Today's guest writer is Preston Lauterbauch, editor of the Backroads Of American Music, a wonderful new website featuring musicians, venues, and music history "off the beaten path". Additionally, he writes full-time for Memphis magazine and the Memphis Flyer.
I first encountered Preston via his blog The Memphis Sound: Lost And Found. Considering my affinity for Southern soul and blues, I was immediately taken by Preston's tireless dedication to preserving the history of the artists and nearly forgotten landmarks of the Memphis music scene. His efforts are nothing short of heroic, and through my correspondence with him, I have learned that he and his wife Elise are two of the kindest and most genuine people you'd ever have the good fortune to get to know.
When I started the guest series, Preston was one of the first people I invited to get on board. His first instinct was to do a piece on Marvin Sease, an artist he greatly admires and has interviewed in the past. I asked Preston to be creative with the content of his submission, and suffice it to say that he didn't take his task lightly. Anyone who can write an article about a song that celebrates the joys of oral sex and make it sound, well...scholarly...deserves your full attention and respect. Your education on the essential things in life begins now, soul children...Scholar
In order to recognize a song about cunnilingus as an artistic pinnacle, we may have to reconsider a few things. For starters, what qualifies as art and what counts as history.
Of the great chitlin’ circuit singers — Johnnie Taylor, Denise LaSalle, Tyrone Davis, Bobby Rush, Millie Jackson, Benny Latimore and Little Milton Campbell, among many others — Marvin Sease is the most daring and inventive lyricist. His titles stand out among the love songs, and love on the side songs that populate the genre, including “I Made You a Woman,” “Ghetto Man,” “Condom on Your Tongue,” and “The Bitch Git It All.” His masterpiece is one of the greatest overlooked pieces of 20th century American music, “Candy Licker.”
I compare “Candy Licker” to the American novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1851 story Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Spanish artist Francisco Goya’s 1814 painting The Third of May, 1808. All are singular, iconic works that transcend their media — Uncle Tom’s Cabin is more than just a novel, no? — and speak to eternity from their time, place and circumstances in human history.
But “Candy Licker” is unlike the other masterpieces in at least two significant ways. It isn’t considered art. Its distinctive circumstances — those of the chitlin’ circuit — aren’t recognized as history. Marvin Sease would like to discuss this.
To hear Sease talk about the song’s genesis — “It came to me in a dream,” he explains — and to listen to the lyrics, in which he tackles the taboo of eating pussy, is to know that the artist and his surroundings deserve greater recognition.
Sease was a 39-year-old gospel singer when the song stirred him from sleep. He flipped on a light, grabbed a pencil and notepad, and scribbled the lyrics down in a hurry. “After I wrote down the words, I kept asking myself all night, ‘What is candy licker? Candy lick what?’ I called my best friend over to listen, and he said, ‘What is this?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I think it’s a good song. There’s something about it.’ He said, ‘Marvin, you’ve lost your mind. Women will hate you the rest of your life. Throw that shit in the garbage.’”
As is usually the case with divinely inspired works, the art challenged the artist’s sensibility. “My friend said, ‘Marvin, so what is the meaning behind this song?’ Then it hit me one morning,” Sease explains. “You’re talking about oral sex. And I said, ‘Oh God, no, I won’t release nothing like that.’”
But the song wouldn’t leave Sease alone. He grappled with what it might indicate about his spirit. “So I called my pastor up and we had a long talk,” Sease says. “He really understood what I was doing.”
And an earthy pastor was he. “I didn’t get his blessings,” Sease continues, “but he said, ‘Do what worldly people would do. I think it will sell. I don’t think women will hate you. Worldly women will love you for this.’”
Thus emboldened, the artist created. “I decided that I was gonna record it and take a chance,” Sease says.
“I had ‘Candy Licker’ out on my label, Early Records, in ’86. I was selling ‘Candy Licker’ on a cassette tape out of the trunk of my car for $6. It was picked up by Polygram in ’87 and re-released. When Polygram put it out on record it was like my life blew up.”
For those of you who don’t know the song [and haven’t clicked the mp3 track yet] a lyrical excerpt may enlighten. A little set-up first, though.
Apparently, African-American men have not always looked upon oral sex favorably. At least, not in a giving sense. The phrase “down-low brother” — in 1985 — might have applied just as well to the few who went down on their ladies. This practice, like closeted homosexuality, was publicly denied if discussed at all.
Enter Sease, in the guise of “Jody” the romantic anti-hero of the chitlin’ circuit, who came along in WWII to please the wives of overseas servicemen, and hung on after the war to slip in the backdoor and out a window while hard-working breadwinners assembled automobiles and ginned cotton. Jody’s name was first chanted in march cadences during WWII. He later appeared in Jimmy Coe and His Gay Cats of Rhythm’s “Run Jody Run” (1953), Johnny Taylor’s “Jody Got Your Girl and Gone” (1971), among others.
Sease channels Jody to liberate men and lick women. He turns the taboo on its head. Late in his 10 minute tour de force Sease sympathizes with men he outs.
“Yeah, I used to be like that — ashamed to go down. You know what I once said? 'I ain’t puttin’ that shit in my mouth'. But I got hip."
The track begins:
"I’m not ashamed no more.
I wanna do the thing,
that your lover never did before, girl.
Baby let me be, mm-hmm, your candy licker…
I wanna make you feel good, like your lover should.
I wanna lick you till you cum…"
The song rivals Loretta Lynn's “The Pill” as an anthem of far-reaching (I considered the phrase “deeply penetrating”) sexual liberation. Naturally, such bold steps incur some backlash. The whole of a society is not typically prepared to join the revolution. “In the beginning a lot of black men hated my gizzard,” Sease says. “I think there were a few blacks doing it, it was mostly a white thing, but it was all under the table. Nobody wanted no one to know that they was going down on their woman.”
As his pastor foresaw, though, Sease immediately won over half the population.
I wanna talk to you about most mens
When most mens cum, you know what?
You think he give a damn whether you cum?...
All they wanna do is go to sleep,
Or smoke a cigarette."
“When I did the song,” Sease says, “it was as if I had millions of licenses to mail to every home and say, ‘It’s alright to eat pussy.’”
Or, as he preaches in one of the song’s many spoken passages:
"One day my lady told me,
‘Marvin, you better get your shit together…’
And girl, I started to go down."
Having dispensed with the candy-licking stigma, Sease now uses the song to break down more barriers.
“There’s a gimmick that I use in my show most of the time, where I say, ‘You know there’s an old rumor that some blacks hate white people.’ I say, ‘Next motherfucker I hear talks about how he hate a white man, I’m ‘on kick his ass. How in the fuck can you hate somebody that taught you how to do something that’s so damn good, that every man in America— white and black— love to do. They taught us something good! You gotta eat coochie nowadays.’”
“Now, you could walk down any street and see a woman, and some man say, ‘Hey baby, let me be your candy licker, I’d love to be your candy licker.’ Women even say, ‘no baby, let me be your candy licker.’ It’s become a household word,” Sease says.
With a little luck, and if the elevation of consciousness and acceptance that Sease’s art creates can affect the music-loving American public at-large, perhaps his name will become household words someday, too.
"Candy Licker"---Marvin Sease (zShare)
"Candy Licker"---Marvin Sease (savefile)
Word From Preston's Moms:
"The blues is something that leads you, that lays on your mind. You got to go where it leads you. When I was young I'd sit around and play the blues, and sometimes it would put me in mind of of someplace else. I'd always follow it. I'd get up and go wherever it took me. And everywhere the blues took me was home."---David "Honeyboy" Edwards