"Keep A-Knockin" was a R&B/Pop hit for Little Richard in 1957. It's become a Rock classic.
The origin and history of the song is fascinating. On Little Richard's recording, composer credit was given to R. Penniman (Little Richard). But in an interview, Little Richard credited Perry Bradford as the author of the song: “Everything happens for a reason. Who knew that the style Perry was developing in the twenties would lead to Rock and Roll?”
And indeed, Bradford did copyright the song in 1940. At least, he copyrighted his version of an existing song.
When Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five recorded the song as "Keep A-Knockin'" in 1939 (Decca 7609) (SEE FURTHER ON IN THIS PAGE) the single's credits listed "Mays-Bradford" (Bert Mays and Perry Bradford).
There were several versions of "Keep A-Knockin'" prior to 1940 — in many genres, including Barrelhouse, Blues, Jazz, Hokum, Western Swing, and Jump Blues . Several artists claimed authorship to this song (at least to the words) when new lyrics were added or modified. This practise was undoubtedly encouraged (if not instigated) by their publishers, who would share equally in the royalties.
The origin of the lyrics is possibly Howard Odum, who collected this song before 1909 as "I Couldn't Git In", with lyrics including "I Keep A Rappin' On My Woman's Do'" and "I got my all-night trick, baby, An' you can't git in"; see this 1911 article in the Journal Of American Folk-Lore.
Song #34 on page #283.
Another origin was "Bawdyhouse Blues" written in New Orleans about 1912.
I hear you knockin', but you can't come in
I got an all-night trick again
I'm busy grindin' so you can't come in
The original melody evolved from second theme of "Long Lost Blues" published in 1914 by J. Paul Wyer and H. Alf Kelley.
In 1929 Alura Mack recorded a version of "Long Lost Blues".
Released on Gennett 6964 and Supertone 9530.
A few months earlier Alura also recorded her version of "I'm Busy, You Can't Come In".
Listen here: (the "Keep A Knockin" theme begins at 53 seconds)
A year later this theme was also part of the blues medley: "A Bunch Of Blues", also written by J Paul Wyer and H Alf Kelley.
After J Paul Wyer had moved to Chicago in 1913, he and H. Alf Kelley started writing songs together. Their first collaborative effort, "The Long Lost Blues", was arranged by Will Dorsey and published by the Chicago Musical Bureau in 1914. Included on the cover was an inset photograph of Ben Harney, by whom the song was said to have been "Successfully Introduced" in mainstream vaudeville.
In 1915, Wyer and Kelley published their second effort, an instrumental medley entitled "A Bunch of Blues". It strung the chorus of "String Beans Blues" and "Ship Wreck Blues" together with “The Long Lost Blues" (with the "Keep A Knockin" theme).
When W.C. Handy's band made its first commercial recordings in New York City during the fall of 1917, "A Bunch Of Blues" was one of the featured compositions.
Listen here: (the "Keep A Knockin" theme is almost at the end of the song)
In 1916 the "Bunch Of Blues" medley was recorded by pianist W.G. Haenschen and drummer T.T. Schiffer, but their medley didn't contain the "Keep A Knockin" theme.
The "Long Lost Blues" theme was a variation of "Bucket's Got a Hole in It", a motif that also appears in several versions of "Keep A-Knockin'".
“The Bucket's Got a Hole in It” was initially recorded as such on June 25, 1927 by a white Minneapolis band led by saxophonist Tom Gates, on Gennett 6184, Champion 15305 and Challenge 355.
This version credits Lee N. Blevins and Victor Sells (resp. trombone and trumpetplayer in the Tom Gates Orchestra
But a black New Orleans band led by cornetist Louis Dumaine had recorded a jazzier version of the same tune on March 7, 1927 under the title “To-Wa-Bac-A-Wa", on Victor 20723.
A similar melody is heard on "She's Crying for Me (Blues)" recorded twice in early 1925 by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings.
First on January 23, 1925 (released on Okeh 40327)
Then on March 26, 1925 (released on Victor 19645)
As I said above, J. Paul Wyer and H. Alf Kelley first used the “Bucket's Got a Hole in It” melody as part of their 1914 published composition “The Long Lost Blues.”
There are 3 known piano rolls in existance, which were most likely recorded before 1921.
|Long Lost Blues (The) (Kelley/Wyer)|
|QRS 100256||Performer: Harold Weber|
|QRS 32353||-||arranged by W. H. Dorsey|
But “Bucket's Got a Hole in It” has also been attributed to Buddy Bolden, which if true would date it to before 1906.
Some of the earliest recordings of this song-cluster were entitled "You Can't Come In".
In 1921, comic vaudevillians Miller and Lyles recorded "You Can't Come In" on the OKeh label (4428-B). Although a traditional song, composer credit was given to Miller-Lyles.
(o) (Flournoy) Miller and (Aubrey) Lyles (1921) (as "You Can't Come In")
Recorded August 29, 1921 in NYC
Released on Okeh 4428 as the B-side of Shelton Brooks "Darktown Court Room"
OKeh matrix S-70123. You can't come in / Miller & Lyles - Discography of American Historical Recordings
WANTED: A SOUNDFILE FOR MILLER AND LYLES' "YOU CAN'T COME IN"
(c) Sylvester Weaver (1924) (as "I'm Busy And You Can't Come In")
Recorded June 1, 1924 in New York City
He was credited as the composer on this recording.
There are several recordings from 1928, beginning with James "Boodle It" Wiggins
(c) James "Boodle It" Wiggins (1928) (as "Keep a Knockin' an You Can't Get In")
Recorded c. February 1928 in Chicago.
Released on Paramount 12662 and Broadway 5086 (as by "Boodle It" Williams)
(c) Irene Gibbons and Clarence Williams Jazz Band (1928) (as "I'm Busy And You Can't Come In")
Irene Gibbons (aka Eva Taylor) (vocal), Joe "King" Oliver (trumpet), Omer Simeon (clarinet), Clarence Williams (piano), Eddie Lang (guitar).
Recorded on September 18, 1928 in New York City .
Released on Columbia 14362-D
Bert Mays's record seems to have been the first to marry the melody of “Bucket's Got a Hole in It” to the lyrics of “You Can't Come In”.
It is Bert Mays' version that was covered by Louis Jordan in 1939 and that also inspired Little Richard to record the song.
(c) Bert M. Mays (1928) (as "You Can't Come In")
Bert Mays: vocal and piano
Recorded October 5, 1928 in Chicago.
Released on Vocalion 1223
(c) Tampa Red's Hokum Jug Band (1928) (as "You Can't Come In")
Recorded November 9, 1928 in Chicago.
Released on Vocalion 1237
(c) Alura Mack (1929) (as "I'm Busy, You Can't Come In")
Alura Mack, vocal
Herve Duerson, acc. piano
Recorded on February 28, 1929. in Richmond, IND.
Released on Gennett 6813 and Supertone 9426 (as by Sallie Taylor)
(c) Kokomo Arnold (1935) (as "Busy Bootin'")
Accompanying himself on slide guitar,
Recorded April 18, 1935 in Chicago.
Released on Decca 7139.
(c) Lil Johnson (1935) (as "Keep On Knocking")
Lil Johnson recorded "Keep On Knocking" to the approximate tune of "Bucket's Got a Hole in It" on July 27, 1935, with Black Bob Hudson on piano and Big Bill Broonzy on guitar.
Hudson's introduction is based on the one Bob Call used with Wiggins, but on the second verse Johnson sings “Kinda busy and you can't come in,” indicating a familiarity with Eva Taylor's version.
Lil Johnson's version was released in 1935 on Bluebird B-6112.
and in 1939 on B-8251.
Listen to a sample here:
In 1937, Lil Johnson recorded it's precursor "Bucket's Got a Hole in It".
(c) Milton Brown & His Brownies (1936) (as "Keep a Knockin'")
Recorded March 5, 1936 Roosevelt Hotel, New Orleans, LA -
Milton Brown [vcl], Derwood Brown [gt], Ocie Stockard [banjo], Bob Dunn [steel], Wanna Coffman [bass], Cecil Brower [fiddle], Cliff Bruner [fiddle], Fred Calhoun [piano])
Released on Decca 5251 (Milton Brown is credited as the composer of this version).
(c) Bob Wills (1938) (as "Keep Knocking (But You Can't Come In")
Bob Wills, f/sp; Jesse Ashlock, f; Charles Laughton, t/cl/s; Everett Stover, t; Zeb McNally, s; Leon McAuliffe, esg/ v; Al Stricklin, p; Sleepy Johnson, tbj; Eldon Shamblin, g; Joe Ferguson, sb/; Smokey Dacus, d;
Recorded in Dallas, TX on May 16, 1938
Released on Vocalion and Okeh 04184, Conqueror 9070.
Re-released in 1947 on Columbia 37629 and 20228
(c) Louie Jordan and his Tympany Five (1939)
On March 29, 1939, Louie Jordan and his Tympany Five recorded a Jump Blues version.
Released on Decca 7609.
Composer credit was assigned Bert Mays-Perry Bradford.
(c) Gene Austin with Les Paul and rhythm accompaniment (around 1948) (as "Keep A Knockin'")
Listen to Gene and Les on the next link:
(c) Little Richard (1957) (as "Keep A Knockin'").
On January 16, 1957 Little Richard recorded the most famous version, an R&B version of "Keep A Knockin'", which reached he #2 spot on the R&B Charts.
Composer credit was given as R. Penniman (Little Richard).
In the wake of Little Richard's version, "Keep A-Knockin'" has been recorded by many Rock 'n' Roll artists.
(c) Everly Brothers (1958)
(c) Johnny Rivers 1965
(c) Fleetwood Mac (1970)
(c) Mott the Hoople (1971)
(c) Suzi Quatro (1974)
(c) Alan Price (1980)
(c) Blasters (1982)
The song was also performed by group of artists including Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Tina Turner at the 1st International Rock Awards (1989) on May 31, 1989 in New York City
More versions here:
"Keep A-Knockin'" prompted an answer song: "I Hear You Knocking", recorded in many versions, including those of Smiley Lewis and Gale Storm, both in 1955 .