Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, was written in 1923 by Jimmy Cox. The great Bessie Smith recorded it in 1929 and had a big hit with the song. Not surprisingly, the song soon became associated with the great Wall St. crash of ’29, as it tells of a riches to rags reversal of fortune. That’s how it goes on the stock market, and that’s how it goes in life. Things go up and and things go down.
In this song, Bessie Smith was talking about a woman being penniless and down and out. And it’s a great truth: Nobody does know you when you’re down and out. So, may you have the best of fortune. And keep on the sunny side, my friends.
The song has been covered by Count Basie, Louis Jordan, Leadbelly, Eric Clapton, and a host of others. It’s considered a “quintessential blues song”, but, to me, it’s more of a ragtime song with a great (OK, pretty bluesy) lyric. Bessie Smith’s rendition is the definitive version of this song – as are her renditions of so many of these songs. Definitely you should check out Bessie Smith when you can. Meanwhile check out me and Preston playing it the other nite.
P.S. Here it is again from a month later
Spending my money, I didn’t care
I carried my friends out for a good time
Buying bootleg liquor, champagne and wine
I didn’t have a friend, and no place to go
So if I ever get my hand on a dollar again
I’m gonna hold on to it till them eagle’s grin
In my pocket not one penny
And my friends I haven’t any
But If I ever get on my feet again
Then I’ll meet my long lost friend
It’s mighty strange, without a doubt
Nobody knows you when you down and out
When you’re down and out.
In your pocket, not one penny,
And as for friends… you don’t have many.When you get back on your feet again,
Everybody wants to be your long-lost friend.
I said it straight without any doubt,
Nobody knows you,
Nobody knows you,
Nobody knows you when you’re down and out.