deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #0 of 21: David Dodd (ddodd) Mon 8 Sep 03 08:48
Mister Charlie
w: Hunter m: Garcia
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #1 of 21: Alex Allan (alexallan) Mon 8 Sep 03 21:15
Mister Charlie 
Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Music: Ron McKernan

Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

I take a little powder
I take a little salt
I put it in my shotgun
And I go walking out

Chooba chooba (chooba chooba)
Woolly Bully (woolly bully)
Looking high (looking high)
Looking low (looking low)
Gonna scare you up and shoot ya
'Cause Mister Charlie told me so

I won't even take your life
Won't even take a limb
Just unload my shotgun
And take a little skin


Well you take a silver dollar
Take a silver dime
Mix it up together
In some alligator wine

I can hear the drums
Voodoo all night long
Mister Charlie telling me
I can't do nothing wrong


Mister Charlie told me
Wouldn't you like to know
Give you a little warning
Before I let you go

Gonna scare you up and shoot you
Mister Charlie told me, Mister Charlie told me so
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #2 of 21: Andrew Trott (druid) Mon 13 Feb 06 21:01
Credit for this idea should go to Jen Avian, not me, but an awful lot
of the lyrics of this song fit in with the premise that the narrator is
going out to score some heroin. In that context, "horse" was once
slang for heroin, and free association might link "Charlie" with
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #3 of 21: Tim Lynch (masonskids) Mon 13 Feb 06 21:36
Or is he talking about Charlie Manson????
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #4 of 21: David Gans (tnf) Mon 20 Feb 06 13:15

Isn't Mr. Charlie black slang for Whitey?
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #5 of 21: David Gans (tnf) Mon 20 Feb 06 13:16

> And now we have James Baldwin in "Blues for Mister Charlie," summoning the
> Negro to battle even as he grieves for "Mister Charlie," the white man, as
> the Negro calls him.
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #6 of 21: searchlight casting (jstrahl) Tue 21 Feb 06 09:47
In my memory (growing up in New York), Mr Charlie was around well
before Whitey.
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #7 of 21: Christian Crumlish (xian) Sun 26 Feb 06 14:57
I've also (I think) heard it as a reference to a cop - or, more
generally, as "the man."
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #8 of 21: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Mon 27 Feb 06 09:07
Mr Charley, as I understand it, is white and non-benign. So The Man,
yes, but not in the "Right on, Earl, you['re] The Man" sense.
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #9 of 21: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Mon 27 Feb 06 09:08
Make that Charlie
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #10 of 21: Christian Crumlish (xian) Wed 1 Mar 06 07:08
right, i mean "the man," not "da man."
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #11 of 21: John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Mon 10 Apr 06 14:16
"Mister Charlie" has become the openly used knick-name for my office
boss. Charlie is his first name. 

About a year ago I mocked one of my co-workers, joking about his
wierd, malicious subservience to this boss and used the phrase "Yes,
sir, Mister Charlie..." saying that that he was acting like one of the
Manson Children around this boss. The co-worker, who claims to be an
intelligent bon vivant, completely misundersood and thought I was
making some plantation reference. 

So for over a year now this guy has been blurting out "Yes, sir, yes,
sir Mister Charlie" like his some cross between Rainman and Song of the

Makes me wish I never opened my mouth.
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #12 of 21: David Dodd (ddodd) Wed 11 Dec 19 13:26
Quoting an email from Jeffrey Eliot, with permission:

Hello David.
First let me say I am a big fan of your work and find it endlessly
fascinating learning all the origins and POSSIBLE connections to
some of the songs we all love.
With that in mind, please read my following ideas. Please reply with
your thoughts on this. Please post to the Annotated Website and The
Well if you feel so inclined as I cannot afford a membership to post
at the moment.
Please reply with your thoughts.

I will briefly give background on a few people and events to explain
my interest.

1) 1967: Manson is released from Terminal Island prison and takes up
residence in Haight Ashbury. Hanging around, discovering drugs and
"free love" & girls. Things have changed since he went away.
He experienced his first LSD trip at a Dead Show. His Haight home
and his memories of this event can be found here:

2) Charles and his "family" were first in San Francisco in the
Haight. 1967 & 1968. They moved to LA in late 68 or 69. In a 2019
interview, family member Lynette Fromme aka Squeaky refutes the
press' notion that they were "hippies"
She goes on to say that Mickey Hart also rejected the term "hippies"
saying The Grateful Dead were not "hippies"
This can be heard at the 7:00 min mark here. Did she meet/know

3) The family lived on an old movie ranch named Spahn Ranch. In 2009
ranch hand Juan Flynn said Jerry rode horses at the ranch. His
comments can be read here:

4) Family member and convicted murder Steve Grogan aka Clem aka
Scramble Head is the only Manson member to be released from prison. 
Steve has played at least one show w Bob Weir and Ratdog (also Steve
Miller at this gig) in 2001.
Discussion of this can be seen here:
pics of Steve and Bob & Steve can be seen on Ratdog's website here:

5) Steve Grogan aka Clem is free and living in The Bay Area. He has
changed his name and plays weekly at a night club in Oakland under
the name Adam Gabriel. Those who follow the Manson case have gone to
see Steve perform and listened to his stories. He refuses to talk
about Manson but reportedly met Jerry among others. Here is a pic of
Steve Grogan (lower left) with investigators at a recent
performance. SEE ATTACHMENT from June 2019.

Hunter has denied that Cosmic Charlie is about a specific person.
However, many entertainment personalities distanced themselves after
the murders. Manson famously was friendly w Dennis Wilson of the
Beach Boys. 
He also knew Neil Young and Young has not shied away from his
admiration of Charlie's music or knowing him. Others such as Cass
Eliot, Jon & Michelle Phillips, Linda Rondstadt and others
reportedly were involved with the family doing / dealing drugs and
participating in sex orgies among the hollywood music and movie
elites of Laurel & Topnaga Canyons.  

This is the songI feel most certainly was written about Manson. 
With the lyrics: emphasis in bold.
"I take a little powder
I take a little salt
I put it in my shotgun
and I go walking out

Looking high
Looking low
Gonna scare you up and shoot you
Cause Mr. Charlie told me so  "


"I can hear the drums
Voo-doo all night long
Mr. Charlie tells me
I can't do nothin' wrong"  

Reportedly, a big part of Manson's philosophy and what he told the
young women was that they "could do no wrong"
"In love there is no wrong"
This is what led them to believe that if they murdered in the name
of love (saving the victims from themselves) that it was not wrong.

Also, another denizen of the 60s Haight was Peter Coyote. 
The actor/writer and film maker has spoken about knowing both family
members and The Grateful Dead. Coyote was a founding member of an
improv theatre group in Haight Ashbury. You can read his comments

I do not think it is a stretch to believe that these many
coincidences could lead one to believe that Mr Charlie and/or Cosmic
Charlie were about Manson. 
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #13 of 21: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Wed 11 Dec 19 23:25
I think it is a stretch. Mr Charlie dates from 1971. Cosmic Charley
dates from 1968, so that is more possible. But I can't see anything
in the lyrics of Cosmic Charley that point in that direction.
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #14 of 21: David Gans (tnf) Thu 12 Dec 19 20:50
Quite a stretch.
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #15 of 21: coal will turn to gray (comet) Fri 13 Dec 19 07:46
Mr. Charlie is not any particular bully. He is the big boss man
everyone knows. 
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #16 of 21: David Gans (tnf) Fri 13 Dec 19 08:45

Hunter did not coin the name.


Mister Charlie is a pejorative expression previously used within the African-
American community to refer to an imperious white man.Occasionally, it refers
to a black man who is arrogant and perceived as "acting white".

The expression is sometimes written as Mr. Charlie, Mister Charley, or other

The expression was in use during the 19th century, much like the female
equivalent, Miss Ann. Miss Ann was an expression used among slaves to refer
to the woman of the house, usually the wife of the slave owner, and any other
white woman that the slaves had to serve. Mister Charlie was the slave owner,
or any other white man exploiting, or being condescending towards, slaves.[2]

Cassell's Dictionary of Slang (2005) argues that in the 1920s, "Mister
Charlie" meant "any white man," but in the 1970s evolved to mean "the man in

In the 1960s the phrase was associated with the Civil Rights Movement in the
United States and became "nationally familiar."[4] It appeared in the title
of James Baldwin's play Blues for Mister Charlie (1964) and in the third
verse of Malvina Reynolds's protest song "It Isn't Nice" (1967):
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #17 of 21: David Dodd (ddodd) Fri 13 Dec 19 09:57
I think all that about the accepted use of "Mr. Charlie" as a white
boss man pejorative is well-documented. Just adding, by request,
another point of view to the mix, which is always the point of these
ongoing lyric discussions (at least that's how I think of
Deadsongs), just as it was with the Annotated Lyrics project. 

In a ways, it's a similar conversation to the ever-resurfacing one
about St. Stephen. Hunter, when asked who St. Stephen was, said "St.
Stephen." Others insist that it must have been Stephen Gaskin. 

It's the swirl, in the immortal words of Blair Jackson! 
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #18 of 21: Michael Weitzman (sgrmag) Mon 4 May 20 12:15
I believe Denzel Washington's character in Carbon Copy called his birth 
father (a wealthy white man) Mr. Charlie, FWIW.
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #19 of 21: David Dodd (ddodd) Fri 8 May 20 21:11
Ha. Excellent!
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #20 of 21: David Dodd (ddodd) Mon 22 Jun 20 10:08
A perspective from Kay Alexander, posted with her permission. 

Have read the WELL page, thank you again. Two things I'd like to
add: 1) In the film In the Heat of the Night (released in 1967,
based on a novel published in 1965), when the abortionist recognizes
Virgil Tibbs she exclaims, "You the boy that work for Mr. Charlie!"
I haven't confirmed whether that line also appears in the novel. 2)
The summary of Manson's connection with the SF hippie scene doesn't
mention that the victims on 8/9/69 were killed because they happened
to be there; Manson's intended target was Terry Melcher. (I wonder
if that serendipitous and horrific outcome was one of the nuggets
that started Oliver Stone on the trajectory that resulted in Once
Upon a Time in Hollywood.)

Personally, I think Hunter wrote a lyric about scoring and
skin-popping heroin, couched in racist tropes. That kind of
multi-layered approach is what I would have expected from him.
Writing an obvious lyric promoting unexamined racism is not. Where I
part ways with Hunter is in his equation of tracking down junk with
the sport of "nigger hunting." It was an interesting idea, cleverly
executed. But the logical conclusion equates heroin with victimized
Black people and positions both the junkie and the racist would-be
murderer as heroic. Garcia did a better job on the melody than the
lyric deserves, imo, and the arrangement seems to excuse the content
by making the whole thing danceable. Kind of a shame really.
deadsongs.vue.138 : Mister Charlie
permalink #21 of 21: coal will turn to gray (comet) Mon 22 Jun 20 11:53
Mr Charlie has never been an engaging Hunter lyric to me. I always
enjoyed it as a feel good racist send up set to a nice melody. The
idea that shoot him could be a heroin (or Manson) reference never
occurred  (nor frankly appeal) to me.   

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