Mississippi John Hurt’s “Candy Man Blues” Might Not be about Candy

Jeff Suwak
Mar 10 · 4 min read
This cover image is borrowed from an Amazon listing for the product.

We here at the Scavenger research laboratories have recently made a rather startling discovery — Mississippi John Hurt’s classic “Candy Man Blues” may not be about candy at all. What it is about, however, we cannot be certain.

After exhaustive historical study, we’re no closer to solving the mystery than when we began. So, we have put together this piece in hopes that readers can help us figure it out.

Exhibit A

Well all you ladies gather ‘round
That good sweet candy man’s in town
It’s the candy man
It’s the candy man

This introductory verse seems innocuous, but it’s subtly off-kilter. If you read closely, you’ll see what we’re indicating.

Mr. Hurt implores only the “ladies” to gather ‘round. Yet, as everyone knows, candy is enjoyed by men and women alike, and by children most of all.

Why, then, are only ladies called to gather round for this particular confectionary?

Exhibit B

He likes a stick of candy just nine inch long
He sells as fast a hog can chew his corn
It’s the candy man

The choice of a precise measurement of “nine inch long” is suggestive, but suggestive of what?

We went to The Measure of Things to see what objects are nine inches long and got a plethora of interesting answers, but none of them seem to fit.

According to The Measure of Things, nine inches is approximately four times as tall as a golf tee, three-fifths as tall as a bowling pin, and one-fifth as tall as Kenny Baker (R2-D2 from Star Wars).

Perhaps most intriguingly, it’s one-third the length of a woman’s footstep. Combined with the first line about “ladies,” the fact that nine inches approximates one-third a lady’s footstep may be significant.

Continued examination of nine-inch-long items may yield fruitful analysis.

Exhibit 3

All heard what sister Johnson said
She always
takes a candy stick to bed
It’s the candy man
It’s the candy man

Don’t stand close to the candy man
He’ll leave a
big candy stick in your hand
It’s the candy man
It’s the candy man

Perhaps the most curious of all the exhibits, these verses are confounding, to say the least.

Eating candy in bed is a strange pastime for a grown woman to have. Even stranger is the seeming warning that the candy man will “leave a big stick of candy in your hand” if you stand too close to him.

Why is such a warning issued, and who was sister Johnson who nursed such an unhealthy habit?

Is the song, perhaps, a nutritional call to action? An urging for people to be more mindful of the foods they consume? Was Hurt trying to warn people about the destructive effects of sugar addiction?

We can’t be sure, but we suspect the answer is “yes.”

Exhibit 4

He sold some candy to sister Bad
The very next day
she took all he had
It’s the candy man
It’s the candy man

His stick candy don’t melt away
It just gets better, so the ladies say
It’s the candy man
It’s the candy man

The subtle, almost indifferent, mention of Bad’s felonious candy thievery leaves one wondering if the event traumatized Hurt so badly that he was unable to present it full-force for what it was. Merely trying to engage in free market enterprise, he’d found himself set upon by a violent consumer. This, therefore, may the most overtly political statement that Hurt makes in the entire song.

“Candy Man Blues” is unambiguously, in part, a Marxist critique of capitalism.

Lastly, how can candy “get better” with time and/or usage? This is another logical paradox in the song.

Candy may stay of same savory quality with the progression of time, but why would it actually get better?


Hurt’s seemingly simple song actually contains great depths of mystery.

Taken together, we have a nine-inch-long piece of candy that women like to take to bed and to consume greedily — to the point of criminality.

There are suggestions that the song is Marxist critique, but they are loose at best. If not that, though, what can it be?

The song simply makes no sense, as it is.

Scavenger is open to readers providing any tips or suggestions as to the potential meaning of “Candy Man Blues.” Together, we may finally be able to crack this 100-year-old mystery.


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Jeff Suwak

Written by

I’m not in the Matrix. I AM the Matrix. You can find more of my stuff at https://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Suwak/e/B00FB3KQF0



Music, books, films

Jeff Suwak

Written by

I’m not in the Matrix. I AM the Matrix. You can find more of my stuff at https://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Suwak/e/B00FB3KQF0



Music, books, films

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