Comedian Rudy Ray Moore rose to ghetto fame in the 1970s by performing “toasts” – a kind of profane street poetry rooted in the criminal subculture.
But years before Mr. Moore recorded such classic toasts as “Dolemite” and “Pimpin’ Sam,” this peculiar oral tradition had captured the attention of white folklorists.
They documented toasts – some told by prison inmates back in the 1950s – in books such as “The Life: The Lore and Folk Poetry of the Black Hustler” and “Deep Down in the Jungle: Negro Narrative Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia.”
One such folklorist is Bruce Jackson (pictured), now a distinguished professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Jackson’s book on the subject – “Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me” – was originally published in 1974 by the Harvard University Press.
In 1998, Prof. Jackson released some of his field recordings on CD, under the same title. I am streaming one of his collected toasts on my Vox audio stash.
Click here to hear “Get In Out of the Rain,” a toast recited by the man who wrote it. In the book, his name is given as Peter. This was recorded in 1966 at the Wynne Prison Farm in Hunstville, Texas.
“Get In Out of the Rain” isn’t a criminal-minded toast. It’s an amusingly vulgar slice of life inspired by true events.
If it whets your appetite for more, “Get Your Ass in the Water...” is downloadable from iTunes and Amazon.