I have run into a song by Fred McDowell which is called Going Down to The River. It starts as follows:

I'm goin' down that river
I'm goin'-a take that right hand road
I'm goin' down the river
I'm goin-a take that right hand road
Lord, I ain't gon' stop walkin'
'Till I get in sweet mama's arms

Please could you explain what this line exactly means?

I'm goin'-a take that right hand road

goin'-a stands for going to, as it was suggested in comments, is it correct? And if it is, then what does to take that right hand road mean?

  • 1
    "I'm going to take that right hand road". But the consonant /t/ is dropped, and the vowel is replaced by a schwa. Jul 21, 2015 at 13:14
  • @PeterShor I thought so. But what does "to take that right hand road" mean, then?
    – olegst
    Jul 21, 2015 at 13:15
  • 2
    It means to take the road that goes off to the right. Note that "going to" becomes "gonna" (to amplify what Peter Shor says).
    – Robusto
    Jul 21, 2015 at 13:15
  • 1
    THis sounds like a weird eye-dialect I've never seen. 'gonna' is the usually contraction, but maybe the dialect is more like 'goin' a'? Or maybe just done this way to fit the song's meter?
    – Mitch
    Jul 21, 2015 at 14:20
  • 1
    I believe the composer of this song meant right hand road as in, the good path. as opposed to the left hand road a.k.a, the road less taken, the left hand path, the wrong way, the bad path...
    – dockeryZ
    Jul 21, 2015 at 16:08

1 Answer 1


OK, since what Peter Shor and I were telling you in the comments hasn't done the whole job, let's walk through this step by step:

  1. I'm goin'-a take that right hand road

"goin'-a" is an unusual way to write "gonna", which is a contraction of "going to" and yields

  1. I'm going to take that right hand road

"right hand" (or "right-hand") refers to something on the right side, which is experienced as the same side as your right hand. So "that right hand road" becomes "that road on the right side"

  1. I'm going to take that road on the right side.

Next, to "take" a road means to enter and travel along it:

  1. I'm going to go down that road on my right side

Now, if that's still not clear enough, let's paraphrase:

  1. I intend to take the road that branches off to my right side as I travel along in my present direction.

Not as artful as Mississippi Fred McDowell sings it, but perhaps clearer to someone who hasn't heard a lot of blues.

UPON FURTHER REVIEW: I was perhaps overlooking the religious overtones of the "right hand road" mentioned in the line. As WS2 and ab2 (who seem to have the same surname, "2") have suggested, the "right hand" in Christian gospel can refer to the "right hand of God" meaning the righteous path. That still needs to be understood through the filter of physical right vs. physical left, but it does add a religious dimension I didn't consider earlier. This is supported by the reference to the "river" (another bit of Christian symbology) and the direct address to the "Lord" (although such interjections occur even when there is no overt religious reference).

  • 1
    I'm not unwilling, I was just confused with the phrase take the road, but now everything is clear, thank you for your help.
    – olegst
    Jul 21, 2015 at 13:32
  • ... "goin'-a" is an unusual way to write "gonna". Perhaps three syllables are needed instead of two, to get the scansion of the line right.
    – Margana
    Jul 21, 2015 at 13:52
  • @Margana: The scansion works better with gonna, in my view. But a singer would have no trouble making either work.
    – Robusto
    Jul 21, 2015 at 14:01
  • 1
    @olegst: No problem. I actually didn't realize that take was the problem word for you. I've edited my entry to include that bit as well.
    – Robusto
    Jul 21, 2015 at 14:41
  • 1
    I agree with DockeryZ that the right hand road means the righteous road. This is the road his mama told him always to take.
    – ab2
    Jul 21, 2015 at 20:02

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