Buttkickin’ Halloween Songs: “The Ghost of Smokey Joe” — Cab Calloway (1939)

You didn’t see me climb through the window
Nobody had to open that door
I just climb right through the wall and I want you one and all
To stand aside and let me have the floor

Take a look, I’m not such a stranger
Here’s a face you cokies all ought to know
You can tell me I’m not wanted, but the joint will still be haunted
‘Cause I’m the ghost of Smokey Joe…

Ah here we are, a chance meeting with a legendary figure of purely American imagination, of jazz and blues and Cotton Club folklore.

The inimitable Smokey Joe.

As popularized by Cab Calloway in a host of classic big-band jazz numbers, Smokey Joe was a player, smoother than silk and (allegedly) richer than Midas… but he was also a coke-addled hustler who introduced the legendary Minnie The Moocher to Chinatown’s opium dens, leading to her eventual mental downfall.

Death spares no man, not even good old Smokey Joe, and I’m sure his exit was anything but peaceful, but here he is, back for more scat fun with The Ghost of Smokey Joe, and Cab Calloway is there to bring us along for the ride.

This is 30s big band jazz at its most iconic; we are talking Cab Calloway, after all. And he’s having the time of his life regaling us with a tale of Smokey Joe, still a Harlem King even in the afterlife. Joe returns as a spirit, floating through walls to spook the hell out of his fellow “cokies” (who seem understandably shocked to see him), starts in with a bit of self-aggrandizing because even his coffin oozed money and style, and then expresses surprise to learn that Minnie kicked the opium habit.

Oh well. With a shrug and a laugh, it’s time for Joe to take his leave. He’s due back in Hell, you see, where even there he’s got a sweet ride, a cool mansion, and a hot date waiting for him.

And that, my friends, is the tale and the legend of The Ghost of Smokey Joe.

Yes, I remember Minnie
She’s that frail I never found
You mean to say that Minnie
Quit kickin’ the gong around?

I got a date on my estate down in Hades
Call my chariot so I can go
And should The Moocher walk in
Just tell her you’ve been talkin’
To the ghost of Smokey Joe…

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