Places In Blues History

As part of our Places in Blues History, here is a page about Merigold, Mississippi and Charley Patton’s 1929 recording Tom Rushen Blues.

The 2010 U.S. Census shows the population of Merigold, Mississippi as 439. For more 2010 U.S. Census data on Merigold, Mississippi, click here. For 2010 U.S. Census data on Bolivar County, Mississippi, click here.

For Blues fans, Merigold, Mississippi is of interest as the location which Charley Patton sang about in his song, Tom Rushen Blues. The name of the song should be Tom Rushing Blues; Paramount Records transcribed the name of the song incorrectly when Patton recorded it in 1929.

Here is a YouTube video of Charley Patton’s Tom Rushen Blues:

Charley Patton was actually singing about Tom Rushing, who was elected sheriff of Merigold in 1928 and served in that office until 1932. Given Charley Patton’s importance in the history of the Delta Blues, we think there should be a Mississippi Blues Trail marker in Merigold to commemorate its association with Charley Patton and the fact that Charley Patton recorded a song which specifically mentions people from the town. There is a Mississippi Blues Trail marker in Merigold, Mississippi commemorating Po’ Monkey’s but it doesn’t mention Charley Patton or Tom Rushen Blues.

There are no Mississippi Department of Archives and History markers in Merigold. We have contacted the Mississippi Blues Trail and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to suggest that they erect markers in Merigold about Charley Patton and Tom Rushen Blues.

Here’s an audio clip of a Document Records release of Charley Patton’s 1929 recording of Tom Rushen Blues.

Here’s the Charley Patton lyric for Tom Rushen Blues:

“Laid down last night, hopin I would have my peace, eee
I laid down last night, hopin I would have my peace, eee
But when I woke up, Tom Rushen was shakin’ me.
When you get in trouble,
it’s no use to screamin and cryin’, hmm
When you get in trouble,
it’s no use to screamin and cryin’, hmm
Tom Rushen will take you, back to the prison house flyin’
It were late one night, Halloway was gone to bed, hmm
It were late one night, Halloway was gone to bed, hmm
Mister Day brought whiskey taken from under Halloway’s head
An’ it’s boozy booze, now, Lord, to cure these blues
It takes boozy boo, Lord, to cure these blues
But each day seems like years in the jailhouse
where there is no boo’
I got up this mornin, Tom Day was standin’ around
I got up this mornin, Tom Day was standin’ around
If he lose his office now, he’s runnin’ from town to town
Let me tell you folksies just how he treated me
Let me tell you folksies just how he treated me
Aw, he caught me yellin, I was drunk as I could be.”

CD cover, Charley Patton Complete Recordings 1929-1934, a 5 CD box set on JSP Records
CD cover, Charley Patton Complete Recordings 1929-1934, a 5 CD box set on JSP Records

To explain the names and references in the song, Tom Rushing was the sheriff in Merigold from 1928 to 1932; Tom Day was either Rushing’s deputy sheriff or his predecessor as sheriff of Merigold. Tom Day apparently lost the 1928 election to Tom Rushing. This is apparently what Patton means with the line, “If he lose his office now, he’s runnin’ from town to town.”

“Halloway” was a local bootlegger who made illegal whisky. Patton’s line about “Mister Day brought whiskey taken from under Halloway’s head” apparently refers to the Sheriff’s seizure of illegal liquor from Halloway.

Here is the story of Tom Rushen Blues as told in the 1988 book, King Of The Delta Blues, by Stephen Calt and Gayle Dean Wardlow.

“An apparent arrest for drunkeness led him to concoct a sedate blues that smacks of an attempt to curry favor with the recently-installed high sheriff of Merigold, O.T. Rushing, who had assumed office in 1928 and would hold that position for the next four years:

Laid down last night, hopin’ I would have my peace
But when I woke up, Tom Rushin’ was shakin’ me

CD cover, The Best of Charlie patton, released on Yazoo Records
CD cover, The Best of Charlie Patton, released on Yazoo Records

Patton’s Merigold crony Willie (Have Mercy) Young recalled Rushing as a “right young law” who “wasn’t about twenty five years old” when Patton recorded the song (misconstrued by Paramount as Tom Rushen) in 1929. Like his brother, who worked as the book-keeper of Dockery’s plantation, he was renowned for his athletic prowess, which he turned to good account on his job. “He was a law who wouldn’t shoot you for nothin’,” Young said appreciatively, “I don’t care what you done: if you outrun him, he let you go.” As a new arrival in Merigold, Young tried to pit his legs against those of the towering Rushing (whom he took to be seven feet tall) after breaking a bowl upon a girlfriend’s head during a house “frolic” fracas: “He caught me: ‘Fella, don’t you know your legs aren’t fast?’ I said ‘I just didn’t know the town! But if I hadda knew the town you never woulda got me.’ I had three blocks on him . . . I said: ‘What’s the fine?’ He said ‘Five dollars, and go about your business.'” Patton’s song likewise pointed up the futility of flight from the fleet Rushing:

When you get in trouble, it’s no use go screamin’ and cryin’
Tom Rushin’ will take you, back to the prisonhouse flyin’

Instead of elaborating on his own confinement, Patton devoted three couplets to the doings of Rushing’s deputy, a man named Days, who had arrested one of his friends for bootlegging and apparently aspired to become sheriff:

It was late one night, Halloway was gone to bed
Mr. Day brought whiskey taken from under Halloway’s head

I got up this mornin’, Tom Day was standin’ around
If he lose his office here he’s runnin’ from town to town.

Of Days, Young said: “Mister Day was all right, but he wasn’t like Tom Rushin’. Mister Rushin’ was my man.”

To explore similarities between “Tom Rushen Blues” and Charley Patton’s 1934 recording, “High Sheriff Blues” about an incident in Belzoni, Mississippi, see our page on the Old Belzoni Jail in Belzoni, Mississippi. For more on Charley Patton and “Tom Rushen Blues,” here are some websites which you may find useful:

Merigold, Mississippi is a small town of between 400 to 500 people. We went into the Merigold Town Hall and asked whether the town had any information or any records of Tom Rushing, Tom Day or the town’s police records from the 1920s and 1930s. Nobody in the Town Hall had ever heard of Charley Patton, Tom Rushen Blues, Sherriff Tom Rushing or Tom Day and they had no written records from that time.

The Town Hall, Merigold, Bolivar County, Mississippi
The Town Hall, Merigold, Bolivar County, Mississippi

We asked whether there were any civic buildings from that era, like the town jail or police building, still standing. Nobody at the Merigold Town Hall could answer that question either.

Judging by the condition of its downtown, Merigold is going through hard economic times, and has been going through hard times for many years. Many of the downtown buildings are empty, boarded up and deteriorating. The photos below show some of the buildings in downtown Merigold.

Downtown buildings in Merigold, Mississippi. This was a drug store but it is now vacant.
Downtown buildings in Merigold, Mississippi. This was a drug store but it is now vacant.
Downtown buildings in Merigold, Mississippi
Downtown buildings in Merigold, Mississippi
Downtown buildings in Merigold, Mississippi
Downtown buildings in Merigold, Mississippi
Part of a downtown building in Merigold, Mississippi.
Part of a downtown building in Merigold, Mississippi.

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