XTRAS: Tamales & Music

In January 1928 Rev. Moses Mason recorded four gospel songs and two sermons for Paramount. On the same recording were two secular songs by the reverend but credited to Red Hot Ole Mose. One of those songs was “Molly Man,” a song about hot tamales. A native of Louisiana, Rev. Mason recorded the song in Chicago.

A better-known hot tamale song is attributed to the legendary Delta bluesman and Mississippi native Robert Johnson. The song “They’re Red Hot” was one of the sixteen songs Johnson recorded in San Antonio in 1936.

Both songs, as well as the men who recorded them, further complicate the origins of tamale tradition in the Mississippi Delta. What the “Molly Man” recording illustrates, though, is that hot tamales were popular in the South—and perhaps even Chicago—before the Great Depression.

Today, hot tamales are served and sung about in clubs and juke joints throughout the Delta. In fact, fried hot tamales are served alongside true Delta Blues just about every weekend at Ground Zero in Clarksdale.

On August 26, 2011, a ceremony was held in front of Joe’s Hot Tamale Place in Rosedale, MS, to unveil marker #138 on the Mississippi Blues Trail: Hot Tamales and The Blues. This is the first culinary marker in the state of Mississippi.

Below you will find an excerpt from Rev. Moses Mason’s “Molly Man,” as well as the complete lyrics to Robert Johnson’s “They’re Red Hot.”


MOLLY MAN

by Rev. Moses Mason, recorded in 1928

Two for a nickel, four for a dime
Thirty cents a dozen, and you’ll sure eat fine

I can judge by the way you walk
You gonna carry half a dozen off

Good times is comin’, don’t you see the sign?
White folks standin’ round here, spendin’ many dimes

‘Males so hot, just burns my hand
So that I can hardly get ‘em out of my can


THEY’RE RED HOT

by Robert Johnson, recorded in 1936
© (1978) 1990, 1991 Lehsem II, LLC/Claud L. Johnson
Administered by Music & Media International, Inc.
Lyrics reprinted with permission

Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
I got a girl, say she long and tall
She sleeps in the kitchen with her feets in the hall
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale, I mean
Yes, she got’em for sale, yeah

Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
She got two for a nickel, got four for a dime
Would sell you more, but they ain’t none of mine
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale, I mean
Yes, she got’em for sale, yes, yeah

Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
I got a letter from a girl in the room
Now she got something good she got to bring home soon, now
Its hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got em for sale, I mean
Yes, she got’em for sale, yeah

Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got em for sale
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got em for sale
(spoken: They’re too hot boy!)
The billy got back in a bumble bee nest
Ever since that he can’t take his rest, yeah
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes you got’em for sale, I mean
Yes, she got’em for sale

Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
(spoken: Man don’t mess around em hot tamales now
‘Cause they too black bad, if you mess around em hot tamales
I’m gonna upset your backbone, put your kidneys to sleep
I’ll due to break away your liver and dare your heart to beat bout my)
Hot tamales cause they red hot, yes they got em for sale, I mean
Yes, she got em for sale, yeah

Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
You know grandma loves them and grandpa too
Well I wonder what in the world we children gonna do now
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale, I mean
Yes she got’em for sale

Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
Me and my babe bought a V-8 Ford
Well we wind that thing all on the runnin’ board, yes
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale, I mean
Yes she got’em for sale, yeah

Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
(spoken: They’re too hot boy!)
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes, now she got em for sale
You know the monkey, now the baboon playin’ in the grass
Well the monkey stuck his finger in that old ‘Good Gulf Gas’, now
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale, I mean
Yes she got’em for sale, yeah

Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
I got a girl, say she long and tall
Sleeps in the kitchen with her feets in the hall
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale, I mean
Yes she got’em for sale, yeah