"Hand me my old guitar..."

The Annotated "Candyman"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
Kraemer Family Library, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Copyright notice
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission

Come all you pretty women
with your hair hanging down
Open up your windows 'cause
the Candyman's in town
Come on boys and gamble
Roll those laughing bones
Seven come eleven boys
I'll take your money home

Look out
Look out
The Candyman
Here he come
and he's gone again
Pretty lady ain't
got no friend
till the Candyman
come round again

I come in from Memphis
where I learned to talk the jive
When I get back to Memphis
be one less man alive
Good Mornin Mr. Benson
I see you're doin well
If I had me a shotgun
I'd blow you straight to Hell

Look out
Look out
The Candyman
Here he come
and he's gone again
Pretty lady ain't
got no friend
till the Candyman
come round again

Come on boys and wager
if you have got the mind
If you got a dollar boys
lay it on the line
Hand me my old guitar
Pass the whiskey round
Want you to tell everybody you meet
the Candyman's in town

Look out
Look out
The Candyman
Here he come
and he's gone again
Pretty lady ain't
got no friend
till the Candyman
come round again


Musical details: Recorded on

"Candyman" was debuted live on April 3, 1970, at the Field House, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio. It appeared in the middle, acoustic set of a three set show, following "Deep Elem Blues" and preceding "Wake Up Little Susie."

Since its debut, it has remained in the repertoire, appearing almost exclusively in the first set.

Deadlit topic number 85 on the WELL is about "Candyman," and contains several possible interpretations as to the identity of the protagonist.

Come all you...

A typical folk song opening, and in fact, a genre of folk songs is called "Come-all-ye's", which Alan Lomax, in Folk Song USA, says is a term synonymous with Irish street ballads. (p. 485)


According to Blair Jackson in The Golden Road:
"Another popular character in early 20th Century black music is the "Candyman," though most of the rural Southern tales about him are considerably more lascivious than Hunter's more involved story (e.g. 'He's got a stick of candy nine inches long,,' etc.)"

According to The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang:

"Candyman n. 1. CANDY KID 2.Narc. a seller of illicit drugs, esp. in capsule form.

Candy kid 2.a. a fellow who is lucky, successful, or held in high favor, esp. with women."

In other words, a nice, ambiguous term.

The Mississippi John Hurt version of the "Candy Man Blues" has these words:

"Well all you ladies gather 'round
That good sweet candy man's in town
It's the candy man
It's the candy man

He likes a stick of candy just nine inch long
He sells as fast a hog can chew his corn
It's the candy man...

All heard what sister Johnson said
She always takes a candy stick to bed

Don't stand close to the candy man
He'll leave a big candy stick in your hand

He sold some candy to sister Bad
The very next day she took all he had

If you try his candy, good friend of mine,
You sure will want it for a long long time

His stick candy don't melt away
It just gets better, so the ladies say" (The Blues Line, p. 229.)

roll them laughing bones

This note from a reader:
Subject: Insight on Candyman
Date: Wed, 23 Apr 1997 21:09:37 -0700
From: Tim Paulman

Hello David...

I was reading the lyrics to Candyman when the phrase "Roll those laughing bones" caught my attention...I remembered having read somewhere that dice used to be made out of bone. So I got on the web and went to a site that dealt with Anglo-Saxon entertainment. Here I found the following:

"Dice were made of antler for the most part, although examples of bone, walrus ivory and jet are also known. More perishable materials, such as wood and horn, were also likely to have been used. They were often rectangular, with the 1 and 2 on either end and the 3,4,5, and 6 on the four long sides. "--(Games of the Viking and Anglo-Saxon Age, by Ben Levick and Mark Beadle.)
While Hunter's allusion to dice is quite obvious, I never quite made the complete connection until now...

Thanks again for your time and deadication...
- Tim


The Oxford English Dictionary defines "jive" as
"talk or conversation; spec. talk that is misleading, untrue, empty, or pretentious; hence, anything false, worthless, or unpleasant."
The dictionary says that the origin of the word is unknown.

Mr. Benson

This is a character from the song "Midnight Special": "Sheriff Benson will arrest you..." if you go to Houston, the song warns. The sheriff in the song may have a historical basis in an actual sheriff, T.A. Binford, county sheriff of Harris County, Texas, from Dec. 1918 to Jan. 1, 1937. Indeed, Leadbelly sang "Binford",not "Benson" in his version of "Midnight Special."

Binford was involved in the infamous 1917 "mutiny" in Houston, as a colleague of Lee Sparks, who was city detective at the time of the incident. (Haynes, Robert V.: A Night of Violence: the Houston Riot of 1917. LSU Press, 1976.)

In James Lee Burke's excellent novel, Lost Get-Back Boogie, a character retorts: "Well, thanks, Mr. Benson,"which is an indication that the word is a synonym for "the man". In this sense, it is a similar appellation to Mr. Charlie, referred to in the song of the same title.

Hand me my old guitar...

Compare the opening line of the folk song, "F.D.R.'s Back Again": (via Digital Tradition) "Just hand me my old Martin" -- referring to a Martin guitar. (New Lost City Ramblers Song Book, p. 246.)
keywords: @gambling, @guitar, @alcohol
DeadBase code: [CAND]
First posted: March, 1995
Last revised: May 1, 1997