Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (Sept. 2004)
T-MODEL KNOWS BETTER
T-Model Ford is the 84-year-old self-styled “Boss of the Blues”, also known as The Taildragger. Every two months, Arthur calls up T-Model at his home in Greenville, Mississippi and asks some questions about matters concerning us our our readers. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from the fellas at Fat Possum, the Mississippi record label that releases T-Model’s all-bets-are-off blues albums (more info at fatpossum.com). If you’ve got questions for T-Model, and we suspect that you do, email ‘em to email@example.com
What is the best kind of food to have on a first date?
Fish, chicken, a little beef and a few pinto beans. When you’re eating, you’ve got to have something to lay to your ribs and you can stand up on it. When you’re ating this here junk, like potato chips and different stuff like that, it don’t lay too good. So, you get something you probably raised on. Then you can stand up stout. You can stand the pressure.
Why aren’t there more women who play the blues?
Wellll, that’s a bad question. And then there’s a good question. I figure the women are trying to take the man’s place. See what’s going on now, the women are liking other women! They ain’t got time to realize what they going through with. They not supposed to do that. We men are supposed to do that. But they taking the man’s place, now. They can’t stand up like a man. Like the police, they put women on the police force. Well when they go for a tough man, the women can’t handle ‘em! It’ll take another man to handle it. The Lord don’t like that kind of life, what the women doing. And the men doing it too! They wanna go and do a little of it. They can’t do it ALL. That’s what I say. I don’t know nobody else would know that, but I know. I can’t read, I can’t write, I can’t spell my name real good, but I got a good head on me.
But don’t you like to hear women sing?
Well, I like to hear em when they can do it right. Some of ‘em, they can’t do it right. Some of ‘em THINK they can do it right. There’s a lady here, I forget her name, but she’s a big heavy fine-looking lady, I like to hear her sing. She’s a fine-looking big woman. She doin’ a good thing. There’s not that many of them now. It’s like the old mens, they done died out. Blues will never fail out, but it’s failing.
What’s the difference between a boy and a man?
A man can drink straight whiskey, but a boy can’t.
If a woman doesn’t have much money, should she have a baby?
You don’t have to be rich. You have to have faith in yourself. You know what it costs to get a baby. You know what it costs to get without a baby. She gotta do like a grown woman. She can’t do like a girl. And she got to act as a grown woman.
You gotta have the father there, don’t you?
Yeah… Well, you can have the right father, or the right daddy. A mama can do good without, but it’s a mighty few that can raise children. See, if you have experience, you hereby can look at any baby and tell what it’s raised on: a bottle or the breast. You can tell the way it’s raised by the way it acts and looks. You take me, you don’t find them babies no more. I was raised on a sugar titty! You don’t know what that is. But I’m gonna tell you. You take a ball of butter, put it in a little rag, sprinkle some sugar on it and twist it up and get you a twine and wrap around the top of it. You make it like a titty. Leave it in long enough, you can hold it with your hand, put it in your mouth, and you suck it. You suck that butter and sugar out of that rag, just like you do a bottle, but you be more healthy. You won’t be sickly and puny. You’ll be a healthy baby. It’s better than a bottle. I was raised on it, I’m 84 years old now they’re telling me, and there ain’t none standing with me now.
Breast milk is the best. This is how come the young race is so wild, doing everything, cuz they raised on some other kind of milk—bear milk, cow milk, dog milk, monkey milk, any kind of animal milk. The meanest kind is a bramah bull. Your baby get that milk and the devil’s already in that cow! The devil’s already in that milk. A baby’s EVIL when they suckin’ on that bottle. You can take a baby when they’s laying there crying and going on and you bumpin’ em and shakin’ em, hush baby doll, he ain’t gonna hush. But you give him the right milk in that bottle, he’ll hush and lay there and go right to sleep. That’s the evil coming in him! Oh yes. Just like I tell you, any baby raised on a bottle, you know it. He’s evil, you can’t satisfy him with nothin’ you do.
I seen one or two white ladies have a baby, they gets something to hide behind to pull the breast out to let the baby suck a titty. You see that! When I was a baby coming up, they pull them titties out anywhere and give to their baby. But they don’t do that now.