Stavin Chain

Brian Ellis initially suggested this in his 1st e-mail to me:

"I believe a stavin' chain is an appliance used to keep a man from premature ejaculation; presumably the woman pulls on this noose-like device to keep her man from cumming before she does...

--BBQ Bo"

I had my doubts so I requested some "hard" evidence. Here is what Brian came up with in his 2nd e-mail to me:

"Dear Harry,

Yes, I think it's good that you double check my definition. It is, after all, only conjecture, based on years of exposure to blues music & lyrics, as well as black american culture in general (and a vivid imagination). But come on, Harry, your present definition does little to shed any light on the meaning, or roots of the term. Yeah, we all know that there are a million phrases to hint at sex, but a definition, "I suspect this means getting some"? That sounds real authoritative!

If you're looking for songs whose lyrics contain the phrase, try Whinin' Boy (1938) by Jelly Roll Morton:

I'm a whinin' boy, don't deny my name
Whinin' boy don't deny my name
I'm a whinin' boy, don't deny my name
I can pick it up and shake it like a stavin' chain
Whinin' boy, don't deny my name

Pick what up? How? With a stavin' chain? Or like one? "Shake it" is pretty straight-forward (shake that thing, shake your money maker, etc.), but "stavin' chain" ? Another clue to the possible meaning is in Lil Johnson's Stavin' Chain (1937):

Stavin' Chain was a man of might
He saved up his money
Just to ride all night
You can't ride
You can't ride this train
I'm the chief engineer
Gonna run it like a stavin' chain

Now, with all due respect to Charlie Hardin, sounds there may be a little more to it than just "getting some". Yes, I'm sure that has something to do with it, but I think you might want to look into it a little further ( I tried to... ) Having performed in bands that played both of these tunes at one time or, some years ago I looked through slang dictionaries, American regional dialect dictionaries, dictionaries of vulgarisms and double-entendre, and I came up empty. One thing that did occurred to me, though, and led me to my present conjecture, was that in the process of barrel making (an industry which was widespread in those days), heat was used to soften wooden staves, and a chain was used to cinch them to the point where a ring could be hammered over the ends. This seems like a likely candidate for the original source of the term, but how to get from there to the sexual connotation? The first song I ever heard with the reference (and the earliest I've found in my collection) was Lil Johnson's hokum tune quoted above, and the fact that it was a woman singing it led me to make the leap to the analogous sexual aid I mentioned in my last note to you. I must admit I was a little surprised with your response! Does it sound so far-fetched? Some people do (and probably always have done) far stranger things to get their jollies! I've heard that such devices do exist, although I'm happy to say I've never given anyone a reason to want to use one on me....Or, perhaps it just refers to the chain used in barrel making, something strong and vaguely phallic, who knows? But it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who cares about such arcane stuff...

(Brian Ellis)

P.S. I've got a bunch of blues lyrics in MS Word format which I could send you, in that format or another, if you'd like a contrubution to your millenial effort. Just let me know.

Many thanks to Brian Ellis for his suggestions!

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