Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blues Word of the Day - Balling the Jack

ball(ing) the jack

1 - origin: balling the jack is a phrase from the jargon of railroadsmen in the beginning of this century in America and simply means going at top speed (highballing). The "jack" is the locomotive and "ballin'" means to work fast or get rollin'. Balling the jack (and variants like balling or having a ball) later acquired other, non-railroad related meanings like having a wild good time (drinking), to move quickly, going flat out, dancing, having sex and in gambling circles of risking everything on a single throw of the dice or turn of a card and in general use risking everything on one attempt or effort.
Following visitor contributed information confirms these meanings:

2 - metaphor for having sex, see also balling the jack and grinding. Dave Vanderslice says: "Means literally: use a jack hammer, but also to have sex." Thanks to Dave Vanderslice for his contribution to the list;

3 - name of a once popular dance, dancestep. Gray "Grayotis" Martin writes: "Ball the Jack---also likely a juke joint dance, with a reference to the act of sexual intercourse. "Ball" in verb form, is a slang word for sex, in white and black lingo. Thanks to Gray Martin for this contribution;
Southern Louisiana's John "JohnnyB" Bradford says: "The "eagle rock" and "ball and the jack" are 1940's dance moves. Thanks to John "JohnnyB" Bradford for this contribution to the list;

This phrase can be found in:
Bessie Smith, Baby Doll & St. Louis Blues, Big Bill Broonzy, I Feel So Good



Notes from YouTube;

Brenda Lee covered Ballin' the Jack on her first album entitled "Grandma, What Great Songs You Sang!" (Later renamed "Brenda Lee Sings Songs Everybody Knows") . She was a Judy Garland fan and I suspect this cover came about because the song was in "For me and My Gal" (1942) starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.

(J. Barris - C. Smith)

Well you put your two knees close up tight,
And then you swing them to the left
You swing them to the right.
Step around the floor kind of nice and light.
And then you twist around and
Twist around with all your might.
Shake your loving arms way out in space,
Then you do the Eagle Rock with the style and grace.
Swing your foot way round then you bring it back.
That's what I call Ballin' The Jack.

Well you put your two knees close up tight,
And then you swing them to the left
You swing them to the right.
Step around the floor kind of nice and light.
And then you twist around and
Twist around with all your might.
Shake your loving arms way out in space,
Then you do the Eagle Rock with the style and grace.
Swing your foot way round then you bring it back.
That's what I call Ballin' The Jack.

The song was written in 1913, before modern jazz. Its structure, however, lends itself to jazz, blues and pop adaptations. The lyric merely describes dance movements. Modern songs have used the term "ballin' the jack" in other contexts, including sexual, but originally it was just railroad repair term. A ball was jacked against a rail in order to straighten the rail. The original writers must have thought the phrase catchy enough to start a dance craze.

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