I was first introduced to "Sticks" McGhee's song "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" years ago on one of the Carolina Beach Music compilations that I had. Unlike the other Beach Music songs, "Drinkin' Wine" had more of a flavor of the country or jump blues than the other material. For years it's been a favorite of mine, but only recently did I even think to look on the web to find out anything about the song.
"Sticks" McGhee's actual name was Granville Henry McGhee, and he was born in Knoxville, TN in 1917. He got his nickname when he used to push his older brother Brownie McGhee, who was stricken with polio as a child, around in a wagon piloted by a stick. By the year 1937, Brownie was performing with minstrel shows and would go on to a long recording career with many recordings being issued on Folkways records (now known as Smithsonian Folkways). In 1946, Brownie teamed up with "Sticks" to record the first version of "Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" for the minuscule label Harlem records.
The song itself was a cleaned up version of a song that "Sticks" was known for singing in the army. The original version contained these lyrics: "Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’wine! Goddam! Pass that bottle to me." In the first recorded version in 1946, naturally the cursing wasn't going to go over and the "motherfucker" was replaced with "spo-dee-o-dee" and the "goddam" with "bop, bop" or "hoi, hoi". This first version got little traction, but when "Sticks" re-recorded the song three years later in 1949 for Atlantic records it rose to Number 3 on the R & B charts. Since then the song has been covered by artists as diverse as Jerry Lee Lewis, Lionel Hampton, Mike Bloomfield's Electric Flag, and Kid Rock.
The only question that remains is what exactly is "Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee"? Well, there's a couple of schools of thought on that. One version I've heard is that it is a mixture of wines that poor folks would pour together into one bottle to pass around and drink. From the lyrics of the song this makes the most sense to me, but if you look up the term "spodi" it seems to refer to a party beverage made of assorted types of liquor with fruit soaking in it. I don't know about you folks, but around here that's made of Everclear, fruit slices, and Grape Kool-Aid with the moniker "Purple Jesus". So while I think that the term "spodi" does refer to a mixture of different alcohols, I feel certain that the former explanation is what "Sticks" was referring to.
After his hit, "Sticks" McGhee continued to record songs for Atlantic such as "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show" (later used as a title of a Goodie Mob album), "Let's Do It", and "Venus Blues", but his career never took off. After going through a variety of different labels, he retired from playing music in 1960 saying he had lost the passion for it. He passed away the very next year in 1961 of lung cancer, but if none of his other works have stood the test of time "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" is a song that retains its appeal due to the driving jump blues rhythm and party time feeling of the track. So pass that bottle on over to me and enjoy the Atlantic records version of "Sticks" famous song.