Whenever you hear an artist covering a blues standard, you can guess that the song’s origin might be murky. Such is the case with “Crawling Kingsnake” (sometimes stylized as “Crawlin’ King Snake”). While the metaphor is fairly obvious, the track’s history is not.
The Black Keys released a new version of “Crawling Kingsnake” as a single in advance of their upcoming blues-themed covers album Delta Kream. In numerous articles about the cover, the track is credited to the great bluesman John Lee Hooker. But, according to Gérard Herzhaft in the Encyclopedia of the Blues, the song “is very likely an old Delta blues [song] from the twenties. Recorded for the first time by Big Joe Williams on 27 March 1941, it is the obscure Tony Hollins who obtained some success out of it in Chicago. John Lee Hooker made it one of his favorite titles, and there are many covers.”