the 1960s and the blues-rock era that followed, most of the Robert Johnson songs performed by rock bands were credited to someone else, or to no one at all. When the Rolling Stones recorded “Love In Vain” for Let It Bleed, they credited the song to W. Payne; when they included it on the live Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out!, the song was labeled “traditional.”

These days, when one sorts through the list of recordings of “Come On In My Kitchen” at All-Music Guide, nearly all of them give writing credit to Robert Johnson. (Oddly enough, some of those that don’t are on compilations of Johnson’s own performances, a few of which give writing credit for the song to Blind Willie Johnson.) Without digging into the conundrum too deeply, I imagine that the credit for returning “Come On In My Kitchen” and the rest of Johnson oeuvre to the long-dead bluesman’s fold should go to Columbia Records and its 1990 release, Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings.

Johnson’s own version of “Come On In My Kitchen” (along with an alternate that was unreleased until 1990) was recorded in a room at San Antonio’s Gunter Hotel on November 23, 1936. That was one of three San Antonio sessions; the others were November 26 and 27. Johnson’s only other recording sessions took place in Dallas the following year, sessions on June 19 and 20, 1937, in the building at 512 Park Avenue.

The Park Avenue building is closed and awaiting its fate. I recently wrote about stopping there with the Texas Gal in December 2004. We stopped there again a little more than a year ago. During that 2007 trip, we also went to San Antonio, and our last bit of business during three days there was a stop at the Gunter Hotel, now the Sheraton-Gunter.

In the lobby, there’s a plaque detailing the historic significance of the recording sessions that took place at the Gunter. The plaque notes that musicians of all types recorded there, as recording companies frequently leased rooms to use as studios in cities far away from their offices, and it cites Johnson’s influences on blues and rock and notes his inclusion – as an influence – in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

There are also two framed displays in the Sheraton-Gunter Hotel lobby.

I went to the registration counter and spoke briefly with the young man on duty. No doubt others had asked the same question I did: Did the hotel know which room the American Record Company used as its studio during Thanksgiving Week, 1936?

He smiled and said the hotel registers for that year had been lost long ago. “It would be nice to know,” he said. “But we don’t.”

And then I asked a question that seemed to surprise him. Maybe it was the first time he’d heard it. I noted that in the Texas of 1936, it was unlikely that Robert Johnson would have been allowed to enter the hotel by its front door, due to the color of his skin. My informant nodded and said, “True enough.” And I asked him if he knew the location of the door through which Robert Johnson was allowed to enter the hotel.

He thought for a moment, then answered: “There’s a bar called McLeod’s,” he said. “Before remodeling, its front door was the back way into the hotel. That’s almost certainly the door that Robert Johnson would have used.”

As I headed back to the car, where the Texas Gal was waiting patiently, I went past the door to McLeod’s and stood once more where Robert Johnson had stood. Then I took some pictures and went on my way.

Here are three versions of “Come On In My Kitchen.” The first is by Robert Johnson and is the take that was issued on a 78 rpm record as Vocalion 3563, recorded November 23, 1936, in San Antonio.

The second is by Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett, recorded at A&R Studios in New York for a live broadcast on WPLJ-FM on July 22, 1971. The Bramletts are accompanied by Duane Allman on slide guitar and Sam Clayton on congas. The performance was included on Duane Allman: An Anthology, Vol. II, released in 1974.

The third version is by Chris Thomas King with James Cotton on harp. It comes from the album Hellhound on my Trail: Songs of Robert Johnson, a 2001 release.

Robert Johnson – Come On In My Kitchen [1936]

Delaney & Bonnie – Come On In My Kitchen [1971]

Chris Thomas King & James Cotton – Come On In My Kitchen [2001]

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